Sunday, May 22, 2022

Why I Became an Adolescent Mental Health Specialist


It’s better and easier to learn by doing 

When I was in seventh grade on Long Island, I participated in something called an Interdisciplinary Team. For the four major classes – English, social studies, science and math – the teachers worked together.

Often, after learning a subject, there would be a field trip. For example, after learning about immigration, we took a trip to the Statue of Liberty. After learning about monopolies and robberbarons, we took a trip to see the estates of John D. Rockefeller, oil tycoon, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, builder of railroads.

It was a different way of learning, a creative way of learning; a way of learning that is opposite New York State’s Common Core curriculum. It’s also a way of learning that needs to be reintroduced, as I will explain.

I don’t remember how I learned proofs in geometry. Had I been taken to a science museum’s exhibit on shapes, not only would I remember the museum, I would have a deeper understanding of geometry.

I tried explaining this to an elementary school teacher at my sons’ private school. She then gave her class some reading projects to do, but still sent home the busywork I tried to tell her was unnecessary.

When they reached middle school there, I saw how easy it would have been for the teachers to work together. Instead, each was tied to her area of expertise and the specific requirements of Common Core she had to fulfill. The ID Team fostered student teacher relationships and led to the one I still have with my seventh grade social studies teacher, Janet Petersen.

Janet went beyond all the other ID team teachers. I remember songs she played, a “baseball game” on the Gilded Age which she had written and a budgeting exercise for a trip.

I was reminded of this difference when accompanying my elder son on college tours in New York City.

I recalled a map of Manhattan I had done for Janet. Not good at drawing, I had picked up some postcards with New York City locations on them and glued each of them to the place it belonged on the map.

“You probably still have the map,” Janet teased when I told her about the college excursion with my son. “It’s probably still at my parents’ house,” I laughed. We were sitting together on the ground floor of my hotel in Florida, the state my son ultimately went to college in and coincidently near her new home. I had stayed in touch with her all that time.

I got to know Janet at a difficult time in my young life. My parents were considering divorce. My sister played softball and had practice after school.

Lonely and without a desire to be at home, I started hanging around Janet’s classroom. I didn’t confide in her, but I knew she was there for me.

Since then, I have learned that role models and heroines don’t have to be famous. They are often simply someone who cares, and any healthy relationship can spark these bonds.

I became a social worker after I was an attorney. I found the litigation process to be too adversarial. Everything I learned about kindness came from Janet. I chose to work with adolescents as a social worker because of her influence. As I do so, I continue to honor her values.