I am often asked about the issues that I face as an assistant professor who has a documented learning disability. Over the last few years, I have held positions in the special education departments at two wonderful universities. In both positions, I discovered that I faced the same two major problems — communication and organization. Communication issues don’t seem to affect me much during instruction to my students (although I could do without those moments where I can not think of words or remember names). My issue is related to the communication and organization of what is expected of me. Many of my responsibilities and duties (i.e., with specific directives and time) have been time-consuming and sometimes stressful to keep up with.
In my previous positions, I have had a hard time understanding communications to staff and faculty that are sometimes to be followed literally and other times to be followed if I choose to. What is the fine line of choosing to do or not to do? One specific example of this is when I’m placed on a bulk-mail recipient list about work-related tasks. I receive hundreds of e-mails about things that I am excited to hear about, things related to my department, and things that I don’t really care about. Do I have to do something about all of them, or do I get to choose? Will I get into trouble if I choose not to do something that is stated in a bulk, campus wide e-mail? The problem is that I am usually expected to do “something” about all of them. I hear “we usually” or “we prefer” or “the university expects.” I would prefer communications to me to be black and white, yes or no, or do or do not do. It would be much easier.
An example of such an e-mail was one that arrived this morning from the registrar’s office concerning midterm grades. They are due today, and I realized this after I called the registrar’s office to report that one of the links on our grade reporting system would not work for me. I’ve spent all morning calculating and averaging grades, and the only thing left for me to do is to get to my courses on the reporting system and enter the letter grades. But the registrar’s office expected grades last week. So how could this have happened? I had written the due date in my calendar when I first received the e-mail for submission of grades and I’d even left the e-mail in my inbox as a reminder to get them done. I checked my calendar, and sure enough, grades were due this week. However, in rechecking the e-mail in my inbox, I noticed a discrepancy in the dates. After a verbal lashing from that office, I now realize that I can’t post grades online and I’ll have to walk to the registrar’s office with a copy of my grades.
I know that organization is an important skill to master if one is attempting to complete all of the tasks required to keep one’s job. However, if there is no sense of management and what needs to be prioritized, a person can find him or herself in a “constant state of motion” trying to get goals and objectives accomplished with little success. I find this to be especially true in higher education positions. No matter how many “to do” lists I keep, it is a lucky day if the lists remain the same and have not increased in length. I am in a constant state of motion, usually in a circular pattern.
I probably have the same issues as other educators with or without disabilities. However, the situation can be more pronounced for the educator with a disability who has communication issues and management problems, and it could be even more daunting depending on the individual teaching setting. There are strategies and accommodations that could make work days more productive and successful. For example, I have requested a mentor at each of my university positions. I figure with my issues of just trying to get everything done that needs to be done, a mentor would be helpful. In a former position I had a mentor who helped me process my thoughts and responsibilities. Thus I was able to get all my grades in on time. Because it worked so well at the first university, I requested a mentor at the next university. This was an unusual request, and the powers that be did not know me well, so it has taken some time to process this accommodation request.
While I am waiting, I have learned that I will always need to work with my job settings to help them understand my needs. And while I am doing that, I will continue to do what has helped me in the past. I will strengthen my own “system of supports” in a variety of ways so that my communication and management issues can be controlled.
I believe that systems of support by means of colleagues, family, friends, assistive technology, and mentors are all great means for individuals entering the field of education who have a disability and need support to be successful in their career. One great support system, the Educators with Disabilities Caucus (EDC), provides a wonderful support service to EDC members who are currently in a career of education, or are preparing to do so. Everyone’s issues may not be like the ones I face on a daily basis, and that is why EDC exists. EDC has professionals with a wealth of background experience to help you. Please take time to become involved with EDC as a member, mentee, or mentor, or ask EDC how you can support an educator with a disability.
I have to check on my “to do” list now. I need to:
- Contact someone about finding ME a mentor.
- Prepare for class tomorrow.
- Meet students about registration.
- Prepare for a conference this weekend.
- Check out journals from the library for a student demonstration.
- E-mail EDC’s article.
- Go by the registrar’s office to turn in those grades!
If you have questions or thoughts you like to share with Dr. Haselden, please contact her at:
Polly G. Haselden, Ph.D.
Francis Marion University (where she now has a wonderful mentor)
P.O. Box 100547
Florence, SC 29501