Our GAA is was due TODAY, and I was chugging along at a pretty good clip, getting things done as time went on. I was not saving everything until the last minute, because I realized how little time we actually have to do these things. It is less than 8 weeks to do all 12 tasks. So I had gotten a bunch of data and have been assembling it and putting it together. My GAA student has been out the last couple of days, but I wasn’t sweating it, because I thought I had everything I needed.
But I was wrong.
I had everything I needed right up until the very last task of the last standard. And the pictures of what we did were GONE! I searched every computer and jump drive I had, and they simply didn’t exist. No small task since I take hundreds of pictures of all of my students basically creating a sort of pictorial portfolio for each of them. So now I’m a bit against the wall. I already know what the task is and have it set up so we can get it pretty quickly. Hopefully he is recovered from his illness!
But this is exactly the sort of thing that happens. This student has been ill and absent more this year than any other time in his 3 year career with me. But I have done well with it until now, because I didn’t put it off. And it still isn’t a huge deal. It’s just a matter of some concern. We’ll make the final deadline, easy enough, unless things go viciously wrong.
All-in-all, this whole GAA business isn’t the total disaster that I sometimes paint it to be. It does have numerous and serious problems, to be sure. It is not very good for evaluating either students or teachers, but there are aspects of it that are okay. For one thing, it has made us players as far as the standards go. Prior to the GAA, our students (and us as teachers) were totally excluded from the regular curriculum. We had a functional curriculum, which by and large served the needs of the students and their parents most of the time. However, we were not really involved with the rest of the school’s curriculum. I was fine with that, and focused on my background in vocational instruction (when I taught agriculture) in the community-based program. The shift in focus has allowed me to shift back to my more academic background (when I taught science) and ways to present and differentiate that better. Fact is, in those areas I am possibly miles ahead of my regular peers because I am reaching for a much farther and harder target. I’ve had to learn how to present it smarter and in more creative ways because my students can not attend for more than a minute and they can not read a textbook or do a worksheet. Studying about matter and Mexico and Moby Dick has been enjoyable and I’ve had to stretch as a teacher in ways I would not necessarily have before the shift. Ironically, it’s because I teach everyone in the class according to the standards that I didn’t have the pictures I needed to document the activity for my GAA. On the day we did the activity, the GAA student wasn’t there so I went ahead with the activity with the rest of my class. So while I did it, I just didn’t do it with this particular student and whenever we get back to school, we’ll have a make up session.
The shift has taken place during a time when community-based instruction has fallen almost totally off. We used to go to the community nearly every day. Now it is once or twice a week. Maybe. So a lot of the void is filled in with academic content activities. At least I’m not pressured by the same time constraints as those in the regular classrooms who have to cover so much material in a relatively short period of time. I can sit on one topic as long as I like or move on and come back to it later. The freedom to do that is a good thing, since my students may take hundreds of trials in order to master one new skill.
During the Elluminate session and more than once on this blog, I may have come down too hard on teaching academic content to these students. It’s not a bad thing for the students or the teachers, for the most part. However, thanks to NCLB, the academic content is the only thing that counts. We can make all sorts of noises about the importance of IEP goals and the need for transition, daily living and vocational goals, but NCLB has narrowed the focus to that one single area. The schools are charged with providing all students access to the state mandated curriculum, regardless of disability or economic status. The ‘A’ in FAPE has been clearly defined. “Appropriate” is exactly what the regular education students are getting, so that is what the exceptional population gets, too. The accommodations and modifications are designed to enhance access to the general education curriculum (and associated assessments)– and nothing else. Until either the curriculum changes or the accountability changes (or both), those other areas of the IEP are not very relevant at all. Courts have made it clear that NCLB trumps IDEA. For most students, this might not be a terrible thing in and of itself. But for students with severe disabilities, it really does put us in a tough place as far as providing services for our students. They don’t really and truly don’t fit into a “regular” academic setting (whatever that is) because they present more unique challenges. Realistically, they are not going to have competitive employment, pay taxes or vote. They are not going to college, which is where every current education reform is trying to force every student. Colleges simply don’t want everyone! They want to be able to be somewhat selective, and my students are through the floor in that particular process. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be totally locked out of the curriculum.
The students with more severe and profound disabilities have a lot to teach us, which I believe is their greatest asset and role. They let us believe that we are teaching them, when in fact WE are the ones moved to greater character and knowledge. Every teacher who teaches any subject at any grade level should do a rotation in a severe and profound classroom for at least 4 weeks. Let them teach their subject and ply their craft to students with the most needs and the most limited personal resources and they will be able to better reach those who already come equipped with a lot more knowledge. Since that isn’t going to happen any time soon, it makes some sense to wheel these kids into regular classrooms as a sort of mobile learning opportunity, like those learning lab buses that criss cross the country and stop at various schools so kids can go inside and experience a virtual environment with activities centered around a topic or theme.