Sunday, November 27, 2005

We've got to be tough...

ED teachers need to be multi-talented. We need to have unique expertise in behavior modification, superb "differentiation of instruction" skills, and the ability to build and maintain a therapeutic learning environment.

We need to be tough. We can't complain too loudly when we are exhausted from the physcial and emotional abuse we take each day. We know getting hurt is quite likely, which is why feeling worried or overly cautious feels like a betrayal to our chosen profession.(See previous post.) It's part of the job. Don't like it? You don't belong here.

We are expected to master content, just like our gen ed counterparts. NCLB's Highly Qualified rules apply to us too, thus burdoning us with double the requirements with no additional benefits (salary, perks, etc.).

Like I said, we have to be tough.

After 4 days off, I'm feeling my toughness returning. I'm rested (well, as rested as one can be after driving from one end of the state to the other in holiday traffic), and ready for the weeks ahead. Christmas Break is only a blink away, and then we'll be into 2006. How does time slip by so quickly? I lose my breath thinking about it.

But there's no time to wonder, to reflect, to ponder the implications of any of these issues. Tomorrow is another day, the start of another week, and I've got to get ready.

That's what good ED teachers do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

At what cost? (And an update at end of post....)

Today one of our teachers was hit hard with a chair by an acting-out student. The kid "rammed" the legs of the metal chair into the teacher's chest.

Word of the attack spread quickly. Eyes widened, concern for our colleague grew. She's okay, we are quickly told. No lasting marks.

Then comes quiet acceptance.

It could just as easily have been any of us.

The reality of the dangers involved with working with emotionally unstable students hovers over us, ignored, unrecognized, dismissed... until something like this happens. Then we are pulled into a swirling frenzy of emotion: worry, resentment, then angry resignation.

What toll does this silent, pulsating sense of dread have on us? How does it affect our professional lives? What impact does this heightened stress have on our personal relationships? No doubt, our bodies feel the burden.

However noble this profession is, how many years am I shaving off my life because of my choice?

And at what point do we let ourselves talk about these important questions?

Finally, why does wondering out loud feel so much like betrayal?

Needless to say, I wrote the above post soon after the incident, and my feelings were raw. Yes, it might seem overly dramatic to some, (see comment 1) but Ms. Smlph validated it for me.... those of us who repress worry understand what it is to HAVE to face it.

My colleague went home that afternoon, and as the evening wore on, her adrenline wained, and she got teary. She also found an ugly bruise developing over the tender spot of impact.

No charges filed... it was a clinical decision made by the teacher and the social worker and psyc. Hospitalization is in the works instead. Truly a more effective response for this kid at this time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Liar, liar...

My sweet Katrina evacuee has twinkly bright blue eyes, a spikey blonde flat top, and a mouth that curls up in a sweet bowtie of a smile.

And he lies like a rug.

Even when it doesn't even matter, his first instinct is to lie.

No, mam, it wasn't me that threw the mulch.
No, the noise you saw coming out of my mouth was not from me.

Yes, I wrote her a thank you note.

Well, when his thank you note ended up reading I HATE YOU, I slapped myself on the head for being so gullible. When he looked up at me with those eyes, with that smile, I WANTED to believe. BONK! When will I learn?

But here's how I've been getting to the truth faster, more expeditiously:

"Well, E., here we are, out in the hall again, trying to work out the problem. The faster we get to what's true, the sooner we'll be done with all this and back into our day. That's how it's been working since you've been here, right E?

He agrees with a nod.

"So, sweetie. This is your chance to tell the truth."

I can't believe it, but this simple invitation, couched with a reminder about the realities of our day, has been working.

He is learning it's not the end of the world when he lies. He is learning we don't hold unreasonable, revengeful grudges. He is learning that lying might not be his only recourse when he's feeling up against the wall.

He comes to us with so much "baggage", not the least of which is rooted in losing everything when the hurricane hit. Add some neurological issues, a mood disorder, a likely genetic predisposition, and it's lucky lying is about the worse thing we're dealing with right now.

"This is your chance to tell the truth."

Truth. It's a powerful thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Harden My Heart

So it's official. I'm a grizzled veteran.

The little boy I nurtured and challenged and adored for three years (kindergarten, first and second grade), has moved onto grade three, with a new teacher, she of youthful exuberance and immense talent. I have stepped out of the picture despite my deep connection to him, and made way for the new folks to build a strong relationship with him. I put aside the joys, the pain, the frustration with his abusive mother, and an ineffective child protective services bureaucracy. I smile at him from across the hall, and pretend I don't hear his terror filled cries.

I do all this because it is part of the cycle of life in a school. It's good for the kid, good for his new teachers, and ultimately, healthy for me.

Letting go of the child this year has been hard. But I'd let go of his mom a long time ago.

She's part pitbull, part abuse "survivor" herself, part mother who does indeed love her child. She is impulsive, needy, cruel, a dreamer of big dreams. She's creative, usually capable of torturing her young one without leaving marks, and sometimes unable to keep from whacking him senseless.

And everything and anything I did in support of her son had absolutely no lasting, true effect.

Even calling CPS and ultimately testifying against her at the trial.

I cut her loose in my mind and my heart sometime in the spring of last year. No more sleepless nights for me. No more wondering what she was planning. I closed her down, even as I continued to care for her child.

