Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Double Trouble

Even as our students’ specific emotional, learning, and behavioral problems challenge us daily (and relentlessly), one cannot discount the aggravation and headaches caused by parents and other associated adults. Today, for example, a sixth grader spent a good part of the morning disrupting the office area, walking in and around the program hallways and offices, singing out silly chants, macho threats, and loud, animal-like noises. At one point he threw a plastic ball directly and with great force at a spot on the wall just inches away from the crisis counselor’s head (“But it didn’t hit her!”).

When the teacher called his parents, the father began to yell at the teacher, blaming her and criticizing her for calling him. All this, even though he and the child and the teacher had made a behavior contract just days before stipulating that this very behavior would trigger various consequences, including the phone call to have him picked up from school. And at the time, the father was the one who insisted that the call and the pick up be part of the contract.

So, who is the real problem here?


This morning’s writing workshop began with something very age/ grade appropriate, but something I often avoid….. an editing practice paragraph that calls for kids to notice when punctuation and capitalization needs to be added. The very look of this kind of work can be quite intimidating,( so school-ish looking), and the kids are often sure they will never be able complete such difficult work!!! As I planned this activity, I was reminded how much time I spend trying to “disguise” what I am teaching. I keep the goals and objectives specific and clear, but the presentation and practice of the lessons often need to come at the kids in a round-about way….” through the back door”, as it were. Games and role playing, drawing and talking, group activities that let me closely observe kids’ work in action, etc: the key is to lead kids to learning without looking too bookish. Bookishness scares a lot of my students. It triggers the fears and resistance so detrimental to the learning process.

But today, with lots of assurances that they would get any help they needed, I was able to introduce and teach the process of editing within the context of the written paragraph. Kids took turns practicing, trying out the new ideas, accepting correction and redirection, and providing some encouragement to each other along the way.

I’m left to wonder why it worked today. I have no doubt that this activity could and would have caused quite a scene on another given day. Were all the planets finally properly aligned, all the teaching gods smiling down on us amiably? How am I to recreate the conditions under which these fragile and easily frustrated kids were able to take a risk and try something new and challenging?

I can’t deny that part of its success was the mood and availability of these particular kids at that particular time of day. After a long weekend, they were happy to be back at school, enjoyed being with us and the group, and generally had a positive attitude about being here. NO SMALL FEAT!! This generalized positive mood is something we work hard to establish and maintain through each day, in great measure by sweating through the tough job of talking, listening, setting firm boundaries, and creating a climate of trust.

And the fact that one of the group, Edgar, is a voracious reader and enjoys academic challenges also helps! His excitement is contagious, so if I can hook him, I have a good chance to motivate the others. The mix of admiration for this kid and a sense of competition was the tenuous blend that spurred the others’ on.

Finally, it was a gorgeous spring morning, one of those days that felt crisp and shiny new, and kids were motivated to finish their work so they could go outside for recess.

Yes, the teaching gods were smiling down on us today. Tonight I will send up a silent prayer of thanks, and offer up whatever it takes to get them to take up permanence residence in our ED classroom.

If only they could knock some sense into the problematic parents who too often work to sabotage our efforts.

Monday, May 30, 2005


The girl’s long legs curled rigidly over the soft ends of the loveseat. She took no notice as the street lights streamed through the windows, laying fidgety patterns across the carpeted floor and up the rounded lines of the couch. The darkened room’s sketchy illumination provided little to see. It didn’t matter. Her eyes closed tightly.

She was still, her arms pulled in and across her stomach, her legs fused in tight parallel columns. The even in-an-out of her breath distracted her from the drag of sore arm muscles. With steely intention, she mentally massaged away the throbbing ache of her neck and mouth. Her breath’s ebb and flow set her thinking forward, toward the next moment, and the next after that, each exhalation the chance to leave it behind.

Like angels balanced delicately above her nakedness, pure resolve gathered, then rained down on the girl. Tinny sounds from a kitchen radio seeped into her awareness, signaling the sweet release of her breathing to freer, less regulated inhalations. That malevolent haze, palpable just moments before, bumped and rippled to the corners of the room; an astounding resiliency rose anew. She denounce those last minutes for consideration another day, another time.

