Thursday, April 29, 2010

EBD Kids Go To Camp.

News from my old room is very sad.  Very sad, indeed.  

Last week was 6th grade overnight camp.   A time intensive preparation of EBD kiddos has always been necessary to ensure their success.  Luckily all the teachers that go believe strongly, passionately, unquestioningly that this camp is good for my EBD kiddos.  Bless their hearts.  And it ALWAYS turns out to be a really good thing.  My kiddos come back exhilarated and more confident.  OK, it only lasts a few days and often times that high has worn off over the weekend of being back in their dysfunctional families, but hey, they feel good for 2 1/2 days.  We will take it.

So, flashback to three years ago. 

One year I had a kiddo who was 12 going on 30 as an inmate, had gang affiliations, a mother who earned extra cash spending time with men of all sorts on the sleeper sofa in the living room and whose breast fell out of her shirt numerous times during an IEP meeting go to camp.  

But he almost didn't. 

But because we had prepared several backup plans and enlisted our PSL to go to camp that year we got him there.  We knew he would try to sabotage it.  We knew he was anxious.  We knew the beautiful world of camp was a foreign to him as Italy and as such seemed quite scary to my kiddo.   But being the thug he was, he could not show his fear.... we knew he would do all he could to make it look like he wanted to go all the while throwing boulders in front of himself so he would not have to go.

Remember, I have been doing this 18 years.  I was totally on to him.
So I had gathered ALL things on the packing list two days ahead of time and had them in my room.  I went through it all with him so he was familiar with it.  Sleeping bag, flashlight, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, soap, extra socks... all the stuff we knew he did not have.  

As Thug left school the afternoon before they were to leave for camp, he was saying he was going and would be at school on time the next morning.  

I knew better.  He still had not turned in the permission slip even though I gave his a new one every single day for two weeks.

So, Thug shows up right at the bell the next morning with no permission slip, no extra clothes and says, he just cannot go, he forgot all his stuff.

Ah shucks,  SORRY Mr. Thug!  You are going.  Back up plan in place, we stuff Mr. Thug in LD teacher who was going to camp's car.  She drives like a bat out of hell to his house, gets Thug's mom out of bed, shoves the permission slip at her with a pen, and tells our boy to get packing.  He has 10 minutes as the bus was waiting for him at school.  His mom was very bleary eyed and although it was explained to her that her dear little thug would be gone for two nights, she didn't retain that bit of information...not that she looked for her missing thug that night or anything..... but she did make a call to the school the second day in wondering if her dear thug made it to school that morning!  

This is where I could start a rant about social services, but I will spare you.

Anyway, they make it back to school in time.  Mr. Thug gets on the bus and off they go.

Then I get the call.  THE. CALL.      

From camp.

From the PSL who was at camp.

I almost did not answer the phone when I saw who it was.

But I answered and here is what I heard.

"Mrs. Teacher!  This is Thug!  Thanks for making me go to camp!  I am having a blast!  See you Friday!"  

Flash forward to this year in EBDland.  Where I am not.

Student girl with major mental health problems as well as gender identity issues goes to camp.  Girl is a chronic bed wetter.  We are talking big bed ruining puddles every night.  I know this about her.  I have worked with her for 4 years.  My paras knew this about her.... but nobody... NOBODY!!!! (including Girl's mother) prepared her or the others for this.  No Depends were packed by mom, no school personnel made sure this was covered.  They just sent her to camp to wet her sleeping bag and ruin her cot.  For two nights in a row.

Well, gee, she already has no friends and is considered really weird by her peers.  So let's send her to camp with no support for this nighttime problem of hers.  

So, for two nights in a row she flooded her sleeping bag.  Sleeping bag got hung outside to dry the first morning.  The second morning, Girl knew she was going home later that day so just did not report the bed wetting to anyone.  Predictably,  Girl got really defensive and ugly when others noticed and unkindly ridiculed her.  The rest of the day was difficult and she came back to school with everyone thinking she is even a bigger loser and she is even more alienated.

