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7 Tips for a Successful Job Fair Experience

14 Mar

In my county or any other county for that matter when attending a job fair

I just returned from our county’s Teacher Job fair and it was a bit of a hoot. First off, I was incredibly nervous going into this thing. While I think most people are nervous about job interviews, I was a bit more nervous than most people, because I knew a lot of the people there i.e. the Supt. of HR, the director of Special ed. plus my own administrators at my own school plus countless other people in the system. And the first question that I knew that would be asked was, “What are you doing here?!?” I knew this fair wasn’t for me, but the system had no provision for voluntary transfers this year. So I was willing to do my own legwork, and this fair was a place where I thought I could have a chance to talk with many administrators in one shot.

There really were a TON of people in attendance. Keep in mind, this fair was only recruiting for secondary science, math and fully certified special education (I’m in 2 out of 3 of those). It was very narrowly focused, and yet it was still pretty packed at 10:30. I debated about whether to go in or come back later but just went in, after taking a deep breath. I walked across a drizzly parking lot and got in lines where people registered and got name tags.

And this is the part where I’m going to tell you what to do or not to do:

1. Get Certified. This seems like a no-brainer, but there were still people showing up who were not certified and still hadn’t even gone through the process. You can begin by going to the Georgia Standards Commission website and learning about the process and applying.

2. Read the notice of what the district is looking for. You can find out all about job fairs and recruitment at the TeachGeorgia site. This is a great resource for teacher job hunters in Georgia.  It’s been a few years ago, but I was registered on there and did get calls from administrators during the summer.  A bonus tip is to have your profile link to your own web page/resume.

3. Bring your certificate/copies with you. They were really checking and screening those today, so people who did not have theirs had to go to another line where a helpful person would help you pull it up and run a copy. But that slows you down, and you’ll look unprepared.

4. Bring multiple resume copies. I think most people know and do this already, but it’s too important NOT to mention.

5. Get and fill out an application beforehand. Most school system applications can be obtained online, and many can be completed online. Go ahead and fill one out and submit it, then have a copy to keep with you when you go to a job fair or interview.

6. Talk and network with other perspective job hunters. While there might be some degree of competitiveness, there is also a possibility of some of these folks becoming your coworkers. While I talked to a few nice opeople, I also met a couple of surly characters who had their game face on and were not interested in chatting. I found myself hoping that I would never have to work with them and had a thought about pointing them out to my HR contact. However, I do have faith in the people doing the hiring and interviewing in the special education department that they will be able to sort out the nonhackers. And some people talk when they asre nervous and some would rather not. For the latter group, I wonder why they are teachers. I find talking helps lower the tension, but maybe that’s just me.

7. Have work samples. This tip alone is worth your time, and is your reward for reading this far. It’s my contribution to teacher innovation. The light bulb went off in my head yesterday. I basically put pictures on my mp4 player, as well as a short video I did, just to show and wow whoever I talked to about how I might use technology in a class. While it wasn’t exactly a powerpoint, it worked just like one. Now I had a portable way to show off my stuff. Trouble is, I never had a chance to use it.

I was in the process of standing in the special ed. line waiting to be screened by my special ed. director, where I figured I was going to have to answer that question. But the associate superintendent got to me first and that was the end of my job fair experience. He said he was willing to work on some sort of transfer later once he knew where all the openings were.  He seemed like he was willing to work with me, even though there was no provisions made for voluntary transfers this year.

I can only hope, but without getting my hopes up too high.  Last year, the principal had told me I would make an excellent coteacher in science.  But that was a different principal who knew he was leaving and could say whatever he wanted.  By the time I realized that there was not much of an intention to move me, it was too late to ask for a transfer or it would have been denied in any case.  So this year, I am perfectly okay with staying if I have to but moving if I can.  I’ve got good people to work with, good people to work for.  But there are other worlds to conquer and learn.

I did a small poll of a few people at the job fair and I discovered that while there were a ton of teacher wannabes there, there are very, very, very few who are both willing and able to do SID/PID at any level, let alone at the high school.  On some level I see why, but on another it is depressing.

Blogging Elluminate: Aligning Standards for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

25 Feb

I just finished an Elluminate session put on by our state DOE featuring Dr. Shawnee Wakeman from UNC Charlotte. You can see a copy of that session here. I was good and quiet…for at least the first half of it!

