Sunday, May 1, 2011

Holy Observations!

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I love supervising student teachers.  For a variety of reasons. It's much like driving around town at night, glimpsing in lit and uncovered windows to see how the other half decorates.

I have been in inspiring rooms with amazing cooperating teachers.  I have been in mediocre rooms and watched my students out teach the cooperating teacher, I have been in really horrific rooms with poor model teachers and watched my student teachers struggle with the ethics, philosophy and methods in which they are trying to construct a meaningful experience for themselves.

I am left to ponder how incredibly diverse programs are, how the inequities effect students and teachers.  How it is simply the luck of the draw where all students land for their education.  It's really the same universal crap shoot at play as where we are born, what race we are, what religion our parents practice, the genetic mix that determines all sorts of things, our socio-econimic status....

Even with all of that, our country is committed to providing every one of our children with the opportunity of free and appropriate public education.  No small task.  Pretty idealist.  Absolutely righteous. 

I could now launch into the current politics of it all, but let's not go there.

So, back to the diversity of programs, teachers, districts, and philosophy.

It's 2011 and I had so hoped that special education room assignments had progressed farther than they have.  Too many of the programs are down long and winding, darker hallways tucked in the back of school buildings.  They are usually as far away from the office as possible.

One such room is the old shop facility at a middle school.  It is a huge space.  OK, yippee!  Not in a closet or locker room.  It has windows.  Yippee!  It has a concrete floor, huge ominous pipes and exhaust vents twisting throughout the uncovered ceiling.  Any kiddo with anxiety about spooky things overhead would be totally freaked out in here.  The acoustics are bad, divider walls are filing cabinets and book cases.  Adults and kids are in and out of there constantly.  There is no place to hang some cheer, interactive bulletin boards, art work, student work.  The teachers in that room are frazzled.  My student teacher was skillfully able to teach her small group in such a way that it felt cozy and safe. It was all about her, not the facility.  She is a keeper.

Another setting is a not that far from all the goings on of reg ed.  It is a middle school self contained CDS room.  Kiddos with significant challenges spend the bulk of their day in this room.  It has its own bathroom, as toileting is an issue.  It has a connecting room for spreading out, it has a SMART board, and get this!  The powers that be allowed the teacher to design and request what she needed for her room!  Say what????  You read me right.  She, the teacher, wanted each of her students to have their own space.  She designed and ordered up little office cubicles for each student!  The walls are very low, they each have a computer, and a nameplate.  They are not used as timeout spaces.  There is a large table in the center of the room where most instruction takes place.  It is full of love and the purpose of coming to school is very clear.  The teacher is amazing, my student teacher was so amazing she moved me to tears.  

And in sharp contrast is a very dark place.  Elementary school self contained EBD.  Way in the back of  the very dark building.  No happiness anywhere in the whole building... so imagine the EBD room.  On the upside, there was ample space.  Two big rooms, windows.  Across the hall is the seclusion room.  Yep, the seclusion room.  Yep, it gets used a lot.  Let me describe the classrooms.  Two gigantic messes.  Heaps of stuff everywhere in no order, no welcoming elements, no signs that anyone at all cares.  Luck of the draw, no?  

So, while I am there observing my by nature very happy and loving student teacher, a student is in the seclusion room.  The door was open and he was chillin' out, I guess.  And then the door begins to bang open and closed.  So, what do the adults do when this obvious cry for attention happens?  They lock him in the seclusion room!  He gets hysterical, escalates, and my student teacher tries to continue her lesson over the din of adults and hysterical student drown her out. It was upsetting.  It was crushing.  It was wrong.  My student teacher finishes her lesson and allows her students free time.... things that require the use of earbuds and headphones.  Smart girl.  

She comes back to me so we can discuss the lesson she just taught.  We were alone.  All we needed to do was look at each other.  Poker faces on, but intense eye contact.  I whispered to her if she found this upsetting.  She said yes it was and that it went on all day long.  She hates the environment, the philosophy and methodology.  She tells me the hysterical kiddo in the exclusion room lost his mother (she was killed) just a year ago.  This is the anniversary month. He just had his first birthday without his mother.  So we put him in a locked seclusion room and tell him when he calms down he can come out.  Are you fucking kidding me??  

That poor kid needed hugs and whispered sweet nothings in his ear.  He needed his mom.  He needed someone to care that getting down to academics wasn't possible for him because his grief was big.  BIG.  Because he doesn't have a mom.  Because that void is so huge he cannot even describe it.  

Let's just keep on using behaviorist methods with this kid.  Let's shut  him down and teach him that nobody really cares about anything except him getting his work done quietly.