It's a matter of survival. Mine.

But when I tried to describe this process to my colleagues today, as the new, young teacher looked over at me incredulously, I realized it's the nearly 20 years of experience that let me do this. You don't shut yourself down if your heart is still tender and fresh.

So I have to admit it. I'm a little toughened up. I'm a bit cynical.

I'm a grizzled veteran.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Challenge of Switcheroo

Over the years, as I have had to plan for many ability levels, up to 3 grade levels at one time (this year, k-2), and only 2 adults to teach effectively... well, you can imagine that's been tough. One of my solutions has been SWITCHEROO: while my IA and I lead small learning groups, those kids who must wait their turn receiving our attention do something quiet at their desk....until....we.... switcheroo! The workers become the kids at their desks, and those kids move to the worktable for their intense worktime.

It can work. I've had great success with it over the years. But it requires close clock management, focused and well planned instruction, time for the kids to practice being quiet and independent at their desks, and patience from all involved.

We are definetly in the practice phase. At this point the whole thing seems well, stupid. How can we ever hope to manage all these kids, all these behavior problems, all these groups, all this curriculum... in the short time allowed by our cramped schedule?

It just feels nuts.

Here's hoping it goes alittle smoother tomorrow. More later.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

We need a hero.....

When all is said and done, what teachers need is a fierce advocate, a bulldog of sorts, to stand strong FOR our students and AGAINST hypocrisy, stupidity, inequity.

Well, we’ve got that at our school.

It’s so cool.

When the cafeteria staff humiliated a child and his teacher as she tried to get him his properly due free lunch, even after the staff had been specifically directed by the principal to honor the free status of the student, that principal made her unhappiness known to the cafeteria staff.

She stood up for kids, against the bureaucratic mess of a mega school system. She stood up for teachers who seek to preserve students’ dignity, even in the face of the bean counters.

She was public about her priorities. She was clear that she meant business.

And later in the week, preschool instructional assistant (IA) complained loudly about a waiver our autistic student got so that he and his peers could play on the fenced in playground area. Because this child is a serious flight risk, he needs to be in a secured area, and the younger kids’ playground fits the bill. We signed up for two 20 minute playtimes each day, and stick to this schedule out of respect for the preschool classes that use the playground on and off throughout the day. The preschool IA has had her class out on that playground during our designated playtime, and unkindly detailed her displeasure to our new, young, easily intimidated (wonderful) IA. Even when the preschool IA was reminded how and why our class had special permission to be on the playground, she continued to bluster and sputter.

When I was informed of the preschool IA’s comments, I went directly to her and asked her if she had been informed by the administration about our special waiver. I had an email copy of that meeting’s minutes, and knew that the IA had in fact, been notified of the waiver. She said that she had not heard anything from the administration about our kids’ special needs.

I believed she wasn’t being honest. I said thank you, and went to our AP.

The AP stood up tall and mightily for our kid and the equity of the special waiver.

Case closed.

In the span of a week, I’ve been dramatically reminded what my bosses stand for. These reminders buoy me, make me feel supported. It’s almost like all the crap we go through is really worth it. Someone is on our side.

Like I said, it’s so cool.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


When two new little ones, a first grader and a kinder, arrive at your classroom doorstep just a day apart, and the kids you already call “yours” are having their own tough times, well, that’s when you pull yourself totally together and FOCUS.

1.You plan. Thoroughly, with great care and attention to every detail.

2.You rearrange the room to accommodate the need for an additional time-out desk.

3.You make sure you have a plentiful supply of gummy bears and skittles.

4.You update the crisis counselor, notify the office staff, and hope the cafeteria ladies don’t make his first lunch at his new school a nightmare…”What? You don’t have a lunch card? Then go hungry, little boy!!”

The planning paid off. The day went well, the new boy’s class work was completed satisfactorily, the routines and rules practiced in earnest.

Despite the fact I accidently broke a bookshelf while I was rearranging the room, the new set up worked well. (Yes, the bookshelf just fell in on itself as I went to gently push it 3 inches to the left. The particle board snapped slowly and the joints gave in. Very weird.)

The gummies and skittles are mostly for me.

The principal even went down to the cafeteria and notified the staff that this newbie would receive a free lunch today. You guessed it. They gave him a hard time as he came through the line. When he began to tantrum (“TEACHER, I AM SO MAD!”), they stood all the more resistant. Makes you wonder just who actually has the oppositional defiant disorder.

Anyway, my focus and preparation were truly impressive. Hmmm.


I am humiliated.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Welcome to our new kid!!

What does our new little cutie, an evacuee from Mississippi, bring to our class community?

Super manners!! Yes, Mam. No, Mam. Please Mam, shut the fuck up.

Insights into new cuisine!! We catch our own rabbits and cook ‘em up good!

Appreciation for the slow southern lifestyle!! I’m not doing any more work!! You can’t make me!

He’s been through a lot, and it took awhile to get him to our special program ---even though he came from a self contained, emotional disabilities program in Mississippi. His general ed teacher must have been wild with frustration as he had to stay there for several weeks before he got cleared to come here.

Another newbie arrives on Wednesday….. yikes, that’s tomorrow!! More to come!