I’ve watched a few Elluminate recordings but this was my first live one. Well, my second if you count the one from yesterday which I showed up late to. It is definitely a cool medium but it also takes time to warm up to it. It also takes more concentration than just listening to a podcast or watching a video because ideally you’re supposed to react and participate. So there are some definite chat aspects to it. Sort of like Yahoo Chat with a Whiteboard and a lot less spam.

One complaint I have with Elluminate or at least the rendition of it that I experienced is that I would’ve liked to have seen profiles of other participants for reasons that I’ll get into in a moment. I did see and input my own profile into (including the URL to this blog). But I don’t think anyone else saw it.

Dr. Wakeman was the primary presenter and if you log in to get the Elluminate archived session, you will probably also get a copy of the power point. Today was day 2 of a 2 part presentation and if I would have been able to make more of that one I might have had less to say in the first one! I did manage to listen to a lot of it from the archive during my planning time (such that it is) and got up to speed. I also poked around her site to look at some of the other work her and her colleagues are doing. And I can’t find the link to it, but some of the work regarding different levels of intentional communication sort of resonated with me. A huge part of what we do with our students is trying to raise and harness the level and sophistication of that intentionality.

I won’t get into the entire presentation as there was a sizable portion at the beginning that went over and through me. I still had a room full of kids as we had buses that were running late. My paras are really good, but that late in the day everyone is just letting off steam. And sometimes the kids can get loud and restless, too! It was just difficult following along right then, which goes back to what I said about Elluminate requiring more sustained attention than I initially expected. With the recorded version, you can always pause it and come back. When it is “live,” if you snooze, you lose!

Once the students and paras were all gone and after the cleaning lady had buffed my floor with her diesel-powered buffer (LOUD), I was able to tune in. But I have to admit to taking more time to get turned on. This is where having profiles would have helped fill in a few blanks, such as the grade and instructional level that people taught. A lot of the material seemed to be pretty far above where my students live, and if it weren’t for me deciding early on that I wanted to try to blog, I might have left early. But I’m glad I stuck around. I thought Dr. Wakefield did a good job of hitting on some ideas for increasing the depth and breadth of knowledge during our instruction. And she did actually get to me on a couple of points (although I didn’t let her know it at the time) as far as continuing to do the same things over and over and over and over and over again.

Yeah, guilty. That’s me. I do have a kid who has been trying to identify his name from an array of 3 for 5 years. And still he can’t do it independently more than 30 percent of the time. HOWEVER, we did (FINALLY) get him to identify the penny, nickel, quarter and dime. After 5 years. And he’s counting to 5 after learning the numbers 1-5. So here’s the tough part; knowing when to quit. It took him 5 years (at least) to master those few skills. We’re extending to numbers 6-10 and deepening to counting other things but I could have just as easily given up 2 years ago once he finished his GAA. But I’m stubborn like that.

Is being stubborn an asset or a liability in this business? It probably depends on the quality of judgement. I’m still working on that part of it.

But as a high school teacher trying to do this with students who have severe and profound (mostly profound) cognitive disabilities there was still some distance between the expectation and what I see myself being able to do with a room full of students. Dr. Wakeman did sort of address that, which is about where I piped in because it was the first I was able to really get turned on to her material. I think if, as educators, we can succeed in jumping the enormous gap between a high school profound student and their grade level standard, doing it for the rest of the student population would be absolute gravy. Once we landed people on the moon, flying to Califronia or even China didn’t seem so difficult. Same thing, here. So my recommendation for future training would be to zero in on conquering that challenge: the distance between the most profound student and the highest grade-level standard. So much of the conversation on aligning standards seems to be akin to getting to California from Georgia when my kids are trying to get to there from the moon! Can they do it? Yeah, maybe with the same amount of time, intensity and resources as an Apollo moon mission. But no one is offering NASA-sized resources to my class at the moment. Perhaps I’m still thinking too small. I’m willing to try and think bigger and jump higher.

Anyway, it was a worthwhile presentation that was done well. I did come away with some new insight and not all of it was guilt! Perhaps doing more with less would improve future presentations, but only if there are other loudmouths like me in the room. It’s the participatory potential of Elluminate that can make the house rock. So thank you Dr. Wakeman, for virtually visiting us in Georgia!

By the way, I had no idea what a Dip Dog was either. So here you go!

