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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

S is for Sense of Entitlement

This is the story of two elementary school teachers, each in charge of a classroom with twenty-four students; five identified with special needs, six English language learners, four kids with emotional regulation problems, and one boy with a pattern of non-compliance.

The first teacher (we'll call her Missy) kept her class quiet by waiting for them to stop speaking before she went on. She used planned ignoring to minimize problem behavior while offering verbal praise to children who followed directions. This worked, but it wasn't enough for the students who needed more focused behavioral support.

The second teacher (called Susan for the purpose of this post) managed her class by zeroing in on the children with problems: those who talked, those who whined, those out of their seats. When a problem behavior persisted, she employed sticker charts and rewards. This worked, but it also made the class louder and caused other problems.

I should probably clarify that Missy had a baby halfway through the year and Susan took over her class. I was a fly on the wall that got to witness this hullabaloo. 

Scratch that, I'd make a terrible fly! 

Let me tell you what I've learned from seeing two very different approaches. 

1.) Missy's approach is better for the class as a whole, but not ideal for the kids on the margins. That said, if she adds a few individualized incentives for a select few that should make her classroom management stronger.

2.) Giving rewards to children alone is not an adequate classroom management strategy. Supports like sticker charts work great when rewards are really and truly earned. But if you give out those rewards like candy on Halloween they lose the ability to motivate anyone.

Plus, there's real danger in doling out rewards if you do it wrong.

Like fostering in some children a sense of entitlement.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Running from Religious Trauma

I realize this post might be a bit controversial since religion is a beautiful and uplifting part of life for many, many people. And to be clear, I'm all for any belief system that promotes peace on earth and good will to men.

And women.

If this has been your experience with organized religion, then I'm happy for you. Unfortunately, the religion I grew up in was very conservative and not in the slightest inclusive. It was kinda like this.

Minus the tacky billboard and the fire, of course.

As a result of really believing and wanting to act out what I was taught, I made some rather foolish life decisions that were not in my best interest. Like choosing a college major I couldn't make much money from because I knew God wanted me to marry and stay home with my future kids.

Like getting hitched after a six-month courtship to a man I'd not once French kissed, because I was determined to hold onto my virginity until after the wedding ceremony.

Like staying with that man even when he treated me poorly in order to fulfill my life's purpose.

The religion of my youth fucked with my mind like you would not believe, which is why you'd think leaving it would be easy. But it was endlessly hard. After over thirty years of believing, I couldn't walk away without repercussions. I had a community that was gone over night. A meaning for my life that simply vanished. And then, about one year after I'd extricated myself... the dreams came: Sickness for me, pain for my children. Satan incarnate threatening death.

I still have the dreams, but they're getting less intense. My marriage was hard and traumatic. I had expected trauma dreams from that experience, but not from something so commonplace.


Doesn't everybody have one?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Quitting Is Not An Option

My apologies to all the lovely people who have commented on my blog in the last few days for whom I've not had a chance to reciprocate. I'm trying to follow more blogs and discover more voices.

I want to swim in the bloggersphere, not to sink.

And if I had my way, I'd have all the time I want to read blogs and get to know more people through their writing. But I came home from work on Monday and Tuesday utterly exhausted.

A lot has happened in the last few years. Good and bad. My children are stabilized and that's good. I have a full time job... also good. My ex no longer has to pay alimony, which means I feel less connected to him. That is so incredibly good!

But what's not good is that my job (which I mostly love) can be extremely draining on some days. And I never know when. 

I'm a first year special education teacher. There are many things I had expected going into this profession, like the paperwork that everyone warned me about and the inability to please everyone. 

I knew the children would have challenges and that I didn't have a magic wand to make those challenges disappear, but I love people. And I work hard. 

Some days are just more difficult than others. 

I am gobsmacked by the unpredictable and dangerous behaviors some of the kiddos on my caseload attempt at least once or twice a week. 

Generally speaking, I believe in inclusion. But when a student is a flight risk, why is he in a general education classroom? He can leave whenever he darn well pleases, and then I have to call for backup to chase him down before he escapes the building. 

If this happens once or twice, I understand. Children make mistakes, they have moments. Certainly, if the escape is prompted by a meltdown, that's something to consider. But this has turned into a regular event. And this child doesn't have meltdowns. 

So anyway, getting back to the theme of this blog post,  I'm not a quitter. Nor do I plan on quitting in terms of keeping up with the comments on this blog. So if you've left a comment for me and have since given up on me coming around to visit your blog, please don't. 

I will take the time to read everyone's stuff. It just might take a bit longer than anticipated. 

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...