Advancing Miracles

23 Nov

One of the reasons for my frustration, is that I am forever looking to advance my students along.  The current economic and political realities seem bent on thwarting those efforts, and I suspect every teacher feels this way.  We want to keep moving forward, but get bogged down by forces beyond our control.

But we still do it and we succeed in spite of public policies, like NCLB.  And so it is, I’m blogging the student teacher I said I wouldn’t blog about.  Well, this is noteworthy and deserves to be published and promoted!

I have several students who have profound intellectual disabilities, meaning they rely almost totally on caregivers to meet their needs.  It’s one of the reasons why the adult:student ratio is so critical.  If there isn’t an adult around to meet a need, it is not going to be met.  Period.  However, any move in the direction of independence is a monumental one, considering that these students are all in high school.  If they have not learned something by now, it isn’t likely they will, especially since the adult/student ratio is cut in half as soon as they exit middle school.

But having a capable and motivated adult can really help move things along.  In this case, the student teacher has been working with one of my students who has PID as well as being mostly physically disabled. She has to be fed, like most of my students.  She can move her hands and arms, but just doesn’t very much.  Until now.  We started off teaching communication skills, geting her to push a Big Mac switch in order to say “more” meaning she wanted more food.  She quickly caught on to this, as eating is highly reinforcing to her.

However, this student did not stop there.  At some point the food wasn’t coming fast enough so she grabbed the teacher’s hand and brought it up to her mouth.  This was HUGE!  We hadn’t seen this before, but then we never had time to look.  Feeding time is something we generally do as quick as we can to get it over with, like any other task we have to do.  However, we made a break through, past the communication exercise.  I showed the student teacher how to hold the spoon and help facilitate more engagement and learning in the feeding and within a couple fo days, the girl was beginning to feed herself.  It is still a very sloppy process, but we are off and running!

It’s been awhile since we had a breakthrough like that in our room.  It looks downright miraculous.  It’s mostly good teaching involving consistency and persistence.  And it is also a good shot in the arm for all of us, morale-wise.  It will be interesting to see if we can sustain it over the course of the year, even after this student teacher leaves.

Here’s the thing: This is a gigantic leap forward for this one student.  Feeding herself with the spoon.  It is monumental, significant and practical.  But it is not even a blip on the NCLB radar screen.  It carries NO weight to anyone outside of this girl’s life.  It does not improve a test score, does not improve the graduation rate or any other measure devised to measure “accountability.”  It is not something I could use to become one of Georgia’s Master Teachers.  The resounding message from the outside is that what we do doesn’t matter, when in reality, what we do totally matters!

But I have no idea how on earth to convey that to the people who make decisions about our staffing.  Those folks never darken my door and they miss these miraculous victories.  Having key people in the key spots matters, but I don’t get to choose who is in my room with my kids.  Sometimes I am very fortunate.  Sometimes, less so.

Anyway, I simply had to blog it and make whatever political hay I can out of it.  Unfortunately, these things do not happen every day and few times do they happen in such short amounts of time.  It’s also good for a new teacher to get this boost very early in her career as  those are the memories that sustain us over the longer and leaner times.

15 Responses to “Advancing Miracles”

  1. Nicole mays November 23, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    that is AWESOME!!!! “Little” (yeah right) things like this make our jobs so wonderful 🙂 You’re right, the politics and logistics can be frustrating and downright disheartening, but something like this – though it doesn’t “matter” to the bigwigs – makes SUCH a difference in the hearts, minds and attitudes of the teachers and assistants that hopefully it will give you the strength to keep on truckin’ in the face of budget cuts, staff cuts, GAA and politics just knowing that you ARE making a difference. Kudos to you and your student teacher 🙂

    • Daniel Dage November 25, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

      You’re right, Nicole, in that it reminds us why we entered this business. It was never about test scores but about helping the kids.

  2. k brogden November 23, 2009 at 11:31 pm #


    My heart leapt for you!!!Everything else is just gravy…. ~!~

    • Daniel Dage November 25, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

      Thanks! And thanks for commenting!

  3. Terri November 24, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    WHOOOO HOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is huge!!! Thank you for sharing that, Daniel. I bet for that student and her family, this Thanksgiving is made even richer because of you and your student teacher.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Daniel Dage November 25, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

      Well, the parent does seem to be quite pleased with where we are going. My fingers are crossed that we can sustain the progress this year!

  4. Jane November 24, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    Once again, I have to say, Dan, that your professional organization is falling down on the job. Maybe teachers of severe/profound students need your own group, because only with the united voices of many will this issue be addressed. In addition, with a proposed, credible alternative accountability system for your type of classroom, I bet principals and administrators would get on board.

