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The Seclusion and Restraint Issue

12 Mar
The steady and increasing drumbeat of disability advocates is zeroing in on the use of seclusion and restraints in the school system. My friends over at change.org are leading the charge along with a number of others, if you check out their links.
While this has been an issue for a few decades, I think I can safely say that it has begun to approach critical mass. Changes are being made around the country, in the state of Georgia and in my own school system. Keep in mind that corporal punishment was still pretty common in many Georgia districts until relatively recently.

Before diving into the fray, let me give you a bit of my own personal history on the subject. I’ve already written abit of my own old school background on the subject of spanking. My first real exposure to the practice in special education was when I was a para at the local psychoeducational center about 15 years ago. Basically the guideline for time-out was when the student was hurting others or destroying property. The same goes for restraint. Basically, it makes sense to me that if a child of 9 is severely emotionally disturbed and is beating the crap out of another student (or teacher) that physical intervention is warranted. If he/she is throwing a chair or gouging out their own eye, I’m trying to wrap my mind around how I might help the child or others without the laying on of hands. I already know the answer to that, which I’ll share in a moment.

But we did use restraint and seclusion using guidelines and training from the Crisis Prevention Institute. We also used life space interviews after a student got out of time out. The procedures that we followed at the psychoed were, in my opinion, second to none. But seclusion and restraint were NOt our methods of choice. We relied an a very robust arsenal of positive behavioral supports, because you simply can not teach a classroom where everyone is in timeout. It took a lot of personnel to moniter the rooms, as well as the risk of personal injury. So in our class at the time, we had a point sheet/token economy, a level system, a group reward/contingency program, therapeutic rec/leisure and generally tried to make the climate as positive and rewarding as possible. so when a student had to go to time out, they were really and truly missing out on something. On top of that, I introduced a sort of “punch-out” token economy that was more immediate. The effect of that, was that I could take up the token card instead of ejecting the student while reinforcing everyone else. So it was a time-out-in-place. But the student always got reinforced when they were ready to rejoin the group/task. By the end of that year, I rarely ever, ever had to put a kid in time-out or lay hands on them in our class. However, the practice of restraint and seclusion did end up costing me personally and dearly that year.

While I was being a para for a teacher of mostly middle school students. the teacher of the younger kids was having major problems with one of her 9 year-old students. so the director made the decision to move me in that class to help deal with that student. That lasted about 2 days. He was a pretty wild kid, and I did end up having to hold him on the ground quite a lot. He was small, but extraordinarily fast and strong which is why they decided a big male was needed to help handle things. In hindsight, this was not necessarily the best thing. And it turned out to be a very bad thing. One day, after he had been particular trying, it was finally the end of the day and time for him to get on the bus to go home. So we went out to the bus, but instead of getting on the bus, he took off like a shot through a crowded end-of-school parking lot and towards the very busy end-of-the-day-traffic street. The teacher was in hot pursuit and so was I (we already had the rest of the kids on their buses). She told me to call the police, which is what I should of done. But I didn’t. To be perfectly honest, I had had it with this kid and was at the end of my rope. I was going to get him. While there was an element of danger for the kid with buses and cars, that might not have been the only reason I went after him. I caught up to him and made a lunge to go for the final grab. And that was it.

I have no idea exactly what happened, but it was all over for me. My knee somehow got terribly twisted and I went down hard and heavy. It could have been the uneven grass we were on or the sudden swerve the kid took and me being too stupid and reckless. At that moment, the true idiocy of my actions caught up and washed rght over me in a wave of pain. And I would spend the next few hours in an emergency room. Nothing was broken, but I had some ligments that were badly torn. That was it for my running career. To this very day, that knee will sometimes bother me for wierd and strange reasons. Losing weight definitely has helped keep me from limping and gimping around. But it is a persistent reminder of the folly inherent within restraint practices. At least by school teachers, no matter how young and fit.

My next job was at a psychiatric hospital in a child and adolescent unit. Even though it was the late 1990’s it seemed like the 1980’s sometimes the way it was run, especially in the area of behavior management. When I arrived, there were lots of people who were experts on therapy and behavior but none of them were behaviorists. The social workers were into family systems, the behavior specialist was actually specialized more with those who had been sexually abused and the doctor/psychiatrist was into psychoanalytical therapy while being supported by the MD’s and nurses with lots of psychotropic medications. seclusion and restraint was used quite regularly, but it is hard to imagine not using it with some of the severe behaviors that warranted being hospitalized. I saw it all while I was there, but since it was a locked facility, I never had to chase anyone down. Plus the health service technicians did all of the physical work. And sometimes that meant a 5 point restraint system under a doctor’s order. While there was a token economy and level system in place, it was not used very well. So I did use other contingencies that I had control over, like access to a computer lab. The kids loved the computer lab and I had the best hardware and software money could buy at the time. I had a $7,000 budget! So I had resources to apply towards behavior and teaching. If a kid acted up in my class, he/she was simply removed to time-out or more medication.

But the big issue/movement in the 1990’s was deinstitutionalization, which meant that the C&A unit was closed and I lost my job. I’ll have to write more sometime about the repercussions of that movement. Suffice to say that the present movement towards not using seclusion and restraints is a direct result of that battle that was mostly won by the advocates. Most of the cases that were served by a huge (and expensive) team of doctors, nurses, behavior specialists, recreation specialists, psycholigists and social workers are now being served by the school system and mostly one teacher and a para. So the teachers are being held responsible for behaviors and clients that they are not trained to care for. Is it any wonder that there is abuse and mistakes and serious consequences?

When I first started here, most of the kids were fairly moderate. We were community-based, which involved going into the community almost everyday to a job or community site. My kids loved getting on the bus and getting off the school campus. So did I and the paras. The contingency was simply that if a kid acted up, he didn’t get to go out that day. And that was usually sufficient. Today, the climate has changed. Community-based instruction is quickly disappearing. We go out maybe once or twice a week. The shift has been toward academics and the Standards. True, we try to work on life skills and weave the content with the skills but some standards and skills simply do not line up. And the level of severity of the disabilities has become more acute. Many of these students would have been under the care of a team of doctors, nurses, psychologists and specialists back in 1970’s and ’80’s. But those facilities went away the same time as the C&A unit. Now it is all me.

