My job title is Family Teacher (or, one half of a Family Teaching Couple), and as I’m getting used to that I’ve been thinking about skill-building of late. The teaching which is expected of me is entirely practical, not at all esoteric, and so if I am teaching effectively, the people I am teaching will be gaining skills, or deepening and sharpening skills they already possess.
During this last week I realized that I wanted to be intentional about observing the skills possessed by the women who employ me as teacher*. In taking an inventory of what these women can do, and cannot do, and want to do, and would be enriched by learning to do, I am getting to know them; I can also (humbly, to be sure) begin to learn their past in seeing what they do and do not know how to do.
*I am finding it important to remind myself that I am in the employ of these women. Funds which the state of California provides for their well-being are used to pay for my services, and if these women or their families find that I am insufficient to the task of being one of their teachers, then my services will cease. We often identify ways in our relationships in which we are the superior, especially when we deal with people who have some sort of obvious limitations or weaknesses. It is valuable for me to remember that my bosses are three women who have not been considered fully capable of living independently. They have real power, and that is as it should be.
During these first two weeks, there have been plenty of instances of people not getting their way, and showing their displeasure about that. This is not unexpected, especially since new people (me, my family) change the dynamics of a household, and there is inevitable testing of one another. A partial list of the ways I have seen people act in their displeasure during these weeks would include: crying, hitting, screaming, slamming doors, biting, tattling, spitting, throwing objects, kicking, swearing, whining, emptying drawers and closets, soiling ones’ self, tearing clothing, running away, and self-inducing vomiting.
I’m not going to tell you which of those things have been done by the women who reside in the house, and which have been done by my children, my wife, or me. Trust me when I say there is more than a little bit of overlap. As you read that list, there are probably a few items you nod knowingly at, some that you chuckle about, and some that hook you. Maybe they make you recoil, or feel a catch in your throat, or feel disturbed. Maybe you felt pity. Maybe you felt superior. I’ve felt all of those.
A couple days ago, I realized something, during a moment when one of the most jarring of these behaviors was going on. The person doing this really unpleasant thing, which they really weren’t enjoying, which was debasing them and threatening to put the distance of judgment between me and them, was doing this thing because at some point it worked. At some time in this person’s life, this act had succeeded in getting them something. Maybe they got the tangible thing they wanted. Maybe they got attention. Maybe they got personal space. Maybe they got momentary power over the person who had to clean up. But this person learned to do this thing because at some point it was how far they had to go to get something important.
Think about that.
Think about the most desperate thing you’ve done to get something important.
In that moment, I realized that I hope I can teach with this person long enough and well enough that they can learn a new way, a healthier way, to get what they want and need. I hope I can help this person let go of some of their current skills.