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.