Tuesday, March 31, 2009

doing what I am required to do

Everyone in education knows that teachers are mandated reporters, that if we suspect abuse and have evidence, we are required to report it.  This process is not always as cut and dry as it sounds. 

Most schools have specific procedures in place for dealing with suspected abuse.  In our building, teachers report the student to the nurse, explaining what the specific concern is.  The nurse then takes the next step, which often involves calling parents and reporting the incidents to the administration.  Unfortunately, this week began with a student showing up at school with what appeared to be several black and blue marks.  Following procedure, I talked to the student and then went to the nurse with my concerns.  

The nurse also saw my concerns and decided that the next step was to have  a conversation with the parent.  When the parent arrived at school at dismissal, she was very upset and somewhat aggressive towards me and the child.  I felt like even though I know I did what I am supposed to do that I somehow made the situation the worse.

There have been several concerns raised about this child in the past and the nurse still decided that no further action was necessary at this time.  That child went home with an infuriated parent.  And I can't get the images of those marks out of my mind, and I can't shake the emotional concerns I have for this particular child and her family.  Knowing that I did what I am legally required to doesn't change anything.

What would you do?

Monday, March 30, 2009

black blue

Its cold today
Her arms are bare
an easy issue
Initial thoughts of the morning
something catches my eye
my heart pulls
A closer look
blue black marks on both arms
alarm and sadness
visit the nurse
phone call home
A donated sweater
address the easier issue first
Hours later
irate parent
crumpled sweater
tossed violently
fit of rage
black and blue arms remain
ushered outside
sweaterless, now coatless
dragged to the cold
easier issue or not

Saturday, March 28, 2009

changing dynamics

A few weeks ago, I wrote about two new students. The first student described here is doing very well. I am impressed with how quickly she has picked up the classroom routines and how accepting the other students were of her. In the short while that she has been part of our learning community, she has acquired several new words and has learned the name of a few classmates.

The second student started this week and he has completely changed the dynamic of the classroom in just a few days. He has many different needs and even more intense behaviors. The first day, he took us by storm. I went home that night exhausted and somewhat defeated. After reviewing his IEP, I created a few extra visual supports that I thought would be helpful to hm. The second day was a little better, but still incredibly challenging. Superpara, aka Ms. S, was not feeling so super. In fact she said she was really aggravated and expressed her concerns about how the dynamic changed but she didn't seem to want to talk about it at the time. Being me, I took it personally and fretted about it most of the night. His third day was just as demanding as the second.

Working in an integrated classroom, I know first hand many of the benefits of inclusion and integration of children with disabilities into regular education classrooms. I know that students with disabilities need models. I know that integrated or inclusive settings are increasingly popular in my district right now. What I also know, that the special education department and school district seem to over look is that inclusion is not for everyone. I question whether an integrated placement is in fact the best placement for this particular student. I felt like it was hard to provide the attention and support that the rest of the class needed during this past week because this student needed either me or Ms. S (and sometimes both of us) with him at all times for safety reasons. I am hopeful that things will get better as he adjusts to the classroom, but in the meantime, how is that fair to the other students? His presence is changing the classroom and I fear that his needs are greater than I can adequately meet while simultaneously providing individualized and challenging curriculum and support for the other twelve students in my classroom.

Thank you blogger!

Many of you know that I accidentally deleted my eighty something blog entries last month. Today when I logged on, there was a link to undelete my other blog. SO I clicked on it and voila, my previous ramblings and thoughts were restored. I am going to spend some time working on merging these two blogs, but until then, here is a link to the other postings:


The name got changed a bit in the process, but having those posts back feels like a gift.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

disturbing instruction

All I really want to do when I am at work is teach. To deliver the highest quality instruction possible. To actively engage my students and draw them in to stories. Sounds simple enough, right?

Today everyone is on the rug. The children were given a preview of the book earlier this morning and many of them are anxious to find out what will happen to the mischievous raccoon.
I have their attention. I have my materials. We should be off to a great start. Imagine my frustration then when I have just read the title of the book to the children when the maintenance crew starts drilling on my door. It was incredibly loud and I knew my students would not be able to hear me read. Why is this work being done during instructional time? Could the crew have waited until the students were at lunch or recess? Could this work have been done before or after school? I think the answer to both of these questions is yes, it could have been done at another time. Sometimes for all of the talk about teaching and learning and high quality instruction, I don't really feel as if instructional time is valued all that much. I feel that my administrators' job is to provide these people with strict guidelines about when certain work can and cannot be done throughout the day.

Instructional time is sacred, precious. There is so much valuable research on the importance of reading to children, I was determined not to let the drilling distract us. I somehow managed to line up everyone efficiently and went into the library. I was lucky that the library was empty at that time and the chairs were already set up. My students commented that they could hear better and were glad we found a quiet place. When young Pre-K students can comment on the quality of their learning environment, that is impressive.

