Posted in Autistic Identity, Social Rules

Revealing My Identity: What Happened the Last Day I Was at School

I suspect I knew that Tuesday was going to be my last day at school.

We had been having some trouble with a student whom I’ll call Ellie.  Ellie was pressured to leave her Catholic school and, over time, we pieced together why.  She had been placed in a rather catty class, but most of the biggest bullies had powerful parents.  This was the class that was trying to date people in third grade, which is unusually early in Catholic school circles, so it was no surprise that by fifth grade, when this other school always had catty girls, this class was wretched.  Unlike those girls, though, everyone seemed to act like Ellie was the problem, because likely of her developmental delay.

Ellie was making great strides in our school and it didn’t hurt that we were trying to overtly teach social skills, but not in a pre-prescribed kit kind of nonsense.  More like real life, breaking ideas down and testing them out in ways that made sense to our kids.

So the day I left was the day after she’d been trying to tell all the girls about some very PG-13 things that happened to her.  The trouble is, these things didn’t happen to her; she’d read about them online and really thought she could make friends and bond over telling these much younger and less mature girls about them.  At the same time, she could cement the idea she was older than they (though developmentally, they were nearly identical in age).  We had to get it to stop since it was starting to freak out one of the girls and her mother was growing concerned.  These parents were patient, but at a certain point, it was getting too hard.  The trouble is, this was the “rule” Ellie had learned about fitting in from that class of girls where stories like this would be normal and so would bullying and dividing girls into “best friends” and not friends.

So when Ellie arrived in the morning earlier than usual and she and I were the only two at school, we had a talk.  A long talk.

Continue reading “Revealing My Identity: What Happened the Last Day I Was at School”

Posted in Career Change, Identity

Math and Me: An Odd Relationship

So, I have this weird relationship with math.

That’s really the best way to describe it because I have told myself I’m bad at it, and maybe I am, and maybe I’m not.

Regardless, here’s my math story.

So, in elementary school, I was always reasonably good at math, but my major issue was my poor handwriting.  Now we know that Autistic people often have trouble with fine motor control and we can take a lot longer to develop those skills.  You can either yell at us like we’re trying to torment you with our bad handwriting or you could be a reasonable person and let us type things for a while.  One, typing develops fine motor control and two, it means our work is legible in the meantime while our bodies catch up with those of our peers.  It’s literally no big deal.

But back in the 1980’s, that was not an option.  Instead, every report card and parent-teacher conference embarrassed you about your poor writing.  Your teachers even might give you extra credit if you voluntarily submitted yourself to handwriting practice because you definitely needed it.  So, if you know anything about math in the age of “no calculators allowed until Algebra,” you’d know that poor handwriting was a significant problem in math class because you would mess things up a lot.  The thing of it was, though, my fifth-grade teacher saw that I was more than competent at math and somehow he made sure I was placed in the top math class when I got to Middle School.  I think he noticed my attempts at working on my handwriting, and I was getting older, so it was getting better.

That was the peak of my mathematical career: getting placed in that class.

Continue reading “Math and Me: An Odd Relationship”

Posted in Blogging about the Blog, Career Change, Identity, Vocation

No longer a Catholic or an educator; I’m just me now

The details of why I was asked to leave the school early don’t much matter, but I did see it coming.  I had become unnecessary and was no longer this year’s “flavor of the month” so I needed to go.  Add to that a jealous coworker who, I have, over time, realized that her own job security was threatened if I stayed around too much.  She made sure to tell our boss I wasn’t loyal, so I got exited.  We negotiated a settlement and I left.

I had no choice in the matter, really.  My savings had already been decimated based on the dream that was making this school a reality.  I desperately needed my income to continue while I searched for a job.  If I had done the “I don’t quit, you fire me” thing, I would have had to take unemployment, which would have been considerably less and unreliable, too.

I ended up with a two-month vacation, paid, during which point I searched for work and began rethinking my own identity.  I started my new job just in time so there would be no real gap in my income or even, officially, my employment history.  While illegal to pay a settlement over time, that’s how my school does it.  You have to pay a lump sum at dismissal in my state, but they never do and no one ever complains since we’re afraid to say anything and lose the settlement.

Anyway, the thing about being an Autistic female is that we are so very chameleon-like that, over time, we have little idea who we are really.  I realized, during this journey, that I did a lot of things that only make sense given that I am Autistic.  Who makes these grand sacrifices, at the expense of her own career and her relationship with her family?  Well, an Autistic woman does, if she has internalized the societal rules of what a “good girl” does and what a “good Catholic girl” is like.

