Friday, December 16, 2011

When ARE we going to talk about my kids?... Part 1: My kids

Months ago, I was inspired by a Ms. Katie, a special ed teacher who had such a perfect title for her blog entry that I just had to rip it off.

Read it in it's entirety here

The very eloquent Ms. Katie poses the following question: What do we do with the disruptive, most-difficult to educate children?

Well, I'll tell you - they come to someone like me in a District 75 school or they come to someone like her, a teacher on an inpatient psychiatry unit.

Inspried by Ms. Katie, I have decided to write several entries about where "my kids" fit into the national conversation about education. I would like to begin by describing them and a typical "week in the life" of a special ed teacher in a D75 school - I think it's important to know how seriously "disabled" the children are before beginning the conversation. Subsequent entries will be dedicated to what does or does not work, what may or may not work, and general grumbling and harrumphing about specifics.

District 75 - for you non NYC DOE people out there -is a citywide district of specialized schools for special education students. It includes a number of different special ed classifications, students with autism, mental retardation, physical disabilities, emotional disturbance, and "other" (yes, there is an "other") To my knowledge, a few of the schools serve students with one or two types of disability, but most of them serve an array: I work at a school that has 5 sites, serving kindergarten through 12th grade, students who participate in the state wide "tests"- referred to as standardized assessment and those those cognitive disabilities preclude them from participating - referred to as alternate assessment. (more on the joke that is a NYS Alternate Assessment in the future!) Again these students are the most disruptive and / or most difficult to educate children in the NYC DOE.

Sometimes, I come home from work in need of serious de-compressing and it has become a bit of a ritual in our household for me to give Mr. Rim a list of the day's "atrocities." (A bit of hyperbole, there, forgive me) I think the best way to give readers an idea of the students we special educators choose to serve is to simply list this weeks "atrocities:"

- Monday / Tuesday: 10 year old Student with MR refuses to transition to classroom (on 4th floor, no elevator) from the b cafeteria or gym on 1st floor. Flops down on floor, refuses to move for 45 minutes to 1 hour - rolls around in various sticky things stuck to the floor. Crawls under difficult to move cafeteria tables. Get's into the bathroom, locks herself in a stall, curls around a toilet, rolls around in someone else's urine. This student is also able to burp and fart AT people. teacher has to leave the paraprofessional behind in order to monitor her. It takes a good 45 minutes or so to get her to tranisition to the classroom - if her behavior plan is followed correctly. Behavior plan involves ignoring. Many other adults stare, try to intervene, dangle food in front of her, even though teacher and para specifically ask them to stop, because it escalates the behavior. Other adults ignore these requests, which results in this student "flopping" around for about 2 hours or so.

-Monday 9/ 10 year old students with emotional disturbance have an argument in class about one of the "bothering" the other. Student A grabs a pair of scissors and threatens to stab Student B. Student B grabs a pair of scissors and threatens to stab Student A back. A chase ensues. The other students in the class begin to takes sides - anarchy. Teacher steps in between student A and B and student A stabs the teacher in the hand. Teacher in Emergency Room. Student returns the next day. Consequence: not earning "points"

-Monday-Tuesday 8 to 10 year old Students C,D,E, and F with emotional disturbance(male and female) run in the halls all day yelling very creative things...oh, I'll just tell you: "Suck my dick, suck my motherfucking dick, suck it hard until I pee on you..." (!) to each other. When teachers ask them to stop, they yell other creative things, like "i'm dead ass you can't do nothin'" Gang up on a 5 year old student with Down's Syndrome because she's "looking" at them. Parents called. Principal called. Consequence: eating lunch in the office for the next few days and not earning "points."
Tuesday- 11 year old student with ED, who came to our school about 3 weeks ago from a hospital, arrives crying and screaming. Says she wants to kill herslef. No answer or return call from parent. Interviewed by the school psych and social worker, given lots of counseling...for about 3 hours. Around lunchtime, she grabs a sharp shard of a broken desk lying in the hall (left by another ED student the a few hours before) tries to stab herself - for real - lots of psych and social worker call principal, who asks them NOT to cal 911 if it can be helped. It coul;dn't be helped, 911 called, takes 4 big EMTs to carry this girl out- This happens about 12:30. She's at school the next day.
Wednesday: Teacher discovers some disturbing drawings and writings of a VERY sexual nature done by an 8 year old student with MR - relatively new to the school. Shows school psychologist and social worker. Both call the grandmother, the person the student lives with. No, she can't come in for a meeting. They do a very quick social history. Student lived with various family members in and out of the US. Psych and social worker explain that this type of stuff is unusual, woman hangs up. Student is out the rest of the week.

