Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Long-Term Sub

In a previous post I told the story of how I work in a kindergarten class that has seen a lot of changes this year. The regular teacher had a baby, and then a long-term substitute came in to fill her shoes for what ended up being about 10 weeks.

The sub's style was a drastic change from what the children had grown accustomed to. All the basic behavior management strategies employed by the original teacher were immediately discarded and replaced with sticker chart systems, sparkle raffles, and last minute schedule changes intended to keep the children interested by constantly stimulating them.

Not surprisingly, the class became louder and more rowdy with the substitute. I had to sit in a corner for almost three straight weeks with one student on the autism spectrum, reviewing social stories with him in an attempt to keep the child calm while the class went crazy.

When I brought up the well being of the above student with the sub, however, I was told that he was the problem. That his behaviors were out of control and that something needed to be done to keep him from wandering the room and having meltdowns.

She had all kinds of ideas, many of them good, most of which I implemented along with writing a functional behavioral assessment, a behavior intervention plan, and requesting that data be kept throughout the entire day (even when I wasn't in the room).

For all the substitute's insistence that the student needed the added visual supports we implemented, she didn't use them consistently. For all her verbal statements of support for the collection of quantitative data, she refused to use the clicker I gave her or to fill out the data sheets in the moments when episodes occurred. Instead she would fill in her parts of the data many minutes or hours after events occurred.

She was obsessed with the students who displayed poor behavior in that class and zeroed in on them with such force that students who had previously behaved started misbehaving either for attention and for the benefit of receiving rewards like ipad time and special chairs. I kept waiting for the class to become calm again and for the number of kids having behavior problems to decrease...

..

..

When the original teacher left, there were 5 students who demonstrated consistent behavioral problems. But by the end of the long term sub's time in that classroom there were 13.

A few days ago I was given a stack of placement forms to help fill out for the kindergarten class. Here are a few comments the long term sub wrote about her least favorite students:

"If something happens that upsets him, he becomes very angry (hot temper)."

"If she does not get her way, she will throw a full-blown tantrum where she throws herself on the floor/screams/refuses to follow directions."

"Even with support he still displays disruptive behaviors such as screaming/shouting, bad words, throwing objects, throwing himself on the floor."

"She is not disruptive, but often times is in 'la la land.'"

As an educator I am flabbergasted by how unprofessional this is. As a parent I am furious.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Anniversary

I stuck with my ex-husband for almost 15 years, and I never remember being excited for an anniversary. Back then the occasion usually consisted of going out to eat and having sex.

That was it.

It didn't feel special.

But my boyfriend and I have been together for three years next week, and I am super excited for our anniversary! Interestingly enough we don't live together. We don't share children. And both of us are weighed down by commitments to our own communities, kids, and careers.

This is not a conventional relationship.

And yet we are committed to each other. I'm over the moon happy for our anniversary celebration.

This is a man who knows how to touch and how to listen. His eyes are my sunrise. His voice is my home. His mind a playground where I can spin and swing and slide. I hear the sound of the ice cream truck, and then the two of us look up and run through the mulch and over the grass to the vendor waiting at the curb. A pop sickle is thrust into my hands: sticky and purple. It melts on my tongue the way my stress melts each and every time we spend time together.

I didn't used to believe in soulmates.

Now I do.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Riding in Cars Without Boys

Today is Mother's Day; I want the world to know I'm grateful for my children, even if I don't love their father anymore.

In fairness, I loved him for well over a decade, but there are certain things love cannot survive. Or rather, there are things love can survive in small doses, things that upon first inspection appear innocuous, but that can build to a level of toxicity when administered on a continuous basis: coldness, lack of affection, exacting standards I could never meet.   

"Andy, make that kid stop crying! Make her stop, or I will!"

I never thought he'd hurt the children. Even on the one occasion when he lifted our infant daughter from the crib and dangled her over the stairwell of our house by her ankles, I didn't think he'd drop her. Not for real. And yet I'd had to talk him down. "Hand me the baby. Go back to bed."

He pivoted until the child no longer hung over the stairwell, and I quickly snatched her into the safety of my arms. When he went back into the bedroom and turned the fan on full blast, I just stood there in a state of shock. He loved our daughter. Why would he do that?

Thank God she was too young to remember!

Today is Mother's day, and I am thankful for my children. They are alive. They are healthy. They are happy. This speaks volumes to the resilience of my kids and to the many friends who have reached out over the past few years. It is a credit to caring teachers and to conscientious therapists. 

It isn't a credit to my brothers, unfortunately.

Growing up in a religious home that claimed to be all about family, I really believed blood was thicker than water. I was close with my brothers. It took me years to tell anyone the story about the stairwell, and when I finally did, my older brother was the one who heard it. 

"Let it go," he said.

I was still married then.

