New Member of The Boy’s Tribe

The Boy adores his new summer day camp. They go swimming at the community pool three times a week, he has friends from school who attend, and they play Wii bowling – what’s not to love?

He also has a new member of his tribe. The camp director is a high school special education teacher from another school in the community, and she is amazing. Wanna know how I know? The Boy gets a huge smile on his face when I mention her, and he doesn’t do that for everyone.

wood-lighting-creativity-paper

As I mentioned yesterday, he’s having some anxiety over absences again, exacerbated by one of his close friends being ambivalent about camp and intermittent with his attendance. Not only did the camp director figure out a way to entice his friend to come to camp (allowing him to do a few magic shows at camp), she has figured out a strategy to alleviate some of The Boy’s anxiety. She reasoned that his anxiety stems from not having control over whether or not others are absent, so why not allow him a little control over something else?

She said he is always letting her know when supplies are low (which is great because the staff does not), so she could have him do a daily inventory of supplies (and even campers!) with a clipboard. By allowing him input in tracking, it may alleviate some of his anxiety.

This, THIS, is the sign of a great teacher. One who actively thinks about her students and their needs, even outside of school (or camp) hours, and devises needs-based strategies to help them with their daily functioning and emotional state.

So, welcome to the tribe, Camp Director! The Boy can spot the good ones a mile away. Now we just have to get you to come over to our high school ūüėČ

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6 Ways Schools Could Open Doors for Students with Special Needs

opening doorsPublic schools are being asked to do so much right now, and so much of what they are being forced to do is a waste of time. Music and the arts are being cut, students are overloaded with standardized tests, and even recess is being shortened so work can be completed. In short, schools are being forced to run like businesses, but our children are not raw materials, nor are they products.  They are children.  And when the pendulum swings back (I hope to God it does), when more rational heads prevail in remembering that we are teaching human beings how to be human beings, rather than filling little heads with facts, maybe then the schools will have an opportunity to begin filling gaps and opening doors for our students with special needs.  Here are some ways they could begin:

  1. Mentor/Mentee programs These programs connect students with an adult in the school community who can meet with them on a regular basis, build a positive relationship, and provide guidance to students. ¬†The Boy has built this kind of relationship with the business and computer teacher at school, quite organically. ¬†He doesn’t even have her as a teacher, but they use time with her as a reward for positive behaviors at school, and she is often a reason he wants to go to school.
  2. Peer to Peer programs I’ve written about how successful these programs can be not only for students with special needs, but for typical students, as well. ¬†Building Relationships between kids, and providing avenues for them to learn about each other as people can only result in good things. When everyone’s needs are met, bullying just isn’t a thing.
  3. Peer Mediation programs These programs foster conflict resolution skills in our young people.  At first they are taught and coached through the steps of providing mediation for peers who are in conflict.  After practice, they become second nature, and the students involved with these programs become leaders, as they have the skills to help their peers relate to each other in positive ways.
  4. Social Skills programs Carving time out of a busy school day to provide direct instruction to students about how to initiate and maintain positive social interaction seems like it makes perfect sense for those students who naturally have defects in this area.  It can also make perfect sense for those students you may assume has these skills already, but may not, or may struggle with these skills privately.
  5. Critical Thinking Instruction More than anything else, we need to be teaching students how to really think, rather than regurgitate readily available information.  We need to be teaching them how to make rational decisions, how to determine whether a source is credible, how to examine their own thoughts and opinions, and how to interpret the world around them.  For special needs students, this can be especially difficult, but even more necessary as we prepare them for their adulthoods with varying degrees of assistance.
  6. Creativity and Problem Solving Instruction Children today do not have much opportunity to be creative. ¬†And when we cut art and music programs, we are essentially saying that being creative is not a high priority in today’s job market – what could be further from the truth? There are many ways teachers can provide opportunities within their current limitations to foster creativity and problem solving, and many ways we can help special needs students be creative.

The great thing about school programs that benefit students with special needs is that they often benefit all students. ¬†We assume that typical kids don’t struggle with the same things as those with special needs do, but they do. ¬†They are often better at hiding it, because it may not be as dire a struggle. ¬†What middle schooler do you know that wouldn’t benefit from a social skills class or a peer to peer program? ¬†What kindergartner wouldn’t benefit from some opportunities to be creative? ¬†What person on Earth would not benefit from having a mentor?

When we finally do something to correct the course of public schools, and begin to focus on the person rather than the content, these 6 programs would be a good start to guiding all of our students to being better human beings.

We Are Destroying Our Children

On the news last night, they featured a music program in a California school system that was funded by a grant because there wasn’t any money in the school budget for it. ¬†This is not new, this happens all the time, but while watching this program I began to cry. ¬†Not like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, and isn’t that great for those kids.” No, this was different. ¬†These tears were more like, “This is completely and utterly unacceptable that our schools cannot afford arts programs.”