Wednesday - 10 year old student with autism has been out for 2 days. Her parent, who we all know to be very concientious - called the school office on Monday to say the student had a bad cold and would be back probably Wednesday. Student returns on Wednesday, parent calls the office and asks that if she still seems to be under the weather, please take her temperature and/ or call her to pick said student up- Thinks it's just a bad cold, but please let her know if it seems she's not recovering. Wednesday afternoon, an attendance teacher shows up at the house and threatens the parents with ACS involvement, possibly removal of all the children in the home. Parent calls up the teacher, very upset, wondering why in the world she can't keep her sick daughter, who has good attendance, etc...home sick for a couple of days without a fuss.

Well, I'm only up to Wednesday now - are you still reading? Note that I'm not privy to how that desk got broken, and likely unaware of a few other "atrocities" that may have occured this week. Please also note the irony of that last one.

Please also note I haven't mentioned academics yet. Readers of this blog may remember that I was a Teaching Fellow and still feel pretty raw about how useless most of the training was. One thing I do use and say to myself often is something Rick Hess wrote, that a student who can sit down and pay attention is more likely to learn better. We've got to work on the whole student at some point. (I'm paraphrasing)

The question I ask is this: Given the students I work with,in this "accountability obsessed" (Ms. Katie's phrase - thanks again!) culture of education, what, if any, room is there for the whole child?

If you know, please tell me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A miscellany of comments before I get back to blogging for realz...

Hello, all.
Took a break from blogging due to knee surgery. I  took a week off of work, and had to hobble around on a cane for a while. I have the following comments / questions/ complaints about the last few months of work:

-It is  borderline criminal that the school I am co located with places 4, 5, 6  year old students with mental retardation (intellectual disability, whatever they're calling it these days) who need PT to walk up and down 4 flights of stairs several times daily. I noticed it before, but hobbling around after surgery really made me empathize. And I had a dr.'s note excusing me from walking my kids to lunch/gym and fire drills!

- What do we think about the change in terminology from "Mental Retardation" to "Intellectual Disability" in the classification of disability? Of course the term "retardation" has it's negative connotations, and it's obvious this is an attempt to be sensitive. But I dislike the  use of the word "intellectual" - depending how you define "intellect", any one of us could have "intellectual" deficiencies/ disabilities. If it's got to be change, I like the word "cognitive" better. But the MR term has been around for so long and from where I'm sitting, so many parents I work with have enough trouble accepting that their child is, indeed, mentally retarded that the change of terms is confusing. And, any second now, other kids will start calling other kids "intellectualy disabled" and then that will have the same connotations as "retard."
*Also, what will the kids in Boston do? "The Red Sox played wicked intellectually disabled last night?"*
Let's call a duck a duck. No, strike that. Or qualify it: a duck with spots, a duck with a white feather, etc. A child is a child. A child could be a child with mental retardation or autism or....well, you know what I mean. This could be a fantastic paper topic for someone who loves semantics.