The schools are poorly equipped to deal with severe behavior probloems. The state charges schools with the primary mission of educating students in a curriculum that is largely aimed at getting students into college. Any other agenda is secondary to that primary mission of an academic education. How effective a given school system is in that one single mission is up for discussion. I agree that schools do need to focus on this one thing (and learn to do it well) while providing a safe and humane environment for all learners. There should also be options for vocational and life skills, but that is another discussion. The point is, is that when it comes to dealing with behaviors that result in the school becoming unsafe for students, there needs to be some options. And right now, I see the only possible option is calling the police, which is what I should have done 15 years ago. We were located right next to the police station at the time! I do believe in teaching students with behavior problems, but I learned very early on that when a child is in the midst of a full meltdown or tantrum, there is no learning or teaching that is going on.
Actually, there is one other option that might work. That is to convert all of the time-out and seclusion rooms into places that lock from the inside. Then when a student is out of control and getting assaultive, the teachers can seclude themselves. Or perhaps fixing the valium dispenser in the teacher’s lounge would work.

Seriously, I do support the work of those advocating for more and better humane treatment of students, generally speaking. But just as there were adverse consequences to pushing everyone out of institutions and into the community, there will be adverse consequences for making seclusion and restraint forbidden practices. I hope that the movement results in a more positive climate within schools and classrooms, but I don’t think it will result in the sort of programs envisioned by most people. What made states move to deinstitutionalize was that they saw they could save a ton of money. The result was a lot of mentally ill homeless people and many of them being served within jails and prisons. Sure, many were better off in group homes. Many weren’t. A 10 minute period in seclusion often allows the student to remain in school the rest of the day. If the police are called, will the result be the same?

I’m going to go ahead and attach my seclusion/time-out procedure so that you can feel free to review it. I’m open to criticism about it if there is anything wrong with it. Of course, if you are against seclusion/time-out under any and every circumstance then you won’t like it no matter what the policy is! But the alternative of having the student removed indefinitely, or having people hospitalized is not very attractive. It would wonderful if everyone was extensively trained and supported, but that hasn’t ever happened even in the most ideal of circumstances and conditions. With serious budget constraints across the country, professional development is the first thing that gets tossed out the window, followed closely by para and behavioral support.

Hang on to your Butts…

4 Sep

Here we go again with the Georgia Alternate Assessment (GAA).

I have no problems admitting that I am sometimes a condescending prima donna when it comes to all the requirements that we are subjected to. I expect everyone else to toe the line while I sometimes play loose with the rules and have tested limits more than once. Most of the time I’m looking out for the students and sometimes my creative insubordination is in defense of other teachers who may not be able to stand the heat. And I’ve drawn a considerable amount of it during my tenure here. I’m going to try to grit my teeth and accept this bitter pill this year with the understanding that it is only temporary. I’ll be free of this burden soon enough.

We had our GAA meeting at the county office this morning, with another group attending this afternoon. Most of the folks attending this morning were people who had done it last year, which made things go fairly smoothly. Very little has changed from last year. We still have not seen any results from last year’s test and I’ll have to make an appointment with Harry to do so. I think it would be instructive to look at the scores just to get an idea where my activities are as far as meeting or exceeding the standards. I mean if something works, why change it all the way up? There are lots of resources on the Georgia DOE website with more supposed to be added all the time.

I figured out the reason why I’m so rapidly going stale this year here, is because we are too short staffed to go into the community. In the past 7 years, that really was what made the days go by so quickly and kept most of us from going stir crazy. We used to be able to spend 2 hours or so doing jobs or shopping away from the school every morning. Now, I am in the one room with all of these students pretty much all day long. I’m having flash backs of my days teaching children who had behavior disorders in a self-contained setting. The worst behaved kids stuck in one place all day long away from everyone else held no appeal for me, which is precisely why I took this position instead of the EBD position across town. But here I am! And since self-contained EBD no longer truly exists, guess which position is now the hardest of the special ed. jobs to fill and keep filled? Being isolated is a fairly substantial negative in this case. When we were out and about, having our own schedule was a positive. But now, thanks to NCLB, we are having to abide by the regular curriculum and schedule more and more which has actually made the isolation even more acute.

dick

A Teacher Supply Problem

18 Jul

I like to try to recruit smart people into the Special education business as much as anyone else. We need more people, and we need smart people. At the same time, I’m a strong advocate of doing whatever I can to support teachers who are already in the business. This business with NCLB and alternate assessments has made that task a lot more difficult and has taken quite a lot of the heart out of any efforts I might make. It’s very difficult talking about bringing in new talent into a business that I’m not sure that I want to stay in.

 

That last sentence was a tough one to write.

 

Special education is a VERY tough business, no doubt. The attrition rate 3 years ago when I last saw the figures was a 50% turn-around within 5 years. Less than 3 years in some areas such as teaching those with emotional behavior disorders and those serving children with severe disabilities. And NCLB has probably increased those figures considerably. At this point, school districts are happy with any warm body, let alone someone who is reasonably competent and experienced.

 

For your reading pleasure, I direct you to an article from the boston.com news about New Hampshire trying to alleviate its shortage of special education teachers. Early on it is noted that no one had registered for the special education program at the University of New Hampshire for the last two years! No one. Not even one. There’s a bit of a problem here, isn’t there? NH’s solution is to offer reduced or free tuition for those enrolling in the UNH special education program funded by a federal grant. They are hoping to attract 20 new students this year and 20 more next year. So far they’ve accepted 6 applicants with 6 more saying that they plan on enrolling this fall. I wonder if they will make their goal.

 

Even if they do, there are some problems. First and foremost, this is like sticking a finger in the proverbial dike. With the attrition rate running as high as it is, 20 new teachers will not even come close to addressing New Hampshire’s needs.