Instead of stepping into my shoes, my brother launched into a defense of my husband's actions. Unfortunately, this pattern held. After the divorce, my older brother stopped returning phone calls. My younger brother, who asked for details during the separation, responded to my honesty by saying sexual consent wasn't a thing in marriage. And that marital rape wasn't real. 

Since leaving my husband, my brothers treat me differently There is no texting. My phone calls aren't returned. And landmarks like my birthday or Mother's day or Christmas are punctuated only by a foreboding silence. I no longer feel like I ever had a family.

It was a boy's club. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When Push Comes To Shove It's A Matter Of Trust

I took a leap of faith when I accepted a job at my children's local elementary school this year.

Last year, when my youngest daughter started at this school she was in fifth grade. She has been receiving special education services since kindergarten and has been mostly mainstreamed. The inclusion was good for her knowledge in content areas such as social studies and science, but it was not good for her ability to read.

Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say next. It isn't a matter of me being anti-inclusion. In fact, I want my child to feel included as much as the next parent, but I also want her to know how to read. And she wasn't making progress. 

At the beginning of fifth grade, she was decoding text at a first grade level.  

This was bad. 

And when I say bad, I don't mean disappointing or mildly distressing. I mean really, really bad. Like my child won't be able to read the menu at restaurants bad. Or fill out a job application. Or read street signs. Or sing karaoke. Or do any basic functional thing that requires following written directions.

That would be crippling for her. It would stunt her growth. And I found the prospect terrifying!

But the fifth grade special education teacher at her new school saw that my daughter had only thirty minutes of reading remediation daily written into her IEP. Thirty minutes a day for a child who is four full years behind her typically developing peers in reading! 

That is utter nonsense.

Well... to make a long story short, this teacher did what needed to be done to help my daughter learn to read. She pulled her out of the general education classroom for several hours a week despite push back from superiors who wanted full inclusion. At home I was reading picture books with her, then drilling flashcards, then reading chapter books for a little longer every night.  

At school her instruction was systematic and phonics based. But at home her instruction was constructivist, relying primarily on memorization and repeated exposure to text. I have heard educators debate the merits of each approach in an attempt to decide which is better for emerging readers. I'm not going to debate the matter here. 

Needless to say, both approaches were necessary for my daughter to learn to read.

This year she is in sixth grade. She is no longer behind her peers and is an avid reader. The terror I once felt that she'd grow to be an illiterate adult is gone, but I'm well aware of how easy it would have been for her to fall through the cracks. 

And I'm grateful every day to that special education teacher.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Very Frustrated

I don't know what to write about today. At work, the children I provide support to were mostly reasonable. But too many adults were quick to make decisions without first looking at the data.

Is was very, very frustrating.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Underestimating The Price

Children's activities are expensive.

Just thought I'd put that out there.

I'm in the process of paying for a camp for my oldest son that's about $2000. The Tae Kwon Do place where I send my youngest son after school is over $400 a month, and I feel like there's not enough mac & cheese and hot dogs in the world to keep my budget afloat.

I want to give my kids what they need to succeed, but I'm scared I'm running out of money. It will be better this summer because I'll get a break from paying after school care. It will also be better in a year when my youngest son reaches middle school age. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but some days it looks endlessly far off. Like today.

What if the darkness in the tunnel grows so thick that I get lost?

What if there's another tunnel at the end of this one that never ends?

Does anyone else feel like this?

Please tell me it gets easier.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tears and Tenderness

This last week was a stressful one for me. I think that's pretty evident from the general tone of my blog and how it deals with issue after issue. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Especially since I lead a life that revolves around the needs of children with disabilities.

I grew up with a learning disability that affected my life in multiple ways, the least of which was my ability to write. I'm not even going to go into the religious perfectionism of my house growing up and how adversely that affected me. Or the toxic environment of the marriage that I left. It took me many years to gain clarity and to get healthy enough to strike out on my own. 

The divorce was difficult for my children, but it was for them as much as it was for me. 

Now that I have primary physical custody of my beautiful sweet children--three high functioning on the autism spectrum and one with ADHD--I can provide the kind of nourishing, supportive environment they need. My full time job as a case manager for kids with disabilities in the public school system is a good fit due to all this background. But the stress does mount at times. 

My ex had the kids this weekend. I went to a writers group event on Saturday morning. And by the time I arrived at my boyfriend's apartment Saturday afternoon, I was such an emotional mess I melted into a puddle of tears. 

But my boyfriend made me a cup of tea and sat on the couch with me as I sobbed.

It was embarrassing.

I apologized. And then apologized some more.

"If you can't cry here, where can you cry?" he asked me. 

Long story short, he managed to pull things out of me I didn't even realize were causing angst, and then he talked me through it all. Everything. We walked into the bedroom and turned down the sheets, climbing into bed for a nice long nap together. 

There's something magical about falling asleep in the arms of someone you love. 

Nothing is more healing.


When Reality Sinks In

I am average--5'6" with a medium build, slightly ruddy skin tone, my hair neither brown nor blond. My IQ hovers somewhere between 1...