Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rendered Speechless!

Anyone out there use PECS?  (picture exchange communication system)
It is a tool used to communicate with kids who struggle on various levels with communication.
Superman benefits from using very limited PECS symbols to remind him what is expected when the teacher is lecturing or when the assignment has multi steps.  Using PECS symbols lined up in order of directions helps him move along and stay focused and successful in reg ed.

Well, Superman's AUT teacher this year is lacking.  Very seriously lacking.  Not just because she doesn't get it.  I don't think she cares to get it.  She is teaching so she can coach. She is a poor writer, communicates minimally, and has no teaching skills.  

Anyway, last week I suggested she start using PECS to help keep Superman on task.  The following day I got her interpretation of my suggestions.
You will not believe this! (Actually, sadly, many of you will)

A full page titled "Math class with Ms. Jones"
She wrote step by step, word by word expectations and directives.  At first glance I wanted to throw it out.  It was busy, overwhelming visually.   

Ms. Jones certainly did not take time to review her finished document. She simply typed her directions into the PECS program, hit print, and moved on.  

Let me remind all of you that children with Autism are literal in their interpretations of the world. 

So, over the word assignment is a picture of an ass.  Yes, you read that right.  An ASS!  (the animal, not the bum)

Over the word date ( as in put the date on your paper) is a couple.  Yep, a male and female holding hands!

Over the word board (as in start the practice problem on the board), is a cutting board!  A cutting board!

Over the word open (as in open your notebook), is a hand removing a lid from a jar.  

First of all, Superman is very bright and can read at grade level.  Superman does not need these types of directions... he just needs periodic visual cues to keep him moving along.  He does not need to be told, "Open your notebook to an empty page" written in PECS.  

Anyway, I was so angry about this...  frustrated, hopeless, borderline outraged,  I took four days to process and hid all things that could be used as weapons  (knitting needles included).

Monday morning I attacked.  I copied the document, wrote all over it, attached notes of explanation and attached it to a formal letter to the principal and the special education coordinator (both of whom I have met with regarding my concerns) stating this was absolutely unacceptable and it is not my job as a parent to correct the teacher, patiently walk her through this stuff, or teach her what to do.  

I then hand delivered these to each of them.

Haven't heard a word from either of them but I noticed in the back of Superman's assignment notebook yesterday was 4 PECS pictures of what to do when you listen.  Also was met outside the building by Superman's reg ed teacher (who is a saint).  She tells me that she won't be communicating with me as much as she has in the past as Ms. Jones needs to be the person communicating with me more.  


I am still not sure what to do with this.  She was clearly directed to do this as this is not her nature.  Is this really all the dark side could come up with for remediation?????  

Dear God.  We are in so much trouble.

Hub and I are fervently looking for good alternative schools.  

Anyone have any suggestions?


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where Did the Time Go?

Oh. My. Goodness.

There are some darn good blogs out there, people!  I love reading bogs and that is how I start my day.  Every single day.  

But, man, does that eat up my time!  The laundry is piling up, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the pet hair has taken over, my course work is kicking my ass, my kids are neglected.

But I get so much from peeking into other people's blogs.  I find that I am NOT the only angry one,  the only ineffective parent, the only one on leave, the only one with three sons, the only one with an annoying husband, the only one with bad habits, the only one with a messy house, the only sick of stupid people, the only one with a son with Autism, the only one with extra poundage, the only one blogging about her life (as boring as it may be), or the only one whose writing pales in comparison to so many other blogs.  

I bet if we put every teacher blogger in a room (it would have to be an auditorium) with President Obama, we could fix education from California to New York, from North Dakota to Texas in about a month.  It would be done in a month and then we could all get on with it.

So, to all the bloggers out there... I love what you have to say.  I love the way you say it.  

And I don't feel guilty spending time checking in on all of you.  Not even a little.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quandary and Odd Juxtapositions

It's a dreary Sunday morning.  I am glad.  I need to think.  I need the world to stop.  A dark day feels like a blanket is over us which means there are no expectations to get outside and put the yard to bed for winter or take on any chores other than putting a slow simmer dinner on the stove and doing some laundry.

Good thing.  I have lots on my mind.  I spent a long day yesterday in a values class.

With Sister Donna.

With 11 other students in the leadership program, 4 of whom had their laptops up and running so they could keep track of various scores all day. 

Very rude, very disrespectful and very scary.  These are people who expect to become leaders in our public schools!  I was so pissed off it was hard to listen to Sister Donna.  She was very distracted by these clowns looking at their screens rather than her.  She asked me during a late break if I knew what they were doing.  She had a hunch they were keeping up with sports...but didn't want to accuse them of something they weren't doing.  Sister Donna is a very bright and dedicated woman.  I am not catholic, don't get the whole catholic gig, but I respect her.  She is quite accomplished.  She decided to instruct them to leave the laptops at home next time we meet.

