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The End of NCLB..?

25 Sep

On Friday afternoon, my wife called out to me “Hey!  You have to see this!”

And there on the news was a story about the waivers offered by our beloved national education secretary that would allow states to escape many of the more ornerous NCLB provisions.  Which is to say, almost all of them.  And the headline read “No Child Left Behind Ends.”

Could it be true?  Could it REALLY be true?  To me, this would be the educational equivalent of the the falling of the Berlin Wall.  Perhaps…just perhaps..we might see some real reform in education.  Meaningful reform.  Something besides the test scores.

Georgia is a state that has already delivered its waiver application.  Oddly enough, it was delivered by one of the authors of the original NCLB law, Johnny Isakson.  Remember him?  Basically, congress has not done its job in doing anything to fix this law simply because it is unfix-able.  It never was and it never will be.

Isakson was one of the original authors of No Child Left Behind. But last week the Georgia Republican sponsored a bill with other GOP lawmakers to scrap the adequate yearly progress requirement. No Child Left Behind requires that all students be “proficient” in math and science by 2014. Those benchmarks are widely considered to be unrealistic.

Isakson said that after a decade of implementation the law “has served its purpose in raising expectations and standards.””We knew when we wrote No Child Left Behind that if it worked, we would reach this point where schools would not be able to continue to meet AYP (adequate yearly progress) because the bar is set higher and higher each year for schools,” he said.

According to Isakson, they knew when they wrote the law, that schools would eventually all fail. The law was PROGRAMMED to fail!  These are the people we send to Washington and this is what drinking that water and breathing that air does to people.  And it illustrates perfectly why the congress has no business dictating federal education standards.  The law was destined for bankruptcy even while it was being written and the lawmakers who wrote it KNEW it!

But this is not the end of NCLB.  It is not the end of testing.  It is not the end of the alternate assessment that has plagued those teachers of students with multiple and severe disabilities.  There is still Race To The Top, which Georgia just received a year ago.  And those who are most saddled by a law that never had them in mind when it was written, will be the last to realize the benefits of this waiver.  That is because the waiver was also not written with these students in mind.  But hopefully what eventually trickles down will be no worse than what is already in place.

I am somewhat hopeful that the career and work-ready provisions might at least help those students who could be employable with enough and the right kind of training, when they would otherwise stand no chance of getting into a college. And yes, there are a large number of students where this is true; they will not be able to get into a college and they have no desire to do so.  But at least by fostering a culture of productivity and relevant skill-based training, it might prevent them from dropping out and actually give them an edge in life.  At the present time, the work skills of a college drop-out and a high school drop-out are almost exactly the same due to vocational funding and programs being cut and minimized in order to switch the focus to collage-ready.  And this focus has been particularly hard-felt for students with disabilities.

NCLB has been little more than an expensive and nightmarish public awareness campaign.  According to Isakson, they wanted to put a spotlight on poor performing schools and poor performing groups of students by raising expectations and raising standards.  But the law was outdated the day it was signed, as the world economy has been globalized.    We need innovation, creativity, enthusiasm for learning, entrepreneurship and exploration.  And these were exactly the things that NCLB has succeeded in killing with the standardized test-taking culture that saw the diminishing or elimination of the arts in education.  While the rest of the world has been learning how to solve problems and create, our kids have been learning how to fill in bubbles.

After Almost a Year…

12 Aug

I am back!  Sort of…

For the past year, I wondered if this blog was one of those things that was keeping me from finding a permanent position.  Someone might be offended by what I write here or perhaps it is just a little bit too candid for many.  But as I was reading my post about discrimination, I realized that squelching my voice is not the answer.  I gave it over 6 months of this blog being private and have nothing to show for it.  Perhaps I am just that bad at interviewing.  Or perhaps there is some other reason.  I have no idea what the reason is that I am not teaching right now, and no one has told me.

 

Last Summer, I interviewed for several positions that seemed perfect, hand-in-glove, to my experience and background.  And I saw at least one of those positions remain unfilled weeks after I had applied.  And this summer I see a repeat of that exact same thing.  There is the expression “better than nothing.”  And I am apparently not even THAT good!  When a school interviews me and then decides to leave the spot vacant rather than hire me, I have a serious, serious problem.  It would be one thing if I was uncertified or unqualified or had no experience or even some devastatingly bad experience.  But none of those things is apparent.  I seem to have a huge blind spot.

