One of the discussions I hear a lot in my 18+ circle is "How do you know what's appropriate and inappropriate?" It seems like a reasonably easy question, but it can be applied to so many things in this unique type of program and with this age group of students. I find myself asking this question a dozen or more times throughout the school year...every year...and the jury is out on if they are all the right answers.
When dealing with students age 18-22, there are a lot of things to take into consideration, that teachers in many other, younger, age groups don't have to deal with...such as...
1. Consuming alcohol:
One of my sweet and precious students asked last year, while having lunch at Chili's,"Can I order a Margarita?" To which I squealed in sheer horror, "No way!"
And then reality set in...the student asked because legally, he CAN drink.
This topic always provides teachable moments, but sometimes I have to really consider that, unlike high school students (under 21), these students are in fact of age and can purchase and consume legally. And sometimes, the teachable moment is for me!
So the lessons now are generally about responsible drinking, how much is too much, and the wrecks and effects of alcoholism.
It was, initially, very hard for me to allow myself to acknowledge their age and accept that it is a reality that must be taught, not avoided...and very appropriate for this age group. But accepting it and talking about it could be the seed planted that saves them from a very rocky path.
2. Interactions with other LIFE students:
How easy is it, when you want to get together with another group, to just pick up the phone and schedule some sort of group activity with another LIFE group in the same school district. So easy!
But is it truly appropriate?
Sometimes, my sweet and precious students tend to forget they are "of age" while other students in our district are not...and dating is not "ok" for, let's say, a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old. What gets me most is the parents of the older student questioning why isn't not acceptable and perplexed as to why the younger students parents are threatening a protective order. How easy it is to forget that the rules still apply to our students with disabilities as the general population.
I came to the realization very quickly, during my first year, that intermingling my adult students with those at the junior high and high school level is more inappropriate than appropriate, so we've had to scale back how much time and when it is acceptable, to not encourage these emotional relationships to develop. This probably lends its self to a good, old fashion lesson on stalking and harassment as well, I just haven't been able to figure out the gentlest way to present this lesson. Any ideas?
3. Technology and all its glory:
Technology is a very beautiful thing...or maybe a rotten thing...I haven't made up my mind just yet. Having technology and using technology for purposes intended is the beautiful aspect. Having technology and using technology to look at dirty websites, send nude photos and harass others is a rotten thing.
This year brought the adventure of dealing with some real-life issues...using technology...which provided some very rich teachable moments and the opportunity to teach very honest lessons for those not directly involved. If you don't have it worked into your lesson plans somewhere during the school year, it would behove you to add in "sexting" which will lend its self to "pornography" which could lend its self to "harassment" and "cyber bullying." Those are all very real topics that are becoming increasingly talked about in our society and issues all young adults are experiencing.
It's ugly, but it's real.
I know there are many more moments that will arise which will beckon the question, "Ok, appropriate or inappropriate," and I'm confident asking myself those questions and being reasonable with the answer will only make me a better educator to my students and steward of my society.