Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Welcome back! Is it June yet?

We were back to school after spring break…. And, happily, the mood was relatively good. Each kid came in with a smile on his/her face, and even if it didn’t last all day, it sure was a nice way to start!

My experience over the years is that the kids are generally glad to be back to the structured, predictable, child-centered environment of the classroom. There are usually some tears, more whining too, but that’s okay. We get through it, and begin to set ourselves back on course.

One of the most important things we do is have a morning routine that is very predictable, very much a routine, a clearly known entity. I try to build in some quiet time, a chance to get a “temperature check” on each child, and some playtime to help kids decompress after a tumultuous bus ride or difficult morning at home.

We whisper, do a lot of sweet, quiet probing, and offer hugs and time to rest or read on the bean bags.

It’s very noticeable when another grownup comes into the classroom talking at a normal volume…. Even the kids go “shshhhh”. We all seem to recognize the value of these few, peaceful minutes at the start of our day.

It only lasts about 20 minutes.

But they are my favorite 20 minutes of the day….

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Book Club Bonus

I just read Erica Jacobs’ BOOK CLUB column in our local paper, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Kids getting excited about writing their personal responses to good literature is a teacher’s (any teacher’s) dream. Picturing the “at risk” group of high schoolers wiping the Chinese food off their faces as they searched for paper and pen was just priceless!

I love the idea of Book Clubs anyway, and am gratified that they are losing their hoity-toity reputation. As a means of academic intervention, they seem a lot more fun than the traditional extra period of drill and practice. I’m looking forward to hearing how effective they turn out to be. Until then, I’ll relish the idea of teachers treating ‘at risk” students with respect for their ideas and abilities.

As I plan my students’ day, I try to keep in mind a child’s need to feel respected and appreciated. Does that make me part of the loosey-goosey, progressive-minded apologist culture that so many see as the problem with education these days? Maybe, but without giving care to how my students are feeling, they just won’t learn.

That’s what ED programs are meant to do: Help kids find a measure of peace so that they can be available to learn. If we can’t help them settle themselves a bit, there is no getting to the brilliant strategies for catching up.

I often worry about the kids I had as first graders, who have moved on or out of the program. School is likely to be a challenge for these kids no matter what; I feel gratified to know there are people like Erica Jacobs ready to provide high school support in a most authentic, respectful way.

Please leave your comments, but I ask you to respect my anonymity and that of my school and students. Thanks!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Can you think on your feet?

March 24

When I heard NPR’s radio interview with school safety expert Kenneth Trump, I wasn’t struck by the connection other bloggers noticed between school safety issues and standardized testing. Perhaps his verbal comments seemed more subtle than the print versions. (
Click here to check it out.)

To me, Trump made it clear that in the competition for the finite resources of time and money, academics are taking priority over school safety issues. (Imagine that!!) In this interview, no causal relationship was stated, but I guess one might think it was implied.

But this is what got to me! Trump said that what does need to change is the way teachers and school personnel react to emergency situations. Like law enforcement, the military and emergency services personnel, teachers need to learn to “think on their feet” during chaotic, dangerous situations.

HA! Trump has obviously never been in my ED (emotional disabilities) classroom during an angry child’s meltdown!!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Teacher Abuse....

Here is a reprinting of a post I wrote last month on my very first blog. Now that I have moved here, I wanted to include it.

February 23
Today's Vent....
I am reminded of how long it took me to come to grips with my
obligations to difficult parents. It took several years to feel
comfortable about protecting myself from the demands and abuses of
my students' parents. After all, I was as eager and committed as the
next teacher, even mindful of the power of the teacher/parent
partnership. The definition of professionalism includes being
available to and open with parents, right?

Check out these real life scenarios. They happened to me, or as
noted, to my teaching colleagues:

A parent phoned in the middle of the day, and I left my
lesson-in-progress to go to the office and take the call. (This was
before phones in the classroom became a reality.) As soon as I said
hello, the parent began to curse at me venomously. I tried to calm
her down, to make it all alright, but she couldn't hear me through
her tirade.

