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.