Yeah, it's a wonderful world for him.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Adolescence Hell

I love, love, love teaching in a middle school.  I love the humor, the screaming hormones, the variety in size, shape, development.  Middle schools are my favorite places to be. I don't even mind the smells of middle schooler bodies after gym class.

But living with one such beast?  Not so much.  The rebellion and opposition, the angry fight to disengage from me as a parent, me as ruler, me as boss.  The lack of interest in personal hygiene drives me to distraction.  Unattended zits, body odor, greasy hair, wrinkled clothing covered in pet hair thrown on for a day at school, folders torn and full to overflowing with wrinkled, torn and stained papers, sleeping and more sleeping, waiting to do homework until the adults needed to help are ready for bed, the love for inane and really stupid adolescent TV shows, excessive milk consumption, growing an inch every few months which then necessitates new clothing and shoes, and did I mention the constant opposition and lack of awareness of how one is affecting others?

Now multiply that by one million or so, and you have my life with Movie Man.  Add to above list, ADD, communication disorder, anxiety disorder, learning disability, no internal clock (no clue how much time is passing or sense of where he should be at any given time), and some perseveration.

I will be honest.  I do feel the almost impossible not to act on urge to run.  Pack the car with some precious items (books, chocolate, bottle of bourbon, jeans and t-shirts, debit card, license and iPhone) and leave.   This is really hard to fight.  Really hard.  And there are times I am reduced to a very silent, close to tears, giver upper.

I love Movie Man.  I love him so much it hurts.  I am very afraid for him.  His faulty wiring seems impossible to overcome at most, compensate for at the least. And right now, he is fiercely defending his position that he has nothing to overcome, no responsibility to own his deficits and mindfully work on them.   And even though I know he is doing his adolescent job, most days I am very depressed about it all.

In 10 years (not any more optimistic than that) I hope to look back on this period and chuckle.  I hope to look back on this period and say, "Who knew he would ever be successful and happy?"

I just hope I haven't suffered a debilitating stroke or heart attack getting us there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mother Guilt; How Did I Miss It?

So, I have been very busy getting used to my new gig and protesting in Madison.  Our Governor is ruining our state. The sick will be sicker and become hopeless, the poor will become even more poor and be forced to live even less healthy lives, the wonderful teachers of Wisconsin are retiring in droves, many are scrambling to find second jobs, putting their houses on the market, selling second cars, canceling vacations, and the wealthy will get richer and share even less.  Families with kids on waivers and such for extra services will no longer be able to offer their kids what they need to improve.  

It is very scary in Wisconsin right now.  Very scary.

So, on to the personal.  The mother guilt part.  

Movieman has always had some issues as I have mentioned earlier in this blog.  He has significant learning issues, executive functioning and working memory deficits, ADD, and an anxiety disorder.  So that is what we have been attending to.  And it has been ineffective.

Middle school has been quite the, well how shall I describe it?  I can't.  It has been a mixed bag with mostly  very low lows.  On the up side.  We have a good cocktail of meds that are working effectively to help the anxiety as well as the ADD.  He scored advanced in the reading section of the WKCE and proficient in the math section.  He has an incredible LD resource teacher.  Really.  She is a saint.  Movieman had a horrible LD resource teacher for two years.  A woman with no business holding a license to teach let alone a job working with kids.  So we have already survived a two year wasteland of crap services.   

On the down side we have seen the social/communication gap widen exponentially between Movieman and his peers.  I will spare you the details, no, the glaring evidence, that I was not seeing objectively.  I mean I am trained in this stuff for God's sake!  I lost my objectivity.  My sharp observation skills were dulled by mother love.  Have you seen the view from the River of Denial?  It is breathtakingly peaceful.
Let's now add years and years of communication patterns that are spectrum-ish.  Add to that his almost lifelong avoidance of hugs form most people, including me.  I always chalked it up to him being mad at me for having Superman.  Add to that a limited ability to empathize or connect much of what he chooses to do or not do to the natural consequences that follow.  

GRRR!  I am so, so, so mad at myself.  STUPID mom!  

So we now head into more assessments looking for a communication disorder label to access as much speech and language services and some social skills group work.   

I am almost ready to acknowledge and accept that Movieman has had his needs neglected for many years because I was in denial, took my eyes off the obvious, and put all my energies into Superman's therapies.  I neglected one son to save another.  I sacrificed one son to keep another from slipping away.

How will I ever be able to right this wrong?

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Every day that passes, I am more grateful for working through enough stuff to quit EBDland and move on to teaching at the university level.

I loved EBDland, but it was killing me.  Literally.

