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?