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A Few Words About Bullying

6 Oct

no_bullying_category

It has been over a year since my last post, and I thought I would take a shot at a return to writing by tackling the subject of bullying since October is National Bullying Prevention Month.  At least a quarter of all the students in the school where I work are there because of bullying, including one in my own household.  I remember seeing him as he was writing on the whiteboard when one of his teachers asked the students why they had chosen this school and he wrote “NO BULLIES!”  I was a bit surprised.  While it was a persistent problem at his previous school, I had thought that they had taken care of the situation.  But apparently it was still foremost in his mind.  My oldest is not a perfect student, and there were times when his own behavior could be construed as bullying.  Although he would never actually resort to real violence, he would resort to a threatening tone often enough.

Bullying has been around since the first time kids ever got together and decided to ostracize one of their peers.  Kids seem to naturally gravitate toward that Lord-Of-The-Flies behavior and sometimes adults do too.  And anyone who has ever posted a YouTube video or even written a blog has experienced the cyber version of this, thanks to the anonymity afforded by the medium.  However, the internet’s community-building has also  created safer places for kids who might be different so they can bridge the gaps created by physical geography to connect and share unique interests with each other.  There’s never been a better time in history to be a nerd.  The internet was created by nerds for other nerds, and the rest of the population eventually jumped on the bandwagon and made it hip and cool and an environment almost as treacherous as the real playground.

I was bullied pretty relentlessly while I was in school.  I was not “tough”, I wasn’t a jock and I wasn’t cool, although heaven knows I really tried my best at all of those things.  Being socially awkward and not a member of the cool crowd carried (and probably still carries) a pretty heavy price tag in small-town America.  It gets even heavier when you move from one to another, and you have no established family ties in the area and everyone else seems to be related to each other.  And if you didn’t have the money for the coolest clothes, cars and consumer goods, you were were pretty much out of luck.  The town I spent most of my time growing up in, is actually now one of the most diverse communities in the state of Iowa; a state not known for its diversity.  And I imagine the natives that didn’t eventually flee from the area HATE it!  I believe God has a unique sense of humor and this is proof of it.  A place that was pretty intolerant in the 70’s and 80’s now has it’s economy pinned to its diversity.

However, regardless of how I was treated I still have to ask myself a more important question “Was I ever a bully?”

I certainly was not the guy shaking down others for their lunch money or terrorizing smaller kids on the school bus.  But I’m pretty sure I might have done some things that were unkind to people who were lower on the social ladder than I was, as low as that was.  The desire and pressure to fit in, be cool and be popular would eventually get the better of me.  Or rather, it allowed control by the worst of me.  If I thought that it would have advanced my own social position, yeah, I would have thrown a rock or two at Piggy.  I probably said the wrong things to people that hurt them at some point.  So the line between the bully and the victim is not so clearly drawn, and I think we all have some darker part of us capable of inflicting misery on others.  There’s always some degree of intolerance, no matter how tolerant we think we might be.  Sometimes we lash out at intolerance with more intolerance!

It’s rather ironic that October is devoted toward Bullying Prevention.  As we approach November elections we’re going to witness intense bullying in the form of electoral discourse across all forms of media as each party clubs the other with negative advertising designed to cause lots of repeated discomfort for the other side.  I’m just referencing the treatment given to the topic by the American Psychological Association:

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

Individuals with autism are especially vulnerable to bullying.  The prevalence of bullying is so high against and among individuals on the autistic spectrum that I would almost make an argument that it is as much of a Aspergers marker as repetitive behaviors.  The articles I linked to give a good treatment of the problem within this community and hypothesize as to the reasons for it.   It’s part of the body of evidence that allows me to stake a modest part of ASD  real estate for myself.

I think the most crucial skill we can teach our kids, especially those who are prone to being bullied, is to recognize when they are being baited and to bypass the temptation to become engaged in a battle that can’t be won.  Most arguments regarding religion and politics fall within that category but almost any area of interest or passion can be used to draw a person into a situation where they feel the need to defend themselves from attack.  Most cyber bullies will use those things to troll and trap a victim into a relentless cycle of abuse and it’s important to know when it’s time to just walk out and not respond at all like Zelda did.

