Friday, September 26, 2014

Barriers and Space

One of my personality quirks is that I like clear delineation of "my space" in the world. I don't like fuzzy barriers between the bits of the world I occupy and the rest of (human) world.

I don't mind if my yard leads into a forest. That's great. But I do want to know where my yard ends and the neighbors' yards begin. I want lines drawn, nice and clear lines that clarify my responsibility. Admittedly, I also want others to know… "Hey, I'm not responsible for whatever you see over there!"

The same is true at work. I like my desk to be… mine. I like my desk clean, my filing cabinets organized, and my books shelves by topic and then alphabetical. Don't enter my space without asking, and definitely don't return books to be helpful — other people never seem to place them back in order!

Controlling my space, and wanting it as perfect as possible, is more than preference. It borders on a need — a desire to have a little bit of order and control, when we know control is so limited in life. My spaces are at least something I maintain, along with my equally picky (and sometimes pickier) wife.

I don't like that our house isn't done, that boxes and filing cabinets aren't organized, that we need to organize many things and never have the time to complete these tasks, but at least we are in charge of our spaces.

Friday, September 12, 2014

ASDs, Anger, Violence... Advocacy

I am faced with conflicting impulses: positive advocacy vs. negative reality.

Like many advocates, I wish to remind people that most autistics are not violent, bullies, or any more "risky" than other people in classrooms or workplaces. If anything, people with special needs are more likely to be bullied and to be victims of violence in various forms, from verbal abuse to physical abuse.

But, I have met students (and adults) who engage in self-harm, have violent outbursts, and are a genuine risk to others.

When you see a young person throw things, pull hair, scratch skin, and scream, it is impossible to deny that some small number of autistic individuals need some sort of cautious, caring, protection from their own actions.

The problem is, I'm not sure how to balance the need to protect with the message I wish to promote as an advocate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Better for Me, Better for (My) Students

Perfection and compulsive organization drive me to over-prepare for the courses I teach. I've found that some instructors, especially at the college and university level, are comfortable with a loose seminar approach to teaching, I like to have lots of notes, outlines, slides, and handouts. Without the structure, I would be easily distracted or my pacing wouldn't fit the class meeting time limitations.

I post most, but not all, of my notes online for students. Having the slides and handouts gives them a chance to review materials covered in class, something I would value as a student. Because I'm a perfectionist, as a student I reviewed materials throughout each semester. My assumption is that many students want that same ability to review and learn at their own paces.

For assignments, I like detailed handouts with all due dates at the top. I describe the assignment, the objectives, the grading criteria, and mention any additional resources available to help complete the assignment. I also prepare grading rubrics that guide students, but reserve flexibility for grading if students fail to meet major objectives. It's not enough to write the perfect paper technically, the paper also has to address the assigned topic! (And yes, I've had students argue that they deserved "B" grades for assignments that were "perfect" except for missing the required topic entirely.)

Having such a structured course, from a detailed calendar to grading rubrics, does not preclude making adjustments nor does it limit my ability to be creative. The structure exists to help cram a lot of material into a 16-week semester, as best I can.

In the business school, my approach is considered standard and reflects the practices of many of my colleagues. However, some of the writing instructors I know bristle at the use of rubrics and the slides I use to guide lectures. These philosophical differences run deep between the disciplines, and I find myself an outlier when I read writing forums or lists. But, my approach would have been what I sought as a student and aligns well with the students I teach, primarily STEM majors.

I was the students I teach. Hopefully, they help me meet their needs effectively.