Maybe never.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

About "talking doctors" and hospital craft classess

Today came news that several of our older students have been hospitalized for their mental health issues. One of them was sent home from school yesterday, and as the parent took the child to the car, we implored her to call her psychiatrist or home based worker because this had been no ordinary meltdown. The parent, a person with a good heart and way too much to deal with, decided instead to take the child to the nearby home of the grandparent.

What came next seemed right out of a horror movie.

The other two students aren’t in such dire straits, but hospitalization seemed justified. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get a child’s strong medication levels on track, or to get parents finally involved and active in the treatment process.

I use to mourn when kids were hospitalized, like I hadn’t done what I could to keep them on track. But now I see it as a blessing, a chance for the child and the family to regroup, make changes, and intensify the level of help they receive.

At one point several years ago, 6 of the 7 first graders I started the new year with had all be hospitalized within the previous 2 years. At show-n-tell one day, one of my schweeties brought in a wooden bear toy he had made while at the hospital. He proudly held it up to the group, and immediately, the other former patients all squealed with delight!

“Hey, I got one of those too!”

“I made one like that at the hospital!!”

“Wow! I’ll bring mine tomorrow!!”

Bonding continued for several minutes, but the kid who had never been hospitalized looked confused and then completely forlorn. He didn’t have a clue about this hospital stuff, all he knew was everyone else got to make a cool wooden bear, and he didn’t!!

“Can I go to the hospital too, Mrs. Ris?”

Monday, May 23, 2005

Yoda says, "The fear of loss is the path to the dark side..."

With great love in my heart, I greeted the kids this a.m., and the good feeling lasted for at least the first 20 mintues! When Karl threw his pencil across the room because the tip broke, I braced myself for the same old same old! No really, it felt great being “back in the saddle again”.

During Morning Meeting, the first kid Rafe started off with his greeting to the group: “Bonjour.” (We are quite the elegant group!)
Then he identified that he was feeling “sleepy”.
Then he was to fill us in on a “happening” in his life. He said in his most concerned, serious voice, “I saw Star Wars.”
The other kids went wild..”Wow! “ “Was it cool?” “My mom won’t take me!!” “You lucky!!” (Remember, my kids are 6,7 and 8.)

But Rafe hunched over all the more, and with a heavy heart whispered, “I hated it.”

“YOU HATED IT? OH MY GOD! Why?” the others screamed in unison.

And Rafe looked each kid in the eye, gulped, and took a deep breath. “You won’t believe it,” he said.” But Anakin turns … into….DARTH VADER.”

The other kids start yelling and laughing and screaming louder, and Karl yells out “Whoa, man! Don’t ruin it for the rest of us!!”

“I’m done talking,” Rafe mutters. “It was just awful.”

Just goes to show you…you just never know what effect a “complex tale (of) how ambition can twin with obsession and twist toward the dark side”* will have on an impressionable, anxiety-driven child.
*Time Magazine, May 9, 2005

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I'm Baaacckkk!

I’m returning to work tomorrow after a week away. While my intern aced her week of independence, I busied myself with mentoring projects (including helping a colleague make her classroom more ADHD friendly), and observing kids for our school-wide behavior team.

I admit it felt great at first, doing something that had a totally different rhythm. I didn’t have to rush into school each day, or stay late to plan. When I dressed in the morning, I could choose something a little dressier. I went to the restroom whe I wanted, and enjoyed a cup of hot team mid morning. I checked my email without feeling guilty, and I left school without a vibrating puzzle of ideas and emotions whirring in my head.

But by mid week I was missing the smiles and the questions, and frankly, the ACTION. So tomorrow, when one of the little darlings jettisons into a spectacular meltdown, I will think fondly of the quiet work I left behind, and thank God I’m where I’m meant to be.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Alternatives to yelling and moving to Alaska...