Of course, I already had a lot of background in this material, thanks in large part to Dr. Toni Waylor-Bowen (she needs her own webpage) and her partner in crime at the time, Jessie Moreau. Dr. Bowen was the moderator of this session and everyone needs to give her kudos for being such a good (and patient) sport to some of my snarkiness. Regular readers know my feelings toward the GAA and she did a swell job of fielding my comments and questions. I might invite her to do a podcast or some sort of interview type of thing in the future to address some of those issues. As it was, we did sort of get into it toward the end of the Elluminate session which may or may not have made it more interesting. I think we could have gone on for some additional time, but at 5:00 most of us were ready to go home. Or use the bath. TMI but at least more truthful for me!

I think I might blog Dr. Bowen sometime separately later on, because she does have a good story, lots of experience and is totally willing to help and share.
So any and all, feel free to have at me in the comments!

We Need a Better Transition Program

7 Nov
The way NCLB is currently structured and the way schools are really pushing and driving, now is the time to straighten out the transition-to-work emphasis, especially for those students who are older than 18.  I currently have 2 that should have/could have graduated at 18, but they are being served in the public school system in my classroom.  Is the focus on academics the best thing for them at this age?  Certainly not for my students or those with more moderate intellectual disabilities.  The unemployment rate for students with disabilities runs 80-90%, and this is because school systems are ill-equipped for this task.  Public high schools are being pushed and pressured to offered a curriculum that prepares all students for college.  The large vocational programs that were in place in the 1970’s and ’80’s are now long gone and are largely replaced by more academic space or by computer labs. 
 
So on top of the demands for offering the regular education curriculum for all of my students, I am also having to try to offer some sort of meaningful job/employment services and skills.  These skills are not aligned with the basic core academic standards that I am supposed to be using in order to teach.  The daily living skills are also not aligned to core standards.  And yet, when I submit lesson plans, they must include the state academic standards and must somehow align.  This is the basic problem that NCLB brings to the local school system.  We are not doing that good of a job in the core mission of academics and we are also tasked with teaching some sort of meaningful vocational skills. 
 
The problem is that the least restrictive environment for a 16 year-old is not the same as it is for a 20 year-old.  And yet, that is exactly how it works in our school system.  Regular students are either working or going to further their education while students with severe disabilities have no other choice but to remain in the same building, in the same classrooms with the same teachers until they age out at 21+ years of age.  Other students have moved on while those with severe disabilities are stuck.  And for all of my training and background I simply do not have the resources to offer everything to everyone all the time.  When NCLB first started impacting those of us who taught this population, there was a lot of talk about aligning our goals with the standards.  We were to just take what we were already doing and find some way to make it fit into the regular curriculum.  Some things work more natural than others.  For instance, speaking and communicating are part of almost every task we do and that easily aligns.  We can count things that approach an algebra standard.  However, when we get into the real meat and guts of a high school academic curriculum, very little fits into what a student with severe disabilities does in the real world and in real life.  Geometry, American literature, physical science and world cultures are not very relevant to them.  That doesn’t mean they can’t learn it or that we can not teach them.  But when a skill has to be taught 500-1500 times in order to be mastered, is that the best use of our time?  To be sure, teaching the core content takes alot of creativity and is sometimes even fun.  It does, in fact, reflect just what their peers are doing, only at a more basic level.
 
However, at the age of 18, that is no longer true.  Their peers or not still in high school.  They have moved on, and so it is that the students with severe disabilities should also move on.  The present academically focused atmosphere of NCLB arguably serves its purpose but there gets to be a point where is becomes an even more serious impediment and liability.  Students need to be preparing for work outside of school.  They need to get outside of the bell schedule, outside of class changes and out of their desks.  They need to be in a seperate place where the focus is solely on transitioning to work.  The regular high school is not trhe least restrictive environment for students who are 19-21+.  They need to be in a place better suited to train them towards goals that will better serve them outside of the constraints of NCLB.  A student could opt to continue to work towards the regular credentials, of course, but there should also be another option besides spending the entire 7-8 years after middle school in one building, in one room.  This simply turns high school SID/PID rooms into yet another version of institutionalization.  No other population of student gets handled and treated this way.
 
