The helping field, I often tell my social work students, is a two-way street. While our goal is to help individuals, families, and groups, it is important to remember that the ones we help often help us. When we practice from a strengths perspective, we learn of our clients’ skills. We begin to appreciate and respect their personal talents and unique abilities. If we are willing to open our eyes, the people we help can teach us a thing or two about courage, perspective, and life itself.
For a number of years, I worked at the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix, Arizona. One day, a pre-school teacher asked me to become part of her lesson plan. My poem, “Things a School Social Worker May See,” is an example of why social work is a two-way street.
Things a School Social Worker May See
Just outside Room 7, five small canes the color
of clouds hang neatly on a wall. Today, my day-
old beard becomes a lesson plan for the eyes
of tiny fingertips. As the teacher explains shaving,
kids without sight feel the foam, the soapy water,
my sandpapered face. The little girl with a creamy
mustache, discovers cinnamon spice cologne. All
hands but one reach up to rub my marbled cheeks.
One pair rolls a piece of Play Doh. The 5-year-old
tells me, “A licorice stick for my sister.” He weighs
the string in his palms, connects both ends and says,
“Now, it’s her necklace.” The teacher snaps photos
and later shows me hands gliding along my clean-
shaven face. In the background, I see a necklace
and its proud craftsman, the boy with 20-20 touch.
We are supposed to have a bad March snow storm tomorrow. The campus may be closed, but it may remain open. Sometimes the bad weather is out and away from the campus, so the campus remains open. We will see. But this reminds me of what another professor said to me last year: “Don’t you suspect that lots of times off-campus students use the ‘excuse’ of bad weather not to attend class?”
I replied, “Possibly. Maybe so.” But here is the thing—it does not matter. Bad weather is up to the students. The decision to drive to campus is up to the students. Even if the sun is shining brightly into my office, if a student says he or she believes the roads might be bad, that’s it.
It always has to be the student’s call. To even suggest to a student that I think the roads are fine is not something I would consider doing. I say this because I know faculty who have encouraged students to travel on the highways after the students have stated they are concerned about travelling.
And when a student asks, “Well, do you think I can make it OK?”
My response can only be one of two things: “I would advise against travelling,” or “I cannot make that call for you, that is your decision—and I will respect whatever decision you make.”
For what it is worth, I believe the above absolutely.
(By the way, I believe, too, that if I look out the classroom window and see bad weather, I say three simple words to any students that I know have to travel: “Hit the road.”)