At my school, this is the traditional time for complaining, sighing with exhaustion, and exchanging knowing looks with fellow teachers as you pass them in the hall. We ARE exhausted, test-stress is taking its toll, warmer weather brings out spring fever and subsequent behavior issues, allergies grab hold of way too many of us, AND it’s still too early to start counting the days til school is out. (Here in Va, we go past mid-June). So to survive these last weeks without pulling out your hair, here are a few ideas~

1. Lean on your team: grade level teams, teachers who teach similar groups of kids (esol, sped, fine arts, etc.), makeshift “team members”( brought together by circumstance, location, special interest), professional learning community members, whoever…. Just seek out folks whose interests and philosophies mesh with your own. (Notice I didn’t say mirror your own. Great teammates often disagree, but they do so respectfully and with the best interests of kids in mind.) These supporters know your burden and can appreciate your hard work!! Right about now, their adoration is exactly what you need!

2.Vent with a purpose: Sure, give yourself permission to rant when necessary. Lots of blogs out there are driven by this important strategy for surviving burn-out. These teachers know that complaining with vigor in their blog gives them a chance to be more productive and professional in the workplace. I think the trick is to keep yourself focused as you blather on about the idiocy of the administration, or the inequities of the teacher’s lounge unspoken seniority system, or the lazy-assed tenured teacher who teaches the same way every year, year-after-year. By staying focused, you might use your rant to analyze the problem later on… and maybe find a productive solution in all the venom! Even if you don’t, it sure feels good to let it out!

3.Ask questions, seek out new ideas, invite others into your classroom…. Maybe they’ll invite you into theirs. Especially for teachers with little or no student teaching experience, observing others is a fabulous way to beat the feeling of being alone in the mire. By breaking down the isolating barriers of the classroom door you get to see that we all face the same problems, and that there are other ways to work them through. The last time I observed another first grade teacher, (last week) I got at least 5 new ideas about curriculum, classroom arrangement, and organizing for grading.

4.Plan now for your summer fun: Even if it’s just a long weekend, having a concrete plan for relaxing helps the grumpiest grump make the long walk from the car to the school building door…and find his/her smile to make it through the day.

5.Reach out one more time to that troubled kid, the cranky teammate, the beleaguered secretary. By calling up every iota of generosity left in your spent, wasted soul, you might just remember why you picked this occupation in the first place.

6.Finally,…..rent a marguerita machine and throw a bash for you and a few of your favorite people. (Whether there are work friends there or not, is strictly up to you!!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Carnival of Education

Head over to The Education Wonks right NOW!! Get a look at the delicious variety of thought out there about teachers, teaching, and education overall!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Striking a Balance...

With a nod to fellow blogger teachers, Remote Access and The Daily Grind, I 've been thinking about teachers who ably prepare their students to be “globally competitive” . As I read Remote Access’ excellent reflection on the importance and challenges of a state of the art education, I nod my head in agreement. Yes, we need to model and teach advanced reading and writing skills. We must pave the way for our students to master the necessary higher level math skills. Critical thinking, deep and broad exploration of issues, goal oriented and open-ended at the same time….. the characteristics of a model curriculum and a teaching style couldn’t seem clearer. And yet, the teacher who can create “an environment which pushes kids, which motivates them to excel, which forces them to look at old questions with new eyes, and look at new problems in-depth” is rare indeed.

Then I ask myself where I, a teacher of emotionally disabled little ones, fit into this paradigm. If all things work in their favor, (a big IF) my 8 first and second graders will also face this globally competitive world. However, their challenges will be all the more daunting due to their emotional and behavioral problems. In a world where mental illness is still a mighty taboo, and prison is as likely a future home as any street corner or bridge underpass, I cringe at the thought of what lies ahead.

And what if I am successful at teaching them to read and write? If I can motivate and inspire them to embrace the sciences and math and history and the arts… all of it… what good will it do if they cannot effectively communicate their needs? If simple frustration turns into a fist fight, or worse. If the problems of daily living become so overwhelming they don’t get out of bed, or never take their medication, can’t keep a job, or beat their children? If they cannot sustain the relationships in their lives, the very relationships that can save them from a life of loneliness and despair, then they will still be lost.