To that end, we do need to do a better job of including our students in the regular education setting, even if it is for a modified period of time.  At the present time, the opportunity for discimination is entirely too rampant.  I have voiced concern about mainstreaming and inclusion before.  But after waking up to some issues with being discriminated against, I realize that the only way to combat it is to always be around and in everyone’s face.  Plus, for my part, if they won’t let me get away from SID/PID than perhaps I can gain access to the regular education classroom by getting my students placed there.  Suddenly I become a more critical part of the landscape as teachers scramble trying to figure out what to do with these kids.
 
So two things need to happen: 1.) Make a final drive towards full inclusion 2.) Establish a place for those who graduate from high school to be served until they are aged out, where the emphasis is vocational skills rather than the core standards mandated by NCLB.
 
It’s really going to be up to parents to make demands toward this, though.  I’m speaking as both teacher and parent but know that as an employee of the school system my voice can more easily be squelched.  Plus this might not be something other parents want, so I’m curious about that.  Should we more fully include those with severe and profound disabilities? 
 
I will say to you parents that the regular school system is simply too poorly equipped to offer your student the vocational training that he/she really and truly needs.  The mission of the school system is to educate students according to the state curriculum standards.  That will always come first, and everything else is extra, regardless of what is put on the IEP.  We can write lovely goals and a lovely transition plan but that neither compels nor empowers us to carry out those plans.  The IEP is pretty much toothless in areas that do not align with NCLB.  If it does not address the state curriculum, I’m going to have a hard time carrying it out because the law clearly mandates what I’m required to do — teach to the standards.  And I do not have sufficient time to even do that very well.  So guess what happens to those goals, objectives and transition plans?  They are being sidelined.
 
Under IDEA, all students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)  However, NCLB has totally changed the definition of “appropriate.”  It is all about the state mandated curriculum and meeting standards of performance mandated by the federal government.  So you may want your child to learn some functional skills like tying his/her shoe, going to the bathroom, do some sorting, assembling or other vocational/life skill tasks.  However we at the school are under serious constraints of time and resources.  I’m going to do my best for the students that I have, and their parents but this is not the same business that it was when I started or even 2 years ago.  The shift has been focused and radical. 
 

Going to War

30 Oct

I am currently at war with my school over a really silly, stupid issue.  But it does go to a core culture of discrimination against people who have disabilities that is pervasive all through society.  I’ll put off blogging the current battle for a bit but go ahead and blog one that took place during my first year with an administration long gone.

 

In 2000, I was part of a room with 2 other teachers and 6 paras.  It was a huge operation, but I saw even then how the students and teachers were marginalized to the remote outskirts of school life and culture.  A room that was well-suited for teaching the most severely autistic students (i.e. no windows, mirrors and noise) was taken and given to the next door vocational teacher.  We were told that this was temporary until they got industrial certification.  That was 8 years ago and it was never given back. 

 

While the health occupations room next door had a fully equipped handicapped accessible bathroom, our students had to go all the way to the other end of the building to use a special restroom by the gym.  The closest wheelchair accessible drinking fountain was on the opposite side of the building from the gym through another set of double doors.  By the time a wheelchair student went through all that to get a drink, he would need another one by the time he/she got back! 

 

Then we got a student who needed to be changed and catheterized 2x and the only place we had was our little computer room on a computer table.  The administration at the time wanted the school nurse to have no part in catherizing this student.

 

It was an appalling situation.  I had fire in my gut from just having my own son diagnosed with a form of autism.  So it was that I filed a section 504 complaint against the entire administration listing how they were seemingly and actively discriminating against these students.  And this was done without the considerable knowledge of disabilities and the law that I have today.  But it did get everyone’s attention.  We ended up meeting with the county special education director to address the complaints.  Notably missing from that meeting were the principal and associate principal who were the ones who I had the biggest beef with.  The principal retired and the associate didn’t talk to me for a year.  And that was only after one of my students kicked in the shin.  We ended up making peace once she darkened my door and saw what I was doing and who I was doing it with.  She was a lot more supportive then.

 

I wish I could say that I was totally victorious in that war.  I had to wage this war for several years.  We got a changing table and a place to catheterize and change our student…6 months after I filed the complaint.  The nurse was available to use whenever I needed simply because I forced the issue and defied administrative directives not to get the nurse involved. 

 

The room that was taken was never returned, but we no longer require the space.  They remodeled our restroom 3 years later when a parent finally raised a ruckus with considerable support from me.  Accessible drinking fountains were installed about the same time.