A father was visiting the classroom for the first time, his son at his
side as they read quietly together. Suddenly, the man yelled out his
son's name, stood and carried the boy into our bathroom. With the
door shut, the man continued to scream, the boy crying loudly
amidst the sound of skin on skin slapping noises.

A parent was touring the classroom in advance of her child's
placement in a special ed setting. I was teaching a small group at
the table, smiled at her in my most welcoming way...and was
surprised when I looked up again to see her holding ...and reading
my lesson plan book.

A new child's parent stopped in to visit for the third time in two
weeks. She pulled a chair up to her son's desk and began to talk
loudly, then engaged the IA in chit chat about non-school related
topics. She pointedly looked away as I gestured for her to lower
her voice.

A parent sent in a note that her child was not to be exposed to any
more of the SOL based social studies curriculum re religions of the
world because the work packet she had just seen was offensive to
her beliefs. The parent requested that my colleague teacher send
home all the information about the topic so that she could show her

A close colleague was engaged in tense discussions with a student's
parent, the principal, and the social worker. The parent began to
yell, stood quickly and tipped the table over and onto the teacher. It
took quick reflexes for the teacher to step back to avoid physical

Finding a balance between remaining open to parents and
standing up for myself and for my teaching practice was a true
process. It took the support of my principal ("I don't want you to
have to listen to that abuse....tell the parent to call me, then hang
up"), my mentor-colleagues ("You never have to take time away
from the greater good of your class to meet the immediate demands
of others), and the parents themselves who seemed to respect me
more when I refused to be bullied.

It's clear to me that as good and caring teachers committed to
educating our special needs students, our administrators must
continue to protect us from unrealistic and demanding parents. In
the last few years some measures have been become a matter of
routine: parents can be stopped at the sign in desk, phone calls are
sent to voice mail or our secretary will screen them for us. Here are
some other ideas that have helped me along the way:

1. By design, confrontational, challenging parents can be re-routed to
administrators EVERY time....and the administrator can decide on a
case by case basis if the teacher should talk to the parent. This
buffer has provided me with protection from abuse many times over
the years, and we still make sure information is passed onto the
parent via the administrator.
2. Once I decided that only real emergencies would take me away
from my classroom during the teaching day, it became very easy to
tell parents I would call them back or see them after the teaching day
was over. Now that the county has provided us with an email
account, I encourage parents to use it as a primary communication
vehicle; I let parents know I will respond within 24 hours, again,
unless it is an "emergency". Of course, I try to answer emails within
the business day, but some responses are best made after I consult
with the clinical staff. This policy protects the integrity of the
teaching day; the kids, all the kids, are important and deserve the
best attention I can give them. When I choose to give priority to
students rather than parents during the school day, I appreciate when
administration backs me up.
3. When meetings become overly confrontational, the clinical and
administrative staff can stand firm in protecting teachers from verbal
abuse. I have left meetings at the direction of the clinical staff when
it appeared the parent was escalating toward inappropriate responses.
Calmly but firmly, the opportunity for rescheduling is offered to
these parents, but once they go over the line (name calling,
threatening, cursing), teachers should feel comfortable ending their
participation. None of us should feel obligated to tolerate
inappropriate parent behavior. We are obligated to reschedule again
when tempers have cooled.
4. When parents request immediate changes in classroom behavior
plans, IEP issues, curriculum/teaching activities, etc., administrators
should support measured, thoughtful responses that may not be as
quick as parents might like. A hurried response is likely to be
incomplete, so when we trust our administrators and they trust us,
we can slow things down as needed.

Let it be said that we have been lucky, that our past and current
administrations have been genuinely responsive to our needs. As we
move through this school year, we as teachers should ask for what
we need, and hold tight to our right to work in an environment free
of threats and overtly aggressive parents. As a staff, we can remind
each other to establish our priorities and stick to them. Finally, we
have to remember that we are ultimately responsible for how we let
others treat us.