On the journey, I realized that, as usual, I don’t even want to be a teacher per-se or ever administrate a school again.  The fact is, I’m good with data and not great with people, assuming those people are largely Neurotypical and assuming those people are adults, besides.  Neurodivergent kids?  I’d love to spend time with them.  I always have.  But the thing is I have more in common with a Neurodivergent tween or teen than I do with a neurotypical adult.  That breeds a kind of closeness that can be unhealthy, so it’s not per-se ideal to spend too much time around tweens and teens for me.

Beyond that, why am I in education at all?  School was where I have historically been treated badly by everyone involved, except when a few teachers who were kind to me.  Everyone at the school I just left was trying to stab me in the back last year (and continued for a few beyond that this year).  And yet, I kept going back.  Who does that, unless she is feeling Stockholm Syndrome?

Continue reading “No longer a Catholic or an educator; I’m just me now”

Unhidden posts and other fun stuff

If you’re curious, there were a fair number of hidden posts that went unhidden.  Some may not have been published at all yet, and others may just have been hidden to be doubly safe because I can be a bit paranoid.  So, if you’re wondering about that, well, that’s what happened.

I now work for an employer who even says in the policy manual that blogging at work or on work machines a personal blog is fine on my own time, so long as I add the standard disclaimer.  I know full well that if I do that, then it can be “discoverable” in a lawsuit so I’m not going to do THAT, but it does lessen the burdens on me that I faced as a teacher-administrator blogger.  It’s just one of many new perks I have now that I no longer am in Catholic education.

So, I’ll be back as I have things to say, and hopefully we can get to know each other again in a new way.

Available for viewing

Hi, all–

I’m back, at least, from a “you can see the blog now” angle.

I learned a lot over the past few months, and I’ll be blogging again soon, assuming there’s interest in a return.  If I do return, do note there will be considerable changes with regard to content since I’m making a lot of serious changes in who Nicole is, as a result of leaving the school I loved far sooner than I intended.  Identity is an ongoing problem with Autistics, particularly Autistic women who love to mask, and I’ve done a lot of introspection over these last two months.

BUT the main thing is that I am gainfully employed again, so I feel safe resurrecting the blog.

 

Posted in Autistic Identity, Social Rules, Vocation

What Putting Yourself First Looks Like for Me

I blogged earlier about a rule I’m learning from watching Survivor: that people do, in fact, put themselves first.

I had a conversation with my trusted mentor, in the wake of leaving my principalship early.  I had remembered that he used to teach in public schools, himself.  Here’s a little of what I learned.

Put Your Own Family First

[Image: a businesswoman wearing a white dress shirt and black blazer is balancing a Scrabble-like rack with tiles spelling LIFE on one side and WORK on the other on a wooden dowel. LIFE appears to be weighing more heavily.]
The thing about vocations is that we have potentially many.  We have the one where we’re a nun, a monk, a priest, a wife, a mother, a husband, a father, a consecrated virgin, or whatever.  There’s that one.  And there’s also the one where we hopefully align our job to what we’re called to do for our work.

Two vocations.

I have been living my life as if I were called to the sisterhood, yet living as a wife and mother.  That’s a no go.

Instead, because I have more degree combinations than my husband and the greatest likelihood of lucrative employment, I am called to be the primary breadwinner.  When I carry the health insurance, traditionally, we have had good insurance.  When he carries it, it is not great and we pay out a lot for a very little.

I typically also make more money than my husband.  When I was at the university, I carried professor-like health insurance for me and my family.  I put that job with two other jobs and made more than he did.  It’s almost always been that way in my marriage.

This time, I put all the eggs in one low-paying, no insurance basket.  My retirement is now almost gone, and we got taxed substantially because we had to pull money from it.  We are spinning around in circles financially because I took this risk.

The risk I took made sense if my family vocation was that of nun.  I’m not a nun.  I’m a wife and mother.

My mentor talked about how hard it was to leave the Catholic schools for the public schools.  He talked about how people laughed at him when he said that, that they didn’t understand how hard it could possibly be to take a job that paid better with better benefits.  Also, public schoolteachers have a very protective union.  They are much safer than other types of teachers.

But he had to give up some major things.  He could no longer talk about faith, nor could he hug kids if he felt they needed it.  He said it was always awkward to know a kid needed the hug and it would be better if he did it, but to not be able to do that.  He talked about how sometimes kids need love more than they need curriculum, and when he was in Catholic schools, he felt empowered to take a break when the student needed it.