 

My reputation for being willing to fight became widely known and I found I didn’t have to do it is as much.  But I also think I became somewhat complacent.  I was willing to compromise and avoid rocking the boat.  There is something to be said for being politically skilled in order to get what you want. 

 

At heart, I am generally an avoider when it comes to conflict.  However, if I am forced to fight, I fight to win.  And once my ire gets ignited to the boiling point, I appeal to the William T. Sherman school of thought.  Basically, if I’m going to war, I’m going make conflict with me so unpleasant that you won’t want to do it again very soon. 

 

And it has been too long since I’ve gone after the culture of discrimination. There really is a rampant culture of discrimination that exists in the larger culture as well as the school culture.  Sometimes government regulations help but often times they hurt.  No Child Left Behind put special emphasis on students with disabilities, however it also stigmatized those students and the teachers who teach them.  If you look at the movement towards paying teachers on the basis of student test scores, this inherently creates a hostile atmosphere against every student who has a disability that slows them down.  And teaching the students that I teach who do not take the standardized tests pretty much means that I can not apply for Georgia’s Master Teacher program.  It is no wonder that students that are slower sense the culture of hostility and drop out.  It is also no wonder that many of the teachers who teach special education follow suit and move on to other fields thus resulting in the highest turnover rate among any group in teaching. 

 

If there is a problem or a need, it seems to only get addressed when it affects the regular education population.  If you are a special education teacher, you are the one who is going to be moved, marginalized, and put off.  Your classroom will be the most uncomfortable, your supply budget will be the smallest, your computer will be the oldest, your equipment will barely function.    If there is a spare closet, basement, trailer or dungeon, that is where you will be teaching.  It will be somewhere that is unsuitable for the regular kids and yet perfectly fine for you. 

 

Those of you who have been teaching special education for any length of time know of what I speak.  It happens pretty much all the time, and everywhere I’ve taught, special education has been relegated to the fringe, outskirts and outposts. 

 

So when I consider this pervasive culture of repression it becomes pretty obvious to me that total integration is the only solution.  The only way to gain equal rights is to be in-your-face militant about it because otherwise people will be all content in their little comfort zones.  Yes, my students are disruptive.  So are all the other students.  But I am sick and tired of us being pushed to the back of the bus every time a disability is inconvenient.  Anyone can teach a “normal” student who is always compliant.  They often learn in spite of what teachers do.  But it’s the exceptional students who demand more expertise and skill.  Those are the students who need to make the most gains and who need the most attention.  The problem is not that my students can’t learn.  The problem is that no one wants to put forth the resources (money) needed to pay someone to teach them the way they need to be taught.  In order to make any sort of gain, they need 1:1 intensive teaching.  And no public school is going to pay for 30 hrs/week of 1:1 instruction for a student with severe disabilities who will only make minimal gains with that sort of dedicated effort.

 

So what’s the use of total integration?  It’s to help educate the rest of the school population about disabilities and tolerance.  Right now, our non-integration serves to sustain the current climate where discrimination and oppression are the norm.

Still Depressed; A casualty of NCLB

22 Aug

The list just seems to keep growing, doesn’t it?

I have talked about NCLB and its effects upon the severe population ever since the it forced everyone to align with it through the use of the alternate assessments.  While I have always had individual lesson plans attached to data sheets, I’m now required to turn a set in every week that includes standards, standard numbers and eventually I will have to follow some sort of centralized mandated format.  The all-wise powers higher up the chain are busy deciding what format we all have to follow.  Heaven forbid that we actually have anyone be an individual or deviate from enforced conformity!  Novelty, creativity and originality are frowned upon in this new paradigm of education.

 

The biggest casualty has been community-based instruction.  The high cost of diesel along with NCLB have successfully obliterated this last vestige of relevant instruction for students with severe disabilities.  Those with moderate intellectual disabilities are the biggest losers here.  When I began teaching, we had many moderate students in my program and we went to actual jobsites where the students did actual meaningful work.  Some of those students managed to get actual paying jobs right out of high school as a result of their successful experiences.  However, those days are gone.  NCLB, at least as our students have interpreted it, mandates teaching the core academic subjects on grade-level with grade-level materials.  There is no time for job training or community-based instruction (CBI).  When I started 8 years ago, we went out every single day.  Now, we have not gone anywhere yet, and school has been in session for 3 weeks.  There seems to be no real urgency to begin CBI for these students.  They will be required to learn literature, algebra, history, economics, biology, geometry and chemistry just like everyone else.  And when they leave this institution, they will be dumped back on to their parents or on to the street with no employable skills.