So, the best part of this new gig?  Well, there are many.  But supervising student teachers allows me to enter all sorts of classrooms and watch how others are managing their caseloads and classrooms.  Kinda like driving around the hood slowly late at night, peeping in lit up windows to see how your neighbors are decorating the living room.

I have seen exceptional.  I have seen deplorable. And the good part....?  I don't have to do anything about it!!!!

It has been an incredible experience to then process with my student teachers.  It is invigorating to analyze, ponder, reflect, and problem solve.  It is amazing to watch the next generation of teachers come into their style, evolve, and collect the good, the bad and the ugly and sift through it all in their efforts to be really good teachers.  

Unfortunately one of my student teachers is in the worst possible situation.  In one room there are 6 teachers.  It is arranged very poorly, it is very unwelcoming, there are some real safety issues in there.  Ld teacher working in small pull out groups has to teach over the din of hour long meltdowns.  I mean full on screaming!  And the administrator said, "Well, that's just special ed."

Are you cussing kidding me?????  What kind of school leadership is that?  Sacrifice quality learning environment for the LD kiddos?  Really?  This same administrator hands out much less harsh consequences to special ed victims of special ed peer attacks than she does if a special ed kiddo attacks a reg ed student.  So, special ed kids don't deserve quality learning environments?  So, special ed kids don't need to feel safe?  So, special ed kids don't need protecting from other special ed kiddo bullying?

Oh yeah, I am furious.  Oh yeah, I can't let this one go.  Not sure how I will address it, but I will.  

So grateful I stopped the insanity of crossing over the the dark side.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Sorry I have been out of it for so long.  That certainly was not my intention or preference.  

As mentioned before, Movie Man was having a most challenging transition to middle school and Superman was presenting a bit more aggression than usual and was expressing some new found emotions.  I have a real love-hate relationship with Superman evolving.  You gotta take the good with the bad and as he claws through another layer of Autism (which I love), he has so much to process and put in some sort of order. It usually is not a pretty transition (which I hate).

Now let's move on to my career change.  LOVING IT!  Love, love, love it.  What the hell was all my fuss about?  No, let's not go there.

I am having a blast teaching advanced methods to seniors ready to student teach next semester.  I was nervous for the first few weeks as I was not teaching as I noted some of my peers were.  They are way in the world of academia and research and I am.... well, I am not.  At first I felt really self conscious (although I have total autonomy), I was nervous that I wasn't brainy enough.  I took a long hard look at most of my fellow professors and thought about what they offered and where they came from, how much public school teaching they had done before becoming tenure track professors.  

And I concluded that what I have to offer is of incredible value.  18 years of real experience in the trenches.  with real kids, in real situations, with real teachers, with real parents, with real frustrations.  That knowledge base is irreplaceable. And the whole point of making this career change is to make a difference in the way special education teachers in training are trained, to offer up some real strategies and stories that will empower new teachers as they enter this incredible profession. 

OK, PLUS, I want to make sure that my own kiddos have a better chance of always landing in good special ed programs.  I am that controlling, yes, I am.

Anyway, I am having a blast doing it my way.  And the feedback from my students has been incredible.  They express gratitude every single day.  They are relieved.  They are hungry to better understand, to fill their bags of tricks with good stuff that works, to be given permission to cut loose, follow their instincts.

They are even beginning to embrace my goal for them to become independent thinkers, to question research based methods, to expose themselves to the vast amounts of great information and resources, and to throw out what they don't want to use and embrace trying new things and making it work for each and every one of their students.

I am also so adoring being a student teacher supervisor.  It is a great form of voyeurism, no?  I get to sit in a variety of classrooms in a variety of school districts and just sit and watch, and then I get to process it all with my very talented student teachers.  One placement is dreadful with a capital D.  It has been a blast to work through it with my student teacher, to empower her, to help her in ways her cooperating teacher is not.   I love watching the kiddos in each placement, learning how different districts offer different solutions for all sorts of issues and challenges every district faces.  

I think what I want to do with this blog is to chat with you all about what I am seeing and how we are all finding solutions.  I also hope that you all will comment as we go along and that you will let me know what you think is most important for teachers in training to understand before they student teach.

It's good.  Really good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This Should Not Be A Problem

Readers, please take time to read the following post written by an exceptionally caring and talented teacher. Daisy's blog is Compost Happens and is listed as one of my favorites.  She is definitely not the only teacher faced with this problem.  It's complicated on so many levels.  If you have suggestions, please make them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

These boys need books. Lots of books.

I love teaching reading. Reading is the heart of learning. A child who can read has access to so many worlds, so much fascinating information, so many opportunities, so much fun.

