Wednesday, January 9, 2008

SPED Stories, Volume 2

Disclaimer: Some details have been tweaked so as not to identify specific people; however, the gist of the events is true, especially in the outcomes.

An epilogue to volume one. Although the entities involved are different, the question remains.

I’m working in a special motivation program in a high school where the demographics include high percentages of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, high school drop outs, school violence, and indigenous student populations. The students in this program remain for the entire day; four teachers, two aides and 40 kids in an ALC - Alternative Learning Center ( the kids themselves call this Assholes Last Chance). We become very close, a type of family one could say. This did not come about easily. I was, of course, placed here my first year of full time teaching, following the statistics of the least experienced teacher being placed in the most difficult lines ( But this story takes place during my third year.

The kids speak freely around me and rarely leave the building. It is lunch and I am having a conversation with two of my male students. One is SPED, with a specific learning disorder (SLD) and he is 19 and in his fifth year of high school. When I started three years before he walked up to me and said, “I cannot read or write. Can you teach me?” Well, that’s a whole different story, how a child can pass through the system, SPED or otherwise, and reach high school with a K/1st grade reading ability. At any rate, on this day, he is pissed off and wants to go beat some guy who disrespected his little sister. But, he’s 19 and knows he can get arrested. Still, he’s leaning towards doing what he has to do, that’s the way things work in his world.

The other student is his cousin. He’s 16 and also in SPED, but he’s EI (emotionally impaired). What he’s been through in these first 16 years could take a blog or so in itself, but ultimately, and put way too simply, he has anger management issues. Since his anger is a part of his disability, he can only be suspended a small amount of time for fighting, as it is a part of his disability (see SPED stories volume 1). He not only knows this, he works this. He straight up tells his cousin in front of me that he will take care of it because he’s already been suspended his quota of days, “they can’t do anything to me." He might have emotional and pyschological problems but he's smart especially street smart. Although I refer them to counseling, it is only to humor me and out of respect that they go, it is just later rather than sooner that the whole scenario takes place anyways.

Fast forward three years later. I am working in another high school but in the same district. It is the first day of school and I am taking attendance and I notice one of my students has the same last name as the EI student from the above story. I ask him if he is related and he replies that EI is his cousin. I ask if he can say hello for me and how is he doing. My new student informs me that his cousin is in prison for assault.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

SPED Stories Volume 1

Disclaimer: Some details have been tweaked so as not to identify specific people; however, the gist of the events is true, especially in the outcomes.

So I’m at work one day and I get a phone call from my own kids’ elementary school. I need to come and pick up my daughter from the health room and take her for a doctor’s appointment. Seems she’s been punched by another student (male). Off I go as soon as they find a body to cover my classes for the rest of the day. Exit stage right.

When I get to the school I find my daughter (10) holding an ice pack on her eye and her lips on the right side puffed up and purple. And I’m thinking WTF. But I’m trying to be civil to the Healthroom Aid because, after all, she is not the one who punched my kid. So I ask my daughter, OK, who hit you and why. “PSS1 (Pseudonymous SPED Student 1) was mad at me because I told him I wanted to hang out at recess with the girls,” she replies. Fuck me. My inner monologue is a train of expletives and I slide into schizophrenia as I politely ask the Health Aid how quickly I need to get my daughter to the doctor’s or if I have time for a short talk with the principal.

