Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Single Step....

A colleague of mine has a special education inclusion teaching assistant working at her school that simply put isn't very good.  My experience with TAs is that, like any other position, the talent tends to be hit or miss.  I have worked with some who are better than our certified teachers and others who need their own life IEP.  'Sapphire' definitely fell into the latter.

Shit travels downhill.  In this case, downhill refers to years of experience.  As a result, new teachers always got stuck with Sapphire.  Sapphire simply did not understand any of the basics of her role and too often caused more problems than solutions.  The teachers who got stuck with her often wound up having to babysit her in addition to the kids she was supposed to be helping manage.

As is the case every year, the teacher working with Sapphire quickly discovered her incompetence.  The issues didn't improve with time (they never do) and subtle hints didn't work either.  The teacher talked with the principal about her frustrations and the principal recommended that the teacher explicitly explain what it was that Sapphire needed to be doing in order to best support the classroom.

The next day the teacher explained to Sapphire that she wanted her to be constantly moving around the room making sure students were on task with their work.  "You want me to just walk around all day?"  The teacher, thinking this represented progress told her 'yes.'  She obviously didn't know what 'explicit' meant....

Sapphire spent the entire morning walking in a large square as if she was in some sort county fair cake walk or a game of Duck-Duck-Goose (no aisles).  At lunch she sat by herself crying.  After lunch she went back to the classroom and continued to bizarre walk slow around the perimeter of the students while the teacher did her thing.

Sapphire was practically hysterical as she left that day.  Finally, someone asked her what was wrong (there's a sucker in every crowd).  "They told me I have do laps all day long!"

And this folks, is the person who is employed and paid to assist closing the gap with our neediest students.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid....

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Teacher Success Can't Always Be Measured (Sorry Arne!)

The other day one of our special education students was having a bad morning.  The poor kid has, on top of other things, some emotional challenges which are further compounded by a lousy home life.  The boy was having a melt down and was refusing to come to school.  Mom (who is a loser) simply called him in and told the office he was 'in a bad mood and wouldn't be coming to school.'  One of the school's special education teachers, who has worked hard to form a relationship with this student, called the mom back to insist that he come to school.  When he called he learned that the situation had pretty much moved to crisis.  The kid had wrestled the car keys away from the mom and locked himself in the car (they had left home to go to the grocery store).  The teacher was scheduled to meet with the district's special education director that morning, but without hesitation grabbed another teacher and headed out to help.   They were successful not only in calming the child and getting him to exit the car, but brought him to school where he had a successful day.

That same morning my second language teacher learned that one of her families was having trouble completing the physical portion of their child's school registration because their literacy level in English was poor and causing complications with the paperwork at the clinic.  Again, the teacher changed her morning plans and headed to the clinic to assist the family.  

These kinds of stories happen with regularity inside of schools.  The actions described above appear in no teacher job description anywhere.  Yet, these stories rarely receive the attention they deserve.  These actions won't be measured in any teacher evaluation matrix.  They won't enhance any pay for performance opportunity.  The family in the first tale is so screwed up it's doubtful the effort was even appreciated much by the parent.  Yet, it would be difficult to argue that their actions were not the right choice.  Would anyone suggest that ensuring a child's safety and getting him to school or assisting a second language family at a clinic so a child can register for school were bad practice?   

I'm proud of these teachers.  And I believe it's what all teachers should be doing when children's needs are become bigger than fractions and conclusion statements.  And I worry that the more we test, and the more we tie to the results, the less human we risk becoming in our approaches.  I certainly worry that using student achievement to nearly exclusively measure a teachers competency & worth is both unfair and inaccurate (as hopefully was articulated in the above examples).  

These are stressful times in education thanks (at least in part) to idiot lawmakers.  The right choice isn't always easy but it sure helps you sleep at night.  I hope that the few teachers that take a moment to read this keep doing those truly heroic things for kids- even though law & policy makers haven't figured out how to measure it.  Never forget why you chose the profession.  Even though the parent didn't appreciate my teachers rescuing her kid from a locked car- the kid definitely did....   

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Adventures In School Bus Micturition

Our district uniquely houses all bilingual kindergartners at one site.  Once they reach first grade, they 'return' to their attendance school where they continue to receive appropriate second language support.

Occasionally this format causes some issues.  Parents sometimes refuse needed second language support for their children because it is more important to them that they stay with older siblings at the attendance school than receive the language support.

This is currently the case for a little girl at my school who is now in an all English kindergarten room, but speaks zero English.  The mildly ironic thing about the parents refusing services is that our kindergarten program is only half day, so the kid goes home on the bus without her older sibling anyway.

On day three of our new school year, the little girl was trying to tell the bus driver something on her midday trip home.  The driver, who speaks no Spanish, made the deduction that the girls was becoming ill and (while driving) handed back to her the little garbage can normally housed at the front of the bus.  Upon receipt, the little girl proceeded to drop trou and take a nice big piss in the garbage can.  Hey, when you gotta go...

After the office was informed by the bus company, we had a chuckle in the about the situation and all commented that it didn't take long for things to return to 'midseason form' in terms of the everyday adventures of school operations.  But when school ended, the students father showed up.  And he was mad...

Dad spoke a little English, but he was so animated in his anger that we were having a hard time understanding him.  Besides, what exactly was he pissed about?  I mean, they refuse services and then piss in the school bus garbage can.  There are lots of people who should be upset here before this guy.  Right?

Well, it turns out after we settled him down a little that he wasn't particularly upset about any of the events that took place on the bus that afternoon.  He was upset because the bus driver elected to leave the garbage can full of his daughter's piss on his driveway.  He wanted the bus company to send the driver to his house to remove it.  So that's a first.