I Spoke Too Soon

The second day of school, I was working with The Man, helping him finish an interior painting project because I have not much else going on right now.  Mid-morning, I got a phone call from The Boy’s school.

It was The Boy’s special ed teacher, calling because he was refusing to do his work… a student interest inventory in math.   I told her he had done one for homework, and logically, may not want to do the same thing all over again.  After we hung up, I felt a ball of oh-no-did-she-really-just-call-me-about-something-she-should-totally-be-able-to-handle form in my stomach.  I felt like I may have been really wrong to feel relived last week.

She called later that evening sounding a bit panicked, listing her concerns:

  • There was an unplanned fire “drill” on the first day (something was smoking in the kitchen), and his teachers were concerned about his safety during the drill, because he was pacing.
  • He left the classroom at one point during the day, without permission.
  • His social studies teacher thinks it isn’t beneficial for him to be in her class because he is not doing the work, and should go to the resource room for that class.
  • He draws all the time and is not following instructions.

These were my thoughts that coalesced that evening at the conclusion of the phone call…

  • There was an unplanned fire drill and he didn’t freak out, have a meltdown, or run for the hills.  He paced.  That’s clearly a win.
  • He left the classroom without permission only onceAnother win.
  • He isn’t doing the work in social studies on the second day of schoolAnd?…  He didn’t have ESY this year, this is par for the course! 
  • He draws all the time in class, and isn’t following instructions…  Welcome to my world.

I know not all kids with autism are alike, but I would expect experienced educators to have a bit more of an understanding of the common obstacles to learning for students with autism.  I did provide multiple copies of his IEP/Testing packet that includes a rather extensive narrative from his previous teacher about how to get him to participate and do work.  The autism specialist, his special ed teacher and I did meet last week, when I talked at length about these things.

You have to have some competency, and if you don’t, you have to use the resources available to you, before you call me in the middle of class asking what you should do.

I didn’t make any friends when I emailed all and sundry in the special ed department and administration stating that he needs an aide, and only has one in one of his general ed classes.  Because of that email, though, the county autism specialist spent a day with The Boy and his special ed teacher, and gave her plenty of strategies to use.  Since then, I’ve been trying to smooth things over, but this is not going to be easy.  And they are going to get quite used to my face, voice, and the “ping!” of my emails…

What I’m Up To

  • I have an “orientation” at Michael’s (the craft store) tomorrow to become an official employee, so I can start teaching scrapbooking classes.  The pay isn’t as good as I anticipated, but I hope it will supplement my other part-time job…
  • tutoring!  So far, I kinda sorta have one student (his mom and I have a game plan, but not a schedule yet), and he has autism – yay!  Suffice it to say I could make up to $30 a week all told!!  I know, exciting, right?  But in about three weeks, once I can get my classes set up and advertised, and parents start to realize their kids need help, I should get some more hours at Michael’s, and I should get some more tutoring students.  And it might be enough to make my car payment…
  • I’m waiting to hear back from the county about whether or not we qualify for The Boy to be on the state-provided health insurance program.  Any day now…  Nah.  More like 30 days from now…  Hopefully.
  • I’m going to be volunteering and helping The Boy’s band director out a couple of days a week.  I also told him I could come in when he has a substitute.  He thought I might want to be the substitute, and I assured him I did not.  If I’m a volunteer, I can get away with a lot more…  Heh, heh, heh…
  • I’m trying to work with The Boy’s school to get his services ironed out.  They are NOT right, and I think they have had very limited experience with kids with autism.  More on that in another post, but suffice it to say that right now, I’m reading some books from Wrightslaw about Special Education LawJust in case.
  • I’m helping my hubby with some of his big projects.  We joke that I don’t get paid, but when he makes money, I make money, and this allows him to get done quicker, which means more work, which means more money…  you get the picture.  Plus I get to spend the day with him, which is nice about 99% of the time 😉
  • I get to drop off and pick up my kid right from school – no daycare!  I’ve never been able to do this, and it’s pretty cool.

So in summation, I don’t have a ton of money coming in, and my insurance runs out this week.  But for the first time in about 17 years, I’m able to give thought and energy to my own kid and my own family, and I have the time to do it, and do it well.

at the docks

Kindred Spirits

I’ve mentioned before that The Man knows just about everyone around here.  To be fair, he did grow up here, and has lived here all of his 56 years.  And it’s a small town, so there’s that.  We went down to the main street in our little town the other day, and we ran into some people he knows that run a little kayaking and paddle boarding rental spot on the pier.  And I met Charlotte, who is about the same age as The Man’s daughter, and like me is a former teacher.  In fact, just like me, this is her first year not going back-to-school.

And we giggled like little girls when we found out we had this in common.  Because both of us are so relieved not to go back.