Mr. Mc at the Daily Grind asked about the techniques and strategies that we as teacher are putting aside. Which of our former ways have become obsolete? My personal answer comes easily to mind: no longer do I plan a single lesson for a group of children (differentiation is the key)…. AND I balance the academic with the social/emotional. Like Clarence at Remote Access, I believe “the days of cut-and-paste assignments need to end, and students need to think.” Time will not be wasted. There is too much at stake.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Trust everyone, but cut the cards".....

Sunday Night: When I read Ms. Frizzle address one of the issues dearest to my heart…well, I almost broke into a grin. (Let’s just say I am tired from the emotion and travel of graduation weekend…). From her blog, I knew I really liked her, but now she has really gotten to me. She wrote:

“Although I didn't say anything truly harmful to [the students], I used a really nasty tone and I know that I alienated them and made them feel unsafe in my classroom (not physically, I mean unsafe in the sense of not free to take risks and learn).”

I spent a good part of two years dissecting the idea of building a trust-inspiring climate for emotionally disabled students, and good teachers (like Ms. Frizzle!) know the principles apply to typical students as well. Lately, I have been concentrating hard on the specific teaching techniques that provide for academic achievement, but the fact I have to behave in a clearly “trust worthy” manner is no less important now.

For us in Room 10, consistent, structured schedules and behavior management systems are key. The structured, controlled setting provides a kind of relief to many ED children. Children learn to trust the sure boundaries we establish though the year. Our schedule, even day to day, is purposely similar. Changes in routine and schedule are avoided, and when unavoidable, enacted with extra attention, support, options.

The less wiggle-room and wavering demonstrated by authority figures, the better chance we have of creating and maintaining a climate of trust. Keeping track of reinforcers and consequences can be maddening, but if we screw up this basic, foundational interaction, we are doomed to promote negative behavior. Knowing when to bend a little to meet the unique needs of a kid in crisis takes even more finesse, and frankly, a lot of luck. We have to be predictably caring, firm, fair, and willing to do the hard work of being “on” all the time.

Without trust, nothing positive can be expected to develop. With trust, antsy children often find a bit of quiet; angry children often find validation; sad children can find hope, and worried children see that grown-ups can be relied on. Trust, emotional safety, is the cornerstone of teaching and learning success in my classroom. And Ms. Frizzle agrees. I couldn’t be happier! (Or more tired!)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bad day, bad attitude

Too tired tonight to really delve into the day's events. It could be the late hour, or the fact I still have a bunch of packing and prep activities to do for our weekend trip up north.... or it could be that training an hour and a half after regular school hours is just too damn much. Yes, it was valuable, but such a long day is hard on this old teacher's body!

Our trainer, although kind and well meaning, forgot who her audience was, and spent way too much time talking about stuff we already knew. I'm not as patient with that kind of stuff anymore. When someone I don't know wants to illuminate me on the value of finding the function of a behavior....well, it just hit me the wrong way. My colleagues will probably say the message was good for some of the rest of us to hear. I will find patience over the weekend and come back to school on Monday with a better attitude... I promise. For now, I'm just a little put out.

There's more stuff too, but I don't want to say something I'll regret later. Just let me relax and have a lovely weekend with my extended family and my son the graduate!

High stress levels = loss of a sense of joy, excitement. Yikes, this job can be a real pain.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Crisis Intervention 101

Sometimes I am amazed at what we do as ED teachers, and how well we are able to manage our teaching day despite the offending behaviors. With state testing week upon us, emotions ran especially high today; it was a day of back to back crisis, and I am left with some thoughts about our role as teachers during times.

It is clear that the success or failure of an intervention with a kid has everything to do with the amount of self-discipline and restraint a teacher can muster. When we fall short, (and we will sometimes; we are human) we are often quite skilled at defending or rationalizing our actions; after all, our very mission in life is to do right by kids. No one need question our motives or judgement.

So, it takes a pretty strong sense of self to admit when we take the low road or give in to the path of least resistance.