 

Secondly, even with 50% off or free tuition, they are having trouble meeting their goal. Finally, with the “warm body” mentality running amok, there’s little controls or measures to make sure that the applicants they DO get are going to be competent enough to do the job. There may be unseen checks that were not written about in the article, but that is a substantial issue nation wide.

 

So what do I think should be done to ease the supply problem?

 

1. Untangle the mess that is the teacher supply-line. There are a myriad of ways a person can become a certified teacher, but state departments all too often put up silly road blocks such as the lack of reciprocity between states or requiring teachers take a course on their state history before giving them a certificate. Many of these hoops have nothing to do with teacher competence. Also, they are not always clear. People call the state DOE and get conflicting answers as to what they have to do to get certified.

 

2. Concentrate efforts at retention. I witnessed my own administration seemingly bent on running off teachers who were doing a decent job. Instead of offering more training and mentoring, they simply try to run off teachers who make mistakes. Okay, I’m against incompetence as much as anyone, but reasonable attempts should be made to train the people already warming those spots before cutting them loose.

 

3. Differential pay. Oh boy. This is a touchy issue, but right now there is a very steady migration of teachers out of special education and into other subject areas. Once a special education teacher gets highly qualified in a core subject, they say “Screw this!” and simply move over into a regular classroom. In contrast, the migration from regular education to special education is practically zero. Differential pay would help balance this migration problem as well as help with recruitment. Oh, and this pay differential should include para educators as well. It’s getting harder and harder to staff those positions as the requirements go up but the pay does not.

 

4. Produce a special pipeline that will help para educators get certified. This is where the grant money NH got could have been better spent. Paras often have years of experience already in the classroom with these students. They already know many of the ropes. They are already there and if they are willing, they’ll have a better idea of what they are in for than those walking in off the street. In fact, paras should be allowed to turn their para positions into paid internships for student teaching. With the current state of para pay, they are not likely able to afford the cost of higher education. Give these folks a helping hand and grow your own supply of competent experienced teachers.

 

5. Include in the supply pipeline an avenue for advancement to administrative positions. Administrative support is one of the single biggest issues in the retention of special educators. And more and more we find ourselves working under supervisors who are pretty clueless as what special education entails. This has such a direct bearing on competence and could help prevent many due process hearings. Time and again I have been in IEP meeting where the administrator who was acting as LEA knew little or nothing about IEP’s and special education law and then they said something absolutely stupid that pissed a parent off.

 

I think that’s a decent start. Any other ideas?

 

dick

 

 

On Being an EBD Teacher

16 Jan

Hannah’s QuestionRE: Working with EBD Students

 

I worked for 2 years for a “live in/work tons of hours” wilderness camp for EBD boys. I loved working with them, they were such interesting and spirited people. Now I am looking at special ed graduate schools, but I’m not sure if its exactly suited to what I want. I want to work with this type of population, but is the public school system the way to go? With all of your experience do you think this is the best route?

 

 

There are many routes for working with the EBD population. Those with Emotional Behavior Disorders (EBD) are actually a very diverse group. “Interesting and Spirited” is a fairly accurate description!LOL! Since they are so diverse, they often require a diverse range of services from mental health to juvenile justice to educational and vocational services. I would rate humor and patience as the cardinal virtues for working with this group. These traits are needed for any teaching position, but you’ll need an especially generous helping for working with these youngsters.

 

I’ve had 3 different types of experiences working with this population: Public school (high school and middle school self-contained), psychoed (part of the public schools, but a specialized school) and a mental health facility for children and adolescents. In the latter position, I was part of a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and sometimes even juvenile justice personnel such as probation officers and teachers.

 

In my case, I needed a lot more structure and support for working with this population. For me, there is no worse den of horrors than a self-contained EBD classroom in a regular school. But administrative support is the key here. If the administration just wants you out of their way, you’re on your own. Not many teachers do well in this type of isolation and the average rate of burn out is hideous at something less than 3 years on average. I know some who have been doing it much longer and some who didn’t last more than a few months. Tough job, but opportunities abound. There are loads of jobs out there for the taking.

 

In Georgia, we have a psychoed network, which serves students with severe emotional disabilities who are too severe to be in a regular education setting. This is a more restrictive setting and the disabilities are much more severe but administrative support isn’t quite as much of an issue. The program coordinator is most definitely on the same side and everyone is pulling in the same direction.

 

The state hospital was the most restrictive setting of all. It was a locked facility, and we had teams of people working with relatively small numbers of clients with very severe problems. Our clients ranged from the normally intelligent who happened to be suicidal or homicidal to those with significant cognitive impairments. While the severity was worse in many ways, the level of support was actually higher. I didn’t have to deal with the worst of the behaviors as a teacher because there was a medical and behavioral team standing by and they could use more interventions like seclusion and medications. Generally, I found that more restrictive settings translated into more support but it also means more severe behavior issues.

 

It takes a special temperament to work with those who are, by definition, difficult to get along with. When I told an old teacher of mine that I was going to be teaching those with EBD, she half-jokingly said, “It’s nice to know someone is getting in the business who knows something about it!” I wouldn’t say my temperament is the best, though. While I am extremely calm on the outside, inside I tend to be a roiling bucket of nerves. My tolerance hasn’t improved much with age! I can work well with this population in limited doses, meaning not all day, every day. Being a consultant, psychologist, counselor or some other service provider that works 1:1 wouldn’t be quite as bad as teachers who typically have several EBD students at a time who tend to feed off of each other and escalate every little situation. They quickly become proficient little button-pushers as they can often be quicker and more streetwise than students with other disabilities. They can also be very creative, so any person dealing with groups of this population should be equally nimble mentally in order to keep ahead.

 

The rewards can be rich, but sometimes require much effort and patience compared to working with other kids. They aren’t always appreciative of your efforts and frequently sabotage their own success which can be very frustrating. They can be enormously charming and then enormously vicious in the space of seconds. I knew many who seemed to have interests in psychology and law, which also made things quite challenging as they were constantly gaming the system. They usually also come from very rough environments which can also be heart breaking.

