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.


  1. Funny and oh so really...why talk to anyone job is coat hooks, m'am, only coat hooks.

  2. Haha. Classic.

    Also, I absolutely detest the phrase "speak to" as commonly used in PD's, staff meetings, etc. It doesn't make sense. You don't speak to your decisions, you speak to your mother on the phone. Why can't we say "defend" or "explain" or better yet, "talk about?" It's almost as annoying as my school-based coach's excessive use of the word "like."