Tuesday, September 8, 2009

End of Story

I woke up this morning, and there wasn't a drop of coffee in the house. No grounds. No leftover swill in the bottom of the carafe. No-thing.

This made me very testy.

I told Owen he was eating his grapes too loudly. I muttered mild swear words under my breath when I couldn't find Joel's brand new shoe. (Which, by the way, I finally found in the recycle bin. Joel apparently thinks this bin is made of magic and moonbeams, so I will look there first from this point forward.) And, in a moment that makes me especially proud, I stood in a parking lot and told my preschooler to stop "flapping his gums and get [his] butt out of the car."

Perhaps Owen will learn better language and behavior at preschool. The bad influence, I fear, is looking right at me in the bathroom mirror.

Anyway, I got my coffee, and we went to the library. These are two things that never fail to improve my mood. At the library, I ran into a friend of mine. She is awesome times infinity. Her son has autism, and she was telling me about his experiences and some of the things that teachers have done to help him out.

One of the things a teacher did was mark squares on the carpet with tape for "circle time." This provided a boundary for kids, a safety zone for those who needed it. The teacher also used this strategy so that kids with ADHD were close to the teacher, and kids who needed space were towards the back of the room. Here's the key to this strategy: it was easy, and she used it for everybody.

And this-this-is what kills me about some teachers--the basic lack of creativity and problem-solving. I'm not talking about the teacher in this example--quite the opposite. She found a way to meet the needs of her entire class, without singling kids out or making things harder than they needed to be. She didn't do something "special" for the kids with IEPs, or 504s, or whatever acronym you wish to use. She helped out every kid, simply by using some creative thinking.

One of the things that frustrated me about teaching were the annual meetings with the special education teachers to discuss accommodations. Accommodations, for those not in education-land, are the steps or practices teachers are asked to do to help certain students be successful. They include things like, "seat student towards the front of the room," "repeat directions, if asked," or "extra time on tests, as needed."

These are not unreasonable demands. But, OH! the grumbles and howls from these teachers! The whining! The excuses! You would think these were the most ridiculous requests ever. These meetings made me so depressed and frustrated. I couldn't believe that people found it so difficult to show a little empathy or, God Forbid, think outside of the box a bit.

And incidentally--these accommodations are LEGALLY MANDATED. They aren't up for discussion.

I'm not here to teacher-bash. For every bad teacher, there are many more caring, wonderful ones. And, I know that there are accommodations that are either outdated or just plain abused. In particular, I once had a student with sensory issues that had a "Take a break" pass. The idea was that he was to use the pass, no questions asked, whenever the environment became too stimulating for him. This was to prevent meltdowns.

As a concept, it's wonderful. Kids, especially students with these kinds of issues, need to learn healthy self-regulation strategies to be successful in school, and in life. This kid, however, was not over-stimulated by anything, except for, perhaps, his girlfriend. He attempted to use his pass each day, coincidentally during her lunch period.

One call to his very cool, with-it mother, and he no longer felt so overwhelmed in my class.

But, you see, I didn't blame this issue on his IEP. I looked at the larger issue and figured out a solution. That is what I see good teachers do.

They teach in different ways---using visuals, lists, music, movement, and conversation---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

They employ subtle strategies---grouping certain kids together because it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, seating charts, general vs. specific checks for understanding---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

They work with the special educators, and learn strategies, such as ways to make a worksheet less overwhelming---not because it helps the kids with IEPS or 504s, but because it helps everybody.

And finally, good teachers just get it. I mean, any person who has ever learned to ski, or dance, or play an instrument, or speak another language, has encountered a suffocating, powerless frustration. (If you've never felt this feeling, then you're too perfect to be reading this blog--away with you and your perfection!) Good teachers never forget that power of frustration, and take it as a moral and personal responsibility to temper this frustration, and make it more manageable.

I may be ranting here, but this really touches my core. People need to be cared for. And if the caring comes in different ways for different people, than that's just what needs to happen. End of story.


Melani said...

Love the post! I totally agree~

Love your new hair cut, have not been online in a few days, so I missed a few posts...I need to do a post on mine of our hiking trip we did 2 times! with our 14 yr old,4 yr old and 2 yr old!

Corrie Howe said...

I thank you for the post too. I agree there are a lot of great teachers out there and a few that probably ought not be teaching. And lest, I point fingers, I'm thankful for anyone who willing submits themselves to an average of 20 humans under the age of 18 ("pre-people" as my former pastor used to say). I don't know how teachers, aids, bus drivers, etc. can do it.