If that was not distracting enough, I kept getting texts from Hub who was desperately researching alternative schools out east for Movie Man and Superman.  The gap is widening between them and their peers and it is glaringly clear we need to find alternative education options for them.   We had a disturbingly  frustrating meeting at their school regarding Superman's Autism teacher's lack of ability and motivation.  The leadership present basically said they couldn't do much because of the contract language and the union.  Bullshit!  They said they understood and were very aware of the issues and would proceed as best they could, but these things take time.


Anyway, yesterday I kept getting texts and it all ended with airline tickets to Foodie's house where I can bond with my grandchild by rubbing his/her mother's belly, eat really well, and tour a few alternative schools.  Although Foodie is in Vermont, we will be checking out schools in Saratoga Springs, NY and thereabouts.

So I now sit in conflict with myself.  I have been a public education champion for my entire adult life.  I believe in it, am proud to live in a country that believed in it and supported it since early on, and have dedicated my career to it.  

But my kids aren't benefiting from it.  I realized late yesterday that I am really pissed off about it.  Really, really pissed off that public school can't be everything that every kid needs.   You would think by the age of 52 I would have already acknowledged and accepted this.  I am bitterly disappointed.

But worse than that, I think I may have hung in there too long pushing and pulling, resizing, and insisting on my kid's behalf that things be better, services more appropriate... and maybe that has done them more harm.   Maybe my hope and denial has ONCE AGAIN prohibited my kids from accessing an alternative that would have served them better.

But isn't public school supposed to work for all kids?  Isn't that the line?  We know so much about learning and what kids need, why can't we apply all that good stuff in our public schools?  Don't get me wrong.  There are some exceptional teachers who do these things (we are fortunate this year in that Superman's reg ed teacher is gifted, a true master teacher), but the systems in schools get in the way of doing some really good stuff that would help those fringe kids.  

And all the NCLB policy and emphasis on high stakes testing to make teachers accountable has tied creative teacher's hands even more.  When we take away recesses in primary schools so we can get a few more reading minutes in each day, we are totally ignoring what we know about child development and the importance of play and moving around.  I might mention here that this also increases the referrals to special education because the kiddos slower to develop their learning readiness start to look speical ed. They aren't special ed!  We just need to honor their developmental clocks.  Sometimes those kids look EBD as they act out in frustration to not being honored.

So I intend to sit and ponder today.  What does this mean for me and my career?  If my kids go to private alternative schools, can I still work in public schools?  I think I can, as my mission will remain the same.  All kids deserve a free and appropriate education that truly meets their needs as individuals.  Although I have to give up on public education for my own kids, I have to remain in the ring and fight it out for the kids whose parents can't relocate or shop around for a better fit.

Laundry and an empty pot await me.  Cincinnati Chili Mac for dinner, fresh laundry flopping in the dryer... that's about all I can handle today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Why does it feel like I am recovering from a long term illness?

I think my body is adjusting to the lack of hourly adrenaline rushes.

I think my psyche is recovering from compassion fatigue.

I think I have more time to observe how stupid people are.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Just Have a Few Questions

Last week was full of people in education using bad judgment.  Really bad judgment.  My problem is that it looks as if it will all go by without correction.  I don't want anyone strung up by their privates. (not entirely true, but for the sake of this post I can make that statement) I don't want teachers fired for making minor mistakes.  

Unless what they are doing is harmful to kids and their families as well as their colleagues.  

And that is what happened.

  • Should principals be trained in de-escalating children in crisis?
  • When a kiddo has an IEP and is showing signs of distress in reg ed class, should the special ed staff be called in to help out?
  • When a kid is in distress and it escalates, should administrator ask a parent, who just happens to be in the office at the time, to hold on to the upset child so he/she can make a phone call?
  • Should administrators ever yell at a kid in distress that the next time the police will be called?
  • Should special ed teachers be allowed to continue to practicing when they are so absolutely clueless as well as unmotivated and are teaching just so they can coach?
  • Should the bulk of the responsibility for making accommodations for special ed kiddos fall on the reg ed teacher... or on the special ed teacher who is supposed to have the knowledge and expertise to do this?
  • When teachers demonstrate incompetence and their colleagues see it, why are they so damn loyal and not bring it to the administrator's attention? Should special education teachers be allowed to continue after repeated issues with poorly written (at times with illegal components) IEPs.
  • Why do professors think it is good teaching to powerpoint every chapter in the text and read it to you for class...but then for good measure assign a chapter of the same text to the each member of the class to present again?
  • Why is it considered good practice for professors to have the students teach the class by brining in articles and presenting, bringing in bits of inspiration and presenting, bringing in artifacts and presenting while they themselves sit in back watching and asking "probing" (not) questions thinking that is prompting deeper reflection?
  • And what the hell is the point of all these damn portfolios?  Cripes, I already have three and now have to do another one?  And get this... this one has to be done electronically.

I propose we clean house in our schools.  Let's quit protecting the incompetence that seems to be seeping into every level of schools. 