Good job, everyone.  Good job.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cattle Calls and Teacher Degradation Push Me Off the Fence

So yesterday after school was our district's annual high drama cattle call.  It is degrading beyond belief.  It has nothing to do with professionalism, talents, being qualified (other than on paper) for the job.  It is all about strategy and using your seniority to get what you want.  Administrators have no voice in who comes to their schools.  Some experienced and savvy teachers know how to use their seniority by picking up and leaving positions throughout the five or six rounds of this process.

Here is how it's done.

Every spring, all teachers get a staffing needs list for the following year.  The list is organized by department and is quite lengthy.  So, a teacher looks over the list and finds something they are interested in taking and goes to the is event.  I will refer to the event from here on as Teacher Degradation (TD).

For the week or so prior to TD, teachers begin strategizing. Rumors of all sorts fly.  Teachers start figuring out how to get the domino topple reaction to allow them to slide into a position they want.  They start  figuring out how to get to their final destination and that may involve taking a position they don't want in the first round, so that a person they heard wants their current position will take it, which then leaves that position empty for the second round.  They hear somewhere that a teacher (whose job the original teacher wants) in another building wants that newly vacant job.  So by round three the teacher gets to jump from the job they took but don't want to the job they originally had their eye on.

Confused?  Me too.  And put into that mix that this takes place in the gym of one of the schools and the postings are listed and updated by department in alphabetical order on a huge screen for all to see, administrators standing round in the background, union officials scrutinizing every move and ensuring the contract is honored, rules and exceptions beyond comprehension to follow, crappy 6th grade fund raiser snacks for sale in the foyer of the host school, teachers sitting in cliquish clusters offering support as well as gathering information from other groups about who is moving where and when, all the rules and regs for playing the game if you are on layoff status or a teacher with a contract for next year but no assignment.  Each round includes every posting from every department in alpha order.  We go from Art through special ed, position by position in EVERY round.

And all of this depends on YOUR SENIORITY to the DAY of when you signed your contract.  Yep, I signed my contract at 4:00 one afternoon, you signed yours the next morning at 8:00 and I have seniority over you.  Let's not consider the talents of each candidate.  That simply does not matter.  I signed my contract the last minute of the work day prior to you signing yours the first minute of the next work day and I win.

And by the way... you cannot enter TD without first getting your very own, specially made just for you for this occasion sheet of paper with your name, your seniority number, a list of your certifications, and current assignment.  And also by the way.... if you have not completed 3 years in the district you can go into TD, but you cannot play and your piece of paper is a different color so you don't try to slip in where not wanted.  When a position you want is called, you go line up and a union rep puts you all in order of seniority and you go into THE ROOM which is out of sight and full of union people with clipboards and a variety of higher up district administrators and people from human services checking and rechecking your certifications and your seniority.  Those waiting in the gym then watch the big screen for a job to be crossed off and the new position left open by you taking that new position to be posted for the next round.  People in line leave crying because they did not get the position they wanted and they have to go back to the postings for the next round.

Anyway, last night was extra special in that a really negative teacher from my building was strongly encouraged by the union and district administration  TO PLAY at TD due to the trouble she was in and causing at my school.  Well, this opened her position, which started the ripple effect and thrust many colleagues district wide to reassess strategy and decisions were made in instant emotional charged moments.

I had not planned to go, but got a text from my best Art Teacher Friend saying that negative teacher jumped to another school.  She was ecstatic!  Everyone was.  But this meant new dramas were to unfold and as the night went on, my posse was wearing out so I offered to bring nutritious snacks in the form of Mt. Dew, Coke, and cookies.  The orders came pouring in and I was off the Kwik Trip for some Big Gulps.

I stayed for about 45 minutes.  I am telling you, once you enter TD it pulls you in with incredible force and you just have to watch in horrid fascination.  I watched my school turn into a very different beast, but left after the second round was only just beginning so the drama was far from over.