Those that I teach today are on the most severe end of the intellectually impaired spectrum and they have always been shunted off to the side and marginalized.  However I have felt an increasing marginalization myself, as the shift toward the standards and academics has taken over.  My students are not helping to increase test scores or increase the graduation rate.  So as a teacher, my role as a teacher has become increasingly isolated.  The self-contained setting has always been a somewhat desolate and lonely condition.  But I’m feeling it even moreso this year.  It just hit me all-of-the-sudden this week, as I was trying to get my “advanced” group to identify their own names and pictures of themselves that this academic crap is just a huge joke.  At first, I had mixed feelings about being irreplaceable.  “Hey!  I’m important!”  But that isn’t the case at all.  The reason why I can’t be replaced isn’t because of the stellar job that I’m doing.  It is because no one else wants it.  And that is singularly depressing enough.

I do feel the administration has been as supportive as they can be given the fact I only have 7 students while everyone else serves close to 100.  I don’t blame them for keeping me in place for another year even though I requested a move as it is a good strategy for the short-term.   They figured that it wouldn’t be too disastrous, as I’m likely to put student interests ahead of my own.  I would do the job and do my best, no matter what sort of students I’m serving. 

They all can learn, but not at the same pace, the same time or even the same content.  These kids with severe cognitive impairments; we need to look at reality and admit that they are not going to college.  We need to admit that there are plenty of very happy people who have never gone to college and quit trying to guilt parents, teachers and the students into conforming to a standard that fails them.   My kids will not be reading on the 12th grade level no matter how rich of a literacy program I expose them to.  No matter how highly qualified their teacher is, they are not going to solve for X.  But they might learn how to answer the question “What is your name?” or respond to “Do you want more?”

I feel fairly confident with what I do.  I pretty much know how to deal with most of these students even though I still get nauseous from all the noise.  A poopy diaper barely phases me anymore.  It is just a significant part of what I do and separates me from the folks who can’t hack it.  But I am ready for a little different life to choose me and since it won’t be at this school, I need to be looking at other schools.

Anyone else ever had to effect a transfer like this, where your present supervisor/employer is reluctant to let you go?

D.

A Little Video Montage of Me

2 Aug

This is a bunch of clips I made from various videos that I’ve posted to Teachertube and/or my YouTube channel.  That little guy at the :25 mark may or may not be my oldest son who is now 9!

I actually did the music myself using the Qchord.

Pre-Planning

28 Jul

Well, we are back!  And so am I.  It’s back to the same program and the same room.  If I want to do something else, I’m going to have to transfer to a different school because they are never going to replace me and there isn’t a lot of motivation for anyone to even look for a replacement as long as I’m around.  In many ways, it was stressful to think about transferring to a new position, but in other ways it was stressful thinking about NOT transferring!  My desire and commitment for change will be tested ultimately by my willingness to make it a more major move to another building with all new people and administrators and grade levels.

But in the meantime, I have students here who need me and I’m going to do my best to make it a banner year for them and for me.  I’m going to do everything possible to make it such an outstanding year that everyone else in the building will weep bitterly at my departure!  It’s about being proactive and making things happen and advancing.  That’s going to be the hardest thing, but it’s the most important thing.  I need to really reach and strain ahead.  I need condition myself into stretching.

That’s me, giving myself a pep talk!

Each year there are always changes.  This year, I get to meet the 4th principal I’ve had since starting at this school 9 years ago.  It seems like people come and go so quickly around here!  The new guy looks like he’s trying to tighten things up around here and he has a big job ahead of him.  Our school was among the 52% of Georgia high schools that failed to make AYP this past year.  We have to make it this year in order to keep off of the dreaded “Needs Improvement” list.  As a county district, we also failed for the first time ever, to make AYP.  And it’s going to be harder to do that in order to meet the federally funded mandate of 100% by 2014.  So we can expect every school in the country to be on the Needs Improvement list by 2016.  Students with disabilities continue to be the major subgroup that cause a school or district to fail.  It’s ridiculous to think that every single student is going to master rigorous curriculum standards at the same rate or with equal proficiency as everyone else.  No accommodation or modification is going to erase the reality that some students are not going to learn everything we teach them, even if they want to.  And politicians seem to ignore the reality that there is a small percentage that just doesn’t care that much about doing well in school at any given time. 