- All these iPads? They're killing me! I have had more administrative "visits" and" walk  - throughs" and "informal observations" in the last 3 months than in the last 5 years of teaching.I get it, I really do. One must justify the acquiring of an iPad from the DOE by using it. In theory,  my school (and probably most others) uses it  provide feedback, share best practices, and chart student and teacher growth.
 In practice,  what happens is an administrator will pop in without so much as a "Hello" snap pictures of bulletin boards or student work, send it to another administrator to with mostly negative - and very vaguely worded I might add "feedback." Then the other administrator has to to show the classroom teacher in person the feedback and when we ask for specifics about what was wrong... well you get it - it's a very adult game of "Telephone."  And" Gotcha!"  Then, teachers begin to feel, tense, nervous, fearful and "watched." Not a good combination to excel at a craft.
All that puts a bee in my bonnet, but what really makes buzz is this: there are some administrators that are very literal and logical to a fault - but there are enough out there that can use this technology in the right way and direct others to do so as well.
What if  AP Sally popped in my room with her iPad and said, "Hello, Miss Rim! I'd like to take a picture of this ____to share with others. I think it's good strategy because of _____. Do you mind? " (what teacher minds that?)
 Or alternately, AP Beth popped in to my room with her iPad and said "Miss Rim,  I don't think this _____ is working well because of ____. I think that the way you can improve it is ____ . Maybe we can share it with other teachers and get their suggestions. Can I take a picture of it, and after you've incorporated some suggestions and improved it, I''l take another  picture and we can use it to chart your "growth "/ to help other teachers?"
It's not that hard, people. With great iPads comes great responsibility.
PS- Annie Sullivan, the "Miracle Worker" had no technology as we know it, no paperwork, portfolios, etc and no administrator. Just sayin'

-And finally-at  my D75 school, in my  12:1:1 alternate assessment class  -3rd to 5th grade, so between 8 and 10 years old- there are WISC - scale IQ scores  between 35 and 68. Pretty big range, but not atypical of an AA class. And within that scope there are students who are nearing grade level at, say...phonics but when it comes to other skills like comprehension or identyfing money - they;re all over the place. It's hard.

And that's the subject of my next "for realz" blog - "What about MY kids?"

NYC education bloggers: Been reading you all in the meantime,love what you're saying. Special shout outs to Mr. A Talk, Sweetgirl Tracie, and South Bronx.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trotting out the dogs and ponies....

We had some kind of  trial walk through the other AP walking around furiously scribbling about bulletin boards. 

I have a special hate for bulletin board critiques - stemming from an incident in which a  "Network Leader" ridiculed me and my  SPECIAL ED students- in front of them- so much that I hyperventilated and threw up.
It was April,poetry month and we made symmetrical paintings and couplets that described our artwork. I even ripped off a veteran teacher's idea about the couplets (with his permission) -  I didn't want to do one of those fill in the blank poems - and got reamed out about how my idea of academic rigor was a joke with only 2 lines and how the student's artwork was "juvenile." Of course the other couplet guy and the fill in the blank people got a pass.

I've since developed a thicker skin, a better sense of humor about these things but the BB Police thing still really puts a bee in my bonnet! So I was a bit amused  in a snarky way when I saw the AP wandering and checking out the bulletin boards.I had everything - appropriate work/rubrics / feedback etc. there were 2 things marked "N/A"  -next steps and visual appeal.
That puzzled me, so I asked "Visual appeal and next steps are not applicable?"
"They certainly are. I didn't see any evidence of those two factors on your bulletin board." 
"Oh." Pause. "Uh, I'm a little confused. What does N/ A stand for then?"
"Not applicable."
"Oh," Pause. " I thought 'not applicable' meant you were not applying that criteria this time around."
"By criteria do you mean the aforementioned factors that i stated were not in evidence at this time?" (I'm not kidding, this is what she said)
"Um, yes. But OK I get it! The terminology threw me. Sorry."
"Do you want to know I why I stated that the evidence in visual appeal and next steps was unapplicable in evidence?" (again, not kidding)
"Of course."
"There was no evidence of next steps in your feedback post it and it was not visually appealing." 
"I see. Well maybe you can help me, then. I wrote things like 'Let's keep working on your fine motor skills so your name is legible.' and 'Let's work on increasing the amount of work you do.' Those are things I think are next steps to increase the quality of their work. Were you looking for something else?"
"If you wrote that, i didn't read it because the next steps factor was not written as a criteria on the paper. I didn't see it applicable as evidence because I didn't know where to find it listed."
"Wait.... You want me to just label it?"
"If you had a rubric or a post it and included in the feedback you could write "feedback" where the feedback is and next steps with the next steps, then I could see it in evidence."
"Oh. Sure. I can do that."