 

I’m not telling anyone what to do, because only you know what your own temperament and tolerance is. There’s a reason why there are always EBD positions open in school systems. If a person has the skills, talents and temperament, they can enjoy their success and reap the admiration of everyone. Seriously, tell someone you’re an EBD teacher, and most people will bless you while genuflecting. Many of those attracted to EBD teaching aren’t exactly saint material, themselves, which helps them identify with the kids sometimes. My background, as tough as it was, has served me well where I am now and I have no regrets although I wouldn’t care to go through some of it again. That’s one of the good things about special education is that there is considerable room for movement between areas, subjects and grades.

 

Good luck!

dick

 

Autistic Whisperer

30 Dec

I’ve enjoyed this blog over the past year. It’s allowed me to think out and consider some new things and actually “meet” some pretty cool people.

Of course sometimes things I write are a bit raw and edgy and generate no small amount of emotion. This might be one of those.

This past week has been Dog Whisperer week on the National Geographic channel. Ceser Milan describes himself as a dog psychologist who treats dogs and trains humans. He big three essentials for a balanced dog are Discipline, Exercise and Affection. He goes around, helping people with wild, aggressive dogs or nervous dogs or dogs that otherwise have some sort of behavioral problem. He then talks to the owner, meets the dog and then attempts to treat the dog while training the owner in his methods. Milan is using behavioral techniques but they involve much more dog-cognition than what most dog trainers and behaviorists would use. He often talks about dominance and submission in the context of pack behavior.

I was especially interested in seeing how Milan taught the human owners to control their dogs. Ceser is good at what he does. He’s excellent. But his greatest skill is transferring his knowledge and skill to the real owners so that they can do what he does in order to have a more balanced dog. And that is what he does time after time.

I know I’ll get busted by the “people-first” crowd in this for looking at kids and comparing them to dogs. I say people treat their pets like kids and that’s a big part of the problem when it comes to raising their pets. However there are many comparisons that are inescapable. As are the results of using similar techniques in dealing with dogs and kids. Hear me out.

First off, Milan often tells owners that when their dogs are being aggressive or exciting not to talk to them. Talking adds to the excitement level and makes them more agitated.

Hello? This is exactly what I’ve tried to express to paras, teachers and parents when their kids are going into meltdown/tantrum mode. Basically, when a kid is into an emotional meltdown, talking and yelling add to confusion. This is true even of higher functioning people, as I discovered back in the days when I worked in the psychoed and the hospital. That principal still works today.

Many of these dogs were adopted from pounds and shelters and have histories of abuse and neglect. He says that you can not help the dog if you feel sorry for them because you will be constantly projecting weakness instead of leadership. Owners like to make excuses for their pets and for some, their sympathies often are major contributors to the dog’s bad behaviors. I see this all the time with students with disabilities and their caregivers. Yes, the kid has disabilities, but having low expectations makes them more disabled! I watched a mom at an autism support Christmas dinner we had do everything for her son who was 18 and we exchanged a word or two. She did almost everything but chew the food for him! The boy is functioning in a moderate severe range even though he’s able to read at about the 6th grade level. What made this behavior more shocking to me is that she is a para for some of my ex-students at Northside High school! She knows better and even complains about other parents and teachers who do the same thing! AAAAHHHHHH!

She didn’t welcome my criticism.

I often crawl up a caregiver’s butt for being too helpful and hovering thus creating “learned helplessness.” Which leads to another principle…

Ceser Milan often tells owners that their dog needs lots of stimulations and challenges. This is especially true for those with high energy and high intelligence. And so it is with our kids. So much misbehavior occurs when our kids are bored. They need and want to be challenged which is enabling. And really, that is our primary job as caregivers is to be enablers for our students and children.

Christmas time is filled with all sorts of opportunities for bad behaviors with all of the stimulations, crowds, attractions, sweets and pitfalls for adults as well as children. Thomas has had a few meltdowns which happen mostly when he is tired or hungry. And during them meltdowns I’ve actually tried out some Dog Whisperer techniques. Even the “Tssst” while pointing that he uses. And you know what? It works. At least until he imiatates this with his younger brother.

People often criticize behaviorists for treating people like animals. I’m here to tell you that enabling my children to behave more like humans and less like animals is the proper and humane thing to do. It’s our job as adult to bring up and raise children into adults with instruction and support and correction when necessary. I don’t want my children or students to behave like animals. But animals and children both need assistance in an environment that is sometimes antagonistic to their needs. It should not be surprising that the techniques would overlap.

After doing a bit of research, I’m aware of the controversies surrounding some of Milan’s techniques. I’m not advocating using choke chains on kids or the use of the flooding technique that he uses to treat many of the issues the dogs he works with has. Neither do I advocate approaching aggressive dogs or even aggressive kids if they are strange to you. However, being quietly assertive and setting boundaries, providing security through leadership, and being proactive are all just good practices when dealing with all children and those with autism in particular. Say whatever you will about some of the dog whisperer’s methods, his ethic of never giving up and always learning is a good lesson for us all.

When Life Chose Me to be a Para

3 Oct

I briefly chronicled my professional exploits elsewhere.  But with all of the ruckus about paraeducators and what I think of them, I figured now would be a good time to go back to those days and color in a bit more detail.  Just so you know. 

 

I originally wanted to begin being a para earlier, but was tempted and seduced into trying my luck as a full fledged EBD teacher who was supposedly supervising a couple of different paras.  This was a disaster.  One para was a mother who was just looking for a little extra work and money, and the other was an ex-music teacher.  Thankfully Music Teacher knew a thing or two and supported me and propped me up in ways she’ll never know.  The Mother was more clueless than me, which was very bad.  I really had no idea what to do with either of them.  It was a divine act of mercy that got me out of there, even though being let go was seriously demoralizing.