A few pages into the book and some of my colleagues came into the library, chatting away loudly, and munching noisily on their mid morning snack. I gave my students lots of cues to focus on the book, but they were distracted by the sweet smell of coffee and doughnuts. I gave my colleagues the evil eye, but they were quite engrossed in their personal conversation. I pulled out all the stops, changing my position, my tone and volume of voice and giving the students frequent opportunities to participate. Still, I was frustrated that the very people I would expect to show some understanding and professional behavior were rude and just as disruptive to instructional time as the maintenance crew.

It probably sounds like I am whining a bit and I am honestly not trying to. But the reason why I go to school every single day is to teach. To teach each student, to give them every possible chance I can to be successful. When the administrators allow noisy work to be done during instructional time and my colleagues prattle on about their personal business when I am reading, I want to pull my hair out and go screaming from the rooftop. Teaching matters. A lot. Sometimes I wish that other people showed an understanding and respect for what I am doing, for what my kids are doing and for the effort they are making.

Tomorrow is a new, and hopefully quieter day. A new day with new opportunities for meaningful interactions and wonderfully delivered instruction. A day for excellent learning and teaching.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's time....

... to make the coffee?

We had an early Saint Patrick's Day breakfast at my school this morning. Somehow or another, I got signed up to make the coffee. I explained that I am not much of a coffee drinker and really have no idea how to actually make coffee. Still, my coworkers were confident in my abilities and insisted it would be easy. When I went to the teachers' room, there was a coffee urn when I was expecting an automatic coffee pot with a paper filter.

Long story short, everything was there, directions, all the necessary parts, and the pre- measured coffee. I poured the water and the coffee into the same part of the urn. I tried to fix my mistake by draining the water through the well where I was supposed to but the grinds, but it was to no avail. I felt embarrassed about my lack of coffee making ability.

My coworkers were understanding and even supportive. As the day wore on, I thought about this seemingly silly incident more and more. My students make mistakes all the time. One of our "wewillbes" (rules) in our classroom is that we will be learners. Learners make mistakes and that is okay. As their teacher, it is my job to gently point out their mistakes and help them move on and learn from them. Once again, I find that I can follow and apply to my own life the guidelines that I have set up for life inside the classroom.

A toast to life long learning and coffee drinking

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March means new students, maybe

Just as we are starting to really feel settled and comfortable I learned that I would be getting 2 new students. 2 students who are much younger than the other students in the classroom who would both significantly impact the dynamic of the classroom because of their intense needs.

The first student came to visit with her parent back in February. February was when Ms. S was out for several days and I was primarily working by myself. Unfortunately the blog entries that detailed my thoughts on this experience were deleted. Anyway the child and parent visited during indoor recess so unfortunately I wasn't able to talk with them as much as I would have liked. The parent told me that she was not impressed, and that the room was chaotic and that level of the other kids seemed too high. I apologized and explained that it was louder than usual because it was indoor recess and my para was out. At the end of the visit the parent actually asked her child if she liked school and wanted to come. The child said no. I pointed out that the parent gets to make the decision and that the child may just enjoy spending time with the parent visiting potential schools. The parent left and I did not hear anything from her or the special education department. I wasn't too concerned as people come to visit various programs and are looking for different things.

A few weeks went by and I saw the parent coming out of another class in the building with her child. So I assumed that she found another program that she thought was more appropriate for her daughter. I was professional and asked the parent how things were going and she said everything was great and the other program was a better fit for her and her child. Fast forward 2 weeks. I went into school this past Tuesday to be greeted by the special education coordinator for our building telling me that child needed to be in my room, effective immediately. OK so no time to prepare things in the room for the student's arrival or to prepare my other students for the new addition to our community of learners. No big deal, we have to be flexible sometimes.

The student spent the day with us on Tuesday and everything seemed OK. When I spoke with the parent after school, I was taken aback by some of her comments and questions. I did my best, but felt that the parent was not satisfied by my answers. Tuesday after school and Wednesday morning I prepared somethings in the classroom for the student. I wanted her to have her name around the room, to have a space to put her belongings, etc. Something kept me up all night Tuesday, just felt very unsettled by all of the events ad conversations of the day. The student was not in school for the remainder of the week. We are supposed to call after 3 absences but I did not have a working phone number. Does this mean that the student will not be returning? Is the mother going to look for another program for the child? I don't know and I don't know if anyone in the building will know...only time will tell.

The second student I assume is still coming. The student and his parents came to visit twice. There was a lot of miscommunication between the special education department and the parents. They asked for some materials prior to the student starting, which I compiled and mailed to them. As far as I know as of last Monday everything was still a go. The question is when exactly will the student start? I am assuming next week, but I cannot be entirely sure. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Feeling bad again for things that are not in my control

Yesterday, I had permission from my principal to go to district wide early childhood professional development. This is the first district wide professional development that he has given me permission to attend since this school year started. He has a variety of reasons why I couldn't go to the other ones. Since this training was based on a new assessment that we will have to give this May, he okayed me to go.