I went and highlighted feedback comments in pink and next step comments in orange, and stapled up a little key by the bulletin board. "Thanks for adding on 'next steps' Ms. Rim" she called out at the end of the day, with a Top Gun thumbs up - like gesture. Didn't tackle the visual appeal there, that seemed a little  too subjective.

By the way, most of my students cannot hold a pencil properly, read, identify shapes or colors, etc. Clearly that post it is not for them. Increasing expectations for special ed students is not about this. It's "N/A"

Friday, September 16, 2011

...and I'm literally doing it with one hand / the obligatory September complaints

So, how's everyone's fist few weeks back been? *sarcasm*

I came back refreshed. I took the whole summer off to plan and have a wedding. A destination wedding in the Carribbean, which was about 3,000 times better than I expected it to be, - even though Irene tried to crash, she was just a mere tropical wave at that point, not even named yet. A bit of drizzle.  Afterward, Mr. Rim and I traveled to my hometown way up  in Western NY ,where I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and broke my hand.

When I reported to work the first day, I was in a splint (which is now a cast) and since the kids weren't there, had some mildly "soothing stuf"f in my system. The morning was dedicated to housekeeping - blood borne pathogens, please-don't-get-arrested-but-if-you-do-call, etc. Since I work in  D75 school, with many "offsites" and several different types of students, the afternoon was spent in attempting to  align common core / state standards with what we actually DO and what the students  actually NEED.

This is a common issue with all of us, but  I think that it's more prominent in D75  -  is that it's  much harder for most of us  classroom teachers to make  what we do look good on paper. The Danielson / common core / flavor of the month  Eduspeak jargon  DOES NOT come with a manual about how to define whatever ill-defined quality of instruction within the scope of the students the any given district serves, and it's always been up to a particular school or a teacher to do that. And as most of you know, there is an incredibly diverse population D75 serves. It's funny how when "network" leaders, coaches, reviewers, or  others who may not know about any of what I call the "special / special" ed kids hate what our plans and scores are on paper, but when they actually go to the school show an alarming degree of naivete. For example, in no particular order:   I've seen the aforementioned  cringe and leave when a child drools, or rocks back and forth or realize than a 10 year old who has still not been toilet trained has a diaper with poop in it; refuse to model a lesson after being called a "bitch" or something in a class full of emotionally disturbed 8th graders, yell "S/he needs a private school!" when spat at - this is what we do every single day.

