Wednesday, May 9, 2007

To be certified...

Oh, the things I could do with the right certifications.
I could be employed right now, for one.

But I have a learned mistrust of people who go get the certifications and only then work in their fields. It seems the experience ought to at least come concurrently with the education -- not education, then experience. I've met people with no love and no desire for their fields with all the right credentials (and enough student loan debt that they can't do anything else) and I've met wonderful, gifted people who never spent a day in class.

It's strange. All of my life, I have been told that education is the key to doing anything you want. I have believed it. I got through college on a full-scholarship, too ignorant to major in something "sensible." What did I know about college? I majored in English and Philosophy and minored in journalism.

Then, while looking to pay the bills until I could get my MFA and write the Great American Novel (tm), I took a job. I was a para, short for paraprofessional, fancy wording for teachers' aide. The jobs started at $6000 for a high school graduate and something like $9000 for me, with my two degrees. Ooohhh.... hold me back. Because I couldn't take the job and afford an apartment, they gave me slightly more... I forget what.

Don't let the lack of title or money fool you. By the end of my first few months, I was a teacher. I knew my student well, better than anyone, could brainstorm ideas on what was appropriate to be trying to teach her. Most of the things the special ed teachers wanted me to do with her were outside of what she could meaningfully do, so I would be forced to guide her through it. When left alone, we could come up with pretty successful learning strategies. I worked my butt off. But I was still, on paper, an aide.

It didn't bother me.
I was young. What was money when you had a job you loved and a girl learning in leaps in bounds?
Ditto for this last job. Who needs money? I was learning so much, teaching so much. The way it ended made me realize that despite how hard I work, what I learn and what I know, I will never be more than my job title. I've had more experience implementing and designing augmentative communication than every single graduate of the speech pathology program (except S's mom, and I have a lot of technical experience she doesn't have). If I had a dollar for every communication book I've made through the years, I would be rich. But I will never be allowed to practice speech. I have developed worksheets, a whole reading and writing curriculum, visual supports, etc for several severely disabled individuals. Yet I will never be allowed to teach special ed. Plus, I could spend three years getting my SLP, but take only two classes in what I want to do.

I'm just starting to become slightly bitter about this. Maybe all those sweet 22 year olds that come student teach in the special ed classes should have to do a year as a para/aide instead of student teaching. Make being waiver staff or working some other low power/low paying job a prerequisite for anyone working with people with developmental disabilities. Being an intern or a clinical first year isn't the same thing. Everyone knows you will own them with money and power and the ability to make decision for them next year. You have the power in your pocket; you just can't use it yet. Make them have to do this their first year of school, when that power is too far off to be wielded. If you still want to be an OT after changing diapers of people bigger than you are, you get to be an OT. And you will never ever ever look at the waiver staff or the personal care aide like she's nothing because you will remember what it's like,

The certification process creates a huge barrier between the people who actually implement therapies and those who are certified to prescribe them. And it's working professionals out a job. SLPS, OTs, PTs are in short supply. More and more places rely on therapy assistants, who are supposed to be simply implementing, not providing services, but I know how that goes. Then schools start to think about how expensive it is to hire an SLP, so maybe they should just hire more implementers. But the low pay and rigorous class/internship schedules make sure that virtually none of the low paid aides, implementers, paras, assistants, etc., can go get their degrees.

I have often thought about being independently certified through various programs. PECS (pyramid education consultants) has a certification process so that I can be trained to teach PECS. Handwriting Without Tears has one. So does the Lovaas center, floortime, and every other program in the world. I could spend a year and get certified in all of these protocol, which would reflect my experience much more accurately. But I'm hesitant. First, I like all of these programs, but I want to be able to pick and choose how to apply them. For instance, PECS starts with teaching a child to request something. That works for some kids, but I know others who would have much more success with commenting first.

Second: the certification thing is a huge moneymaker. Okay, so you came up with something cool, like how to get kids to write better through sensory experiences. Awesome. So I need to spend $200, plus hotel and travel expenses, for three conferences, and then I get the certification. I just can't make myself pay that. It's a racket.

I am seriously considering getting certified in assistive technology because no one has gotten a hold of that field and made the specific professional degree mandatory. I can test for the certification using documented work hours in assistive tech.

I'm considering it.

But it's like all of the pee tests and fingerprinting I have to go through to get a job with kids anymore. Sure, all this is good. But it does not substitute one little bit for adequate supervision. Not an iota. Certification is nice, but it really doesn't show that you give a damn. You won't find that out until later, when you wake up at 5 am and remember "S. doesn't have May programmed into his communication device yet. How can he tell the date at school if I'm fired and no one else knows how to put May into his device?" And no one really thinks it's important, because, after all, you're just waiver staff. Anyone can do what you do.

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