Modifications and Accommodations

A friend contacted me after dinner last night in a panic. Her son has just started 9th grade and has been failing math, in large part because he doesn’t understand the homework. He is on the spectrum, and is more than capable of handling academic work, given proper supports. But his homework hasn’t been modified, and I doubt the tests and quizzes have been either.

I don’t understand why teachers don’t do this.  Do they not realize that they have to? If a teacher saw a child in a wheelchair at the top of a staircase, unable to go downstairs, would they turn the other way and say, “That’s not my job, that’s the special ed teacher’s job”? Probably not, but because some of our kiddos on the spectrum “seem” capable, that instinct that all teachers are supposed to have to help children succeed just isn’t there? I just don’t understand.

simple modificationI still consider myself a teacher (especially with all of the modifications and accommodations I’ve been providing for my own son for the past two years), and helped my friend’s son via text. They would send me a picture of the problem, and I would set up a chart of the information to help him process it into an equation and send it back.  And guess what? They went from full-on meltdown mode to feeling much better about the math homework.

Now why in the world should this mom have to go on facebook, beg friends for help, and even offer to pay someone to help her boy with his work? No, I’m sorry. This falls in the realm of the duties of that math teacher.  She is failing at least one of her students.  That grade is not his, it is hers.  And if she can’t see that, someone needs to show her.

If you are a teacher, I strongly urge you to learn how to provide some basic modifications and accommodations (and while you’re at it, look into this thing called “Universal Design for Learning“). We’re supposed to help our students succeed, and if you are too tired or busy to only concentrate on the “normal” ones, you have a problem.

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We Need to Care More About Mental Health Care, Starting in the Schools

I was just watching some commentary on the Navy Yard Shootings that occurred a short time ago, and indeed how mundane these mass shootings are seeming.  No one even appeared to take notice of this last one, and that is really scary.

I’m not going to get into a debate about guns.

But I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute about something I feel is related.

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

The school where I used to work has one counselor and one social worker for 900 children.  The school where my son is enrolled now has one counselor for 300 children, and no social worker.  (And guess who is often in charge of all the standardized testing in the school?  How much counseling do you think they get done with that on their plate??)  You see, these positions are often the first to get cut or reduced, often to preserve the teaching staff.  And while I don’t disagree that teachers are important, I have seen the children walking through our school doors over the past 20 years.  I have seen how aggressive, how damaged, how out-of-control they have become.  And I have spoken with the parents, the ones who when you meet them, cause you to say, “Now I understand.”

Today’s kids are dealing with a lot.  They are exposed to so much more than in years past, and too often, parents are not on top of it, neither to control what they are watching, hearing, experiencing, nor to help them process that information.  I don’t know if bullying has increased over the years, but I do know that most kids can be mean, and when I say mean, I mean MEAN.  That’s a lot for anyone to deal with.  And then if you don’t have a perfect home-life…

Mental health in this country has always been taboo.  Unfortunately, we are telling our kids that it isn’t that important through underfunding the resources that they need to help them be of healthy mind.  And they are left to deal with the world on their own terms, with virtually no help.

I’m not suggesting that this is a cause of these mass shootings that have become so common, but our attitudes toward mental health don’t seem to have changed, even with the evidence staring us in the face.  And support for our children and their mental health should not be an afterthought, only provided when there is enough in the budget.  Our actions speak loudly to those kids, and right now we are telling them to suck it up and deal.  That’s not good enough.

Schools and the “Quick-Fix” Solution

I don’t often write about school, neither mine nor The Boy’s because it puts me in a precarious position.  And I just don’t want to go there.  Yet.

But there is one thing that I think I can safely generalize about public school systems today, and that is the preponderance of “band-aids”: quick-fix measures to address very real, very big problems.  These “measures” are often implemented in a hurried fashion, without much forethought, and end up being a patch-as-you-go solution which doesn’t really work for anyone, but is there so that we can say we have it.

For instance, after Newtown, The Boy’s school realized that in the morning and afternoons, they were allowing parents (and virtually anyone) unfettered access to the school due to drop-off and pick-up for Kids Club (but also clubs and other sponsored events after hours).  The day following Newtown, the door was locked in the morning.  No letter home, no signs on the door.  Nothing.  Because we are almost always first to school, we had to pound on the door to get the custodian to come and open it up for us.  Later that same week was The Boy’s school band concert, held during the school day, and every single parent attending the concert had to be buzzed in, and had to report to the office, sign in, and get a visitors badge.  That’s about 100 people!

some old fire alarm bells by hpeguk from flickr

some old fire alarm bells (by hpeguk via flickr)

After break, they had installed a new bell to push, which rings in the gym so that a kids club worker can answer the door. Can you imagine how often those people are running back and forth (as opposed to, you know, supervising children)?  And what if the person is ringing to be let in for some club other than kids club?  Do they let them in if they don’t recognize them?  And what if there is an event going on in the gym, like a parent meeting, concert, or girls scout ceremony, and that bell rings?  Not to mention that the bell is loud, and rings like an old fashioned fire alarm…  Yup.  A fire alarm sound for all of those kids on the spectrum.  Going off about every 4 minutes.  How nice.

And the response to people who ask these questions is, “We’re working on it.”

I get it.  You want to make your school safe, and you want to make it safe now (although, why this wasn’t considered after Columbine, I don’t know).  Except that a little notification, and some planning and forethought (and maybe a little money spent) upfront would go a lot further than a piecemeal, thoughtless plan like this, that is still being “worked on”.

This is where schools look unprofessional, because it really is.  And this is only an example of the many “band-aids” I witness myself and hear about from others like this, almost on a daily basis. I know educators are short on time and money, but those are really just excuses.  There is no sense in not doing something right the first time, from the get-go, with a carefully thought out plan.  And there really is no excuse.