Friday, January 09, 2009

A Fine Balance

A school in my district that is piloting full inclusion (really, truly full inclusion - with the exception of students with such significant mental health needs that safety can't be maintained) gets regular training sessions from my office. The training that is at the top of their list is how to balance the needs of exceptional students with typical students. On the face of this question is a concern that we all have as teachers: How do we meet everyone's needs given the limited amount of time and resources we have. This is a fairly universal problem.
However, it seems to me that this question always implies from the asker an answer (you can't) and a course of action (those kids should be taught by someone else). It doesn't seem like a pure request for guidance. Maybe it says something about me that I view the question as insidious and disingenuous but that's the way I see it.
I think you answer this question with the following two-pronged approach:
1) Students with special needs have...special needs. By definition they take up more of our time. This is only fair if we accept that everyone should get what he or she needs. Until we accept that students are truly different and require different amounts of time spent on them, we'll keep hoping the high needs students disappear. This is the philosophical approach to answering the question.
2) We can be sure that students with high need are going to take up a lot of time one way or the other. The thing that we can do to mitigate the feeling of being overwhelmed is by deciding when we're going to put in the time - beforehand or afterward. Fortunately we get to decide whether we want to spend the time preparing so that during class the student has a better chance of maintaining without an exceeding amount of attention or putting in the time during the activity or what have you because we failed to prepare. The choice is ours. And obvious. This is not to say that we can always anticipate the needs of students but we often can and choose not to. Part of good practice is attempting to cover all the possibilities for what might happen - checking the equipment out ahead of time, having a back up plan, keeping extra, relevant work at the ready for someone who finishes early, willing to be flexible to accommodate bad days, etc.
So I feel like I can give a 5 minute training on this. But they gave us an hour so we're going to the planning piece to the next logical level: differentiated instruction. This is not really happening in ours schools even though we're moving full steam toward more and more inclusion. Without differentiated instruction we're just using band aids. More on this later.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Where Now?

I went to a meeting recently for a student who recently transferred here from another state. This elementary school student was expelled from school for bringing an airsoft gun to school. He took it out at recess and threatened to shoot students while holding it to their heads. He apparently also actually did shoot a few students. Airsoft guns are "relatively" safe and I don't think any students were actually injured. A few days after this the student's parent was incarcerated - I don't know for what - and the other parent, who lives in our district, gained emergency custody.
This parent enrolls the student at the local elementary school without saying anything about what's happened until the student's first day. On that day, the parent requested a meeting with the principal to inform him of the situation. So now the student is being tutored outside of school pending a safety screening to determine if it's safe for him to attend school.
In this meeting I kept thinking, "Where now?" for this kid. He needs some immediate mental health service and removal from his previous environment may be life altering and I hope it is. It's terrifying to think what's next for this student. I don't mean for me or the other students but for him. That's a lot of weight to carry around with you at such an early age.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Who am I writing the plan for?

I spend most of my time gathering data and writing behavior plans. Lately, I keep feeling like I'm writing a plan with the student's name at the top, but really I'm writing a plan to change the behavior of the teachers. Case in point, I'm working on a student who is placed at a private school because his team decided that his mental health issues make it impossible for him to attend his home school. He definitely has some unmet mental health issues. However, his teacher provides little consistency or structure, demands compliance and doesn't really teach social skills explicitly. Additionally, she doesn't seem to lesson plan - she just kind of makes it up as she goes along. In the student's plan I've got things like, "Provide a consistent schedule with times for each activity that is referred to frequently throughout the day" and "When correcting the student tell him what he has done wrong, why it was wrong and what the correct thing to do is." I try to play it off as speaking to the specific needs of the child but really, who am I writing this plan for?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Your Personae is Driving Me Crazy

I just figured out why so many people at my office are so annoying: they're mostly former teachers who have carried over their teaching personae into their administrative jobs. I think most people adopt some sort of teaching personae when they're in the classroom, whether that's a little nicer than you actually are, your most professional self and/or the person with infinite patience. Sometimes the personae is quite different from the actual person and sometimes it's a minor variation.

I think the people in my office, particularly the people in my cubicle, have adopted their teaching personae as their professional personae in general. They use cutesy voices to talk on the phone and address groups of people that might have been appropriate in the elementary school classrooms but comes across as condescending when they talk to other adults.

Anyway, it drives me kind of nuts. I know that's silly and petty, but it does. So there.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

To be wrong, to be right

To be wrong:
I've often joked with my friends that we're all destined to become our parents (in my case, not such a bad thing). I hope this is not true for my students.
Miss Popularity told me that her step father hangs out all day at home smoking pot and playing video games. This is what all of her mom's boyfriends are like she told me. I asked her if she thought it was hard for her mom and she said that she knows it is and that's why she can't be around her any more. She's now living with her aunt in a different district.
Let's Ride Bikes was taken away from his mom when he was very young because - as a drug addict - she neglected him utterly. He has visits with her now - he loves them.
Trains! has a mom who never came to school in the two years I worked with him. As I wrote elsewhere, his mom didn't attend his promotion ceremony to high school despite the fact that it was a major achievement for him.
A new student at my old school, Little Brother, has a mom who tried to drown him when he was 3. He remembers it too. I had his sister 3 years ago. They had 21 cats and she came in smelling like it (mixed with cigarette smoke). He was just placed back at home after living with his aunt and uncle for 8 years (believing they were his parents).
Fake Gangsta's mom had planned on living in her car with FG when she had to leave her apartment because the building was being renovated. (She was only given 6 months notice and 3 months of extensions.) Fortunately, following our urging, she found a new place before that became necessary.
Nintendo's mom seems to be on the hunt for a lawsuit. That and she's enabled her child to be in charge of the family and his old school. According to her, he can't be asked why he behaves a certain way, everyone treats him unfairly and he can't possibly spend time in regular education classes. (He's now in 50% reg. ed classes - ha.)
The list goes on.