Preplanning involves lots of meetings and getting to know new teachers and staff.  It also involves training my own folks and setting the pace for the coming year.  We’ve gotten our room pretty much straightened out.  This isn’t a small task since they removed some teacher desks. And moved everything around when they redid our floor.   I’m going to do my best to have a good attitude this year and fend off the weariness that got to me last year.

D.

Welcome Advanced Elearn: I’m Finished For Summer!

30 Jun

I just finished my Advanced Moodle Course (which my county calls Elearn) and did manage to get a decent course laid out that might be useful for the teachers in our county.  You can see most of the content on my TeacherTube or YouTube sites.  If and when I add more content, that will appear on one of those sights. 

I learned a lot by taking this course, since my course is also about teaching adult teachers.  One of the problems with this course about interactive learning is that it is still taught in the traditional 20th century way.  That means you have one teacher in front of 20-30 other people and that one person disseminates the content out to the students.  However, there was a group of teachers that did get together and collaborated on their online course.  However it was tough going for them as they hadn’t actually taken a Moodle course before.  Many Moodle courses still look like they could have been produced years ago, as they involve a ton of reading and then an occasional quiz to measure understanding.  what these courses really and truly need is to incorporate the production of actual content.

This course is being or has been taught by 3 different instructors, and I’m wondering why they didn’t pool their time and resources in developing content for this course.  Each instructor could take a topic or a day (it’s a three day course) and really and truly demonstrate the power of this technology.  For instance, this class had a few other nerds like me, but also had some people who have difficulty managing basic computer functions.  By having recorded content online, it would allow those people who needed to see something multiple times to actually see those instructions multiple times while the faster people could keep progressing or enhancing our own courses/sites.

You can get the gist of what I’m saying by looking at this video.

 

So I’ll be off and traveling for the next 3 weeks, and we’ll be driving about 3,000 miles!  Fortunately, both of my kids travel really well.  Having an extra mp3 player and laptop/DVD player will make things a little easier.  Stay Cool!

D.

 

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

4 Jun

In making my course for teachers and paras for students with severe disabilities, I’ve been looking for content related to what we do in the classroom. Today I decided to work on Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) sometimes also called Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI). Same thing, different name.

I prefer video over text alone, so I went first to TeacherTube, since the school system doesn’t block that site. However, the only video there on the subject is the one I posted. Oh well. YouTube is a better source for videos on anything and a search there was much more fruitful. Here’s one working with a very young child. No matter the age, the same rules always apply. Keep the instruction consistent, reinforce independent responses, and record the responses for data analysis. The YouTube video gives very comprehensive, yet concise instruction on the topic and I’d love to use it.

There is also a series of Lovaas training videos on YouTube which are much more advanced, behaviorally speaking, but the one listed above gives a better overview in a lot less time . Part 1 shows how not to do it in the beginning, which you can see from the comments elicited strong reactions from a few viewers. It’s a bit dated, but you get a good view of a purer form of DTT from the Lovaas people. There are many YouTube videos in a variety of languages worth looking at and these are mostly used for and by parents. Teachers and paras really need to tap into this information, too.

Typing in “ABA” reveals a lot of videos showing it in action, mostly with very young children with autism. DTT is not the same thing as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is more of a global description of a system. It’s sort of like referring to “rain” as “weather.” Yes, rain is weather, but it’s only one aspect of weather and even precipitation. Weather encompasses all manner of meteorological events including wind current, barometric pressure and the jet stream. ABA encompasses a whole lot more topography beyond just DTT, but a lot of people outside the field confuse the two.

I recently put a couple more videos up showing some of what I do with a type of DTT here and here. This is also serving as a sort of tutorial in modeling for para instruction at the same time instructing the student. I probably need to make a more explicit para training video since that is a big issue for most special ed teachers.

I like DTT because it is straightforward, and something that paras can learn and do pretty easily. It can yield some good data and works well with short-term IEP objectives. It is something that is not expensive to set up, and it is accessible to anyone who wants to learn how to do it.