The internet and social media have turned into a double-edged sword for people who have difficulties relating socially.  The buffer of the keyboard often gives people the space for free expression and voice where they might otherwise not have one, but it also provides the sort of cover that can be harnessed by miscreants who like to ambush people and set them off for kicks.  I’m grateful to be part of a school that offers a relatively safe place for students to learn without the threats of physical assault, incessant teasing and the anxieties of not fitting in becoming a distraction to learning.  There are still distractions and cyber bullying can still happen, but in our virtual setting and environment we are able to keep tight controls within our virtual classrooms.  For the most part, the students are friendly and very supportive of each other as they often find that they share a common history of maltreatment from their traditional settings.  This explains why there was such a flurry of agreement and supportive comments in the chatbox fpr a message on the white board.  NO BULLIES!

Goals and Objectives Part 2:The Tyranny of 80 Percent

11 Aug

 

I need to write this to get it out of my system, despite the fact that I have a mountain of tasks that need to be accomplished before Monday. A major portion of my task list revolves around IEP goals and objectives.

 

One of the amazing things I discovered when I wrote my blog post back in 2006* about IEP goals and objectives (which later became published as part of a collection of articles in book form) was the level of concern parents have about this topic. As teachers, we have to write them and are supposed to be tracking them, because it is the law and best practice. However it always seemed parents were more anxious to talk about placement rather than spend much time on goals and objectives. However that article continues to be the most read post I have ever published, getting almost 28,000 hits out of 350,000 all-time views, plus it is read at the TPGTA website as well as many liking and reading it in the book. The message is clear: parents are intensely interested in this topic. Therefore, we owe it to them as well as to ourselves as teachers to get it right.

 

To their credit, the folks I am currently working with have revised their goals and objectives to be much better and pretty much follow the guidelines that I set up in that article. They are actually the best goals I have ever seen written as a an entire school. They get it…sort of.

 

As I started looking at my caseload and preparing to track the goals, the shortcomings of the 80% criteria mastery became more and more glaring and disturbed me more and more. While the goals were better written and more measurable, it was going to be an absolutely oppressive task to decipher, measure and track all of these goals for literally hundreds of students. We need to do better.

 

Somewhere along the line, 80% became this mysteriously magical number. To be sure, it is better than 60, 70 or even 75%. But in real life, our tolerance for 80% is low to negligible.

 

What if your employer offered to pay you 80% of your agreed salary 80% of the time? Would you accept that?

What if your car only started 80% of the time? Would that be acceptable?

What if 1 out of every 5 planes crashed while taking off?

Do you feed your children 80% of the time?

Do you think the government is going to accept you paying your taxes 80% of the time?

Which appliances do you want to perform on demand 80% of the time?

In which store would you shop at where you have an 80% chance that the merchandise you bought will be what is inside the box?

 

The 80% criteria is the criterion of mediocrity. There ARE times when it may be appropriate but they are few and far between for most busy special education teachers. Even moreso for parents who might be responsible for tracking some of these things.

 

Here is a goal I saw today (Name changed, but I think it might have actually been an example for how to write a goal):

 

“ Given instruction Wilma will increase her words per minute (WPM) to 100 by the end of the school year” The criteria was 80%

 

That was the objective, and it is pretty straight forward. It fits the SMART definition: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time limited. But there are still niggling problems.

 

Is she already reading 80 WPM? Is she going to read 100 words and miss 20% of them? Increasing reading rate is certainly a worthwhile goal. And if reading 100 WPM is worthwhile, why are we satisfied with 80% ? Why not 100%?

 

And this is where I have gotten LOT of resistance from colleagues, present and past. “100 PERCENT! OMG! **I** don’t do anything 100% of the time or with 100 percent accuracy! I would hate for anyone to expect me to be perfect 100% of the time!”

 

It is true that we are flawed human beings and prone to error. But when we take a plane, we expect to arrive at the correct terminal 100% of the time and have our luggage arrive at the same place 100% of the time. If it does not happen the way it is supposed to, we get mighty cranky and demand that things be fixed and made right.

 

While our students are as flawed as any of us, the assumption is that they are somehow more badly broken. Only a broken toaster would perform at 80%. Only a broken car would start 80% of the time. Only if we think a thing is broken and we have no intention of fixing it do we accept 80% as a criteria for performance. We need to change our thinking.