And so, about 9:45 a the first day, my blood began to boil. My group is teachers that work with alternate assessment students. We plowed through some Danielson rubrics and sort of got the message that we have to do a couple common core projects for our grades (?) level 1 to 4 questioning techniques., or something.. and at about 10am, I asked ,
" So if I have a class of special ed  students with cognitive impairments, who are only able at this point to count to 20, what would a level 4 question be for them?  For example, could I ask  them analyze the number, oh, say, 17 by comparing and contrasting it to a higher and lower number? Could I have them synthesize it by pointing out that today is the 17th of the school year, or to a given month? At which point on the scale is it that a student in my class can make a connection like, "My  sister is 17, she's older than me,."  Or say how many years differnece it is between the student and the sister. For most of my kids, this would be a level 4 question  for them. "
My colleagues murmured and seemed to agree this was  an Ok way to fulfill our charge. The facilitator blinked a few times. shuffled papers,  looked at STuff and then, I KID YOU NOT, said if the student could write a 2- 3 paragraph piece about a number being a prime or a multiple of something and why, than "OK, we could probably let that slide" when we explained some of the children don't even know how to grip a pencil properly or spell their names.  I asked about social /  emotional / adaptive behavior goals - which are a very important part of any child's education, but are the bread and butter of D75 - more blinking and shuffling and less answers.
According to other colleagues who work with standardized "special /special" assessment kids, they asked simliar  type questions and got the same  type answers.
.  Translation: " If you can't make a bulletin board about it, it never happened."
For obvious reasons, that put a big bee in my bonnet - and I still had "something soothing" in my system!
Rick Hess, the assessment guru, wrote - I'm paraphrasing - All other things being equal, a kid that can sit down, be quiet and listen, will learn better. But if a student in D75 was able to do that, then they wouldn't be there. S o it is not only our charge as  teachers (in D75 or anywhere)  but a big part of our ethic tohelp our students work  the social / emotional/ behavioral pieces.
  In fact, I think it's disservice to students and teachers to waste so much time on aligning and re-aligning the very basic nature of what we do into whatever rubric of the year is popular. It's Doubleplusnongood for you fans of Orwell.
  So there's that, and the stray  beginning o' the year "and you wonder why public education is in such a state" observations (read on, you can relate)
- BIG cockroach infestation in the building I work at. I'm not skittish, but I kill about 4 a day and my classroom isn't considered that big a risk. I'm on the 4th floor, BTW. No extermination / spraying/ bombing planned..according to the head custodial leader guy there  -" I gotta get authorization from somebody, but can't find who. I don;t even know who my supervisor is this year."
-Moved classrooms, don't have a key - according to the aforementioned custidial leader guy: "So ya want me to find you a key, huh? uh...I guess I could just make ya a copy of mine, you could go to the hardware store or I could, but I don't wanna get in trouble with by boss and I dunno who that is yet."
-Special ed bussing is always a nightmare,  and even under the best of circumstances there are many students who have to be on the bus for an hour a more - even if it's a "short bus." In the beginning of the year it's much worse: 2- 2/12 hours. Kids arrive to school or home having had #1 and #2 in thier pants. Also, these busses are private companies, subcontracted, so the only thing I can say top parents is to call OPT or the bus company.
-No printer, toner, copier. limited internet access for at least another week. But we have to give out homework daily and the bulletin boards must be done by Tuesday. Enough leeway, "no excuses"  get it done already!
-More often than you would  ever think, even district 75 doesn't have the resources to support  quite a large number of very needy student. And there is a greater number of kids that really do need mental health support and meds than you would ever think. To wit:. I have been slapped by  2  children under  in my class , both under 10 years of age, about 15 times this week. I lost count of the name calling. My paras, have had triple that. One kid broke a window with his fist, twice.
-One of these kid wAS dropped off to school by his dad. The student went off to breakfast, and I explained to the dad that the day  about the hitting and hullabaloo,and that his 9 year son had called me every name in the book in Spanish and   English and demanded I prove it by doing certain things to him...The kid found out I "snitched" on him to his dad, had an epic tantrum, which resulted in his dad telling me he was going to bring the student home for a bit to calm down and come back., What actually happened was that his dad called 911, and LEFT before the police / ambulance got there. Then , called the school later, demanding his son get a "better" teacher "She can';t control him and he don't get enough homework." Homework.

Remember... all this is with one hand.  I don't meant o be a big complainer, but really - we can do special ed better than this.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I teach

First of all,  a shout out to Matt Damon - I like them apples.  It felt good to have a celeb defend us.
I think now that it's back to school time, we should respond to some of the criticism of the SOS march. Many wrote "Why I'm marching." Let's now write "Why I teach." Hopefully one of you more technically savvy people can create a special webpage for this and make it a big deal.

Why I teach:
    I teach because I was called to it. I teach because the most important thing to me in my life  is to  be kind and generous and good to others, and this is the best way I know how.
    I teach because I find at least one quality to love in each one of my students - and sometimes I really have to search- but I ALWAYS find something - and that makes me feel good about myself. I teach because once a student knows about that quality makes me love them,  it changes who they are, and how they think about themselves.
     I teach because kids are funny, smart, mad, sad, violent, incontinent (that happens in special ed sometimes) weird, sometimes violent, sometimes very troubled - but they are all fascinating and wonderful in some aspect...even though there are days, maybe even weeks, that I forget that.
        I teach because the education of every child (or adult for that matter) is like the beginning of a  puzzle for me to put together - I do the end pieces, the borders, and I marvel in watching them fill it in for themselves. I never know what the picture inside the borders will look like, and am usually thrilled when I see it.
    I teach because of the many colleagues I have that feel the same way, and if I'm having trouble with the puzzle, they will help me. 
   I teach because teaching is a craft: parts knowledge, technique, part magic and illumination - but the mix a teacher uses for each child, for each period of the day - is all based in the gut. 
   I teach because the craft allows me to try new and different things from year to year, I don't stagnate. (Theoretically, that is)
     I teach because of the child whose dream was to go to "Montealbec, Candada" and eat creme brulee got to eat creme brulee in my classroom at least - the ability to make a part of a dream come true is marvelous.
      I teach because that child now knows its "Montreal, Quebec, Canada." 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can I make a ground breaking suggestion?