Do you know where the money is going? ¬†It’s going to Pearson, and companies like Pearson who charge for their testing programs, for their test prep materials, even for their “professional development” programs – “experts” that they have chosen to send to schools willing to pay enough for the wisdom on‚Ķ you guessed it, how to get the kids to pass the test. ¬†How to teach more, faster. ¬†How to determine what not to teach, so that you can teach the really important stuff – you know, the stuff that’s on the test. ¬†How to get kindergartners to sit still long enough to take a standardized test.¬† Test taking strategies to teach to the kids to increase their odds of getting a correct answer‚Ķ on the test.

Let me be clear Рtesting is not education.  But our kids and our teachers spend so much time on testing, there is very little time left for actual teaching and learning.

And in the meantime, we wonder why the rates of kids with anxiety have gone through the roof. ¬†We wonder why kids are so mean to each other. ¬†We wonder why our kids get addicted to video games, and their phones, and technology in general. ¬†And I hate to say it, but in ten years or so, we’re going to be shocked at the rise in suicides and mental health issues in our youth.

They don’t know how to play anymore because they don’t have time. ¬† They don’t have hobbies anymore because they don’t have time. ¬†They don’t find joy in music or art because it’s not in their school day anymore, and you guessed it – they don’t have time after school.

They have hours – HOURS! of homework. Even in Kindergarten. They have shortened recess because the class didn’t get everything done. ¬†They have silent lunch periods where they have to sit boy-girl, boy-girl so that they do not socialize and cause “trouble.” They are not allowed to have a real vacation – some teacher will assign a project, because kids will just get bored over break, right? ¬†Why not use that time to get some more standards in?

I cried at that news story out of sheer rage and helplessness. ¬†I left education in large part because it was heading in a very wrong direction, and it is only accelerating ¬†toward that really bad place. ¬†And it will have devastating, crippling effects on this generation of school kids that can only “socialize” and escape via technology.

What do we do? I do what I can. When my kid’s teacher assigns homework over break, I tell him it may not get done, and I might tell a little white lie about why. ¬†My kid deserves a break, and he will get it if I have anything to say about it. ¬†When a school in my district enacts these stupid policies about recess and lunch (and yes, those are real policies in place in an elementary school in my district), I will write letters to principals, superintendents, and school boards. And I will speak loudly to anyone who will listen about testing, and what it is doing to our kids and our educational system.

I do what I can. ¬†It may not be much, but it’s better than crying at the TV.

Leaving School for the Last Time

As I mentioned last week, my resignation went before the board, and I was finally able to tell my students that I was leaving.¬† I wasn’t quite sure how to do it, but I just started speaking, and was honest with them.¬† They didn’t make it easy for me – there was a lot of screaming and howling (middle school behavior leaves much to be desired), but I was able to get through it without breaking down.¬† There were a few that were in tears, although I think a few more had suspected ever since I got engaged.¬† They know enough about me and my personal life to put two and two together.¬† I got many, many hugs, and lots of that look they have when they are thinking hard about something – you know, the “processing big news” look.

flowersOur year-end concert was this past Thursday, and again, I wasn’t sure what to say.¬† In the classroom, I’m more able to articulate, but put me on a stage, under lights, with a microphone, and I’m not as comfortable.¬† The kids performed well – I know they were doing their best for me, knowing it was my last one.¬† At the end, one of my eighth graders, one I never would have guessed would grab the microphone, stepped up and read something she had written for me.¬† As she read, multiple kids came up to hand me bouquets of flowers, and then there was no stopping the tears.¬† So many kids came up for hugs, and I hugged each one individually.¬† A few told me how they felt about me, and my class, that it was the only reason they liked coming to school, and such…¬† It was all very sweet, and a touch heart-breaking.

I know they are concerned about what will come.¬† A multi-year class is never the same with a new teacher.¬† I know they are sad, and a bit mad that I am leaving them (some are probably glad, too!).¬† I just keep trying to explain to them that sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, even if they don’t seem like they are good for anyone else.

I am still getting random hugs, and messages written on my white board, disappointed looks, and a few quickly-wiped-away tears.¬† The eighth graders have asked me to come to their dance, a rather big hullabaloo the evening before the last day of school.¬† Normally, I don’t, but I might pop by this year.

These kids represent 16 years of kids who have taught me so much about themselves, and human beings in general.¬† I’m a better person for having been a teacher, and I really wish John Q. Public could teach for a day so they knew what really happens in schools, from the teacher’s perspective.

It is time for me to go, however.¬† I’m so glad these kids have made it a sweeter experience.