 

If the child is reading 80 WPM, and our goal is to get them reading at 100 WPM, then that needs to be the goal. And the criteria needs to be 100%. They either read 100 words correctly in a minute or they don’t. However, when we write the goals, we need to set proper conditions:

 

“Given one trial per day, Wilma will read 100 WPM for 3 consecutive days.” Criteria = 100%

 

Is Wilma expected to be perfect all the time? No. But given the deliberate and planned nature of a trial, I am pretty confident of her mastery if she can be perfect 3 times in a row. THAT, my friends, is a much better picture of true mastery. Yes, there will be the occasional plane crash, but most of the time, thankfully, things go exactly as planned. Sure, there are delays but the main goal is arriving at the destination. And even with how common delays are, we are not necessarily happy when they occur. So should it be with our goals and objectives.

 

While my thinking on goals is evolving, let’s try another goal:

“Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work over 4 of 5 opportunities”

 

This goal is way better than most goals on the subject of handing in homework. Again, it is SMART. At least it does not have the onerous 80%, right?

 

Welll…it is actually not-so-cleverly couched within that criteria. It is a major improvement over “Handing in his homework on time with 80% accuracy” but it still has some brokenness and failure built into it. Why did we say 4 of 5? Why not just 5? Will Fred be capable of handing in 5 assignments over 5 opportunities this year or not? If he is, then why do we settle for 4? If he is not, then why are we making ourselves track 5 data points that he will never hit? Again, we need to strive for consistency in performance that indicates mastery. If we want him to turn in 4 assignments in a row over 4 days, then that should be the goal. And the expectation is that he will be able to hit 4 days in a row without a miss. “4 of 5” is actually like saying “3 in a row” because there is no possible way to hit 4 of 5 with being able to hit at least 3 consecutive times. It’s mathematically impossible. If you miss once, you are out after the second miss. This is why I often will truncate my objectives and do 3 consecutive trials with 100%.

 

So: Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work, on time, 3 consecutive times” Criteria = 100%

 

Now this is a behavoral issue. Fred is a smart guy, and he will master this objective in the very first week as it is written, You grade his first 3 worksheets and they are turned in on time but they are all blank! Or he rushes through them and scores a 50. THIS is where the 80% can come into play:

“Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work on time 3 times in a row scoring 80% or better. Criteria = 100%” If Fred has academic problems we might say 70%, but we are making sure he actually passes the work he turns in. He does not have to be perfect in the academics, but he DOES have to demonstrate mastery on the behavioral part. If he misses just once, we reset the clock, give some additional support, and try again. We can track academics in a separate goal.

 

“Trials” v “Opportunities”

Our students have many, many opportunities to read, write and complete tasks, but we are not going to track and measure each one. We are going to set specific conditions when we measure progress. This deliberate and planned setting of an antecedent gives rise to a trial, which demands a response or behavior. This is the most fundamental component of instruction. We give a cue, they respond and we give feedback in the form of comments, a grade or even a reward. We certainly want our kids to generalize across settings, and this should happen once the task is mastered. We plan to test and teach Wilma to read 100 WPM, and we want this to carry over to when she reads social studies or science. But she has to master the target under the best of conditions before we go into other areas. A trial optimizes those conditions. An “opportunity” simply looks more haphazard. Most teachers use “opportunities” when they mean “trials”. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. With the huge number of goals a teacher has to manage with a caseload of 26 students, we can not afford to be haphazard. And since someone else might end up tracking the objective or goal you are writing, it is simply more humane to make the goals as easily trackable as possible. We need to stop abusing our colleagues with poorly written goals that require a math degree and several hours to track.

 

Let me give one more reason to make our goals easier. They need to be understood by parents and the students. Unless you are prepared to make a graph, you need to shy away from partial and broken goals. Almost 90% of my students struggle with math, and parents and and special educators do not vary substantially from that. Otherwise we would all be math teachers! Everyone understands 100% mastery and know it when they see it. This is especially true for behavioral goals but is just as true for many academic goals. Stick with making the goals more simple and achievable. Almost any goal can be manipulated into a 100% mastery criteria. Any parent will be able to understand and know when it is achieved and so will most students. Many of my students are gamers and they have a better understanding of striving for mastery than many adults. They understand the concept of questing and mastering a series of objectives is a sort of quest. We set our kids on it and when they complete one quest, we give them a new, more challenging one. But if they don’t understand the quest or know when it is completed, they quickly lose interest in the game.