Please don't laugh at me, I'm only going into my 5th year....
But I happened to read Mr. A's post on the whole Master / Turnaround Teacher offers that the DOE has put out and, I just don't get it.

Are there not already school and district based coaches? And mentor teachers? And lead teachers? And cooperating teachers for student teachers?  And don't half of them end up assigned to areas they know nothing about? Does the DOE propose to eliminate these titles? Why add so many layers to an already convoluted system? Sounds like someone  who hasn't been in a school for a while had an idea in a meeting.

 This might be a bigger deal in D75: I can't tell you how many times a coach or lead teacher has walked into a classroom of mine with only a smidgen of special ed experience and told me NOTHING that i didn't know already. As if I never tried a graphic organizer before!  I've experienced behavior / classroom management coaches that refuse to observe the children - instead taking me through powerpoint presentations on how I feel about things like having a chair thrown at me. "Angry. Frustrated." "You have remarkable insight into yourself, Miss Rim, how did you learn that? " "Therapy." Colleagues of mine had coaches in their rooms to model lessons and outright refuse to teach after the first curse word.

So I'd like to make the groundbreaking suggestion that the DOE streamline these titles, but make the duties a little more specific. They could also make a cute little acronym and get good PR that way, say...M.O.M (Master or Mentor)....So a middle or high school who is very needy could have an school based  ELA MOM or 2, A math MOM or 2, etc, etc and with elementary sites there could be a K-2 MOM, 3-5 MOM, etc. on site daily working with teachers and admin, helping to design AIS,  assisting with classroom management, etc. For "less needy schools" maybe the MOM comes a few times a week.
For D75, I'd see it as a bit more specified, the MOMs would have to specialize in either standardized assessment kids, or alternate assessment kids, with grade levels and such.
Then I see these MOMs working at schools to select the right mentor / cooperating teachers and giving them support.
And eliminate the whole "turnaround " word- come on - can you imagine getting one of these jobs, having the best of intentions and then being introduced as the turn around teacher? (although I have the feeling the way it's set up, most of those teachers will be arrogant douches just off their 2nd or 3rd year)  If I may continue the lousy metaphor, these turnaround teachers will be treated like evil stepmothers by the existing staff.

Are you still laughing? That's OK, I know it's more complicated that what I've suggested, (especially the sea change that it would entail) but it's got to be more simple than this.

Wanna hear another joke? I'm going into my 5th year and will get my THIRD student teacher in the fall. That's right, folks. I've been a cooperating teacher since my 3rd year - most of the more veteran teachers where I work can't take it anymore, so the principal assigns some of them to me. Not that I suck at teaching - because I really believe in my bones that I don't- and I give my student teachers what I can, but it's a disservice to them getting such a newbie.

Let's all comment on the way other teachers mentor and model for each other!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

the obligatory E4E / Ruben Brosbe post

Before I get into it, I'd like to give Mr. A. Talk my sincere thanks for the plug he gave me. When I saw the title of his post, I screamed so loudly and with such joy that Mister Rim was suspected I won the lottery. And I actually called my mother. Mr. A's kind of my guru. Thanks, pal!