    PS — I thought that 5% of special ed students could be excused from meeting NCLB standards — why would that 5% not include your students?

  5. Jane November 25, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    Dan, here is a good interchange about testing and kids with IEP’s. The point being made is the one I made — that your type of kids should not be counted in NCLB accountability standards. So then why would yhou have to shoehorn them into the generic curriculum?

    • Daniel Dage November 25, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

      In Georgia, the professional organizations are rather weak compared to the unions in the north. This is one of the issues where having a stronger voice would be beneficial to the students as schools look for ways to cut corners, and this one is a huge one if it catches on. It essentiallly wipes out any meaningful regulation as to class size. Basically a teacher could find themsleves managing a class of 20 EBD students, And that would not be pretty.

      As far as No Child Left Behind, That first word is the final word. NO means no exceptions. Trust me, the states have tried to get a break on my 1% or 2%. Georgia was threatened with monetary sanctions from the feds unless and until it brought its alternate assessments to in line with NCLB as judgement by the federal DOE. There were skidmarks in Atlanta as the state sought to throw something together in just a few short months before a new school year started.

      So we do portfolio assessments very similar to what Virginia does. Is it a joke? Yes! But these things are far, far from easy. The process drags on all year, instead of just one day of testing. My students produce nothing, so guess who has to produce evidence that they are learning? Me. We’ve had to do this for a student *in a coma*. And show progress. How does this enforce any standards? It proves nothing.

      So any talk of “accountability” draws mockery and derision from me.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. K.K. November 27, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Congrats to you ,your student teacher, and the student on such remarkable progress. Your right, no one is really concerned with the small advances ( that are huge) we make in our classrooms. As long as everything looks good on paper, or on a data graph in a data room somewhere, all is well. We as teachers with students with DIFFERENT ABILITIES must support each other and realize that there are not too many educators that really have an ounce of knowledge about what we do. Can you imagine how much our kids would progress in their functional curriculum ( which by law is what we are required to teach) if we could use our time dedicated to these needs?

    • Daniel Dage December 5, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

      Thanks for reading and commenting! You’re right in that most teachers don’t realize the intensity of what we do. Even most special educators have no idea. So we’re always having to educate everyone!

  7. Heather November 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    Dan, I have tears in my eyes! As a follow teacher of the same population at the middle school level, I feel your pain. This advance should totally blow away her GAA, it should make everything else irrelevant! Sadly, it won’t BUT it will make a huge difference in her life and in her parents’ lives. This is the type of thing that makes parents cry with hope, pride, & joy at IEP meetings, they could care less about GAA scores. I LOVE reading your blog by the way. Kudos to you AND your student teacher. You ARE a Master Teacher as are so very many other teachers of students with severe/profound intellectual disabilities. This population of teachers puts more effort, pride, and determination into their teaching strategies than any other group that I know of! We make our own materials, more often than not, adapting each one to the individual needs of the children using them. We know multiple languages, the individual language of each child in our classroom! We have been doing things for years, that others consider “the latest and greatest NEW thing.” Of course you know all of this but it never hurts to be said again! It’s days like this that make us continue!

    • Daniel Dage December 5, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

      Thanks for all of your kind words! I do agree that teaching this population for any length of time, if you apply yourself, will turn one into a master teacher. I think it’s because our kids always test us and teach us. For good or ill, we’re stuck with each other for the duration of the day/week/year/several years unlike most other settings where kids get passed along.

  8. Mary Gateley December 5, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Dear Dan
    I have been following your blog for two years now. The topics and frustrations that you blog about are words coming right out of my mouth. I have taught Life Skills in Kennewick, Washington for 28 years. I love the kids, enjoy the challenges, well you know the routine. I too, am a victim of the WAAS portfolio educational occult. OSPI felt that in addition to the yearly IEP’s we should complete grade level portfolios in reading, math, writing and science, for each student. Not only is it a requirement that is impossible to produce, and pass, I do every bit of the portfolio and pay for it myself. I could go on and on but as I said before you have explained in previous blogs the insanity of this mandated assessment already. I just wanted to say thank you for speaking the truth with such candor and for being a public voice for all the teachers in special education. From student ratios to ranges of disabilities to para-eds., you cover it by blogging the absolute accurate truth that we have to face each and every day that we enter our classrooms.

    • Daniel Dage December 5, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Mary! It is really helpful knowing others out there struggle agains tthe same thing, so at least we’re kind of in this together. Otherwise we get isolated in our little classrooms alone!

      And that isolation can be a real downer sometimes. It’s sort of why I started blogging…I needed to get out more! But we also have a story that rarely gets told and I wanted to share some of that, too. So thanks for being a part of that!

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