 

So when is 80% or its fractional equivalent (4 of 5 or 8 of 10) appropriate? When we are doing something where we are willing to make a graph and when we can track larger arrays during our trials. Math achievement is a good example, where there is an array of 10 or more problems. The larger the array of measured trials, the more a percentage is appropriate. In the case of math, each problem represents a trial. Some behavioral goals where you are using time sampling or event recording and have over 10 data points lend themselves to using a percentage or fraction of a large total. The larger the sample, the more appropriate it is to use a percentage. But in that case, you still need to think about your marriage to 80% mastery. Percentages lend themselves nicely to automated collection systems, like computer-graded tests. If a computer is not doing the collecting and scoring, you are making your life miserable by living within a percentage,

 

One more thing about goals: Less is more. I have some students with over 20 objectives. If I have a caseload of 25 students (it’s actually 26), that means I am trying to track over 500 separate pieces of data! I can be either complete or accurate, but it is inhumane to expect both. It is simply impractical to devote the attention that each goal requires if I have to manually enter, manage and track individual trials and then decide if we are at 80%. It’s far easier to look for “3 in a row” or however many and mark that quest as complete as we go. Especially if I can keep it down to 100 or less.

 

When potty training our children, our goal is 100% . Accidents can and do happen, but that is the exception not the rule. We start out wanting Freddy to be dry an entire day, then 2 days in a row. Not for 2 days at 80%. Two days. Period. Then 3 days and so on until his diaper is dry for an entire week. Every parent nows that at that point, he is “getting it.” Then we move up to pull-ups and eventually his “big boy underwear”. We support him at every stage, striving for more and better consistency. Are we demanding that little Freddy be perfect 100% of the time? No! But we are striving for consistency. I won’t buy from any eBay retailer with less than 97% positive ratings. Why do we settle for so much less for our kids?

 

For most goals, 80% is simply not consistent enough. When we disengage from mediocrity, it makes life easier and better for all of us. I’m not programming for mediocrity or failure, I want to program for success! And true success in most meaningful things requires a higher level of consistency than 80%.

 

*Note: Back in 2006, I was blogging pseudonymously under the name “Dick Dalton,” hence how I was addressed in many of the comments at that time.

10 Years By the Numbers

24 May

I have been teaching individuals with severe disabilities in this school for the past 10 years. So just what does 10 years look like? Well, here is is, by the numbers….

0 – (as in zero) = number of times all of my paras have shown up on time. It is also the number of times all of my students have chosen to take advantage of their exam exemption and not come the last day of school. It is also the number of times I have eaten with other teachers in the faculty eating area because I had a duty-free lunch. This is also the number of other teachers in my system who have taught this population for 10 consecutive years. And finally, this is the number of times I arrived late to school this year. I am usually here 30-45 minutes before start time.

1- This is the number of students I have seen go the whole distance from grade 9 until they aged out. Several have transferred, and a few have died before finishing. I have also had one student who needed to be catheterized 2x daily. This is also the number of days I have missed school this year.

2 – The number of administrators who have actually come in to my room and watched me teach in the classroom in 10 years. Most observations took place in the lunch room while feeding. And some…I have no idea when they occurred!

3 – This is the number of students who have come through who have had to be tube fed in 10 years. It is also the number of SID/PID teachers we had here during my first 3 years here. 3 teachers and 7 paras at one point (year 3 , I think).

4 – Number of principals I have seen come and go in 10 years. They don’t seem to stick around very long here! This is also the number of times I have had to take a test in order to be highly qualified either in my subject or a new one.

5 – Number of times I have been absent in the last 10 years. My youngest was born over a Christmas break! The credit for this goes mostly to Jane who tends the boys when they are sick. This is also the smallest caseload I have ever had in 10 years.

6 – This is the number of times the bus broke down during CBI trips and left us stranded on the side of a road or parking lot somewhere. This is also the legal class size limit in Georgia for a class serving students with profound disabilities.

7 – This is the largest number of paras I have had to supervise in a single year. It is also the number of years I drove a bus for community-based trips.

8 – This is the number of years I was under or at the legal class size limit. Last year I had 7.

9 – My largest class/caseload size which is this year with the addition of 2 more PID students.

10- The largest number of adults serving this program at this school. We had maybe 16 students and only 3 wheelchairs back then, but several behavior/medical issues. 7 paras and 3 teachers.

Okay, maybe next time I’ll go into higher numbers when exploring the last 10 years in this setting with these students.