 

The next summer I was working at Arbys and going to school to finish that Master’s.  I was taking a class on instructional strategies that included folks from the MR, LD and interrelated disciplines.  You could invariably tell who the EBD folks were, because we were the ones smoking during class breaks!  It was during these breaks that I met Juliet.  Ah,yes.  Juliet with the long and gorgeous red hair.  Jane will have at me for writing that, but oh, well…

 

Juliet walked up to me and asked me if I was looking for a job, and I told her I was.  It just so happened she was looking for a para.  Thing was, it was 50 or so miles from where I lived.  She said if I was interested, I could call the coordinator of the psychoed outpost, which I did.  I interviewed with the coordinator and the Magnolia County director of personnel.  I told them of my history and they were very interested in me.  They sort of wondered if I was that interested in them but I was determined not to seduced away again. 

 

My wife Jane and I were engaged and living together at the time.  Jane had a good job making good money and I was a student working at Arbys.  So in essence Jane partially subsidized my living expenses which I could never have afforded on what I was paid as a para.

 

 Juliet also subsidized me in a way.  Yes, the lovely crimson haired young woman lived less than 10 miles from where I was.  So we ended up car pooling, meaning she drove most of the time.  I would meet her every morning a little after 6 a.m. at a shopping center, and she would drive us to the psychoed in Magnolia County by 7:30. 

 

Juliet was just a few years younger than me, and had been a para just a year before I met her.  She had been a para for a teacher who resigned in the middle of the year so Juliet took over.  She had a degree in psychology and was in the same Master’s degree program that I was.  She was a para who became a teacher, and I was a teacher who became a para.  We were equals in almost every way, except of course she was my boss and got paid twice as much as me. 

 

Juliet and I were teaching middle school aged students with severe emotional disorders in a psychoed outpost.  Georgia has a network of psycheducational schools just for students with very severe emotional behavior issues.  There are center schools and then there are outpost schools.  Magnolia County had a small outpost which had a coordinator, a social worker, 4 teachers and 5 paras as well as an itinerant art therapist.  All of the paras who were with me that year have since become special ed teachers.  It really was that special of a place.

 

Since we were so small, we were also a very cohesive unit.  I learned from paras who had been there awhile, as well as from Juliet herself.  In many ways I had the most ideal situation a teacher/para could possibly have.  Juliet and I had a good relationship all around.  With the hours of commuting, we had a lot of time to talk and communicate.  To people who know me now, it might be difficult to believe I could be a good subordinate to a woman younger than myself who had really no greater depth of knowledge than I did.  But I had no problems with it.  I’ve been in the military, and have no problems with taking orders and following direction. 

 

Juliet was not a hard supervisor at all.  The role of supervisor was one she was just getting used to, herself.  I made it as easy as possible on her…most of the time.  I really never forgot who was in charge, so she never had to think about it.  We were just very comfortable with each other and had lots of respect for each other.

 

Paras seem to really grouse about the differential in authority between themselves and the teacher.  I have tried to explain this as a teacher.  Let me try to put it in perspective of a para, at least how I understood it.  Mush of it goes along with my military background and training.  Having superior rank does not mean a person is superior personally.  It has nothing to do with the quality of character or even technical skills.  In the military, every person in the squad has a specialty and a job which they perform with greater skill than anyone else on the team.  The officers can not do it all.  They coordinate and make sure things get done amongst all the parts.

 

Juliet was not better or smarter than me.  But she was higher on the totem pole, and I followed her and supported her all the way, no matter if I agreed or not.  Most of the time, we did agree.  But not always.  I sometimes thought she was too verbal with the boys and talked and lectured too much.   I didn’t always like all of the activities we did and thought a lot of them were silly and dumb.  But you know what?  I carried out her will because it was her job to think of the stuff and my job to carry it out.  It helped that I liked her, even though I did not always agree with her.  We had a good relationship.  She never lorded her position over me, and listened to what I had to say.  I let her know when I thought things needed some tweaking and we worked together.

 

This cohesion worked for the betterment of the students.  Juliet and I were on the same page.  The students knew that I was not going to be able to be played against her.  Our classroom was a safer place because of that.  We could actually enjoy these challenging students together and when things got tough we each had the other to go to. 

 

Because we had the relationship that we did, Juliet gave me lots of opportunities to try new things.  I added to the behavior management plan, and enhanced it with visual charts and tracking gimmicks.  I instituted a sort of token lottery system that also incorporated academics into it.  IOW, a student could earn a reinforcer for so many tokens but first they had to answer an academic question.  I also planned and delivered all of the science lessons we did, which gave Juliet a sizable planning block plus it was one less planning period she had to do.

 

I’m feeling the need to write more about this, but I’ll extend in another chapter.  I think the most important “take away” points are:

– I had a good relationship with my teacher

– I let her be the boss, and did so without resentment

– I supported her jealously and zealously. 

– I took initiative in making her life easier while challenging myself to try new things.

 

Basically, I submitted to her for the sake of the greater good.  I’m not sure I could have done that for someone I did not like or get along with.  Juliet was a hard word working and dedicated teacher.  It would have been more difficult to submit to someone who was not so competent and diligent.  She engendered respect and I happily gave it to her.  In return, she respected me and my opinions

 

In future posts I’ll talk a bit more about the programming and behavior management issues we had.  But I thought it was important to lay down the foundation which was the teacher-para relationship.  The more severe the disability, the more crucial it is that people work together as a unit and team.  Juliet and I were, in many respects, a perfect team.  It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot.  I miss those days, sometimes.  

 dick

 

 

 

IEP Process: Functional Behavior Assessments

22 Aug

I’m coming back to this series because of something I saw related to the FBA today that bugged me in a major way.

We stopped in during our community time to see Bella, who you might remember from last year. Bella has a different teacher at the psychoed center this year. She apparently had a hard summer, and I noticed she had some new fresh scratches on her face. She is not riding the bus because of behaviors there. Last year she put her head through the window. She also has issues related to aggression, cursing, compliance and staying in the classroom.