I made sure to really attend to all the feelings I had as I drove out of sight.
  • I miss my friends so much.  I still see them and we still have time together, but I miss seeing them day to day and being part of their professional lives.
  • I was glared at by the administrator who was responsible for me quitting my admin grad program. 
  • I had a visceral reaction seeing two of the dumbest, bitchiest special ed administrators joined at the hip whispering and sniggering.  
  • I was sickened and disgusted by the process by which teachers are forced to find agreeable assignments for the next year.
  • I was sickened by how this process turns good people in to waling, rumor spreading, very base and dirty fighters.  We turn on each other in this environment.
  • Given that two of my strongest-support-the-EBD-kiddos classroom teachers left to grades I do not work with, I cannot imagine next year without them supporting my program and kids.
  • It is time to move on.
More about that in tomorrow's post.  
Yes, faithful readers, I am jumping off the fence of indecision! 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sad State of Affairs, Personal, Local and Otherwise

Wow.  What a weekend.  Unmedicated Movie Man was quite the trip as he tried to get his biography done.  His wonderful teacher allowed him to put it in movie format, but unmedicated he got so distracted by every single flashy phase in and out, spinning words and photos, sound effects that after three hours he still had only one frame done.  GRRRR!
Anyway, it was done by 9 PM Sunday evening.... and this is after sitting with him one-on-one, lots of yelling, bribery, snacks and breaks.... Anyone else living like this?  How do you do it??

I am so distracted by what is going on in public education this morning that I cannot think straight.  So pardon my babbling.

I simply do not understand how our federal government can continue to spend billions on bailing out car makers, bankers, insurance companies and also pay for a war that will net no outcome worth the billions (not to forget the lives!) spent, and NOT throw some well deserved money at struggling school districts.  I just don't get it.  I thought this administration understood the importance of education?  I voted for this administration.  I want a call from the White House.  I want to talk to Arnie and then to the President.  I will spare you what I would say as you all would say the very same things.

I have been filling my hours in immobilizing angst.  Although I signed my contract to go back next year, I am not sure I can do it.

Here is the latest report from my old room.

Two of the most damaged kiddos rebelled horrifically to the points and levels.  One is now starting fires at home and suspensions for the year have exceeded 20 days ( this is a 5th grader, people!).  One is out until midnight every night and cannot function at school... has done ZERO school work all year. this is not an exaggeration.  Nothing.

OK, so are the adults rethinking how they are treating the kids?  Are the adults at school rethinking their methodologies?
Oh, they are!  The district hired another educational assistant to be one-on-one with one of the boys to keep the two apart! Can you stand it?

They did not adjust any other variable.  They did not get rid of the points or levels.  They did not suspend the academics and provide activities that help kids like them get re-regulated.  They did not try to build relationships.  They did not rearrange the daily schedule to ensure those two kids got what they needed so they could then even entertain the idea that school might be an OK place to  be for 7 hours a day.

Nope, what they did was put 100% onus on the children to be different and to conform.  The kids pushed back and won.  Another year lost.  Now they both face alternative placements in self contained programs made of much of the same.

Another kiddo who lived in an incredibly abusive home... I  mean horrific.... was removed over the summer and is doing really well!  He is happy, productive.

But guess what?  Social Services is putting him back with his mother!!!  This woman is mentally ill, mean, evil, and there is no way she is ready to have her kids back.  She gets a large chunk of cash when the kids live with her, so she is motivated to play the game with those fat SSI checks dangled in front of her.

One of my girls is growing a mustache.... yep.... she always said she wanted to be a boy.  I have had concerns about her all along as she lives in a bazaar world and knows not fantasy from reality.  Her mother is as nuts and I wonder now if this poor girl's gender identity issues are at the root of it all.  There is no way her mother will ever have an open discussion about her daughter.  With anyone.

But the worst of it all is that poor Aunt Sally sits unused in the corner of the room.  For a whole year.  A wonderful, proven useful and therapeutic tool sits unused for a whole year... while kids are screaming for alternative methodologies, there Aunt Sally sits.  Powerless to help.

As am I.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pleasure Trips and Head Trips

Sorry to have been away so long.  We went to Disneyland with the boys and then I came home sick.  Just now feeling up to pondering.

April is Autism Awareness Month.  Take some time to google Autism and just pick one thing to read about it and then commit to chatting with someone about Autism.  Just a few minutes is all I ask.  It is through awareness that those of us with melting down in public kids with autism find more tolerance and acceptance.

I have three things on my mind today.  