What is a Good Teacher Worth?

25 Mar

I have been up to my elbows and eyeballs in annual reviews. I’m doing a bunch of my own this week, as well as acting as LEA for several others. Some teachers have reviews that go smoothly and amazing well. Some need a bit of help. And some are absolute disasters. It is this last category that results in headaches for everyone and unfortunately it happens all too often. There are many reasons why an annual review can go poorly, but I find the single biggest factor is in preparation. The more preparation, the better the meeting goes. The less preparation, the worse it goes.

The most hideous meetings I ever attended was at a middle school. I was the high school representative and drove half way across the county to get there. Once I got there, I had to wait nearly an hour because other meetings were running late. Fortunately the parent was not there, as the teacher was anxious to postpone which I thumbed down. I made her call the parent and get permission to hold it, which the parent was happy to do. Then the IEP was not filled out. We had to bang it all out there. Oy. Or another middle school meeting where I arrived, and the parent and itinerants and everyone was there except the caseload teacher. Where was she? In her classroom trying to type the goals and other parts, thus making us all wait. Or, yet another middle school meeting where I was late because the one I was attending across the hall ran late. When I walked into the crowded room, the parents were visibly fuming and the tension was so thick everyone was about ready to suffocate. This was because the teacher had made some careless comment and now the parents were loaded for bear.

In each of these situations, even though none of these were my students and this was not even my school or my meeting, I managed to help salvage the situation from potential disaster. Even the middle school LEAs and graduation coaches seemed at a loss as to how to handle these situations. In the first case, we were able to bang out the IEP in about an hour once I overcame the team’s reluctance. It was the last meeting of the day and everyone wanted to go home. But my general rule is the death is about the only reason to postpone…or an attorney, which is practically the same as death. It takes an enormous amount of coordination to get all the players in the same room at the same time. Don’t blow it. In the second instance, I got the teacher to just print out what she had plus the previous year’s IEP….after problems with the printer. This is why waiting until the last minute courts disaster, and Murphy WILL move in and take up residence. In the final case, I discovered there were things in the IEP that were negotiable enough for the parents that they could walk out less mad. They still did not like that teacher, but at least felt better about high school transition.

An IEP is often treated like a court case just waiting to happen. And it is not a bad idea to view it as such when writing one. But you can not become so paralyzed with fear that you end up avoiding it. It must be done, so you might as well grab it and run with vigor to get it done. It is daunting but not impossible to write a decent IEP that will serve the student well without causing either the school or the parents to feel like they have been robbed. I have suggestions right here in my blog that might be useful for both parents and teachers.

This is one field where experience really does count as long as it is good experience. Someone who can write a proper, legal IEP can save the school thousands in litigation costs. A teacher who knows how to talk to parents without ticking them off can save an administrator countless headaches. A competent teacher who can actually teach the students can help the school meet its goals and the all important AYP. I have seen all too often what happens when a teacher is incompetent. People get frustrated, corners are cut and then parents are ready to go to an attorney.

An experienced, competent teacher is also more likely to stick around, as long as minimum efforts are made to retain him/her. I’ll talk about retention in a future post, but experience does help endure future obstacles and deteriorating conditions at least up to a point. I was able to handle a caseload larger than any other SID/PID teacher in the county with less help than any other teacher by virtue of my experience and tenacious commitment to NOT allow anything to happen that would endanger the students. Over time I developed experience enough to keep little things from turning into big things and when a big problem came along I learned how to handle a fair number of those. And finally, I learned to recognize when something was too big for me to handle and that I needed to ask for assistance fro m people paid to handle the bigger problems. Those are all skills that you can learn only through experience. In special education, there are a ton of judgment calls that we are called on to make because there is not a set textbook way of handling our students. That is what makes it “special!”

A Final IEP

4 Mar

While the biggest part of this blog is involved with what I do for a living, there is also another part that is invested in me as a parent.  It’s the parent-teacher combo that gives a bit of a more unique flavor to this enterprise.  It’s also what helps my blog fall under the category of “protected speech.”

I have two boys, and it has definitely been a case of diverging paths here in our household.  Today, my youngest (blogname Percy) had an IEP. I’m almost ashamed to say I haven’t been to any IEP’s of his, but I do have my reasons.  One was that I learned from experiences with my oldest that whenever I walk into an IEP it can precipitate a certain amount of wierdness.They can be long and arduous affairs, as everyone is double sure of crossing T’s and dotting I’s.  So I’ve stayed away and allowed his mother to handle these and for the most part they have gone pretty well.  At least up until this point.

