Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part Two ~ making excuses?

I always believed my inability to take an unwavering position on something was a weakness of my character, something to be a little ashamed of. My compulsion to always see a situation from multiple viewpoints made me insubstantial and ineffective. My need to find ‘excuses’ for a child’s behaviour meant I was deficient in some way as a teacher. That I was too soft. A lefty-liberal responsible for the ‘decline’ in standards both moral and educational in today’s youth. I admired people who, despite persuasive opposition, stuck to their position.

A fence sitter lacking in the conviction of my own thoughts. A FenceSitterchameleon switching sides in an argument. Why couldn’t I just decide on one thing and STOP making excuses!

Take the issue of inclusion; on the one side you have those who believe children with learning disabilities should attend special schools and units, on the other, those who believe all children should be educated together (the environment shaped to the particular needs of the child). While I am unashamedly of the belief that where at all possible children should be educated in the same setting, I can also understand why, in some cases, e.g. challenging behaviour or profound multiple learning needs, a child would be better served in a specialist setting.

Roll forward seven months and term two of my first year as a doctoral student in Child and Educational Psychology. At last, my way of thinking (or naïve idealism as one line manager patronisingly affectionately called it when I was a teacher) has been given not only credibility but a framework in which to develop further. Now I am actively encouraged (expected) to consider as many ‘excuses’ as possible, except ‘excuses’ are not called excuses but problem dimensions – which are developed through testing hypotheses uses various tools (e.g. classroom observation).

A child or young person’s behaviour (however bad) is likely to be a response (albeit maladaptive) to internal and external factors over which they feel they have little control.

Am I weak in character, insubstantial and ineffective, or am I the exact opposite?

When a child presents with behavioural issues and the school and parents are at the end of their tether, locked into an explanation that absolves responsibility and holds the child in a permanent state of dysfunction, my ability to use psychological theory to explore potential reasons for this behaviour, offers a way forward, a route map to a better future. While it may be ‘true’ the child has a diagnosis of autism, dyslexia, or ADHD etc. This ‘diagnosis’ is not the reason for their aggressive/self-harming/distressed/defiant behaviour, rather it is an explanation as to why they may find learning/peer friendships/social situations more difficult to negotiate than other children. The diagnosis which many teachers and parents cling to as if it were the answer is in fact a dead end (unchangeable and consequently disempowering). The role of the EP is not to label to the child, but to focus on the aspects of the situation that can be changed and to empower those around the child to make that change happen. For example a child with autism may have difficulty making friends, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want friends (all human beings desire/seek connections with others). However a child with autism may need explicit and concrete help to make friends and the people/systems around them may need help to provide and deliver the best interventions to close this gap.

Taking the child’s perspective. Seeing the world through their eyes is a skill that educational psychologists must possess in order to be effective practitioners and actually make a difference to the lives of children, young people and their families.

There is nothing quite like finding a career where how you think and what you value fits like a round peg in a round hole. It is like I have come home, and, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my thinking in the first place, only my career choice.

Are you in a career/ lifestyle that chimes with who you really are? Or do you have supress who you really are to fit in? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

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13 thoughts on “Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part Two ~ making excuses?”

  1. ‘Taking the child’s perspective. Seeing the world through their eyes…’.

    Juliet, you may only be a third of the way to your goal, technically speaking; as far as I’m concerned, you’re more than half way there. Godspeed.

      1. I was referring to finding work in an environment where your round peg views match the round holes. As a midwife working in public and private hospitals, I often found myself objecting to the non-woman friendly actions of some doctors and midwives. However, there was a hospital that had a fantastic reputation, but never needed new staff (they didn’t want to leave!), but I managed to worm my way in as a temp, relieving sick staff. Once the staff got to know me, a position was made for me. I’d found my home, and the people in that home knew I belonged there, too.

    1. This article reminds me of something I was told when I was too young to understand it – in our youth, we see things in black and white, but as we age, we see more greys. However, I do believe you need an open mind to see the greys, and unfortunately, there are a few too many people who cling to their black and white views of the world.

  2. I actually found your website as someone looking for information on AC, but was tempted to read some of your other posts – lovely site. As a parent of a child who struggles with what others consider ‘normal’ I totally agree with your thoughts here and am delighted to hear that, not only have you found your vocation but also that other children will benefit from an EP such as yourself. We’ve always adopted the ‘we know why you find that hard, but we still need to find ways to do it’ approach, but not having a ‘label’ made getting support in education much harder (especially as my son appears pretty normal on first acquaintance) and made it more difficult for teachers to get an overview of the sort of things that were potentially issues. So, though I totally understand what you’re saying about using labels in the wrong way, I would say labels have their uses too – if for nothing else other than to find fellow (parents of) ‘sufferers’ to share strategies etc! Best of luck with your change of career.

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