The training was actually pretty good. The test looks like it is easy to administer and the second workshop on the development of boys was informative and energizing. I met a colleague in need of some support. We talked all day and as always, I think it helps to know that you are not alone out there in the classroom. That in a district as large as ours is, there is probably at least one other person who has experienced something very similar to what you are going through. Through an ongoing conversation, you can support and learn from each other. So all in all, I thought it was a pretty good day.

That is, until I got home and read an email from Ms. S, aka, super para. There was no sub, despite the fact that the early childhood department would have paid for my sub for the day. Here is an excerpt from her email, when she is talking to the assistant principal in the morning:
"she said no sub and wanted to show me a list of all the people that were out. I told her that was not my problem. I guess it's a don't tell unless asked. She never mentioned it until I asked. The day was not too bad but..."

She goes on to share some information with me about the students. But the not having a sub when I was approved to be out is infuriating. Sure, if a lot of people are out, I recognize that presents an enormous challenge to the administrators in finding enough coverage. How many of those people were given prior permission to be out on the same day? Paras shouldn't be covering classes, especially classrooms that are designed for many reason, two be staffed with two adults. The decision to not have a sub in my room shows a lack of understanding on the part of the administration of the needs of my students. And it is not even a monetary issue, as the early childhood department pays the individual schools for our subs when we go to district wide training.

My para continues her email by saying " I'm ranting but the city needs to value paras more. They just give us $6.00 more an hour when there is no sub. As far as I am concerned they make out pretty well on the deal. The only value us when we have to sub or we are not in and then not enough. Otherwise we are less then second class citizens"

This broke my heart to read and made me feel insanely guilty. And that 6 dollars extra an hour doesn't begin to cover the need for two adults in certain classrooms. I value her and her work each day and though I have told her so many times, I think her issue is with the district or maybe the administration in our building. I care about her not feeling valued. I want to work with her in the future. She is talented, intelligent, supportive, and funny. She works hard and goes above and beyond every day and she is much more suited to the job than the person who was with me last year. If she doesn't feel valued, will she stick around? And how do we as an individual school retain the few exceptional paras that we do have? And as a district, how do we recognize all of the hard work that they do? How do we make them feel the outstanding first class citizens they are?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mean what you say, say what you mean

This is especially true in working with students.  You need to have strong relationships with your students.  They need to be able to trust you.  Yesterday, I struggled with this issue in my classroom.  

One of my students was celebrating a birthday.  Her parent approached me in the morning and asked if she could bring cupcakes for the class at the end of the day.  Since our school doesn't have a policy banning outside food and I don't have students with common allergies, and we don't have cupcakes often, I didn't see any problem with her suggestion.  In the meantime, the student told her friends that they were going to have these delicious treats later.    The parent and I worked out a time,  approximately 2o minutes before dismissal.  As the day wore on, several of my students asked me about the cupcakes and I explained the schedule and highlighted when we would have them ( after small group work time, of course).

As it got closer to dismissal time and the parent did not arrive, I began to worry.  I checked my closet and had no worthy substitute. Many of my students struggle with anxiety around food anyway.  We started working on what I had originally planned but I could see that many of my students were distracted, they were looking around the room and staring at the door.  In what felt both like a split second and an enormously long amount of time, the day was over.   I pulled the birthday student aside and told her that she would probably celebrate her birthday at home. I explained to other students that I wasn't sure what happened and that I was sorry I had told them about cupcakes and they didn't get to have any.

I zipped up the last student's coat and tugged one more backpack onto a student's back when the parent walked in with a tray of cupcakes.  36 cupcakes for 11 students.  Decorated to  the sky with frosting and candy.  She said she had car trouble.  I explained that the school day was over and suggested that she take the cupcakes home and bring them back the next day.  We have had had pests before in the building and I don't want to encourage their return by leaving the sweet treats around.  The parent and most of my class glared at me as if I was the Wicked Witch.

The parent went on to suggest that each student take a cupcake "to-go", as if I was running a fast food place.  Half of my kids take the bus and they can't take food on the bus.  I know I did what I had to do.  I know I was there, doing my part.   But still, I can't help but feeling like I lied to the kids, like I let them down.  And I will be thinking very carefully about what to do, and what to say when a situation involving birthday celebrations at school arises again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Starting over

My original blog was accidentally deleted. I have done my best to try to find the "undo" button, but it was to no avail. I have spent over a week debating whether or not I should continue to try and restore my other blog, start a new one, or simply do nothing at all.

And then I thought about teaching. If I was working with a struggling student in my class and had tried 80 something interventions and none of them worked, would I simply stop trying? Would I continue to do try to do interventions that were not effective, even after trying each one several times? Of course I wouldn't do either of those things. I would talk to colleagues and the student's parents. I would do research and bounce possible ideas off of other team members. And I would try again to help that student succeed.

So here I am, trying again.