How to Turn Awkward Moments into Teachable Moments
Working with the population of young adults who have disabilities there are bound to be times when awkward moments pop up. Over the past two years, I’ve had to learn how to handle these moments. Early on I learned that lessons rarely go the way you planned and its part of our job to move on seamlessly, adapt the plan, and roll with the punches.
What do you do when a nineteen-year-old male student tells you that you are pretty or at a Special Olympics event a student walks up to you and asks you if you “come here often”? It’s hard not to laugh or hide the shock when you hear a pick up line come out of your student’s mouth. This particular situation was awkward but I had to stop and use the moment to teach the appropriate way to start talking to an adult you see outside of school. Whenever a student makes a mistake use the opportunity to teach them the right way. If I had ignored the situation, the student wouldn’t have learned the appropriate way to start a conversation. They are immediately able to see how to apply the lesson to their lives because it just happened. Our students pick up on the things they hear and watch but don’t know how to apply them in appropriate ways. It’s our job as adults in their lives, whether you’re a teacher, parent, or therapist to teach the correct way to handle social situations.
Then there are times when incredibly funny moments happen and it’s okay to join in the laughter. I’ve used these moments to bond with my students and after two years I feel very close with them all. Last week I was running a social group and working on small talk. The conversation turned to music and one girl brought up Justin Bieber. The crowd went wild. Everyone started laughing and yelling about his recent arrest. Was it the most appropriate of topics? Definitely not but as a twenty-four-year old woman, pop culture is a shared interest I have with my young adult students. Which is exactly what I was teaching them- using topics appropriate for your audience. We talked and laughed about it and luckily no one brought up the nefarious reasons he was under arrest. It’s important to be on their level. I’ve learned this from some amazing special education teachers I work with. Being approachable allows students to trust and learn from the adults around them.
So in summary the awkward moments turn out to be not only entertaining but important teaching moments that help the students learn. At times they catch you off guard and have even made me blush but you can’t shy away or ignore these times. Then the student loses out on the opportunity to see the appropriate expectations of how to act and when to use them. These moments are really gifts that make my job easier, not harder.