Percy qualified under the SDD label: significantly developmentally delayed, which is the same label his older brother qualified under.  When his older brother, Thomas, turned 7 they did an evaluation and he qualified under the Autism label.  But no had started on Percy’s evaluation which is sort of unusual considering that they aren’t supposed to be any SDD 7 year-old kids as they are all supposed to be evaluated and go therough a new eligibity by then.  But Percy did not follow a typical SDD trajectory.  He did have a lot of shyness and social deficits when he started pre-K but by the time he was in kindergarten, it was obvious that these delays were very minor.  The boy loved school, loved learning and had zero behavior problems.  Academically, he took off and he has managed to make several friend at school as well as around our neighborhood.  This year he was consultative, which means essentially no real services and he has done nothing but excel.  He’s reading a grade or two ahead, if anything.  So, Jane and I were wondering just why he was in special education at all.  It was obvious to me, that the boy didn’t qualify unless it might be for gifted.  We might have held off from doing anything until a psychological except there is some sort of policy at his school that kids with IEPs need to be in a co-teaching class.  Jane and I didn’t really want this as he did so well this year without it.  Somehow, last year’s case manager managed to keep him out of that setting but this year’s case manager seemed determined to make sure he was in such a class for next year.  I had a good mind to simpy ask for a re-evalution and put her through the rigors of going through the re-eval process but in the end we didcided it was time to pull the plug.  So we requested he be withdrawn from services and as of today, he is IEP free.  I think much of his earlier developmental lags might have just been from picking stuff up from his brother, but who knows?  In anycase, he is exceptionally in his own way.  He’s definitely the kid you want in YOUR class and the kid you hope your kids want to hang around.

And then there is Thomas who recently turned 10.  While he is generally a good kid, he would drive you absolutely nuts if you were his teacher.  Academically, he can be pretty sharp at least until things get too abstract.  But socially and behaviorally he can be a handful.  And he has inherited a total disdain for homework, which now drives his mother (and me) nuts.  The boy can dig his heels in for hours…or at least until I get home.  At that point there is no more nonesense because I haven’t the patience for it.  I can get him to do it but it bugs me that so much of our interaction involves having to do this junk that I hated as a kid.  Now most of my interactions with him are negative because I’m having to correct, reprimand and generally get snarly on him.  He might pick up on the fact that I’m not into it, but I’m not sure how he thinks not doing it until I get home will make things any better for him.  Life is infinitely easier for him when he gets it done right away.

I’ll have to devote more blogspace to him and his drama later, but suffice it to say that he can generate enough of it for two people!  But at least there will be one less yearly IEP to worry about.

Get to Know Your Director of Special Education

4 Feb

In my recent Christmas video, I sort of had a bit of fun at my director of special education’s expense. Hopefully, she still has her sense of humor. Or perhaps the joke will be on ME! Hahahahaha!

That video itself was probably one of the best, most polished ones I’ve ever made in the technical sense. But the sarcasm in it might have been a bit much, so let’s see if I can fix any mis perceptions that might exist plus shed some light on what little I know about the job of special education director and the person our county has doing it.

In a small rural county, the director of special education is a lot more visible and knows the parents, teachers and students better than in a larger district. Our district has been transitioning from small to large over the past 15 years or so. So while she knows all of the teachers, she is not nearly as familiar with all of the students or their parents as she might have been starting out. Also, the administrative overhead grows as the district grows. While she has some assistance from other staff, there are still many things that only she can do and authorize and can not be delegated. Mainly, she answers to the state DOE as well as to the county superintendent. Anything that is required by the state, it is her job to make sure the entire county is in compliance. And this is not a small job, nor is it fun. At least I don’t think it is fun!

Consider that the U.S. Congress has teams of lawyers and staffers working to draft and reauthorize the IDEA. Then, this gets passed down to the state, where the DOE adds more layers to the regulations. By the time it gets to the county level, the requirements of the law have increased substantially. And then the special education director has to figure out how she is going to get all of the various disciplines within special education to comply. Most of the time, this translates into finding some way of getting teachers and education providers to comply and report. That means more paperwork. Our special ed director is and always has been very much pro-data which has added to the workload at times. But if I think about it, most decisions should be data driven. The problem is that there are hundreds of teachers in our county and not all of them are able or willing to comply with all the details the process requires. The newest teachers have yet to learn all the finer points, and veteran teachers can be a bit rebellious sometimes or merely forgetful. In any case, getting all of these educators to comply with the myriad of regulations required by the government can be like herding cats. Which means more effort has be expended on accountability and thus more compliance-driven paperwork.