Ahhhhhh...She had five years under her belt, and I had seventeen, but it was too much for both of us.  The demands of the job were not outweighed by the rewards.  She helps out at the kayaking place in the summer and has for years.  I mentioned the day I worked for our friends’ ferry service doing much the same thing, sitting under the shade of an umbrella near the water on a hot summer day, and how everyone thought I would be bored, but I was in heaven.  Happy as a clam.  No million-questions that need to be answered RIGHT NOW, no parent emails, no see-me notes from the principal.  No marathon days when you are just about too tired to turn the key in your ignition let alone make it home without collapsing.  Just sitting in the shade on a beautiful day near the ocean, answering a few questions here and there, and otherwise just chilling out.

Teaching is a calling.  And I was called.  But for my own sanity, I had to unplug the phone.  And the silence is so nice.

Cheers, Charlotte! It was nice to chat with a kindred spirit 🙂

Teacher Appreciation

If you weren’t aware, this week is teacher appreciation week.  And I have a few things to say about teachers – a few blog posts-worth.  I’ll start with this…

My HomeworkTeachers work hard.  I know because I am one.  I also know because I watch others do it, and because I know my own son.  I remember my friends as students from my own time in school, and I have been immersed in the culture of education for the past 33 years.  I have also come to realize that teaching is one of the most difficult gigs out there.  I have only recently learned this from speaking to colleagues who have worked in other sectors before teaching (and some after teaching, as well).  And I can tell you that it has only gotten harder as the years have gone by.

Teachers, lately, have started verbalizing how difficult the job is, primarily because the demands have increased while the rewards have decreased.  And there has been considerable backlash.  No one goes into teaching because they get summers off (because we don’t, really) and will make loads of money, but neither should teachers qualify for public assistance, yet they do.  Neither should they have their names printed in the local paper, labeled “ineffective” based on their students’ test scores, yet they do.  Teachers are sometimes expected to produce miracles, and when they don’t they are vilified.

I consider myself a good teacher, and I don’t think it’s conceited to say so.  One knows when one is good at one’s job.  Notice I didn’t say “great”.  But over my career, I have been called a racist, a “favoritist”, I have had countless parents berate me over the phone, swear at me, and question me on why I didn’t let her daughter fill out her birthday invitations in class, or why I was upset that their son threw pencils at my office door.

Those aren’t typical days, but increasingly I am incredulous at  the things we deal with, from all sides.  It’s a really hard job.  And parents who really know their children usually get it.  It’s too bad so many don’t have a clue who their own children are (“My son doesn’t lie!”).

So take a moment this week, and think about the people who have taught you, and the people who are teaching the children of today.  Send them good thoughts and/or prayers that they will continue to have the strength to do the job they do, because that’s what they really need, so much more than the trinkets from the dollar store, and the cookies.  They need your support in the classroom, in the community, and at the polls.  They sacrifice so much and work so hard for our kids, and will never be appreciated enough for doing so.

Just a Parent Now…

Now that I am “just a parent” as opposed to a teacher/parent, I thought I would re-post a post I wrote in the spring during teacher appreciation week.  Especially because we are starting at a new school, and a new level of school, I have questions.  LOTS of questions.  And I have this impatient need to get answers quickly.  I have decided to reign myself in, because I remember the first week of school, and The Boy’s teachers could use one less email from me this week if I don’t really need the answer today.

 

First Day

The backpack is packed, and the clothes sorter is full.  The new fake glasses have had their lenses popped out.  New shoes, men’s size 8, have been purchased, and as far as I can tell, we are as ready for The Boy’s first day of 6th grade, first day at a new school, as we will ever be.  I know what time I want to leave tomorrow morning down to the minute, and I know the times for everything on our agenda up to that point.  And I know what time to be at the school for pickup to avoid traffic in the parking lot.

I just don’t know what will happen in between drop-off and pickup.

I hope it’s a bunch of patient people, friendly faces, compassion, competence, and good experiences.

Good luck to all the students and teachers heading back to school, and to the helpless but hopeful parents left behind!

The Boy's self portrait

The Boy’s self portrait

Up All Night

poor babyThe Boy is prone to abusing screen time past bed time.  This is a bad habit that has developed, and after last night, I know I need to do something.

Last night, The Man and I were awoken at a little after 2am by The Boy, pitter pattering about the house, doing whoknowswhat.  I got out of bed, caught him awake and bouncing around his room, and reminded him that after lights out, he was to stay in his room and sleep, unless he needed to use the bathroom.  “Oh yeah,” he said, “I remember.”  In the meantime, The Man had turned on the TV, which he does when he can’t sleep, and which also results in my not being able to sleep…  This isn’t going to work.

I had mentioned to The Boy several times in the past few days that once school started, we would need to re-institute “lights out” at 9:30pm (“lights out” doesn’t include his actual light – that stays on all night.  But I digress….).  I talked to him about school starting at an earlier hour this year, which made him nervous that we would bump back his bedtime.  I assured him that it would remain the same, but we really couldn’t be on the electronics all night long.  That really wasn’t gonna work.

This morning, I brought it up again.

“When school starts, your computer and your iPad are going to have bedtimes, too,” I said.  “But that means my iPad time will be limited again!” he replied, logically.  “Bedtime is for sleeping, and you shouldn’t be using your computer or your iPad past bedtime anyway, so it’s not really limiting your time.  We’re going to have to put them up for the night – their bedtime will be the same as yours.”

