Friday, February 26, 2010

And Now We See How That's Working For You

I am fuming, sad, frustrated, heartbroken, almost speechless.  

I met a handful of delightful and intimate friends for dinner last night.  Included were a wonderfully gifted 5th grade teacher who does wonders with EBD kiddos, my favorite art teacher and co-writer of Aunt Sally, my favorite 1st grade teacher who is forced to use an inordinate amount of energy warding off her negative 1st grade teammates, and my soul sister educational assistant of 4 years.

We first had a cocktail and chatted about my new status as grandmother.  We ordered dinner, caught up and then it started.

The EBD student by student review.  I remind you here that my students are on their second EBD teacher this year and the principal decided that the new teacher needed to continue to follow the point and level system put in place by the first replacement teacher this year.  You all know how I feel about that.  

So I find out that one of my dearest-to-me-students has been hospitalized, has dragged a teacher by her hair to the floor, has done no school work for over three months, ran from school more than once, is living with a mother with so many problems she can't find her way out of a paper bag let alone raise a troubled son, and had to have a manifestation IEP due to 13 days of suspension thus far this year.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  He is in 5th grade!!  

So, how's that point and level system working for him?

I then find out that another student is in the exact same boat and escalating daily.  

So, how is that point and level system working for him?

We move on to another kiddo who is quite interesting and endearing.  Difficult family situation and clearly on the spectrum, but nobody has taken the time to make sure that gets medically or educationally diagnosed so he can access all sorts of resources.  Anyway he is flapping, not working as well as he used to and becoming 'belligerent'.  I ask how does 'belligerent' look.  I get a description that I interpret as a kid on the spectrum trying to communicate a need.  I ask about the flapping.  They say it is happening in all environments now and throughout the day.  I then ask if anyone is addressing this stuff.  Here is what I was told.

"The social worker and a few others say he is not on the spectrum because flapping doesn't start this late in age for kids on the spectrum."

HUH?    HUH?   What?  And these incompetents get the last say on the matter?  

I remind the group that this kiddo flapped minimally in stressful situations since third grade.  That we were able to predict when he might flap and we actively did all we could to help him through stressful situations, thus almost eliminating the flapping.  Which means we were teaching him to manage his stress AND we were manipulating the environment to ensure he was stress free thus keeping his mind relaxed so he could be an effective learner.

So then my soul sister teacher assistant (SS) and I get into a debate that was very productive and scary all at the same time.  When I find out from best ever art teacher that one of the above mentioned kiddos can draw amazing pictures on an etch-a-sketch!  I ask if the EBD room is using that as a therapeutic component.  She says to me (and this is what makes me so, so, so, sad because she knows better and this is not her natural style), "When would we have him do that?  There is no time.  He does no work.  We can't reward him for that.  He has to be held accountable."  

And then she drops the bomb.

The plan is to fail/retain 2 of the above mentioned boys.   Give me a minute here.  I need to step away from my desk.

What I really want to do is to storm into my school this afternoon and lock the principal in her office and have it out with her.  Why is she allowing this to happen?

Now, dear readers, feel free to stop reading at this point and going on to some other more pleasant activity.

1.  Level systems and point systems do not work unless they are in place to help extinguish very specific behaviors AND base line data has been collected AND a thorough FBA has been done AND it is deemed to be the only and most effective way to extinguish the behavior AND is short term.

2.  The two most significantly challenged boys are responding to the level and point system by pushing back as hard as they can.  And they are winning.  Turning the screws of the level and point system tighter is causing them to push back harder.  Hello?!  Anybody paying attention here?  Level system tightens, boys act out even more.  Tighten more to make those damn boys accountable, and the boys act out even more.  Make school life even more intolerable for the boys just to show them who is boss, and they become violent and even more resistant to learning.

3.  Shouldn't we allow for some joy in their lives?  There is none in either homes.  Joy begets joy.  Respect and understanding promotes self awareness and a sense of well-being which then allows for learning.  Those brains are so shut down now, I fear a whole year has been wasted.  Worse, though, is this year has actually caused serious damage and I don't know if we can recover.

4.  If kids are not learning, are so angry all they can do is act out, then it is our job to alter the environment to keep them calm, comfortable and able to learn.  And just maybe academic learning isn't going to happen for a few months.  So what?! Mental health issues are serious contenders and call for prioritized attention.

5.  Retaining kids in 5th grade, especially minority boys, increases the likelihood of dropping out of school exponentially.  Yeah, we'll show them!  They won't take charge of their lives and make responsible choices... let's retain them!  What about society and schools making responsible choices on their behalf?  How about the adults overcoming their mental health and personal issues without medication and basic care?  Just try it!

6.  Get that flapping kiddo a descent diagnosis by someone who understands it.  Isms (flapping, scripting, other repetitive movements, seemingly meaningless rituals) can surface in a person on the spectrum at any age, at any time and MUST BE ATTENDED TO!  They are blatant communication that something is not right.  

7.  The administrators in charge are idiots, clueless and have dropped the ball.  No one is paying attention.  Why?  Perhaps if I had stayed in my administrative program I would have the answer to that by now.  

I doubt it.

My plan?  Continue to rant, of course.  To buy a few etch-a-sketches and help them find their way into my old room.  To meet with the principal with my concerns and discuss my conditions for coming back in the fall.  (EEEEWWW!  Did I just say that?  I guess I did as I am sweating and my heart is racing and I must excuse myself to the bathroom.)  No way they can meet my demands.

I have so much more to rant about.  I must get on with my day which includes an afternoon in the art room dyeing sheets for Aunt Sally.  I am sure to find peace in that.  Maybe I could invite above mentioned kids to help out.  

Oh, I forgot.  They don't deserve any breaks.  They haven't done their worksheets for the day!


  1. I for one am glad that you are going back :) I know that you can effect change. I ask if it is possible for you to be more of an island oasis in your school for your students? Can you be more or less left alone to do what is right by your kids? Of course you have to "work" with others but can you turn it around so that others have to "work" with you?
    On this blog you appear to be a woman with a very tough persona. If it is possible to be the advocate for these kids and be left alone to do your work then I know that next year your students will be better for it.

  2. The kids need you. But my dear, don't lose yourself in the process. Your own kiddos need you even more.
    I can recommend a good diagnostician if you want a name. Of course, it took the threat of an IDEA complaint through DPI to get her on our case. This child doesn't seem to have the same support network.


Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.