Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a series of books by Rick Riordan that I've been reading. Actually, I've been reading the first book out loud to an English class I attend to support one of my students. It's a pretty fun book about a kid who lives in NYC and keeps getting kicked out of schools because his ADHD and dyslexia get him into trouble. Then he finds out he's the son of a Greek god. In the world of this book the Greek gods are now in the US because they follow the height of Western Civilization around (which should put them in Sweden, I would think). For instance, you can access Mount Olympus by going to the 600th floor of the Empire State Building and Hades by going to a Los Angeles night club. It's a pretty smart book with some good insider jokes.

The disability connection is that Percy's dyslexia is due to the fact that he is supposed to be reading ancient Greek instead of modern English. His ADHD is blamed on the fact that he's supposed to be out on the battle field, not in a classroom. Since there are many, many demi-gods in the world of the book who are similarly diagnosed the implication is that all kids with ADHD and/or dyslexia may be the offspring of a god.

That's a pretty cool twist for an author to add in. If you're a kid struggling to read it's probably nice to imagine that you're really supposed to be fighting the minotaur rather than getting sent to the principal again. This take on disability misses the point though. Kids with a disability won't be cured and they're not going away. They're here to stay just like they are. What's slightly disturbing is that there's a way in which this book fantasizes their disappearance- though with a positive twist. The reality is that there are kids who can't sit still for long or struggle with reading and they still count as humans. So while it's fun to think of a "last shall be first" world like the one presented here, it's better yet to imagine a world in which atypical kids are are accepted for who they are.

That said, I'm 2/3's of the way through the 2nd book and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The End of the World (this week)

Let's Ride Bikes was bummed today. He's not allowed to see his only friend for a while because they were hitting each other. I guess the story is that one of them stayed over the other one's house and the parent didn't like what she saw. So the parents on both sides decided they should take a break from each other. Of course, for these two, it seems like the end of the world. Let's Ride Bikes said to me, "If I don't have any friends, what's the point of coming to school?" True, true.
I set up a meeting with their guidance counselor so that they can talk about how to be friends without getting in trouble- which is going to be really difficult for Let's Ride Bikes. This is something that he, and several of my students, struggle with. Most of us pick up how to get along with folks from social cues but these guys need direct instruction and practice with role playing in order to understand what they should do to make and keep friends.
A tiny ray of sunshine seeped in when I told Let's Ride Bikes about the meeting with his guidance counselor and friend. But for now, he's a very sad boy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Damn You Creativity! Damn You!

I love, love teaching middle school. What a perfect age...

Headache is a student of mine who is aptly describe as "unmotivated". He lies and lies about the work that he has done at home, in his locker, already passed in, etc, etc. Also, his nom d'blog comes from how he pretends to have migraines in order to get out of work- usually math class. (Funny how headaches and pre-algebra seem to occur at the same time...) But of course, he's motivated by what he's interested in. To wit, he has created a coded alphabet with each letter being represented by a symbol he created. He hand-copied and passed out code keys to all of his friends and they've been furiously sending notes to each other. This is a student who can't be bothered to write out the words "I don't know" instead abbreviating it as IDK when he's trying to fill in the lines of a worksheet he hasn't bothered to look at closely enough to figure out that he does actually know what to do.

Today, my trusty assistant, Wrestler, got his hands on a code key and made the fact known to Headache. Headache then announced to the class to stop using the current code because he was going to make a new one. How great is that?

Right before we left for the day, Wrestler was uncrumpling a piece of paper he picked up off the floor and noticed it was a coded message. He whipped out his trusty decoder and went to work. The message read: Asshole, you got me in trouble.

Did I mention I love middle school?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

File Under: Hard to Believe Yet True

Students who receive special education services have an IEP (indivdualized education plan). This is supposed to be written by a team consisting of a general ed teacher, a special ed teacher, a representative from the district who can allocate resources, any related service providers (like OT or PT), a parent/guardian and the student. The IEP lasts for one year.

Below is a list of things that are supposed to happen at an annual IEP meeting:
  • Review of the students' present levels of academics and behavior including test scores, grades, recent evaluations, etc.
  • Review whether the student met the goals on the previous IEP
  • Writing of new goals for the year
  • Determination of type and amount of service the student requires
  • Deciding what sort of state testing is to be done
  • Deciding whether and how much the student will be removed from general ed classes and why
  • Deciding which program the student will be placed in
  • Signing the IEP by all parties
It's a lot of stuff and it takes awhile to get through it all.

Here's the what we did at a recent IEP I was invited to for a student who attends one of my self-management classes:
  • Review of present levels- grades, and a couple of informal evaluations only
  • Signing the IEP
At no time did the case manager even crack open the draft she had written other than to have us sign it at the end. It was a mockery of an IEP meeting.

Here's why this is bad. The IEP is the cornerstone of the special ed law (IDEIA). IEPs can be very useful documents in ensuring a student with a disability receives a free and appropriate public education. The idea behing the IEP is that a group of people will craft a plan that will best serve the student. The fact that you have to have a meeting every year and there are mandatory participants is supposed to ensure that no single person is determining what is best for someone else's kid while they're at school. This case manager circumvented this by taking advantage of an ignorant teacher, parent and assistant principal.

I want to complain here that I have to do something about this now and I'm really not looking forward to it. But I know that it's not really about me, right? If it was about me I'd write that if I don't say anything then I have to live with myself knowing that I'm that guy who is in a position to call someone out on their disservice to kids but I didn't. So I will. But because it's not about me I'll just note that I'll do something in order to make it more likely that this kid will get what he deserves.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Don't Believe the Hype

Students with a history of behavior problems seem to be preceded by a great deal of hype. Previous case managers and teachers often report an extensive list of difficult and out of control behaviors and folks on the receiving end always seem to believe it. I'm trying to remember to disregard these histrionics.

For example, I've gotten two new students in the past couple of weeks with extensive case histories that include residential settings with extreme behavior. They are fine: no behavior incidents so far. A change in environment coupled with whatever progress they made in their previous setting can often spell success. We're talk about case histories which means stuff that happened in the past.

More examples: at the end of last year a 5th grade student with some behavior issues was brought to our attention and his future case manager was all in a tizzy about him. He was supposed to be so difficult and so needy and clearly a candidate for the behavior program or even outside placement. This continued for the first two weeks of this school year with stories about his outrageous antics whenever the new case manager could get someone to listen. However, the other day she told me in passing, "I've got him under control." [Note: Though I object to the language and idea of controlling students, I appreciate that the case manager felt like she was able to work with the student successfully.] It's like he was never on the radar screen.

Now this same case manager is bringing me in to consult on two more students. The first of which clearly has some unmet needs but is very likable and fun. The case manager has already given up on him as beyond reach. The kid loves playing saxophone in the school band. This is not an unreachable, hardened kid. The other student is transferring here from another district. His old teachers are calling us daily with reports of how difficult and needy this new student is going to be...

And he could be. I don't want to suggest that none of the students coming my way are not significantly needy or that their case histories are irrelevant. What seems to worry folks is that these students could potentially demonstrate that they need help by acting out immediately. They might not wait for us as we learn about them. And this makes some folks make conclusions about just what kind of student they're working with - the kind they can't work with. Most of the time though, in my experience, if you can get keep moving forward with learning about a student and then work toward meeting the student's needs, the difficult behavior will decrease. It does take patience on everyone's part and it helps to remember that most students don't live up to the hype that precedes them.