Friday, May 18, 2012

The Men Who Stare at Coat Hooks

Today, the teachers in my school had to turn in student portfolios for review. In the grand tradition of education, there's been a lot of fuss about binders, plastic sleeves, and tab dividers; some fairly vague expectations about what sort of data we should have in there laid out that have been changed several times over the school year; and no examples provided.

 Now, most teachers worth their salt can come up with a system to track the progress of their students in a way that makes sense to teachers, parents, and the kids. Special ed teachers face a bit more of a hurtle due to the small steps their students need to take to master something.

 That can be hard to do with a child who has been working on a skill for several years - like identifying letters. A lot of that stuff is hard to put on paper: For example, a kid can trace or copy the letter C until the cows come home, produce some sort of worksheet with a big lteer C on it and place pictures of a cat and such on it - but does that really prove they know it? What if I showed them a C and a G on a flashcard and they found the C, but what if they couldn't make the distinction with magnetic letters? Or what if I always held the C in my right hand?

 You probably get the picture. What I decided to do was create a series of checklists for my alternate assessment special ed kids, note exactly HOW I asked them to identify the letter (flashcard, written on paper) whether they did it expressively (student saying, "That's a C") or receptively (Teacher asking, "Find the C) how much assistance did they require, etc. I choose a day once a month to "test" them on a task, record the method, if they met IEP criteria, how much adult prompting was needed, and so forth. Changing up the method will tell me if the really know what this is or have just memorized something; and going from, say, helping the student point to the C hand over hand and and giving a verbal prompt "c like cat" is HUGE for my kids.

 However, I was dismayed to see that my student portfolios were extremely thin compared to the others turned in. Although I had the tab dividers and sleeves and of course examples of student work for the things they could actually do on paper, I'd been nervous all day. I knew I could "speak to" my decisions about the checklists, I had a feeling that it might not cut the mustard and that in the grand tradition of education - the size, weight and lack of quantity would be considered more than what quality of these checklists.

 This is the part where I need to mention that I think most of the administrators in D75 understand and care about how difficult it can be to prove progress with special ed kids. I think many of them have "argued" with the powers that be about the very issues I've mentioned above. I think they are losing more and more of these battles. I think the consensus coming from On High is "Figure it out. We'll let you know if it looks good." And I was freaking out today, just KNOWING I'd have to have an awkward conversation about my portfolios, state my piece, and then do it the way "they" want anyway.

 So a knock at my door came about 2pm today. I waved the principal in. She didn't come in. I opened the door. She was standing there with a 4 men in suits and two women in business casuals. I invited them in. They gave me a blank look. The principal said, "We'll be in in a second." I just KNEW it - some sort of mock Quality Review. I was in for it.

 I went back to work for 15 minutes, they entered. I extended my hand, "Hi, I'm Miss RIm." They gave me a blank look. No one said anything. I had no idea who they were. They came into the room, stared at the students' coat cubby, calculated how many hooks were there, had a debate over whether or not students could or should have a hook for a coat AND a bookbag, or what. They opened closets. They turned the water in the sink on and off. They muttered and whispered. Then someone said, "Well, we can always add another row of coat hooks. Or probably 2 more."

 Then they left. The Men Who Stare at Coat Hooks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PS- the kids hit us. When are we going top talk about MY kids, PartIII

Special ed teachers have the challenge of teaching academics to a wide variety of students with disabilities and abilities. In District 75, all the schools are specialized schools. That means in order for a student to be placed there, they have had to exhibit physical, behavioral, or academic deficits so severe that they cannot be supported in another type of special ed classroom. The special ed teachers in D75, therefore, not only have to implement "rigorous" academic instruction, but also plans for instruction in behavior, social skills, activities of daily living, even toilet training. It's a lot of work,. a lot of trial and error, and a lot of just thinking to make a plan that addresses all these areas for 6,8, or 12 students that's do-able. Especially when the kids hit us. Or scratch us. Or push us, or throw chairs at us. Or other students. Or punch out the glass in a window. Sometimes the student may not understand what they are doing, but sometimes they do. And hit a teacher intentionally. Or scratch one intentionally, Or push one, or throw chairs at one intentionally. Or call a teacher a "fucking cunt" intentionally. Sometimes there's a gray area where a teacher can't quite figure out if it's intentional or not. But we get hit. Often. And from what I've been reading lately, there's been an awful lot of 911 calls from community schools who do not have the supports in place for an out of control student. Often the student is taken to the emergency room but is not admitted and in school the next day. Maybe after several incidents the student may be transferred to a D75 school, but I'll tell you what - we don't have the supports either. The way the system is set up, it's becoming increasingly difficult for teachers and schools in general to keep staff members from getting hit. We are not supposed to restrain a child, so what are we to do when they beat us and smash their fist through glass - all the while calling us names that even make a person who calls herself "Miss RIM" blush? And even if we could "just hold him down for like a 1/2 hour" like a parent suggested to me once, how are the other students in the class supposed to get the rigorous, highly effective instruction I have to develop and deliver in order to keep my job? No one says this. No one outside education acknowledges that we go to work knowing that students verbally and physically abuse each other and the staff. Bill Gates doesn't go to work and get smacked. If that happened to Geoffory Canada at the Harlem Children's Zone or Eva Moskowitz at Success Academies, the student, oops, pardon me, "scholar" would receive demerits and be "counseled out"....(then be "our problem") If some kid called Michelle Rhee a "fucking cunt", they'd get tape over their mouth. What gives? With all the hullabaloo starting a big national conversation about education, let's have this conversation.