Backstory: PSS1 has been in PD’s (Pseudonymous Daughter’s) class since first grade. On the one hand he is supposed to be some kind of freaky genius, especially in math and geography. On the other hand, he not only has no social skills, he’s a bit of a showstopper. He likes to crawl around on the floor and pretend he’s a dog, barking at and sometimes licking the other students. He hangs out underneath the tables while the other kids are doing deskwork, and once in awhile he snuffles at their feet. Most of the kids avoid him like a social leper; however PD has always had a heart for the less fortunate. In preschool she was best friends with a boy in her class that was not only blind, but had had some kind of rare eye disease where they had taken out his eyes and sewn them shut. Two years running the parent teacher conference was centered on PD’s empathetic abilities and her patience in guiding the blind child around the playground during outdoor time. Since 1st grade, PSS1 has been in PD’s class. She has been a loyal friend to him and the teacher nearly always pairs her up with him for partnered work as no other child wants to work with him. Every year the school mixes the kids up as they move up through the grades and PSS1 is the only child who has been in PD’s class every year. Which I find suspiciously on purpose and over utilization of my daughter, who, after all is not a paid aid but a student herself. Recently she has been complaining about the girls in her class teasing her that PSS1 is her “boyfriend” (welcome to the wonderful world of adolescence PD). He has been monopolizing her time at recess and she does not know how to break away and do her own thing as he is insistent on following her around. I had talked to her teacher who was supposed to have PSS1’s aid work with him during recess so my daughter could get a break.

Enter the principal’s office where (I’ll get straight to the punch line) he tells me he cannot impose any kind of punishment on PSS1 as he’s a SPED student and that false cracking my daughter twice in the face is a part of his impairment and therefore unpunishable. ??!! So, I ask, how is he supposed to learn the natural consequences of his actions and what about when he turns 18 and continues with these behaviors? The legal system does not make accommodations that parallel what the schools are doing and isn’t it possible they are just setting him up for heading off to jail or prison for assault one day in the future? The principal tells me there’s nothing he can do, that the system is structured around the law suits of SPED students and their parents and until the regular education student population brings a lawsuit to reverse this swing in the pendulum, odds are that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

The following day when I pick my daughter up from school, she is holding a huge bouquet of flowers. PSS1’s mom felt horrible about PD’s busted up face. I felt like the bad guy when I searched out PSS1’s mom in the parking lot, returning the flowers and having to explain how creepy it was to follow up a beating with an apology and flowers and that this was not a course of events that I wanted my daughter to think of as natural or normal in any way whatsoever.

I never brought about a lawsuit. I figured since I work in this fucked up system it shouldn’t be me and another regular education kid’s parent could have the honor. It’s been a few years now, and to the best of my knowledge, this still hasn’t taken place.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Why blog?

Well, I’m not even sure. I have found that I spend too much time in my head and my ideas vaporize before congealing. And maybe getting back to writing will help me see my thoughts through to some kind of completion. I’m weary of the internet forum. There are some merciless souls out there. And yet. I have to wonder what kind of voice I will develop if I know I will be posting.

I don’t expect to post everyday. I wonder how bloggers with full time jobs and families do this. I get up at 4 AM most days just so I can get in a couple of hours of work while the house is quiet and I can think straight, only to go to work and have my day fly by with one class after another, the inboxes on my desk stacking up repeatedly with work to be graded, students lingering after class with dogtags to be signed, requests and questions to be addressed, bells ringing, and thirty minute lunches inhaled, afternoons alternated with faculty meetings and after school tutoring, endless parent phone calls and then hurrying home to my own children who have requests and questions to be addressed, meals to made and laundry to be done, dogs to be walked and lives to be lived. To not become task oriented and to, oh yeah, not have the life sucked out of me, while of course trying to keep a joy for living and a little bit of my creative self intact.

My “New Year’s Resolution” this year is more a trying to adhere to some positive life styles, same as last year. Taking care of myself physically, emotionally, spiritually. The fact that I am planning to use this writing forum to be a critique on things I find irritating is not the paradox one would be inclined to think; by getting these thoughts down in writing I plan on seeing them through to some kind of fruition - clearing my head of them a little bit (that’s the theory at least).

Things that interest me enough to write about:

The politics of SPED. I know the intentions. But how it actually gets played out is something else entirely – sometimes ludicrous to the point of becoming comical. I have a deep rooted belief that the general public - especially the parents of the regular ed students – have no idea.

“Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships.” The new 3 R’s of education. Great in theory or the hands of a talented teacher having a good year, but usually misinterpreted into a surreal oxymoron.

American pop culture – especially movies and the media.

Difficult parents of difficult students.

Alternating positioning myself between my role as a public school teacher and the parent of two public school students.

Random topics that capture my attention.