Which leads to the next layer of responsibility which is managing all those teachers. By and large, the building administrators can do a lot of it, but if there is some sort of problem (like a rogue blogger) she is expected to be on the front line. She also helps support all of the teachers that need extra training. And every year, when things change, EVERY teacher needs to be trained. Even those of us who are already trained need to sometimes be trained again.

One of the main sources of work for me is the level of collaboration necessary in order to serve my classroom of students with disabilities. PT, OT, speech, VI, HI, APE, transportation, the school nurse and the cafeteria all represent people that I have to interact with on a regular basis in order to do my job. Now multiply that by a factor of about 100, and you might have some idea of what a special education director might have to typically deal with. Except while my involvement is primarily at my own level, hers runs all the way up to the state department and all the way down to the lowest classification of employee. Her involvement runs throughout the board office among all the areas of curriculum and administration.

In a perfect world, the special ed director could busy herself planning, training, keeping up with all of the latest regulations and requirements and budgeting. There is plenty enough there to keep a body busy all the time with just administering the extensive program that is special education. However, it is not a perfect world. We do have students that we have to deal with and each of those students have at least one parent. The level of satisfaction of these parents is by-and-large pretty good in our county. But it is not perfect. There is just no pleasing some people no matter what you do. And teachers do make mistakes. Some more than others. And who does an angry parent talk to if they have a serious complaint that they want action on? It’s usually the board office, and if the student has an IEP the point of contact is the special education director. While she can successfully delegate some of the smaller fires to other people she still has to follow-up to make sure it is dealt with. And then she takes the big fires that always take much longer than anyone ever plans. Sometimes this involves having to testify in court, which involves a lot of time taken away from all the other things she needs to attend to.

What this translates into is a constant stream of demands upon the time of this one single person, and I have only skimmed the surface of all the duties and obligations. It is a huge, gigantic job that is mostly pretty thankless. The special ed director is rarely thanked by parents, as she is no longer in the classroom. While so much of her job revolves around helping students with special needs her involvement is indirect and behind the scenes. Whenever the public is looking for people to give credit for in their child’s education, it mostly goes to the teacher. Administrators rarely get it, and those who sit in the central office rarely are recognized at all. What’s more, in the current times of budget constraints, the job is made all the more difficult as people are forever pointing fingers at trying to reduce administrative overhead. Since no one sees what administrators do, it is easy to say that what they do is unimportant or less important.

As teachers, it really does not fully sink in as what administrators really and truly do unless we expend some serious time and thought. Often, they can diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand with a parent or the public. They take care of the toughest of the discipline issues and some of the toughest decisions that have to be made. Often, all we see is all of the paperwork that this person seems to be making us fill out and thus all of our own time that is being taken. If I am having trouble getting something done within the district or even on a building level, many times the special ed director is the one that can get things done and moving along.

Now I’m going to get a bit specific here, and risk even more exposure to repercussions. But this is part of my new resolution to be more positive. I’m not going to mention her by name but everyone who is local here will know exactly who I am thinking of in this post. In my video, I was being vague on purpose because I wasn’t intending to go after anyone in particular although I can see how it could be taken that way. But now I’m going to be much more specific just to make sure there’s no confusion and everyone knows where I stand.

I’ve had dealings with our special education director with me as a teacher and then as a parent. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone who works harder, with more dedication and under more stressful conditions than this woman. I was acquainted with her when I was a para and she was an EBD teacher and she was hard enough working and talented back then doing one of the hardest teaching jobs that exists in special education. Over the years, as parent and teacher I can say that I have not always agreed with everything she’s done but I always felt I got a fair hearing. As much as she already has going on, she always takes the time needed in order to listen to what people are saying. Always. She was perfectly willing to address and present to the local autism support group which can often be akin to walking into a den of momma bears. She has totally supported local parent advocacy groups and their activities and events. Her level of dedication and effort to special education is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. And I’ve been around some hard working people!

