So is it Working? T.E.A.C.H.
By: Jacob Dicello
If you read my last blog, no wait, let me rephrase that, “you darn sure better have read my last blog!” You may remember that I was concerned about the perception of the individuals that we support at Tobosa. Tobosa, and its consumers, are no doubt misrepresented in some peoples’ minds. I want to climb a mountain top with a megaphone and correct the misperception all at once! I want instant gratification. I want the individuals that we serve to get their proper due and be viewed as they deserve to be seen. And I want it NOW! But, such is life and I have to take a deep breath, calm down and face the reality that this may never change. Just as I was at exasperation’s end, I attended a meeting directed by Tobosa’s C.E.O., Rosy Rubio; she went on to admonish that we are now in full T.E.A.C.H. mode. Acrostically, this represents:
The point of this is that we have to focus on change by teaching. This happens one day at a time, one opportunity at a time. Real change, if it is to adhere, takes time and effort. I took it to heart and told myself, “if Rosy believes in it, then I will too.”
So…is it working? Are we getting anywhere? Is the perception of Tobosa-supported individuals changing?
Case Study: My Father
My dad is a great man with many exceptional qualities, and I look up to him like no other. As you will see, he is also very frustrating, hard-headed, and old fashioned. Well, he had the same perceptions of the individuals that we support that I did when I obtained employment with Tobosa a little over a year ago. We would discuss my new job, and I would turn bright red and correct him through closed, gnashed teeth when he used statements like “those kinds of people” or “that autistic guy you all take care of.” The most cringe-worthy and my least favorite of these was when he would refer to “them” as “slow.” If I was not guilty of these same mistakes before I became educated about these wonderful individuals, I might have blown a gasket every time I spoke to my father about my job. “No”, I said to myself, “I’m not going to let it bother me, this is just an opportunity to change that perception”. So off to work I went on the Old Man’s brain.
To give you some context, I changed his perception of a subject ONCE and that was after we were stranded on the highway because he swore we had enough gas to get to the next town. In the mule dictionary, the word “stubborn” has a picture of my father next to it. I would correct him at every turn and I would stop him every time he made an insensitive comment. I got mad. I tried being diplomatic, using positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, the silent treatment. I just, for once, wanted him to refer to one of the individuals we support by name and not by their disability or worse. I used their names over and over, pounded their names into his skull! I got nowhere. How can I help change a mass perception when I can’t even get my own father to listen to me? Then, the magic happened.
As we were “shootin’ the bull” at a local restaurant one day, an old acquaintance walked up to our table. I call him an acquaintance because I don’t want to get inappropriate here. [If you truly want to know what I call him come see me.] He asks where I am working these days and I tell him Tobosa. He gets this “shit-eatin’ grin” on his face and gives the obligatory “you really fit in with those people” jokes. You know, the standard lame-brained wisecracks. I stayed calm, but I was dying inside. I was picturing Martin’s and Anthony’s and Lynette’s and Dee’s and Cecil’s faces and was contemplating throwing a left hook on their behalf. But no, I would never stoop to this guy’s level. I kept reminding him that the individuals we support are just that, Individuals, one of us. I was practically begging him to stop being such an ass. He made one more comment that I refuse to repeat. My fist balled up, and my face turned red. I was in the process of standing up and throwing down when my dad stands up and gets in this guys face and calmly, but firmly, says,
“If you ever talk about these people again you’re going to go into the category of people that we refer to as hospitalized.”
Those of you that know my dad know that he is scary when he’s upset. He is a right to life strong-man that has thrown around rolls of carpet most of his adult life. I don’t mean rolls of carpet that are room-sized. I’m talking about the rolls from the factory. The man’s hands are big balls of calloused knuckles.
He was raised up north in Wisconsin, near Chicago. Rumor has it that he was recruited by the Mafia to be a bruiser when he was a young man, and claims that he turned down the offer. I often wonder if it had anything to do with him abruptly moving from Wisconsin to New Mexico when he was a young 20-something back in the late 1960s. He has given some vague, unsatisfactory answers as to why he moved so far away, but I digress. The main point is this guy didn’t want to test him, even as my dad is now in his late 60s. To this guy’s credit, he got the point. He apologized, and my dad bought him a cup of coffee.
My dad had come through when it meant the most. Slowly, but surely, his perception had changed. And as for the jerk-o, let’s just say his understanding changed much quicker than my dads did.
I learned that day that you might not be able to reach everyone all the time, but you can use every opportunity to T.E.A.C.H., as Rosy proposed. It will make a difference, and it will hit home, eventually. If my dad can change his perception, anyone can…even the mules.