“But, I just couldn’t help it. The kid made me so angry”

Truly, the dynamic that builds during a child’s angry outburst should be modulated, even molded by the therapeutic adult in charge. When the adults give in to their own feelings of frustration, anger, and need for power, the length and intensity of the situation will surely worsen. When we are called to support a child in crisis, little else should matter but the immediate de-escalation of that child. Despite the child’s verbal taunts, his efforts to pull adults into a power game, her determination to make others as mad and miserable as she is….. we must resist reacting, and choose, instead, to move through the steps of our training. Our immediate goal: to settle the child enough to maintain safety. And then we can take on problem solving/ discipline issues.

“But she made me so mad. She can’t talk like that to me.”

The decisions we make in those times of crisis stay with us and the children for a long, long time. Our actions as the intervening adult either reinforce the child’s view of adults as part of the problem (sassy, easily riled, controlled by their own temper) , or adults as part of the solution (calm in the face of chaos, mindful of consequences, and willing to work out problems in a safe, honorable way).

I ask myself most every day, how will I be viewed by my students? What can I do to build their capacity for self-control, good problem solving, and acceptance of consequences?

But today I am wondering how to approach someone who is stuck rationalizing and defending their reactive response. What good comes of calling each other out when we misstep? How should we weigh the benefits to children and to the staff? Is it worth it to bring up these kinds of touchy issues with our colleagues?

What do you think?

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is up as of this morning....and it's full of interesting stuff again! Check it out: The Education Wonks have done it again!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Independence Day (Week)

My intern is gearing up for her “Week of Independence”. This is a tradition in my classroom where the grad student/intern/instructional assistant pulls together all that she has learned to complete a week on her own, without me there. Even though I have been pulling back and “letting” her take on more and more of the responsibilities, the fact I am around makes things go smoothly. The idea with the week of independence is to give her a chance to move through the planning and implementation of our primary ED program without me as a net. It gives interns a real taste of problem-solving on the fly--- a very important skill for an ED teacher.

She is a bit nervous (of course!), but will do well with the day to day things she has been dealing with all year. Tantrums, conspiracies, emotional meltdowns…. These she will manage superbly! The challenges of planning and being responsible for the delivery of instruction will be a bit tougher, and she will be working with a substitute IA whom she will have to “manage”. New teachers often say that being “in charge of” an IA is one of the toughest parts of starting their careers. So this will give her a taste.

I will spend some time visiting other spec. ed programs in the area, those from which many of my students come, and some that are often considered for placement at the same time we are. I hope to get a good feel for the autism programs in the area, mainly because I have had several truly aut kids come my way, and I never understood why the autism program wasn’t a better fit.

Also, I will be working with colleague teachers on developing behavior programs, instructional organization, strategies, in their classrooms etc. As a mentor teacher, I seldom get the blocks of time that are needed to really be a support. This will give me two days to really get into it! I can’t wait.

And I am taking a personal day to extend the weekend….My beautiful son is graduating from a university up north, and now I won’t have to hurry back!! Priceless!

So, after 8 months, this amazing intern gets her chance to fly solo! It’s been a long gestation period… ;)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

It's a GOOD thing....or is it?

Over at her blog, Jenny D. is contemplating the age old question of what constitutes good teaching. She writes about her data:

I can tell from doing a simple analysis what teachers did. I can tell you how often they did one thing or another. Or how often they did a couple of things, and by grade, and so on.But here's what I wonder: what SHOULD teachers have done? In other words, what might great teaching look like in my database?

As I scoured the edusphere, I found many of our education colleagues have picked up on her query, and are weighing in with a multitude of ideas.

From Cowboylogic: “What you are looking for are patterns of behavior (instruction techniques) which arrive at the desired result (a well educated child, which, in it self, is a rather subjective goal), then try to correlate the behaviors and determine if they are replicable. Also, you need to determine whether the techniques used are uniform in the results attained in various settings and to what degree they are uniform. This task is made more difficult by the subjective self-reporting of the teachers contributing.”

