Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What professionals should know

I don't think anyone ever really says that general education teachers don't really have to teach everyone but that is certainly implied by the dual educational system we have. If there are special ed teachers then they must be the ones who are responsible for special education students, right? So as we all move towards inclusion, as long as there are still special educators the message will still be the same- not all kids are "right" for general education. This message is received by teachers, students, parents and administrators alike- so everyone's on the same page: the wrong one.

As long as this dual education system continues inclusion of special education students will come with an implied caveat that goes something like this: "This disabled student can be in the general education classroom as long as she acts relatively normal and doesn't force me to move out of my comfort zone." "Looking normal" would be something like not behaving or performing substantially worse than the "average" student. A teacher's comfort zone would include the behaviors she can deal with and the accommodations she is willing to make. If these conditions aren't met then the disabled student "just isn't ready yet."

So if I could, I would tell all educational professionals that we have a responsibility to educate everyone who walks in our doors. In fact, that really needs to be said to pre-professionals and then repeated every year until retirement. The problem is that I could say that with words, bu the institution of special ed, by it's very existence, tells them that I'm wrong. Bit of a sticky wicket. So what all professionals should know is that is that a) we have a dual education system and b) this system is unfair primarily to people with disabilities as secondarily to all of us.

Finally, all professionals should know that it doesn't have to be this way.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Make him pay

So there's a student of mine, the Magician, who is not going to PE right now. He's a very, very heavy young man and could really use PE. But he gets into a lot of trouble because of it because he is very embarrassed about his size, particularly when he has to change his clothes in the locker room (which we've found a way to work around, of course). So I've pulled him out of PE and given up a work period of mine so we can avoid that headache despite the fact that I think PE would be very good for him and that it's a requirement for students (though requirements can be waived in order to accommodate disabled students).

Today I got called out of a class I was working in to attend the weekly team meeting his teachers hold so they could complain to me to no end about his behavior. To be sure, they have plenty to complain about - he's a needy kid. Strangely, they were arguing for him to attend PE and I don't really get why. They say it's because he could really use it for his health. I don't buy their concern - perhaps it's loathing for his size? But one of his teachers is extremely overweight. I think they just want him to suffer a little because he's making them suffer. They'd like to see him get suspended so they'd have a break from him and they'd like to see him have to move to a new placement- which he would never qualify for because his needs are just not that extreme. Maybe I'm wrong about them and I really hope so but I can't imagine what else they're thinking.

I think that really difficult students traumatize us and we start to act like traumatized people. Just like them we use dysfunctional coping skills in order to deal with the "problem." Additionally, these students resonate and like tuning forks, when they start to resonate, so do we. It's so necessary that we interrupt this cycle because it's our job to work with all kids who come through our doors not just the ones that are easy to work with. Teachers who don't get that are going to suffer.

It's very easy for me to listen to their complaints and see how their responses are dysfunctional because he's not traumatizing me (for the most part). It's disappointing that they can't see this though. I expect we're going to be bumping heads all year. I imagine they will eventually become reconciled to the fact that even the Magician - with all of his disruptive, defiant and rude behaviors - deserves an education in a public school. How long will we have to wait though?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"He almost fought me for it" or "Notes from the sub"

All three of the staff here were out for a training yesterday. Predictably, things were a bit bumpy here. Third period, which is usually a very good period for me, is when I teach social skills (how to make friends, how to have a conversation, etc) to Trains!, Let's Ride Bikes and Headache. Apparently, the Magician came in at the beginning of class (having left his language arts class in a huff) and was really "entertaining". He's a student that can get everyone else off-task while participating in class himself. So Trains! barely did any work because he was paying attention to the Magician, Let's Ride Bikes took apart a ruler and used a piece of metal to tear up paper, and Headache played with a rubber band ball until he dropped it and it was picked up by the substitute. She told him he could have it at the end of class. The sub claims, "he almost fought me for it," at which point she called for an administrator who straightened him out and then he was, apparently, extremely pleasant for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, we learned about the Escalation Cycle and how to interrupt it as well as power struggles and trauma. It was definitely useful.