SO…waiting for substitute jobs and soul searching is where I am at the moment.  But I think I will write a bit about substituting, and other things as they come up because at least blogging about education makes me feel more productive!  If being an advocate for people with disabilities and speaking out against prejudice makes me undesirable as a special education teacher, than our public school system is truly irredeemable.

Sometimes It’s Fun

30 Aug

I know in the last post I made coming back sound pretty bad. And it was very seriously difficult coming back after having tried the most radical move I could to escape. The first couple of days, I did have a familiar dizziness and anxiety left over from last year. However, that has really dialed down as I get back into things. But I have made some changes in my approach and attitude that make a world of difference. It will all be good, no matter what the future.

When the new teacher came, she was not sure what to do so she let the paras take a lead. This is actually a good thing, because it helped the paraprofessionals form a more cohesive and competent team. When I walked in, they already had several things underway, and were doing all of the changing, positioning and feeding. It made me realize how much I needed to delegate down that I did not do last year. I tried to do everything last year, and it was frustrating me.

I also started the year last year loaded for bear even before the first student walked in. And then got more angry as the year went on! I’m not doing that this year. Yes, there are a lot of things to be angry and insulted about. But I can’t do anything about the caseload or class size. So, I just do what I can as I go along, one day, one student, one task at a time.

A saying I hear a lot is “Failure is not an option.” Interesting history behind that quote. It popped into my mind as I was working with a student on trying to see if he could read some words or be taught to read words. I was asked ab out what I was doing and why. He already did his GAA last year, so as far as accountability and academic standards, he could be counted as done. However, I simply had an innate desire to see what I could do with this student. I did it for the fun of it. A truly astounding concept in today’s educational climate, isn’t it? What sort of teacher does anything in the classroom for the fun of it, if it is not going to be on the almighty test? Especially when the likelihood of failure is pretty high.

Me.

I figured I had little to lose by working with this student, who enjoyed what I was doing with him, and it was worth a shot. The results are still inconclusive as to whether he was reading any of the words, such is the nature of working with nonverbal students. I’m talking words like go, up, more, down, come, and get. He can understand somewhat if you tell him to ‘get down’ from his chair, so these should not be too far out of reach if he is able to discriminate between the words. Anyway, failure is a total option in this exercise, but it is still worth doing. I can still learn a thing or two by doing it, which makes it only a failure in a conventional sense.

These are just the rambles of a teacher who is messing around and teaching…sometimes just for the fun of it!

Divine Humor

22 Aug

There is a very real reason why this blog has the name that it does.  There is the life that we think we choose for ourselves and then there is the life that seems to choose us.  And there are things that happen that we could not possibly make up.  And this is one of those.

A week ago, I got a call from one of my paras….one of my former paras…saying that they could not find the switches and AAC devices.  This is a very big deal since ALL of those students are nonverbal and all acces to any curriculum relies on switches and devices and such.  I remembered packing them up but not exactly where I had put them. They said they would keep looking.  2 days ago, they called again, saying they still had no idea where they were. I made trek in and sure enough, the devices were in the storage closet where I left them.  The kids were all there and some sort of seemed to recognize me.  It was a bit weird being there everyone was okay, and I began the process of trying to help a rather shell shocked and overwhelmed teacher what there was there for the each student.  This was not a new teacher, she is a veteran, but very new to this particular population.  No one walks in knowing just what to do.  And then the new speech teacher, who did look young and new, walked in and I began talking to her a bit about the kids and how speech had worked in the past.  All in all, it was me simply slipping into the old familiar role.  But after an hour, I was able to walk out and go home to wrestle with ideas on how to market myself better.

The next afternoon, the call came.  I finally got an offer for a job.  Not just an offer, but it would be fair to say that I was cajoled and woo’ed.  I don’t know if “beg” would be too strong of a word or not.  But I was asked to come in.  Real soon.  And so, tomorrow is my first day of work in my new job!  Actually it is only a temporary longterm sub job.   But it is a job, right?  Got my foot in the door!