So while my video had a rather snarky tone to it, it was not meant to paint my own special ed director in a bad light. It was more along the lines of “Welcome to Life as a Special Education Teacher!” In this business, a sense of humor is pretty crucial to maintaining some semblance of sanity.

On that note, y’all can quite bugging her about the teacher who is blogging and making videos. I did let her know about them fairly early on in the process and have not tried to hide any of these activities from her or anyone else. However I’m going to address the specifics of the video project in another post.

Good luck to everyone else who is wrapping up GAA’s – only about a month to go!

TOTY

26 Aug

Right now, the conventions are in full swing and soon we will elect a new POTUS and FLOTUS.  President Of The United States and First Lady Of The United States.  Or at least someone will elect one of these clowns into the Whitehouse.

TOTY = Teacher Of The Year.  Our school does this in the fall, which I always thought was a really funny time to do this.  I mean, about 1/4 of the faculty is brand new and don’t know anyone let alone who would be teacher of the year.  So they do what I did my first year and voted for the one they know best or who their more experienced friends suggest.  But since this is an honor bestowed on a teacher based on teaching, it would make more sense to do it at the end of the year when we can look back on what the teacher actually did.  but maybe that’s just me.

It the preliminary round, teachers nominate one of their colleagues for TOTY.  Then the ballots are counted and I think the top 8 or 10 are listed on the next ballot.  Then you circle your favorite and then the nomination is down to 4 or 5.  Then it narrows to 2 or 3 and finally the winner is chosen.  This process takes a few weeks as the teachers always have a few days to fill it out and turn each ballot from each round in.  Then a faculty meeting is called and the winner gets flowers, some cake and a reception or something like that.  The winner of the school TOTY then competes with all of the other TOTY’s from the other schools in the district to become the County TOTY.  This involves filling out a questionnaire and being visited by the school board and superintendent.  Plus there’s all sorts of media coverage.  It’s great fun…unless you’re in the middle of it.

About 4 years ago, I made that first round ballot.  And then I made the second round.  And then the top 3 or 4.  It was totally nerve racking! I don’t mind the national exposure of an internet blog or Teachertube, but the scrutiny of my peers…it was an awesome amount of pressure.  This was made even moreso, because I had some really and truly awesome peers.  There were too many better folks than me that didn’t make the ballot and I knew it.  Fortunately, one of those awesome folks won it.  I don’t remember who won it, but I remember the guy who got 2nd place.  He got 2nd place for the next 3 or so years before finally winning it.  I even kept the first 2 round ballots and didn’t vote because I was just so proud to have my name there!  I may or may not have cast a ballot for myself in my final round, but still made a copy of it that I still have somewhere.  I was proud and scared at the same time.

My first pick didn’t make the first cut this year, which is unusual.  I usually do better at picking someone who at least shows.  However, my name did appear on that list again.  And exactly like 4 years ago, I have some mixed feelings. It’s a great honor to make the ballot at all, as we have over 120 faculty in this building; the largest in the county.  And if any of you fellow teachers read me, I totally get what you’re doing especially if you read my last couple of posts!  It’s okay to vote for someone else…REALLY!  I did.

Seriously, there are some good candidates everywhere in every department.  Fact is, I idolize most everyone else who is “out there” teaching 25-35 students at a time.   I don’t know if I could do that.  I’d like to try someday.  And a bunch of these folks are stepping into other roles like club and class sponsorships, activities like the prom and homecoming plus tons of activities in the community and churches in addition to being awesome teachers.  They are SuperPeople.

I’ve seen many SID/PID teachers become TOTY in their respective schools but they don’t do as well at the county level.  As I’ve said before, we are not increasing test scores or improving the graduation rate. I think a lot of it amounts to a sort of respect that comes from a body saying “Geez, I could never do that!”  So the faculty gives some recognition and TOTY is a good vehicle for that.  Actually, it’s one of the only vehicles faculty have for honoring one of their own.  I wish they had a Para of the Year award as well, as I think it would help boost their level of recognition.

So I get it.  Thanks for the support, and I like it as long as I don’t make anymore of the cuts.  Been there, done that and it was sort of fun but it really is stressful!  I feel the love, really.  Now go vote for someone who really deserves it and can carry the MHS* TOTY torch to a district victory!

dd

*MHS = Magnolia High School which is the blogname for the school I teach at.

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