Her old teacher from last year is actually functioning as the psyhoed behavior specialist, which is amazing. She is fairly competent in managing her own students, but had no idea what a FBA was. I asked to see Bella’s FBA and it was a 7 line abomination that did not include any of the behaviors listed above including the self-injurious behaviors. The behavior intervention plan was not much better. In addition, none of the behavioral goals included any of the above targets, except for the cursing. I was hoping to find something useful to jog my memory from last year. The Present Level of Performance included the list of behaviors that Bella had exhibited while at the psychoed last year.

So, let’s talk about this FBA and ex/tend from my previous treatment when discussing the BIP.

IDEA 1997 says that if the student has behaviors that impede his/her ability to learn or the learning of others. As far as I know, IDEA 2004 does not change, alter or clarify that in any way. Clarification would be helpful as there are no guidelines for exactly how to do it. So I’ll tell how *I* do it.

The first step is to identify the target behaviors and to define them such that there would be no confusion as to what an observer is looking at when they see them. For instance, self-injurious behavior would be defined as striking, scratching, pinching or poking self with sufficient force as to cause bruising, bleeding or injury.

The next step is to assess duration, severity and frequency of the behavior as well as to assess context and consequences of a target. One way to do that is to use a checklist assessment or two, such as the FAST or the MAST, which are screening tools that can help identify the function of a behavior. Along with this, tracking the target behaviors with some sort of data collection system is essential for identifying the intent of the behaviors. Interviews with parents and other teachers are also essential features of a thorough and meaningful assessment. Reading past records, IEP’s and psychologicals can also produce some meaningful data. This also must include any and all medical data which can yield critical information.

Once all of this data is gathered, it is possible to begin writing the FBA. A proper FBA will include a description of the student and the reason why they have a BIP and an FBA. The Behaviors are listed and defined and then relevant background is presented. I’ll usually included medical information in this introduction.

Then I briefly describe the methods used for assessments. This includes what instruments are used, procedures for observations, what other materials were gathered and who was interviewed. The background and method lay the groundwork when it comes time to do a new FBA. A person can follow a similar method and merely add to the background as needed. The method also provides sufficient credibility to the process which would be crucial if courts have to get involved.

Next, I write about the results of the evaluation, going into sufficient detail as to present the data and information in a manner that would guide a reader to a logical conclusion as to the function. I’ll include a sample data sheet, scores from assessments, and any graphs and charts here. I’m also going to reveal the apparent function of the behavior here and do it so explicitly that no one can miss it in underlined, bold type e.g.

When Bella wishes to gain access to attention she will engage in self-injurious behavior such as scratching her face until she bleeds.

Finally, I write a discussion section which includes any recommendations for intervention and any concerns about the FBA. For instance, many behaviors may be multiply controlled and require different handling depending on the context or function. If there was any key information I was unable to include, I would state that here.

Basically, I’m following a format that is not altogether unlike a research article. Using this background/intro-method-results-discussion format gives me enough structure without being overly stifling. Again, this is me the writer talking. But as a parent, it would be much easier and much more interesting reading a thorough treatment of my child’s behavior than some stupid form with blanks filled in. My FBA’s become useful tools for teachers, parents and anyone who deals with a student who has behavior challenges. Neurologists and doctors have looked at and used my FBAs to make recommendations. It is very much like a sort of psychological, but more useful for looking at day-to-day behavior challenges.

A bad FBA is not worth the paper it is printed on and is a complete waste of time and space. I’m amazed more of these have not been challenged by court systems. But again, while the law says schools have to do them, they gave no guidance HOW to do it.

So I may be spending some time at the psychoed educating them. But first I’m going to see if I can speak with our new county behavior intervention specialist. Afterall, that is part of what she was hired for!

dick

IEP Process: Functional Behavior Assessments

11 Aug

I’m coming back to this series because of something I saw related to the FBA today that bugged me in a major way.

We stopped in during our community time to see Bella, who you might remember from last year. Bella has a different teacher at the psychoed center this year. She apparently had a hard summer, and I noticed she had some new fresh scratches on her face. She is not riding the bus because of behaviors there. Last year she put her head through the window. She also has issues related to aggression, cursing, compliance and staying in the classroom.

Her old teacher from last year is actually functioning as the psyhoed behavior specialist, which is amazing. She is fairly competent in managing her own students, but had no idea what a FBA was. I asked to see Bella’s FBA and it was a 7 line abomination that did not include any of the behaviors listed above including the self-injurious behaviors. The behavior intervention plan was not much better. In addition, none of the behavioral goals included any of the above targets, except for the cursing. I was hoping to find something useful to jog my memory from last year. The Present Level of Performance included the list of behaviors that Bella had exhibited while at the psychoed last year.

So, let’s talk about this FBA and ex/tend from my previous treatment when discussing the BIP.

IDEA 1997 says that if the student has behaviors that impede his/her ability to learn or the learning of others. As far as I know, IDEA 2004 does not change, alter or clarify that in any way. Clarification would be helpful as there are no guidelines for exactly how to do it. So I’ll tell how *I* do it.

The first step is to identify the target behaviors and to define them such that there would be no confusion as to what an observer is looking at when they see them. For instance, self-injurious behavior would be defined as striking, scratching, pinching or poking self with sufficient force as to cause bruising, bleeding or injury.

The next step is to assess duration, severity and frequency of the behavior as well as to assess context and consequences of a target. One way to do that is to use a checklist assessment or two, such as the FAST or the MAST, which are screening tools that can help identify the function of a behavior. Along with this, tracking the target behaviors with some sort of data collection system is essential for identifying the intent of the behaviors. Interviews with parents and other teachers are also essential features of a thorough and meaningful assessment. Reading past records, IEP’s and psychologicals can also produce some meaningful data. This also must include any and all medical data which can yield critical information.

Once all of this data is gathered, it is possible to begin writing the FBA. A proper FBA will include a description of the student and the reason why they have a BIP and an FBA. The Behaviors are listed and defined and then relevant background is presented. I’ll usually included medical information in this introduction.

Then I briefly describe the methods used for assessments. This includes what instruments are used, procedures for observations, what other materials were gathered and who was interviewed. The background and method lay the groundwork when it comes time to do a new FBA. A person can follow a similar method and merely add to the background as needed. The method also provides sufficient credibility to the process which would be crucial if courts have to get involved.