To be right:
Introductions' mom advocates for him strongly, accesses outside services, collaborates with the teachers, disagrees respectfully, compliments his teachers and generally works very hard to support Introductions.
Lalia's mom wants her to stay in her home school if at all possible but makes no bones about her goal being Lalia's safety (she's been running lately). She's open about her struggles at home as well as what's been working. She's easy to work with despite the fact that she's got strong opinions and she will disagree with staff if she needs to.
The list of parents who are doing great work, particularly in the face of adversity, is much longer than the above list, I'm sure. I just don't get to work with those parents much.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

En Garde

We've got this kindergarten student in the district that I already wrote about here. He spends most of his 1/2 day of kindergarten in a room with two staff members. He's got a visual schedule that includes gross motor breaks, visits from and to preferred staff, play time, work time, chores to do, a system for transitioning to his regular education classroom, snack, etc. Still, between the two staff members (both of whom are excellent) he punches, curses, bites, runs and kicks. When he goes to his regular education class the students hunch down under their clothes because they're scared of him. We just ordered arm guards for the staff because he has been biting them and breaking skin. His therapist and 3 or 4 district specialists frequent the room to work with him. And yet, his progress is incredibly slow. This isn't to say there's no progress but it's very slow going with him.
He's clearly a traumatized kid. He tells the staff things like, "Mommy is never coming home," and "I don't deserve you." He also tells them he loves them. He's probably the most difficult student we have in the district at this time. There's been meeting after meeting with plan after plan that have been refined and redesigned ad naseum. As a proponent of inclusion, I want to keep this student in his home school. But there's no inclusion going on because we haven't been able to keep everyone safe. Additionally, our staff is getting the hell beaten out of them and school just can't be a fun place for this student to be. After two months of work, I think he needs an outside placement. The problem is, I don't know if we have a placement for him.
The district contracts with several private programs but only a couple that might meet his needs. One of the programs would place him in a room with 3 exits and just a couple hundred feet from a busy road. The other one is full. It would be my hope that he attends a private program for a year or two and then is able to come back to his home school. But the reality is that it's very difficult to get students out of outside placements once they're in them. On top of that, it seems to me that he needs some significant therapy - which is something the county should be taking care of but he seems to be getting less help rather than more despite the fact that his behavior is escalating both at school and at home.
It seems like there's nothing for it but to pack him off to a more restrictive setting if we can find one for him. It feels like we're giving up but I don't know what else to do for this little guy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coming around

I've been helping with a 1st grade student who has a history of running from class. Mom was insisting that he get a one on one assistant to "keep him safe," refused to consent to testing for autism, insisted he spend most of his time in the general education classroom despite him getting no meaningful work done (as well as being in heightened state of anxiety) and generally being unpleasant to work with. She was afraid that if we found him eligible for special education services for autism and started serving him in the resource room part of the time we would secretly be moving toward sending him to a different school. We had a really hard time convincing her we had no intention of changing the student's placement - and we really didn't. He wouldn't qualify for a different placement under the district's guidelines and we were all certain that we could meet his needs in the home school. We did feel like he needed a good deal of time in the resource room initially because we needed to work on desensitizing him to different elements of the school - such as the overhead machine, singing, the school bathroom, etc.
We were making some progress with Mom and then the student ran from a classroom, got outside and was two blocks down the street before he was caught. Everyone freaked out. The student was temporarily put in the resource room for most of his day without really getting Mom's permission for what amounts to an official placement change, confusing paperwork was sent home that made it look like we were going to keep him in the resource room 100% of his day, it became evident that he wasn't really getting the skills training he needed and mom decided she wasn't going to send him to school again until we had a meeting.
At the meeting following the running incident we were able to come to an agreement wherein he would spend 2 hours a day in the resource room and the rest of the time he would be in general education with support. We hammered out a calendar, decided on target behaviors, created a plan to desensitize him to his triggers and assigned our skills trainer to work with him.
Three weeks later he has been spending time in the general education classroom alone, gotten over the overhead projector (mostly), participated in a couple of assemblies and even initiated conversations with other kids. This is enormous progress.
At his meeting yesterday, Mom consented to his eligibility as a student with autism and thanked everyone for their work. She really came around to the idea that he's got to have some time to work on skills acquisition away from his triggers and everyone agreed that he should be in the general ed classroom as much as possible. It was a good place to be in considering the fact that it seemed like Mom was thinking about suing the school district just a month ago.
Of course, the student ran later that same day and got outside - though not to the street. Not that that fact undoes all of our work but I'm sure it was a drag for the principal to make that phone call home.