Ms. Frizzle: “Those (teachers) who don't have a strong & realistic feedback loop between what they wanted to happen, what they did, what resulted, and what that means for doing it again, don't tend to get better at teaching very quickly. They don't even know they need to get better! “

And From
Instructivist: “Since good teaching is largely an art full of imponderables, dynamics and synergies for which one either has an aptitude or one does not, it is largely a futile effort to try to quantify good teaching. Of course, a good part of the RESULTS of good teaching are measurable.”

Like most teachers, my interest in this is more than philosophical. This question comes up almost daily in conjunction with my work with preservice and colleague teachers . You’d think after over 20 years of classroom experience, I’d have a really great answer. I don’t.

Part of the problem is that education fads/trends/ pedagogues shift with the wind; even now, the constructivists and the traditionalists fight for theoretical dominance, and the pro/anti NCLB folks wage a similar war.

The other problem is that as the researchers work to define good instruction, elements of real world teaching situations (disruptive student behavior, for instance) sometimes get ignored. That’s one of the reasons I am hopeful about Jenny’s research.

But “I know good teaching when I see it”….. Instructivist (see above) allows that while hard to quantify, good teaching can be described. I see this argument as the TEACHER AS AN ARTIST schema. It’s more than the way my intern moves around the room, providing support, offering alternative routes to the solution, and asking pointed questions. It’s the changes in her voice, the way she selects just the right practice activity to meet the need of each individual kid. I once observed an expert second grade teacher lead her class through a 30 minute language arts lesson that flowed as smoothly as a professional rendition of Shakespeare-in-the-Park.

“Are the students learning? Then it’s good teaching.” This view reflects the TEACHER AS A TRANSMITTOR OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS. Assess the kids. If they pass, they were the recipient of effective teaching.

I remember when my intern led her small group through a well-planned science lesson, but the kids’ behaviors made the delivery less than pretty; she did her best, but no one would have called it an example of stellar teaching. The kids did a fine job on the assessment though, and I encouraged her to find pleasure in that. Of course, we weren’t accounting for previous knowledge, and I believe that’s what got our students through.

And what about the difference between an effective instructor and a GOOD, memorable teacher?

It’s all so complicated.
Well, good luck, Jenny! I, for one, am routing for you!

Friday, May 06, 2005

To Blog Or Not To Blog.....

After posting a comment to Bud the Teacher about the joys of habitual blogging, I have gone the week without adding to mine. HA! In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, I now have the opportunity to explore what it is that gets in the way of my blogging.

When I get “off schedule”, the chance of ignoring my blog increases. This week, evening hair appointments, shopping with my daughter, and compelling (?) TV called my attention away.

When I get involved in a new project at work, especially one I am not ready to blog about, I am likely to redirect my creativity away from my blog. This was the case this week.

Sometimes even MY school life can be boring. I mean, nothin’ exciting went on this week with my kids. Well, as long as you don’t count Jim getting suspended for throwing rocks at the trailers during recess. Or Ben going the whole week without having a meltdown!

So, that’s my story. I’ll do better next week, I’m sure!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Carnival of Education

The newest Carnival Of Education is over at Jenny D.'s. Check it out; it's really diverse this week, and Jenny goes out of her way to make an intelligent comment or two about each.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Lessons from a day gone sour......

Didn’t seem like much teaching went on today. My IA.intern was out for much of the morning (She did great on her job interview!! You rock L.!), so I was unable to meet all the immediate needs of the kids who were especially needy today!! Even after she returned, the mood had been set, the nurturing deficit was already in play.

But I did notice 2 things about my teaching today that deserves some extra attention. Lesson #1: the kids absolutely adore a video math series called Mathica, copied originally from PBS, years ago. I show one or two of the 15 minute lessons on days when small group instruction is impossible. When I mentioned Mathica during Morning Meeting, several of the kids actually cheered!

The idea is an elf wanders into a magician’s studio and becomes his assistant. Her job is to solve cute math riddles, with or without the help of clueless, silly characters who show up unannounced to the studio. The vignettes are real-life scenarios, peppered with lots of shenanigans and tom foolery. My first and second graders love them!