Next, I write about the results of the evaluation, going into sufficient detail as to present the data and information in a manner that would guide a reader to a logical conclusion as to the function. I’ll include a sample data sheet, scores from assessments, and any graphs and charts here. I’m also going to reveal the apparent function of the behavior here and do it so explicitly that no one can miss it in underlined, bold type e.g.

When Bella wishes to gain access to attention she will engage in self-injurious behavior such as scratching her face until she bleeds.

Finally, I write a discussion section which includes any recommendations for intervention and any concerns about the FBA. For instance, many behaviors may be multiply controlled and require different handling depending on the context or function. If there was any key information I was unable to include, I would state that here.

Basically, I’m following a format that is not altogether unlike a research article. Using this background/intro-method-results-discussion format gives me enough structure without being overly stifling. Again, this is me the writer talking. But as a parent, it would be much easier and much more interesting reading a thorough treatment of my child’s behavior than some stupid form with blanks filled in. My FBA’s become useful tools for teachers, parents and anyone who deals with a student who has behavior challenges. Neurologists and doctors have looked at and used my FBAs to make recommendations. It is very much like a sort of psychological, but more useful for looking at day-to-day behavior challenges.

A bad FBA is not worth the paper it is printed on and is a complete waste of time and space. I’m amazed more of these have not been challenged by court systems. But again, while the law says schools have to do them, they gave no guidance HOW to do it.

So I may be spending some time at the psychoed educating them. But first I’m going to see if I can speak with our new county behavior intervention specialist. Afterall, that is part of what she was hired for!

dick

Interview

17 Jun

I had my interview, and it was quite the experience.  I had no idea what to expect.  All of my interviews thus far have been with principals, the head of departments or personnel directors.  I might talk to several people but only one at a time.

 

This one started off with me writing an essay consisting of two questions.  The first asked what I would do the first month on the job, and the second question asked how I would support EBD teachers.  I'm not going to retype my answers here, except to say that my 2 prior entries did figure into it.  And thank goodness they did allow me to type my entries, because my handwriting is atrocious!

 

I arrived a bit early (as recommended in all interview literature) and discovered that Big Boss was running the interview process.  She then had me fill out the written portion of the test as described above.  After writing up my essay, I gave it to the secretary and then waited another few minutes.  I met what appeared to be another candidate for the job.  The young lady had been teaching for 5 or so years with this last year self-contained EBD.  It sounded to me like she might be looking to get herself promoted out of that position!

 

I was next ushered into the conference room, and sat before Big Boss and 4 other people for a panel interview.  Since Big Boss was at the top of my reference list, I felt comfortable enough interviewing in front of her.  The panel consisted of 3 assistant principals (2 middle schools and one elementary school) and one EBD teacher.  They had before them a multiple-page questionnaire and each took turns asking questions.  I have no idea how long this lasted, but there were at least 20 questions.  This interview bore a striking resemblance to what I would envision an oral exam to be like.  They asked me what an FBA was, what a BIP was and what a rough outline of a training session for paras, bus drivers or teachers might look like in behavior management.  The panel took turns asking questions and I answered them all.  Fortunately, I had spent some time thinking about most of these issues.  I think I did pretty well, but I'll know in a week how well I did.  When asked what questions I had, I asked Big Boss what the size and scope she saw for this position.

 

"Big." She said, "It's going to be huge.  It's exciting because it is new, but the first thing will be to find a process of defining this thing down in manageable terms."

 

That reflected a lot of my thinking.  Or worrying, more like.  I really do have a rising tide of emotion about all of this.  Of course, if I don't get the position that solves that.  I can stay being a teacher and continue with my already-full-plate of behavior issues.  And there is a considerable amount of appeal in that outcome as I'm already comfortable with it and find it enjoyable much of the time.  I worry that this new position might be too much for one person.  Or just too much for me.  And giving up my whole identity as a teacher.  A fairly odd teacher of extremely exceptional students, but I was still a teacher.  Giving that up is no easy thing.  I have enjoyed being a teacher blogger and being read by other teacher bloggers.  Will I continue to have time to blog?  And if not about the daily drama, what will I write about?

 

I'll continue to flesh all this out as things develop.

 

Two other updates:

– I attended N's funeral last weekend, and the small church was PACKED!  This was my first real experience at an old-fashioned southern black funeral.  Corretta Scott King had nothing on this little girl.  It was loud and proud all the way, and I'm sure you could hear the singing miles down the road.  The community really and truly helped support this family through a very difficult time.  It will take me some time to get used to not going out there and working with her 3x a week.

 

– My ESY student, Darius, is doing very well in his daycare setting.  In fact, he does better than most of his peers, behaviorally.  So I go 2x a week, do stuff with him and the rest of the 4 year-olds and basically have fun.  I don't really have much to work with as far as data collection.  I suppose I could do something on number of words spoken during 5 minute intervals.  But basically he seems to be social and interacts with his peers and seems to be generally well-liked by them.  Keeping him there was definitely the right move, but the ESY is of questionable value compared to what he is already getting.

 

D.

Part 2: A Profession That Eats Its Young?

12 Jun

Part one was a longish tale of my experience as an EBD self-contained classroom teacher. This was followed by a very good experience as a para in a psychoed. As that year closed, I was wrapping up my Master's Program at GSU. Some irksome policy by either the state or the university prevented me from being able to do my student teaching while being a para. My supervising teacher did hers while teaching, why couldn't I do mine? It's an insane rule. Fortunately, I was able to do my practicum during the summer which was a shorter session made even shorter by the summer Olympics. Yes, it was 1996.

 

My summer practicum was being done at a psychoed that was running a summer school. I happened to draw the higher functioning SEBD kids who were actually pretty street smart but they were also not keen to do the sort of work that I was assigned to assign them. The supervising teacher wasn't keen to do much either. Once again, I felt like I was being thrown to the wolves as I was trying to teach and there was little to zero support from the teachers or the school as no one wanted to do any academic work. And the predictably acted out. But my supervising professor rescued me, and found another placement at a private residential hospital for kids with SEBD. This worked out really well as they were actually running more of a real school instead of some sort of summer camp. And it also really worked out well as my next job would be at a residential hospital for students with SEBD in waay south Georgia.