Thing is….this is the same exact door I walked out of just 3 months ago.  Yes, meet the new boss!  Same as the old boss!  I have my old job back.  It would not be an understatement for me to say I have VERY mixed feelings about this.  I left to find something else.  And I am still searching.  Suffice it to say that God obviously thinks I have something yet to discover in this particular spot, with these particular students.  It looks like we will be together again, for good or ill.  So let’s see what we can do.

The odds are the same as last year…in fact the job is even more daunting if that is even even possible, than when I left.  So, I’m rolling up the sleeves and working on getting psyched to go in show ’em how it’s done.

Again.

Interviews

18 Jul

Ten years ago, when I last set out on the job hunting trail, I went to exactly two interviews in the same county.  I had driven up the night before and stayed in a hotel.  The first interview was with an assistant principal and we seemed to get along almost instantly.  We had a real easy and leisurely conversation about the position and just about teaching and education in general.  I don’t remember how long it lasted, but it was a good while, and I left feeling pretty good.

The second interview was at the other high school and I was not sure which it was for, but I found out when I got there.  It was for an EBD self-contained, and I had been there and done that.  I basically said I was not interested in an position that put me off in a back corner, isolated from everyone else.  That interview lasted about 4 minutes.  I walked out of there, feeling like I may have dodged a bullet.

The assistant principal who called and offered me the job two days later would eventually become my principal.  And I was not so isolated and was in fact all over the community as it was truly a community-based program.  But after about 7 years, it began to change radically and under the yoke of NCLB, the community-based became less and less.  And by the end of 10 years, I found myself in a corner, isolated from everyone else.

This summer, the shortest interview ever was the one that did not happen.  I am on summer schedule which means stay up late and wake up late.  But one morning the telephone rang at 9 a.m.  I rolled out, and answered the phone.

“Hello, I’m Ms.Principal from SuchAndSuch Middle School!  I was wondering if you were still interested in the postiion you had applied for with us?”

“Sure, I’m still interviewing, yes…”

I’m a bit groggy but now waking quickly and trying to remember about this particular position out of the many I had looked at and applied for.  On the TeachGeorgia site, where schools post their openings, sometimes the positions themselves are a bit vague.  Sometimes they just say “Grades 6-8 combination”  or “Grades 6-8 special education.”  Neither of these are terribly descriptive, but I hit “apply” anyway, despite the vagueness and the fact that this county and school was a bit far.  Now, as I wake up, I hear the principal, in a more testy voice, “Well, you don’t seem too excited…”

I pause at this….this seemed like an odd comment, but then I am scrambling for a pen and paper to write down contact information.  “Oh, yes!  I’m still interested, and looking forward to talking with you about…ummm…which position is this for, exactly?”

At this point, the lady at the other end got very exasperated, “I’ll tell you what…you do a little more research on me and who I am and call me back!”  >Click<

Wow.  I had a good mind to call the county back to make sure this was not some sort of prank or joke.  But this seems a bullet dodged perhaps.  It also woke me up to the fact that the job market is VERY different than it was 10 years years ago.  Special education teachers are still sought after.  Especially those with my certificate.  In fact, my home county has 3 openings for HS SID/PID….including the one I just left.  All of the high schools are turning their programs at the same time which is a bit scary from a parent’s perspective.

The interviews I have had this summer have all been really good.  I would call them great, in fact.  Never less than an hour and we spend time talking about what is important to us as educators or they as a school system.  Each and every time, I walk out feeling good, if not great.  I feel like I was made for this position, whichever position it might happen to be.  And these are some very divergent positions across a wide spectrum of settings and subjects.  But I come from a wide background so have experiences far and wide.  I can do a lot of different things and do them well.

My first rejection, as it turns out, looks to be rather exceptional, as other interviewers have not gotten back to me or contacted me.  Of course when they don’t answer your phone calls or emails, that is not necessarily a good sign, either!  But the waiting and not knowing is just as bad as a rejection in a way.  Especially when we had spent the sort of time we had in an extended interview process.  It really puts some doubt in my mind and makes me wonder what is going on in the background.  Were my interviews the sort that was just done as part of a process since they already had someone in mind they wanted to hire?

I have encountered this once before several years ago, when I interviewed for a behavior specialist position in our county.  I was glad they hired the person they did, as she was extremely qualified.  But if I had known she had applied, I would not have bothered because the the job description was written for her!  I applied just because I was afraid some people who were much less qualified  had applied and the thought of one of them getting into such an important position scared me!

