Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nice try?

One of my students has been having a serious attendance problem. Working with him we rearranged the schedule so that this student would be an office aid first period and miss a class with a teacher this student dislikes. The receptionist has plenty of help first period but she decided that this student needed the support so she would find something for this student to do. I worked it out with this student's teachers, administrator and guidance counselor. The guidance secretary immediately changed the schedule and I gave the brand new schedule to the student 8th period yesterday. The student was psyched. The student didn't come to school today.

UPDATE (12/5/06): The student came today after missing 5 days. Right away he learned how to find the slope of a line and finished the homework the math teacher assigned. I made him promise that he would come in again tomorrow.

12/7/06: Three days in a row! Also we've arranged to have help from outside agencies come to the school for his mental health and attendance issues.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Triage is the New Revolution

As a proponent of a more...er...progressive political ideology than the Democrats I was surprised to find myself rather ecstatic about the results of the recent election. Democrats truly do not represent progressives so I only vote for a Democrat when it's a very tight race with a Republican. And even then I usually don't feel good about it. I'm looking forward to the day when I can make a choice for actual progress but for now I'm just hoping that the bleeding can stop. Literally and figuratively.

Some will say, "What about the plan for universal health coverage & raising the minimum wage? That's pretty progressive." If we consider helping folks when they're sick and making sure that people are adequately remunerated for their work progressive then we are in trouble. It's 2006, not 1906, right? The labor movement happened, didn't it?

I don't think we ought to boast about no longer committing human rights atrocities after decades of doing so; we ought to boast about proactively addressing issues before they ever become human rights atrocities. The fact that a person can work for under $6/hr. in this country is absurd. The fact that that same person can work forty hours a week, get $240 (gross) and then not be able to take her child to the doctor is immoral.

Conclusion: It's great the Dems won because ending what should be considered despicable violations of the rights of every human being is better than continuing them. But we should do better than that.

Yeah triage! Woo hoo...

Providing a Person with SDI

SDI is specifically designed instruction. This is usually indicated on an IEP in an area a student has had difficulty accessing general education curriculum. For instance, if a student with a learning disability has particular trouble with reading she may be alloted 90 minutes of SDI in reading a week. This means that a special education teacher must provide curriculum tailored to this student's needs, modify/adapt general education curriculum and/or modify instruction/delivery of general education curriculum in order to make it more accessible to this student. An example of modified curriculum would be that our student with difficulty in reading might get phonics during independent work time when everyone else is working on making inferences in the novels they have self-selected.

Another method of delivering SDI would be to work with general education teachers to alter delivery of instruction. Some children with a learning disability have a very difficult time understanding oral instructions but when they read instructions they can do the work. So you might work with a teacher to make sure all of his instructions are written somewhere - on the overhead machine or on chart paper for instance. Another example would be that a particular student might need to only receive one step in a series of directions at a time. So you work with a teacher to make sure that this is happening.

Now here's the tricky part: If the teacher is now providing instructions in written format on the overhead, this is accessible to all in the classroom. This will probably make it easier for any number of students as well as the child labeled LD. But since it's used by the entire class it's no longer considered SDI by the Oregon Department of Education because it's not S and more. Which means you're no longer providing that child with her legally required SDI in this way.

You might say, "Wait a minute, that makes no sense." And I might reply, "You're damn right." But it would be true nonetheless.

What are the implications?

1) If the student starts to perform better and no longer needs support in that class to work at grade level because of these class-wide interventions (and if this were to happen it would be because of a series of similar interventions and not just the two listed above) you could have a team meeting and alter the IEP to remove the SDI in that subject area. In some ways this student is no longer disabled in reading because she is accessing the general education curriculum with no help from support staff. (So she's no longer disabled in reading...?)

2) Since altering the IEP is unlikely (in some instances parents won't want that because they want to make sure their child is receiving necessary supports OR it's next to impossible to get the parent in AND these meetings are time-consuming and teachers are overworked) one must conclude that passing good teaching techniques on to general education teachers is punished.

There are whole programs built around serving high needs students by altering teaching techniques that are very successful - Mel Levine's "Schools Attuned" is one. I'm a much better teacher in general and specifically to high needs students because of this. But in NYC we weren't punished for adopting good teaching techniques.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Caste System

Any one who has looked at disability rights can see that people with disability are treated as, at best, second class citizens. And anyone familiar with Disability Creep knows that you too can be denigrated if you associate too closely with a person with a disability. (Note: Disability Creep has been used in different contexts to mean different things but this is the usage I find most...Useful.) Special education teachers, among many others, experience disability creep by being excluded in any number of ways from the goings-on in schools because we "got some on us". As advocates for those who are excluded and as those who are excluded ourselves, it seems to me that we should know better than to create hierarchies among school staff. Yet, in my experience, it's quite common to find special educators and other staff excluding educational assistants/paraprofessionals (EAs/paras).