But he had to put his own family first.

Continue reading “What Putting Yourself First Looks Like for Me”

Posted in Passing as Neurotypical, Social Rules

Looking Out For Number One: Even Nice Guys Do It

I have blogged before about watching old Survivor episodes and finding it interesting to learn about human nature within the context of a game. I strongly believe in the power of games to teach Autistics about social skills. While we’re doing something (not merely socializing), we can also look around and listen to other people and learn what they’re like in a context that makes some degree of sense to us. In watching Survivor, I think I’m finally starting to understand neurotypicals better. One big lesson is that neurotypicals always put themselves first.

The Central neurotypical Rule: I Am Number One

I suspect this should be obvious because when I say it, it seems so, but really, it hasn’t been that clear to me. Part of the problem, I think, is that I had internalized a lot of social rules about sharing and what is expected of me as a woman (girls are nice). But when I watch Survivor, I see being nice as a game. Strong game players will use niceness as a way to manipulate people, but they are always thinking about what they need.

I watched a lot of this play out in my principalship: the priests and pastors would always be thinking of their schools first. If one of the rest of us had it harder, and they had it easier, that was a-okay. I felt alone in my desire to grow the pool of students for all of us so that we all could win because I really didn’t believe in a zero-sum game. Meanwhile, everyone else was playing a different game: we won’t hurt you, and we might help you, but if and only if your helping yourself can in no way (even tangentially) impact us. Whenever I tried to grow the pool for all of us, it was attacked as possibly hurting the other schools.

Had I learned this lesson sooner, I would have done things differently. I would have recognized that, because we were in crisis, we needed to focus on ourselves first and exclusively. We might have still closed, but I would have gone farther and had a better chance at staying open had I focused on saving us any way possible including directly competing with the other schools.

And yes, that would involve breaking the rules I learned about how to get along with other people. That would have been directly in conflict with the rules I learned from the Catholic church, but when I observed priests breaking these very rules themselves, I realized they weren’t real rules.

Everyone else puts themselves first.

Continue reading “Looking Out For Number One: Even Nice Guys Do It”

Temporary Hiatus

During the job hunt, which has come faster than expected due to a mutual agreement with my now former employer, I am temporarily putting the blog on hiatus and removed a lot of posts.

I am still writing blog posts, and will work on design/revision of what is here, so you may notice some changes.

You can reach me, as always, via e-mail or Twitter.

Posted in Catholic leadership, Identity, School Leadership, Self-Care

The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace

I’ve made a variant of a Polish saying my mantra lately: this is no longer my circus, and these are now Father’s monkeys.

I say it a lot.

Whenever someone wants to fight over the gym and how and when it will be used?

Go ask Father.

Whenever someone wants to talk about the fish fries: Go ask Father (or, lately, the secretary he’s decided is in charge of them).

It’s not that I won’t help with these things; but the thing is my decisions have no meaning and are very short-term in nature.  The kids will be gone within two months and we’re none of us good at stretching work out.  We’ll be done with all we can do by May, easily, and yet we have contracts until June’s out.  Well, some of us do.  The rest of us are hourly, and I’d like to protect those hours, but heck if I know what it is we can all do.

Continue reading “The Benefits of Unicorn Status: Surviving a Job Change with Grace”

Posted in Burnout, Self-Care

Wiggling Past Worry: Autistic Resilience in Adversity

I’ve been told that being Autistic is kind of like having some anxiety and some depression at all times, but otherwise by itself it’s fine.

You’re anxious because of the constant stress to fit into this world not designed for us, and you’re depressed because this is just “normal” for you to be in a highly stressed state all of the time.

And the thing of it is, the anxiety and depression are connected to real, verifiable incidents.  We’re not making things up in our head about how the world treats us and how it hurts us to be out in public, even though we might want to be out of the house.  It is, objectively harder for us.

But, you know, we keep going.  This is status quo for us.  It’s never going to fully go away, and we learn how to mitigate the worst of it by changing our behaviors and/or medications, depending o the severity of symptoms and whether or not we are able to change our behaviors.

We generally have to work, for example, and work is a constant stressor, particularly when it takes places outside the house (as is the thought of interviewing and looking for work, etc.).

But you know what’s interesting about us?

Despite the constant anxiety and depression, we are freaking resilient people, especially if we have the right people around us, affirming us for what we are good at doing.

Continue reading “Wiggling Past Worry: Autistic Resilience in Adversity”