With 2 weeks left of summer before most counties start their preplanning, I’m quite nervous.  I did have another wonderful interview last week and am hoping this one is the one.  I have loved all of these other situations and systems that I have visited.  They are all newer facilities than the 35 year old building I have been in for the last 10 years.  They seem to have a special caring for the students I would be serving.  They seem to be supportive of the kids and each other.  They are generally smaller, more intimate cultures and communities.  And it is the supportive community that I seek more than anything, rather than just the room in the back corner of the building.  Wonderful things happened in that back room in the corner, no doubt.  But I’ ready for wonderful things to happen in a place not quite so isolated.

Check out The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!

9 Jul

I was hoping that the next post I was writing would be all about the new job I found and the excitement involved in looking forward to a fresh new start in a fresh new place.

I hasn’t happened….yet.  I have had several good interviews and I walked out of each of them feeling like I had hit it out of the ballpark.  These were positions that screamed my name as far as the skills required and my background, experience and desires.  I was wondering “How am I going to choose between them…they all seem great!”  But then days turn into weeks and no follow-up call comes.  One did send an email stating they had hired someone else, and that is totally fine.  It is possible there are some other highly qualified, experienced people who are also looking might be better suited to some spots.  But Some of these seemed SO tailor-made for me.  I’m scratching my head, but continuing to pursue what pening there are and trying not to get discouraged.

You can only imagine Jane’s anxiety.  And my two boys also know that this summer is different because we are not taking any real long trips or vacations and holding on to the money a little tighter.  They know it is all about Daddy’s job.  At least we still have medical insurance for a couple more months.

But I DO have some good news to share!  Liz Ditz has been a sort of guardian angel of my blog since its earliest days, linking, commenting and promoting articles she thought were good, and driving a lot of readers my way.  She is just a dynamo of reading and writing and promoting the cause of disability advocacy.  Every blogger should be so lucky to have a Liz in their readership!

A few weeks ago, she emailed and asked about an article I had written from my IEP series and wondered if I would be interested in participating in a project of contributing it toward a book she and some other folks are working on.  And so after doing some editing and updating, we finished it and you can read the revised version of my article on IEP goals at the Thinking Persons Guide To Autism which will eventually become a print book!  How cool is that?

I invite you to seriously check the blog out, because it has many awesome articles written be some very accomplished bloggers.  I totally wish I had a resource like this in the earliest days of son’s diagnosis.  It is a common sense and scientific look at autism issues without the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that I see in so much autism literature and articles by parents and professionals in the field while being sensitive to the emotional overhang associated with autism.  There are some great articles there that are worth a look as a professional as well as a parent.  This blog is decidedly parent-centric written by and for parents but is a great resource for teachers and othe professionals too.

The long, hard road

3 Jun

This year was stressful for everyone, and I am SO glad school is out and over.  However, the long, hot, hard road of the job search starts in earnest.

And my first real rejection.  Ouch.

It’s not so much a rejection as an acceptance of someone else.  In my interviews, I’ve always felt pretty comfortable.  I have a good track record, I have good things that have happened, I have stuck it out and put in a lot of the hard work.  But there are people who are or have been in it longer or have more to show for it.    I guess I should feel good that I made the interview round of the process.  There are a lot of applications I have out there where I did not make it at all.  I try to be positive but there is a tightness in my gut that wonders just how long and hot this summer is going to be.    I really thought I had this one in the bag as I thought I had answered everything to perfection and beyond.  But someone better came in.  Or at least I hope that is the case.

So I put out a few more applications to places for things that were not necessarily my first choice.  Sometimes taking a second choice is okay, and I have certainly done that before.    But I don’t know what to do if that avenue is closed off.  I like teaching and can’t think of anything I would rather do.  But maybe I do need to think about other things I could do and widen the search.  While special educators are still in need, for the first time in 10 years there might be more people looking than positions that need to be filled.

Are there really suddenly more highly qualified people out there?  I don’t know, but it is going to be a wilder ride than I might have thought.

D.

Saying Goodbye

26 May

When writing the following goodbye letter, I was totally and unexpectedly ambushed by the emotion that bubbled through.  It is just now, during the final days and hours of school that it has started to hit me that I will not be coming back her with these kids.  And I have spent a lot of time in this room with these kids.  I am still busy and still working to get all the end-of-year stuff done, but it is creeping in…it’s almost over.