 

The hospital job was a good one, even though it was year-round. I still got all the other school breaks, just not the summer one. But I did get 2 weeks extra vacation. In addition, my budget was thousands of dollars. I could buy whatever I needed and more, mainly because the FTE money went straight to instruction instead of filtering through endless amounts of administration. The hospital budget was entirely separate from mine. It was a locked unit, and if kids acted up too much, they were sent to the nurse who gave them a shot which knocked them out. I could teach whatever I wanted and so I increased and expanded my teaching. I actually did teach some reading and literature type things.

 

But the hospital was suffering, budget-wise. The state was cutting back and the Child and Adolescent unit was on the chopping block. There were two of us teachers there, and we were told we might want to look for other jobs. So we did.

 

I was picked up by the local psychoed, whose director happened to be from my hometown in Iowa (pop. 1500), can you believe THAT? Anyway, I was not in the main center, but in an outpost 15 miles away in another town. And then I was sent to an outpost of that outpost. I was waaay out. Me and one other teacher were out there with the high schoolers. I should have known.

 

Before starting the school year, all of the new teachers and paras were given training in the Boys Town system. It is a very structured management system, that does have a decent track record of success. I had the freshman, and actually knew some of the kids from the hospital job as they had visited our facility a time or two.

 

There were some difficulties. I had no materials. I had gone from having anything I wanted to nothing, and a budget of $150 to spend. Then there was my para. I was still not savvy what to do with them, but had learned a thing or two from working both sides. Unfortunately, my para was also a bus monitor, so she arrived with the kids and left with them. We had absolutely no time to talk. And there was no planning period. And I had to teach a regular and full curriculum. Every subject a freshman would take in high school, I had to prepare for and teach. Plus follow the Boys Town stuff.

 

Add to this some racial tension.

 

My class and the older high school students did their PE together in the gym. Or at least that's how it started out. But eventually, there was a huge brawl which shut that down. PE was easy up to that point, because they just played basketball or hung out. Now that we couldn't be in the gym, I had to prepare for PE, too. And I was on my own because my para refused to go outside on the ball field. So we had a few incidents there.

 

The real deal breaker came when one of the juniors, who had skipped school returned while I was having PE. We were playing dodge ball, which was actually fun. My version consisted of me hurling a large rubber ball at the kids as hard as I could. At their heads. They actually sort of liked it.

 

Anyway, Junior came strolling up the street and started talking to a couple of my kids through the chain link fence. Then some words were exchanged. Then he jumped the fence.

 

Junior had a gun.

 

He pointed it straight at one of my kids, right at his head. My kid never even flinched and actually dared Junior to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, I am trying to get the rest of the kids in the building, which was like herding cats. They all wanted to see someone get killed.

 

Did I mention all of these kids were Seriously Emotionally Behaviorally Disturbed? Just in case you forgot, I thought that might be good to throw out there.

 

None of them were too terribly bright, either. I have a bunch of kids who will not get out of the line of fire. Another who has a gun to his head, taunting the kid with his finger on the trigger. I have no idea where my para ran off to. Or the other teacher and her para. Or the administrator who was supposed to be out there with us. Good thing I wasn't the only fool. Junior didn't have the gun loaded, so he and my freshman just got into and old fashioned fist fight. And then Junior jumped the fence and was gone before an administrator finally arrived.

 

Jane, who was pregnant with our first child, was none too happy about the prospect of me getting shot. Neither was I. But I had all this prep work to do, so I was often there until dark.

 

A few weeks later, I testified at Junior's trial and he was promptly locked away in juvenile for a couple of years.

 

It was the middle of October when the head of the outpost called me into her office. She noticed that I didn't seem too happy. She then said my old job was still open. Would I like to go back? I thought for a minute or two and said I just might.

 

She dialed the number to the hospital, and I talked with the acting director. Would they mind if I came back? Would they be okay with that?

 

"OMG, YES! Please come back! We would love to have you back! We need you back! When can you start?" It turns out that the hospital didn't close after all and were stocked to the gills with children and adolescents in need of therapeutic educational programming.

 

At least I was wanted somewhere. I had to finish the quarter, which was just a week. I stopped by the hospital, got my old keys back and promptly pulled stuff off of shelves to prepare for my next and last week at the psychoed. I could not believe how easy it was to just have so much stuff. So I went back to the hospital, where I was wanted, needed and loved.

 

As it turned out, the hospital did end up closing the next year, which is when I got my present job in Magnolia County. Which is why I was the way I was with that principal who was peddling a self-contained job. That psychoed thing was still fairly fresh in my mind, and I was not interested in a repeat performance. Again.

 

I've stuck in this business despite some very bad experiences. Hopefully I'm not scaring too many prospective prospects off! But these are not the sort of things you will hear from college professors or the administrators trying to lure hire you into their EBD positions. And any teachers who might have been through these sorts of trials are probably long gone; long since fled to somehwere that paid more for less stress, like the military.

Told you things would get kind of gritty around here.

The fact is, I was shoveled off, abandoned, left on my own and generally taken advantage of, not just by administrators but by other teachers.

That first job, I was assigned a mentor who was the department head. She never once darkened my doorway. She called me to her room more than once, but never observed and gave feedback. No one did, except the administrator who evaluated me and promptly hung me out to dry.

 

Student teaching, I was never given feedback by the teacher at that psychoed center. I never saw her actually teach anything either.

 

And the deal with the gun; Where was everyone then? Junior belonged to the other teacher who was stationed out in deep space with me. Where was She?

There are many wonderful colleagues out there, who have supported and inspired me along the way. But there are quite a few who would just as likely shoot your back as leave it uncovered. You look around your fox hole and discover there's no one else there!

This is a tough business I've chosen…or rather a tough business that chose me.

 

dick