“Can they sleep right here?” he asked, indicating his bedside table with a twinkle in his eye.  I know that twinkle… “I think you might try to sneak and use those computers after bedtime,” I replied honestly.  “I won’t!!” he promised, but I know better.  “What happens if I catch you using it after bedtime?” I asked, reasonably.  He took a minute and then said, “Then you can take them and put them up somewhere else.”

Gotta love this.  Negotiating, advocating for himself, and determining his own consequences.

He’s growing up!

Housework Help

In order to earn back his iPad time, The Boy has agreed to do some chores to “pay back” his half of the repair bill.  We’ve developed a system, and we’ve tweaked it a bit, too, with input from his veryownself.  Within the past few days, he has voiced the desire to get this all done by the time school starts…  on Monday.  If you remember, this was originally supposed to be a four-week process…  But I didn’t want him to think it wasn’t possible.  I mean, if he wants to work extra hard to get it done quicker, there’s a valuable lesson in that.  Last night, I told him we’d sit down with the chore chart and the calendar in the morning and figure it out.

Today, we looked at the chart and figured out what chores he could accomplish today.  And I got him started right away – this was key.  I showed him how to wipe the kitchen counter down, and he did the other half on his own – check!  While standing there in the kitchen, looking at a pile of dishes that needed to be put away, I thought maybe he’d be motivated to earn some extra for things not on his chart…  “Hey, do you want to earn some extra money?  You could help me put the dishes away…”

“Yeah!  I’ll do that!”

Check!

Which lead to changing the load from the washer to the drier, which lead to folding some clothes…

I assigned him the towels, and showed him how to do it.  On his first try, it was a messy lump.  I had him re-do it, and told him to pay careful attention to lining the corners up just right.  And he did it.  And I realized I should have shown this to him ages ago.

finished product

Now he is in his room, attempting to clear the floor (i.e. putting all the clothes on his floor into the hamper).  All by himself.

This works for me!

🙂

Gearing up for Middle School

A new Landaff teacher in the 1940s watches as ...I met with The Boy’s special education teacher yesterday, who had just been handed his “file” a few hours previous to the meeting, and the county autism specialist who has 16 schools-worth of students on her caseload.  There are two special ed teachers at his school, and I had been told that The Boy would probably be assigned to the other, and he indeed had until a few hours before the meeting.  I can’t say exactly why, but after looking at their info on the school website, I was secretly pleased about the last minute switch.  Needless to say she hadn’t had any time to review his file, and come to find out, it didn’t have the copy of the IEP and testing that I had sent to the county autism specialist in it anyway…

So we talked about The Boy, about his strengths and areas of struggle, about what motivates him and what sets him off.  We talked about the similarities between the programs in our new state and our previous state, and the types of accommodations that could be made for him within his school day.  We talked about for which subjects inclusion was going to work, and for which he would need to be pulled out to the resource room.  We talked about computers, band, and lunch…

The autism consultant seemed overconfident, and the special ed teacher seemed overwhelmed (she was missing a portion of her own teachers’ meeting to meet with me), but both seemed receptive and open.

And I am, too.

I know that our new state’s education system ranks perilously near the bottom.  I knew that walking in. And when I pulled out the work samples I had brought with me, they asked, “Are there rubrics on all of these?  We don’t use those here.  Do they help him?”  I almost stumbled over my bottom lip, and I hope my incredulity didn’t show on my face as much as I felt it inside.  You see, I was taught from about day one in ED101 how to develop rubrics for every assignment, a way to clearly communicate your expectations for students.  And that was 20 years ago.  This county (and I’m assuming state) doesn’t even use them, probably hasn’t ever been trained in them, and it was a sucker-punch reminder that we are in one of those states, the ones with piss-poor funding and even crappier respect for its teachers, those teachers who haven’t gotten a raise in six years and are prit-near the bottom of the list when it comes to teacher pay, too…

But I also know that all the research says that the teacher has the most influence on how well a student does in school.  And in my son’s case, that will be his special ed teacher, making sure his accommodations are in place, remediating when necessary, building that long-term relationship and trust.  In this meeting, I witnessed how far behind this state is, but I also witnessed how willing his teacher is to be his everything while still pushing him as far as he can go.  I know that, between the two of us, he’s going to be OK, and that’s a relief.

Earning Back the iPad: Self Advocacy

alarm clock, bought from IKEA

Originally, when I developed the plan for The Boy to earn back his iPad time, he would get his time back upon completion of the four-week chore program.

The Boy had a different idea.

He interpreted the plan to mean that if he did some chores, he would earn some additional time the following day, and when we talked about it, I realized that was a much better plan.  Immediate (or rather immediate) rewards work much better than delayed rewards.

So I amended the plan, and it seems to be a great motivator.  A little self advocacy at work from The Boy, and Mom learns something – win-win!

PS We purchased a Griffin Survivor case for the iPad, and so far we all like how tough it is!