My experience in New York City, which was limited to working with under 10 para-professionals in 6 years, was that the paras were more or less lousy which might excuse their treatment in some minds (though I'd be willing to bet that it was the treatment that caused the behavior and not the other way around). Where I am now in Oregon, it's been my experience that the educational assistants (same job, different name) are excellent and still they are treated badly. For instance, presence of EAs at IEP meetings is strongly discouraged at every level. But some of the EAs who work here have been working with students for 2 or more years whereas, in my case, I've been working with these students for two months. It makes sense no me to exclude those staff members who are most knowledgeable about a student when planning that student's individual educational program.

Unlike many other schools, teachers here are routinely recognized for excellent work. However, EAs are often excluded from recognition even when their part in a project or response to a situation was much greater than that of a teacher's. Also, the principal here is in most ways excellent. But he has a very clear negative disposition towards EAs...and the principal has a background in special ed and talks about special education as a civil rights issue.

I guess I'm surprised by this because I see such a clear link between imposing hierarchies on people with disabilities and hierarchies between staff members at school. I mean, it's right here in the same place! But it goes unseen or it's somehow justified. I would think it would induce cognitive dissonance but instead it's ignored. And we wonder why our student have cliques and mini-hierarchies amongst them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How many educators does it take to make you emotionally disturbed?

The other day I participated in a meeting in which we (the school psych, two special ed teachers, a general ed teacher and the assistant principal) decided that a student was emotionally disturbed. The student met the qualifications set by the district for this label. Now the student can work with me on improving his/her behavior in school. This was the 3rd of three meetings we held - none of which the parent attended though the parent told us she/he would attend all of them. So the five of use sat together and determined that this student is no longer learning disabled but emotionally disturbed. Why did I agree? It was going to happen either way because I wasn't a required member of the team. And I actually think we're going to help this student now. Or more specifically, I'm going to help this student now. His previous casemanager was useless. So when we hear that someone is emotionally disturbed or autistic or retarded or learning disabled we need to remember that it's just a little group of people who sit around and decide that it's so.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

So...what do you do?

I have to explain my job a lot. When I tell people that I work with emotionally disturbed kids I can't imagine what they think. Or, I can and I want to dissuade them that it's any thing like what they think. It's not some altruistic service that I do because I need to feel good about myself or pay penance for my privilege (though we do need to pay penance for our privilege). Mostly I do the same thing I did when I was a general education teacher when I worked with these kids but now it's my sole duty rather than a sideline that was time consuming, necessary and satisfying.

Since my school more or less does inclusion I spend 3 periods teaching a small group of kids. Two of those periods we do self-management skills like anger control, empathy training, bullying awareness, etc. One period each day I try to fill in some basic academic gaps like how to memorize information, how to read a chart or map and how to take notes. Then we do homework for the rest of the period. For two other periods I work in classrooms with students on my caseload making sure they can access the curriculum by monitoring their behavior and modifying curriculum. For two other periods in the day I do paperwork, meet with staff, make phone calls, plan curriculum and put out "fires". The two educational assistants I work with spend all day in general education classes making sure the curriculum is accessible to our students. Sometimes students misbehave, sometimes they get frustrated and sometimes they get themselves in hot water. Most of the time they do what they can despite the overwhelming obstacles they face.

Working with students classified as ED it has become clear to me that most of the disability they are classified as having is environmental (which would call in to question whether these students are actually disabled...although, that's true for most disabilities, right?). For instance, one of my students was removed from his parents at a young age due to drug use and has spent time with innumerable foster parents; another has no father and the mother provides almost no oversight; another lives with both parents but has had all other siblings removed due to neglect and comes in having not been put to bed and wearing extremely dirty clothes. Still another student has grown up in a house where the parents scream at each other and have extreme social phobia; another is dirt poor and seemingly unloved; and another is continuously told by the mother that school is a waste of time. The student I have with the most extreme behavior lives with an adoptive father who has an occasional relationship with a woman who may or may not be the mother who spends most of her time wandering the streets trying to score whatever drug she is currently addicted to. This father doesn't clean, put to bed or take any educational interest in the child. He also calls his "grandmother", who carries a gun, over when he misbehaves and beats him up when called. So, why are these kids misbehaving I wonder? I believe it when it's said that most misbehavior is a response to unmet needs.

So when I tell people what I do I might say I work with the bad kids - emphasizing 'bad' so it's clear I don't actually think they're bad. And sometimes I say, "emotionally disturbed" kids because the label ED causes most people to take notice pretty quickly. Other times I just say I teach or that I teach special education. But if you want to know what I really do, I'll tell you right now: I try to make a few hours of each day that I work with my students better than they would be otherwise in whatever way makes most sense at the time. And hopefully, hopefully this leads them out of where they are and onto something better where they don't have to pay for the mistakes of their parents, often caused by factors out of the parents' control, for the rest of their lives.