So to get on with it, a bit of disclosure for those who don't already know: I'm a newer teacher (going into my 5th year) and was a Teaching Fellow. And I am very sympathetic - no, EMPATHETIC-  toward new teachers in alternate certification programs. I think for the most part, most of us want to do well, and the vocal group of E4E "Asshats" and "reformers" represent more of a minority than you really think. (Or I pray that's the case)

In fact I think I "liked" E4E on Facebook, before I knew what they were. But here's what's wrong with the whole thing, in no particular order:

Teaching is not an art, nor is it an assembly line. It's a CRAFT. Think about a craftsperson, say a carpenter....
There's GOT to be a lot of technical know how - you get the specs, envision a finished product, find out how your client (s)  feel about it, then tweak a bit, then there's measuring, proportions, sawing, sanding - ELBOW GREASE. Then on top of that you've got to think of the design - this is where your heart and soul and most importantly YOU GUT  goes. Do the clients want a plain austere design, or something fancy with whimsy? Do they want something fancy with whimsy while you think that plain and austere is the way to go....Confused? Turn on any reality TV home make over show, and you'll get my drift.
The former is something that can be taught to a teacher, lots of "strategies" out there - the latter comes from the gut, the picking and choosing of which strategy goes with the teacher and the kids.  But no matter how good you're gut is, if you don't have the know how, the meat and potatoes - you're LOST. You can't ask the right questions if you don't even know what they are. Admit it, we got shafted with training and DEMAND you receive the guidance and mentorship you deserve.

And if you can't do that, join the union  - that's what its there for. You may not always agree with their decisions, but that's life. And if you join, get vocal. In my experience, the UFT, for all their flaws has always been very supportive of newer teachers, and also special ed teachers.

Tenure? Get over it. What it is now is not what it's supposed to be. Tenure is not a feather in your cap. It's the right to due process - so "they " can't fire you for, say being an unprepared TFA / Fellow who they just don't like. Tenure doesn't mean you're a great teacher. Tenure guarantees you have a chance at NOT being fired for some stupid thing - if a principal can't terminate you because you're a lousy teacher, theh the principal hasn't done their homework.

It's better to leave than be stubborn....My wise mommy, Mrs Rim, told me " If you haven't got your sea legs by the 3rd year, shame."

And lastly - DID YOU LEARN NOTHING FROM YOUR ASSBACKWARDS TRAINING? All we learned was political crap - I wrote a 10 page paper on "pedagogy of the oppressed" my junior year4 as an undergrad, and a 3 page one as a NYCTF grad student. Ugh. If you are in the blogosphere your first few years teaching, stop bragging about all the cool shit you do (and you probably DO do cool shit sometimes) and start ASKING.

Newer teachers, especially those in special ed have an absolute obligation to ask more and tell less..

And as for the hipster beard, Ruben - I have a theory that people with facial hair are creating a shield between themselves and life.

*this is what I have to say. I don't plan on posting much more on this topic, unless something else interesting comes up  - I think  E4E will implode upon itself like the house in "Poltergeist" by....hmmmm .. March?

Stay tuned for more specific tales from the short bus....and Thanks a Zillion Mr. A Talk!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How they have to spend their summer vacation

I work in a D75 school, at an offsite in a class of alternate assessment kids. Almost all the students in D75 have a mandated 12 month year. I chose not to work this summer for two very good reasons: 1. I'm getting married and 2. I was feeling so burnt out that I was worried I'd snap and end up in The Post under some badly rhyming or punning headline: "Miss Rim, Filled to the Brim, Abuses Kids in the Gym"

But I truly adore my kids and my job, and I missed them, so I popped in for a visit. After being waylaid by various office people who wanted to give me the gossip, I was happy to catch them off guard, throw open the classroom door and yell, "You guys are tearing me apart!!!" (inside classroom joke, folks.) I got my fill of the hugs and cootchie - coos . (Yes, I do give my kids hugs sometimes. And I will continue to do so. So there.)

I asked about the "theme" for summer school and was told it was "Picturing America." OK, great. Most of my kids are really, really interested in maps and states and countries and other cultures. (One kid told me his dream was to go to "Montreal-bec" Canada and eat creme brulee - aside from the violence, I have a dream class)  So I was excited for them. And a little bit envious, I was thinking of all kinds of cute things I would like to try with them with respect to that theme.