1.  Career

I signed my contract for next year, but am in intensive therapy to determine if I will actually go back.  I miss the kids in so many ways, and not so much in others.  I miss my colleagues in so many ways, and not so much in others.  I so do not miss one single thing about the administration in my building, department or district and in fact things seem worse and more poorly managed now than when I left. And as you all know, when administration is really bad, teachers are immobilized and kids suffer.  Do I want to put myself in a toxic place again?  

My students have been mismanaged and the mess seems overwhelming at this point.  One of my paraprofessionals bought into the whole points, rewards, levels and punitive management style of my replacement and does not seem happy that I signed my contract.  I don't feel up to getting her on the right side of the issue and to retrain her to use the strategies I hold dear.

I want to do staff development and consulting as well as work with student teachers so am trying to get that figured out as far as how to get the train loaded and out of the terminal.

2 Spring Break Trip

California was lovely.  Disneyland accommodated us nicely.  Superman wore his autism t shirt proudly, was able to handle many lines and the crowds.  We had him endure the long lines for the most part, but used our persons who need special considerations pass when he was ready to meltdown.  It was LOVELY!  Flash the pass, go to the head of the line, wait in the shade and without the pushing and shoving of the full on crowd.  Thank you Disney!  Without that accommodation, so many people could not enjoy all you offer.  They understand that if one family member is unable to access the park, then most likely, the whole family does not participate.  I realize this is probably financially driven as much as anything else, but it made for a better experience.

What I realized about Superman's life experience is helpful.  We learned that if he could live in Mickey's Toon Town, he would.  He loves the world of cartoons.  He is able to understand pretend while in the world of cartoons.  However, when we ventured to Universal Studios where it is all pretend, he could not grasp it and fears and anxieties surfaced.  So, if it looks real, even when people are telling him the people are pretending, he cannot wrap his head around it.  If it looks like a cartoon, he can internalize it as pretend.  Interesting.

The wilder the ride, the happier Superman and Movie Man.  Go figure.  These are boys with real life anxiety issues that can overpower them in their everyday lives.  So, what is it about a really thrilling, jolting, tummy jumping ride in the dark that makes them laugh and smile, enjoy so viscerally?  

It is really hard to spend 24/7 in tight airplane space, small hotel rooms, rental car and site seeing situations with three males who are weak in the area of taking another person's perspective.  Really, really hard.  I am still recovering.

3. Movie Man and Medications

Wow.  By day two of the trip, I really disliked my own son as I was experiencing him as a very irritable, angry, explosive kid.  This was not my son who until recently had a very sweet disposition.  I mean he was physically elbowing us away if we came close, argued about everything. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. And living with what I thought was his new this school year loud and nervous tic-like cough was really annoying.  So as Hub drove us through Hollywood, I used my iPhone to revisit side effects of concerta (used to help manage ADD and impulsivity).  OMG!

  • increased cough
  • irritability
  • OCD
  • ODD
  • sleep disturbances
  • loss of appetite
So, I discretely show Hubs and we agree, no more meds on the trip.  Let's just see what happens.  We were afraid.  Afraid of how that would effect the trip.  Superman is REALLY ADD.  He is REALLY quite the airhead.  He is hard to get moving and keep moving.  That's why he is on meds.  

And let me be clear here.  If it were not for the medications for the last two years, he would not have made any social or academic gains in school.  It is that bad.  He is now reading a bit above grade level and was able to catch up in other ways and enjoys friends.

But now we are faced with weighing the pros and cons against each other.  So, we get through vacation and observed that with each passing day, the coughing lessened.  It is now gone.  With each passing day, he was sleeping better and eating everything in sight.  With each passing day he became more gentle, less negatively reactive, and more open to affection.  

We sent him to school unmedicated when we returned.  He is struggling, but he is a sweet airhead, not a combative, exhausted airhead.  His teachers are being quite supportive and I am busy trying to find alternative solutions.  I am not opposed to trying different medications and I am now reading a very interesting book called, Disconnected Kids.  Very interesting and I promise to dedicate a whole blog post about what I am learning.  It is fascinating.  And it makes sense!

I would love to hear from all of you about what's on my mind.  You all have been supportive and insightful and blogging with you has been very beneficial to me due to your feedback, opinions and support.