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.