Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why I'm STILL a Social Worker

As I approach 10 years in DC, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my decision to become a social worker, a decision I made ten years ago as a naive 18 year old getting ready to start college. After 4 years of being involved in high school service, and growing up with a sibling with exceptional learning needs, I thought there could be nothing better than spending the rest of my life trying to make the world a better place for people with disabilities. I'd witnessed first hand the challenges that children with disabilities and their families faced across multiple systems, and I vowed that I was going to make a difference. I knew then that social work was a thankless job and that the pay would most likely barely cover my expenses, but it didn't matter. I knew that my calling was to be a social worker, and that it was what I was meant to be doing.

Ten years later, social work is wearing on me. Burnout is a very real thing people. I've recently realized how much being in a thankless career can absolutely suck. While I absolutely love being a therapist for kids and teens with intellectual disabilities, the school setting I am in is undergoing a lot of administrative and financial changes that make it very difficult to get excited to go to work everyday. Nothing about me wants to get up and go to work when I know that I'm going to have more work to do than I can possibly get done in the time given to me that week, and that I'm facing a principal who has no respect for clinical services in her school (one that can not and would not exist without clinical services being fulfilled on IEP's).

I am more than used to giving to my kids- giving, giving, and then giving some more- and not getting any thanks for it. I am even ok with this, because seeing the changes and growth that they make in therapy are enough for me to know that I'm doing a good job. However, this past week I realized how important it was to me that other professional adults acknowledge the hard work and dedication that social workers do on a daily basis. This has never been as clear as when our principal purposefully left all clinicians out of an end of the summer recognition ceremony and then treated a leaving clinician, an 11 year veteran who has given everything for these kids, with the most disrespect I've seen in a long time. For the first time, I truly understand what being in a thankless job looks like, and I can't say that I'm thrilled with it.

I've spent the last 5 days yelling about how disrespected I feel at work, crying over how hurtful that disrespect can be, and brooding over whether it was finally time to get serious about finding a new job. While I can't say that I have all of the answers, there is one thing that hasn't changed and has even grown stronger from the challenges I've faced this year:

I LOVE being a social worker. 

I love the looks on my students faces when I walk into a classroom to pull them from group and they know that for the next hour, someone is going to give them undivided attention, love, and the freedom to be themselves.

I love seeing a student finally begin to trust and open up in therapy after years of sitting in silence or talking just to avoid the problems they face.

I love being witness to my students beginning to mature into adults and use the social skills that I've spent the last 5+ years helping to cultivate.

I love the hugs I get in the morning from the student who can't verbalize his appreciation, but wants me to know that it exists anyway.

I love seeing the spark in their eyes as they master a new skill or problem solve through a difficult situation on their own.

It shouldn't matter whether my work is appreciated by others or not, because of these things and millions of other moments each day that make this job worth it. But it does bother me when I'm blatantly disrespected by a professional who wants to preach about how much she appreciates her staff. It bothers me enough that I've spent the first 5 days of my precious 2 weeks of summer vacation mulling it over and over in my head. Ultimately though, this has nothing to do with being a social worker and everything to do with environment and the problems of other people. I still believe that this is my calling: to love and serve and work with some of the most vulnerable. I do it because it does my heart good and because I love the change (albeit very SLOW change) that can be made.

I've realized that no one else can make this better for me except ME. I can't change the way that other people treat me or view my job- I can only allow myself to not be bothered by it and change my environment when I'm ready.

For all of those professors who told me as a naive 18 year old that this job wouldn't be easy, you were absolutely right. What you didn't say though, was how absolutely beautiful and rewarding it would be at the same time.

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