Every year my students span a wide range of reading levels. This year the range is wider than ever, and there are more struggling readers than ever, too. Seven children, all boys, who read at a first grade level.

Fourth graders. Nine- and ten-year-olds who read like the little kids -- when they read at all.

I can teach them, work with them every day. Sight words. Phonics. Structure. Basic punctuation and what it means. But in the meantime, they need to read on their own. And therein lies my challenge. I need to help them read, read a lot, and read often. To do that, I need to provide these boys books they can read and books they want to read. Something easy, outrageously easy, and yet something exciting and fun.

I have the structure planned: each of these kiddos will have his own box of books at all times. The box will contain books they can read, books at their level, books that they'll read when it's time for them to read on their own. A literacy coach once told me that after students independently read 25 books at their level, they move themselves to the next level. These boys need to read. I know, I've already said that. 25 books will sound impossible to them, so I won't say it out loud. But I will provide books, and they will read, and read, and read.

The only barrier is money. Oh, yeah, money. School budgets are already pared to the bone. To buy more books, first grade reading level but high-interest enough for a fourth grader, will take money. Stimulus funds? Spent well, but spent. Title I Reading funds? Put to good use, believe me. I'll be at a Title sponsored training tonight.

Grants? Help me out. There's a local grant group, but they don't buy books. Bless their heart, they think there are enough books on the shelves, and no one needs more. Shudder. Are there really people who think this way?

Now what? Readers, can you send me to a source for grant money for these kids? A source that will send the money, and soon, so I can buy books and get these guys reading now? Leave it in the comments or email me. Okaybyme at gmail dot com. Please. Let's give these boys a future. A reading future.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Movie Man Hits Middle School (Yes, another parent smack down)

I am afraid for Movie Man.
I am heartbroken for him.
I just don't know what to do.  I have most often advocated for him and intuitively believe much of what he is displaying behaviorally is systematic of other issues.  Hubs and I don't always agree on Movie Man's motivation or reasons for certain behaviors.  That causes some tension.
Well, Movie Man started middle school a few weeks ago and I wish I could report that all is calm in our house, that he is adjusted, happy, and learning.

But I can't.

He was sent to the principal for not stopping whatever he was doing after several warnings and cues from the teacher.  A very seasoned and tolerant teacher who gets it.

When Movie Man came through the front door after school, the very disjointed story of being sent to the principal spewed out of him before he made it to the living room.  

However it was unbearably frustrating because Movie Man is not very articulate when retelling a story.  It is hard for him.  Really, really hard.  So, his anxiety mounts as his father and I ask questions for clarity and our anxiety mounts as the questions go unanswered.  It's pretty ugly.

Thank goodness his LD teacher called within 30 minutes of the school day being over.  Hubs takes the call and LD teacher shares the story, shares some observations, shares he might be overmedicated, shares she did not know what else to do when Movie Man could not get unstuck and shut up.  Really.  What else could she do?  Changing the environment, the pace, any variable is best for getting someone unstuck.  She did the right thing by getting him out of the room.

So Hubs decides the best consequence is to write a letter of apology and try to get Movie Man to really figure out why he gets so stuck.  Great in theory and I supported this, but I knew Movie Man could not possibly articulate the why of it all. He truly was sorry.  But I don't think he really understands how disruptive his perseverations are.  He is not making the connection, the cause and effect of it all.

Anyway, Hubs sat with Movie Man and as patiently as possible tried to help Movie Man probe into the why of it, how to organize the letter of apology.  They got through it with Hubs scribing.  Movie Man was frustrated. He truly was clueless about the why.  He was even having trouble remembering the teacher warning him. Then Hubs gives the directive for Movie Man to rewrite the letter in his own handwriting and tweak it to make it even more Movie Man's voice.  

And that is when yet another battle of defiance broke out.  No TV until the letter is done.  Stalemate.  Hubs ups the ante by harping and nagging.  Movie Man digs in even more.  Hubs won't leave the room.  Movie Man won't move off the couch, pick up a pencil... nada.

I suggest Hubs just leave it. Walk away.  I say, "I trust Movie Man will do the honorable thing and get the letter rewritten."  I then say I am going upstairs to fold laundry and remind Movie Man not to turn on the TV.

As soon as Hubs and I both get our of Movie Man's space, the letter gets done.  Beautifully done.  
And even though that was a proud feel good moment that provided some parenting emotional relief, I still feel sick about what is ahead for my sweet Movie Man.

Is he only OCD and not AHD?  Is he also on the spectrum? Does he have a borderline personality?  

How the hell are we going to get him to adulthood?