Why? Well, they are very engaging. The characters are cute, the scenarios relevant to kids’ daily lives, and the silliness is just made for early primary age humor. Of course, the kids love the video format, but these tapes are old, scratchy and sometimes hard to see. But they are still well loved. I think it’s the idea that this little elf has the smarts to solve the riddles, impress the magician, and outwit the annoying visitors. Every kids dream?!?

I could learn a thing or two from Mathica. It really helps when the learning is F-U-N !!

Lesson #2: I was writing a detailed note to a parent about a child’s meltdown, and as I put it all on paper, an alternate idea about how to handle the child came crisply into view. Because of the “accidental reflection”, I was able to see the situation in a different light and determine a more therapeutic, probably more effective path to take next time.

More often than not, accident or no-accident, when I take the time to analyze and reconsider the events of the day (academic and behavioral), I find a way to improve my daily practice. Detractors may smirk at the idea of “reflective practice”, (
The Instructivist, for instance), but for me, deeper thinking has changed my teaching for the better. That’s why I need to blog about my actual teaching more often…. And leave the policy and complaining to the bloggers out there who do it best!!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Connect the dots.....

Another report of police handcuffing an out of control child… and this child WAS a threat to others around him. At least the three teachers he is charged with assaulting and the police officer with a bruised groin probably think so.

The seven year old’s mother said he was not a “wild man”, but a “sweet little boy”. My experience is that some very wildly out of control children can, indeed, be very sweet too. It’s not mutually exclusive. Again, the police and the teachers were dealing with the aggressive side of the little boy. You have to deal with what is presented to you. Especially if you have not had time to develop a relationship with the child. This was the kid’s first day, after all.

The child was pulled from a specialized, self-contained, individualized setting and was thrust into a general education environment….by the mother who was apparently unhappy with the level of care given by the father.

“Torres said Adam's outburst probably stems from an abrupt change of environment. His mother transferred him to Fall River from Dorchester's Trotter Elementary School, where he had been one of five students in a class receiving specialized care.

Bernier said she abruptly enrolled Adam at the Coughlin School because the boy's father missed 19 of his last 24 counseling appointments and failed to address a tic that his ADHD medication created. "

This sounds like a mother’s revenge against the father gone wrong. And someone is going to pay. I bet it’s not the parents.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

May I have your attention, please?

I’m thinking about how often the success of a lesson is absolutely dependent on the sometimes mystical understanding I have about how much support I need to give a particular student.

Last week I really blew it with little Grace who is unabashedly dependent and volatile; we’ve been trying to wean her from one on one attention during work time, and she is making great progress during small group workshop time. When she is sitting with 3 or 4 other kids and a teacher, she is likely to accept prompts, wait her turn if she has a question, that kind of thing. But in the morning, as she enters our primary self-contained classroom, she demands the sole attention of one of the two teachers who are there to meet the immediate needs of 8 little ones. When I encouraged her to give her review sheet a try first, before I came to her desk, she lost it.

In other teacher’s classrooms, I know this reaction is considered extreme. But the same principle applies. Too much or too little teacher attention in nearly any teaching situation results in compromised achievement.

I’m reminded of the musings of Mr. K at A Difference. His post about the fearful student hit me on several levels (I posted about another aspect of his story previously); this time I see how his dilemma is exacerbated by this same problem. Time and attention are critical as we work to help our students succeed. But too much attention freaked his student out. He used his best instincts and training to address the frustration he saw in her, but it wasn’t enough. You could say it was too much. That’s the point. It’s so hard to know.

“And how DO you know?” asked my intern early in the year. Her eyes nearly glazed over when I admitted I couldn’t make a list or identify particular steps.

I am left with an untenable notion: it’s a skill I’ve learned over time, based mainly on trial and error.

It’s also the magic, the art that idealists know to be the best part of a teacher’ practice. But I want a better answer for my interns. I have to keep thinking on this and see if I can see some patterns in my teaching behavior. Oh, you know, like the mistake I made with Gracie last week. I may be practicing the art of teaching, but sometimes it’s very, very messy!