We are in shark infested waters... and the sharks are the incompetent, unmotivated, mediocre people teaching our kids and running our schools.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anxiety Prevails and The Lines Blur

Yikes.  Went to an after school theater activity with my kids.  Movie Man tried to skate past me to get out of attending.  He went last week and participated only after I caught him trying to leave the building without attending. So what's the big deal?  Why not let him skip out?  What is my problem? Well, I paid 85 bucks per kid to do this for a semester, and Movie Man begged me repeatedly to sign him up.  By early December, they put on a production.  He wanted to be on stage. Now, a handful of schools are included and my guess is a total of about 125 kids are involved.  Obviously the prime parts are out of reach for my two kiddies.  Thank God.  We don't need any more stress from having to MEMORIZE! lines.  

Anyway, as the rapidly paced activities were taking place, I glanced up from my ed leadership text to see how my kids were doing.  I really wish I had not.  It was this large circle activity where the kids take turns running up to another kiddo and say their name, that kid says their name back, then runs across the circle to say their name to another kid.  Guess whose kids NEVER got approached?  I watched them get smaller and smaller and could read their faces quite clearly.  They were hurt and they were withdrawing.

OK.  My kids are introverts, but they are not what other kids would identify as weird by appearance.  They dress hip, have hip hair cuts, but they exude introvertism.  They  are not jump- into- the- crowd- and- make- it- work kind of kids.  Even after that, Superman got up and auditioned!  My props to Superman!  

However, Movie Man told me on the walk home he almost threw up while we were there and he really does not want to go back.  He was miserable.  Really miserable.  So, even though he raised a HUGE stink and insisted I sign him up, and even though I paid, I am going to let him out of it.  He has an anxiety disorder and this serves no purpose.

Parenting with grace means I need to truly embrace all that my children are and are not.  They don't like sports, but they kick ass in Beatles Rock Band.  They don't invite friends over and friends don't invite them over, but they are good and caring little men.  They like their time at home left to their own devices.  This is hard in our society; having this kind of kid.  So, that excruciatingly painful hour of watching my kids in activities that others thrive in was yet another parent smack down.

Now about school...or continuing the sage.  RT (replacement teacher) has done more dirty dog things to younger teachers and I now see that my administrator is between a rock and hard place.  RT is evil.  My parapros are afraid of her, my old students are afraid of her. This not good.  My principal sent a message to me through one of my dearest friends who still works at my school.  The message was that she adored me and wanted me back next year.

I guess that you don't need to be an administrator to be on The Dark Side. Maybe, just maybe, some of the teachers are on a dark side of sorts and put the administrators in really difficult positions that require certain action and that can interpreted as Dark Side moves.

Oh dear, the lines are starting to blur already and I am only in this admin program 5 weeks.

Monday, October 5, 2009

And Yet Another Adjustment in My Thinking

I spent time with my best fiend, Wayne Dyer, this weekend.  I had to travel an hour each way to class and back so popped him in my CD player and soaked it up.  I like to just blindly pick a CD and pop it in hoping to catch a really pertinent topic.  I caught a good one.  I am a control freak.  Yep.  Big time.  I go into regular anxiety attacks lately as I cannot visualize where this year off and administrator license will lead me, where I will be next fall, what I will be doing to earn a living.  

Just a second.  Excuse me while I go take another xanax.  Can't even blog about it without having an anxiety attack.

OK.  I am back.  Anyway, Wayne tells me to find time to sit in stillness and trust that my Source has a plan and that as soon as I let go, that plan will be there for me.  Like catching a wave.  I listened to that segment 5 times over the weekend.  I feel better.  I realize that by not resigning and instead asking for a leave, I have prolonged the time until my purpose reveals itself.  So, in my mind I have to make adjustments.  I have always pictured myself returning to my district.  I now believe that is not in my future.  It can't be.  

I have been a bit lost lately.  Angry and feeling betrayed by my old leadership, not sure I have it in me to be an administrator, and certainly suffering form power point overload! Really, does every professor have to assign a power point presentation?  You all know me well enough by now.  I am not using power point.  Just because.

And what is up with all this emphasis on portfolios? I have already done three in my career and am quite tired of the whole format.  I have NEVER had a prospective employer even ask about my portfolios let alone actually take the time to look through one.  But this time it needs to be done electronically.  Oh brother!  Hoops, hoops, hoops.  At least none of them are ringed in fire, huh?

On the home front.  

As the mother of two special needs kiddos, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work they are expected to do.  As a teacher I always felt we moved through content way too fast, that the amount of work was too much.  There is no time for stillness, digestion.  Every minute of every school day has to have an academic purpose, and yet we are expected to cover a broader spectrum of interpersonal, parenting, social and technological skills than ever before.  I am overwhelmed by the amount of work my own kids bring home.  Imagine how overwhelmed they feel.

Perhaps what bothers me the most is having to reteach as often as I do.  I have to start from the ground up many times which means pulling out graphic organizers and manipulatives.  But by the end of the day my kids are spent, so the push and pull starts and every weekday evening is fairly unpleasant.  

I am so frustrated that so many people NOT in education are making policies and controlling the purse.  I am increasingly concerned about special education teacher evaluation ... really, the lack of such..., the lack of administrator knowledge and time that would allow for better staff development and program monitoring.  The Dark Side has a strong hold.  And don't get me started on the push for merit pay based on test scores!  What the hell is that all about?

Time to recharge my light saber.