But apparently, this summertime theme for the school - which has many sites, is K-12 with students that run the gamut of classifications, was not modified for the younger student or AA kids. It was some group of paintings from some museum education course. Which would be fine, kind of - but each class got a painting and had to write about what it reminds them of - which is still fine, kind of - but my class got a painting of the 1st COntinental Congress. To write about.

Now I know all kinds of ways to do writing with my kids even if they can't hold pencils. So do my colleagues. But the 1st continental congress? Come on! The summer teacher in my class, who is a gem, but has very little experience with this population asked what I thought they should do. When I asked some of them what does this picture remind them of....well, the word remind is hard for I asked what it looked like and they said "History." "Grandpa" "Dress" and my favorite, "Computer."

I kinda sat there agog for a minute - but being an AA teacher - you get kind of used to that (I swear AA teachers are probably THE most creative). So I finally told her what I my two top choices... I'd kinda sabotage it....After ass kissingly asking for some help  /ideas / or resources (which likely wouldn't happen) I'd simply make BB with the paintng and their actual reactions: "grandpa" "computer" etc... OR, since I care about the kids,  I'd pick another, more familiar picture out of the set (like the one of the White House, which I hear 11th graders got) and ask the kids what they know about that. They know Obama lives there, they  know the George Washington lived there - even tho he didn't, they kinda get the president thing.

I am tenured, by the way.

Really, this is often the plight of the D75 teacher and their students. With this new observation rubric, and all the other edupeak hullabaloo coming down the line, which D75 schools are expected to follow to the letter - doing this kind of thing looks good "on paper." But I'd love, love, love to see someone show me what these expectations would look like with our kids.

 Seriously - show me and I'll stop with the un - rigorous crap I do. "Computer!"

Coming up: The un-rigorous education D75 teachers provide.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thinking about becoming an alcoholic...but not quite there yet? Join NYCTF!

Many of you obviously remember those signs on the trains....
My first few years of teaching, through NYCTF, my "fellows" and I re wrote those signs...
"What do you call a room full of sociopaths and psychotics? Your first period class. Join NYCTF"
"Wanna learn how to duck chairs? Join NYCTF!"

So, some words on Fellows, TFAers, an the "alternate certification" thing:

Almost all of us have good intentions

Our training sucked. We got shafted. We literally know nothing. (Case in point: In June of my 2nd year I was asked for a kids AIS folder. I said "What's an AIS folder? What does AIS stand for?" ) We don't even know what questions to ask our first years. We also were fed all kinds of ego stuff - we were told we were "the cream of the crop" ad nauseum, so we think we know when we don't. Veteran or mentor teachers, or admins try to be sensitive to that...AND TELL US STUFF.

Many of us use it as a stepping stone to other things, that's unethical at best. If one teaches for a few years and decides it's not a good fit, that's one thing - but if you "get into" one of these programs for the prestige, or because you just graduated and dunno what to do with yourself - I suggest you pass. If you're 22 and wanna party - NOT the way to go.

For more veteran teachers, don't write one of us off immediately, for every Rueben Brosbe and E4E douche, there is another that really wants to be a good teacher - and we want your ideas, your support and sometimes your shoulder.

Miss Rim's tales from the short bus

    Once upon a time, there was a girl who was 5 (or so )  years out of college, working with developmentally disabled adults years out of college and searching.for something "more." Taking inspiration from her then colleagues and mother who was a teacher for 35 years, she applied to the New York City Teaching Fellows and was accepted to teach special ed.
    Whereupon, her mother replied, "Are you fucking CRAZY?"

    And that's the end of the fairy tale.

   In the interest of full disclosure, I was a Teaching Fellow. I now teach in D75 in an alternate assessment classroom, but did my first 2 years in a standardized class at a school for exclusively ED kids. I have highlights and lowlights, which are forthcoming.

   My reading of the estimable Mr. A Talk has clinched my decision to write this blog. With all the hullabaloo out there, I think that the voice of special ed teachers, particularly in D75 needs to be heard. I will begin with a couple of readings about my specific experiences as a newer teacher in an alternate certification program...a "reflection" if you will...and then get a bit political....