I’ve been ready for the end for so long, I did not expect the leaving to reach out and snag my emotions like that.  But it did and it might yet get me some more before it’s all over.

But here it is…me saying good bye:

 

Dear Parents of  My Students,

There is this rumor going around that I will not return to Newton High School next school year.  In fact it is not a rumor at all, but it is true.   I resigned my position effective the end of the year and am applying for other positions both inside and outside of the county for next year.

The last 10 years have been a wonderful adventure and journey of learning about your children and your families and working together to meet the needs of this unique population.  I have professionally and personally grown so much and have been taught so much by these students.  In many ways, the students here teach everyone else the true meaning of compassion, caring, understanding, cooperation, patience, perseverance and integrity because they demand so much more than any other students. 

During the past year, despite many challenges, each and every student in my program made progress and improved from where they started.  It has been an honor and privilege to be a small part of that. 

No matter where I end up, I will continue to be an advocate for all of our children, regardless of disability.  I have to admit the emotional aspect of leaving comes as a bit of a surprise to me. There is a bond with each student that has passed through this room and for the first time in 10 years, I won’t be back to carry on.

I want to thank you all for your support over the past years as it does take a full team working together.  I know a little about the challenges of raising a child with exceptional needs as my own son has a diagnosis of autism.  I have looked upon each of you with so much admiration and respect for what you do each and every day.  I get paid for it, you do not.  I wish everyone well and really am praying, as you are, that the district finds a good teacher to improve on the work we’ve already started.

Thank you and God bless,

Daniel Dage

Serving Students with severe disabilities

specialed.wordpress.com

“Inspire Greatness”

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.

I may have waited too long…

1 May

Perhaps  10 years is too long in this particular setting.

It has been awhile since I updated this blog. I have been busy, and the business is reaching a feverish pitch as annual reviews blend in with end of year checklists and tasks and re-evaluations and on top of that, my own campaign to find another job.

All of this adds up to more stress on top of a job that has been stressful all year long with all sorts of issues. But I have always met all of the challenges and dealt with them. Every year, I somehow make it through and marvel at how I ever did it.

Not everyone can handle the stress that is involved with serving individuals with severe disabilities. But most teachers I know do not cite the students as the biggest stressors. Lack of administrative support and the huge burden of paperwork rank among the top reasons educators leave the field of special education.

I have not talked about a former colleague of mine lately, although he does occasionally keep in touch. The stress on him was so heavy that he had a nervous breakdown and was carried out on a stretcher…more than once. I remember thinking those few years ago that I did not want things to get that bad. And maybe then it was that I began to look around at other options.

My first 6 years of teaching here, I drove the bus for our community outings, and so each year I had to get a bus physical. It wasn’t much of a physical, but it was at least blood pressure, pulse and weight. And none of those numbers fluctuated very much. I was generally healthy. However I did smoke. Smoking, besides all the health and social costs is also expensive and addicting. It was the fact that I was tired of being an addict that I finally quit a couple years ago. And then my weight ballooned so badly it was impacting my knees. So I began a diet and exercise program and managed to get the weight under control. All of these measures helped buy me more time and hopefully extended my shelf life.

But the load and stress this year has finally taken its toll. I was feeling a bit dizzy the last couple of days and had the school nurse take my blood pressure. And sure enough it was high. Not ER high, but a source of major concern nonetheless.  The paras got a bit worried and called the nurse to check me again in the afternoon, and by then I was back in my normal range.  I half-joked that they were overly concerned because if something happened to me, they might actually have to do some work!  Ha ha!

So I am wondering: Are there a number of other teachers out there stressing more than usual this year? Has it taken a toll health-wise? I know I have a number of areas where I can improve my life style, mainly getting more sleep and laying off the caffeine. Those two alone can probably get me back in the normal range if I can also reduce some stress. Hopefully I can survive the next couple of weeks when all my annual reviews are done and I have less overhead….hopefully. They always like to pile on more and more at the end and so much of it seems needless.

I do want to write more, and that is one way to vent off a bit. And I also want to do a little series about the past ten years “by the numbers.”

But I need to make it through the next couple of weeks without having to be carted off in a gurney!