Catherine Maurice’s Behavior Intervention for Young Children remains one of the best and most accessible resources on the subject even though she makes the common mistake of confusing ABA with DTT. Many of these interventions can be used with older students with severe autism and you’ll recognize what we do in the videos compared to what is done with the youngsters. It’s only been within the last 10 years that DTT really took off in the autism community, so students in high school were probably never exposed to this behavioral technology at a younger age.

D.

The Turn Over at Our School

22 May

We are on the downhill slide of the year. One more day. And I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year! My evaluator hasn’t darkened my door in over a month (and that wasn’t for an evaluation but a discipline problem) but I did make evaluating me easier than gravity. I gave her a CD of some video I shot doing some teaching and included my data sheet/lesson plan with it. I knew we were going to be crushed at the end and thought she could use that in a pinch. So we’ll see.

What I do know, is that 1/4 of our faculty is departing this year, and one third of those will be from the special education department. It is going to be hideously hard to fill those vacancies, with mine being the absolute hardest to fill. Let’s face it; people are not beating my door down trying to get in. They might try to keep me in this room for another year, which would be stressful but I would do it with the understanding that this would be my last year at this high school. I won’t be screwed over twice. This state of limbo makes it hard to prepare for summer inservice classes as they are offering several co-teaching classes but they want the co-teachers to take the class together. That’s a bit difficult when a large number of those who will be doing the co-teaching are not even hired yet!

So why the big turn-over? For one thing, our principal is leaving. The new principal will be principal #4 for me. Administrators come and go. If you don’t like the one you got, wait a few years and you’ll get a new one. If you like the one you have, enjoy it because the wind will shift directions pretty soon. Fightin’ Joe was an assistant for a few years before taking the head job, and while he was an AP we saw quite a bit of him in my room and with my kids. He even played the role of Santa Clause during a Christmas party we had one year. I know – totally not age appropriate! Once he became the head guy, we rarely ever saw him. And really, that is absolutely fine with me. I know he had bigger fish to fry with AYP (which we made most years he was principal) and while I appreciate any time an administrator spends with us, no news is mostly good news. Administrators traditionally have to spend most of their time putting out fires and the fact that we’ve had relatively few has been a relief to us all.

Another reason we might be seeing higher turnover might have something to do with this Washington Post article. My previous article touched on that theme a bit, and I agree with Steven Rothman that somehow parents are micromanaging their schools to death. My take on it is that parents want to hold the schools responsible for raising their children, and when teachers and schools fail to raise the children (as they most certainly will) parents get upset. They are less concerned about the education their children receive as much as they are about making excuses for their child’s behavior or lack of progress. We live in an age where people can take charge of their own education and learning and yet precious few are actually doing that. They want others to hold their hands and babysit and nag them.

The answer to this is not going to come from us as educators. It has to come from us as parents. I am totally in favor of parents banding together, sharing resources, ideas or even complaining about us as teachers. But too often, these groups become gripe festivals that incite parents to go after the schools in order to demand more and more while offering very little. The autism groups are probably the most notorious offenders of all. I can tell when I have a parent that is being coached by a real life or online group. The adversarial relationship is there from the start, and parents are braced for battle. It’s one thing if the school or teacher has earned it by failing to educate as they are supposed to. But parents will too often wait until the IEP to air every complaint, and instead of an hour-long meeting, we end up there all day. Working things out ahead of time, instead of springing all the demands at once can salvage a lot of good will. Teachers should do this as well, sharing information on a regular basis. As educators, we can minimize a lot of the micromanagement by practicing a certain degree of transparency in what we are doing.

But in the end, it is up to parents to establish the prevailing culture of their neighborhoods and communities. I’m sure many of you know of children in your neighborhood running wild, making a nuisance of themselves, staying out entirely too late on school nights and basically not behaving in a responsible manner. And the parents let them. But I know that the neighbors can have more influence in the form of peer pressure. Peer pressure doesn’t end with high school. In the case of kids with disabilities, you might know of parents who seem to cultivate dependence by doing everything for the child except chew his food for him. Most kids can put on their own coats, use the toilet and eat with a spoon before they go to kindergarten. And yet there’s a group of parents who expect the schools to train the special needs kids to do these things. How do other kids learn this stuff without schools and teachers? This is why the school and parents need to be part of a cooperative partnership.

I’m sure I’ve spouted on long enough on this theme. Later this summer, my family and I will be going on a real vacation and seeing and learning about different areas of the country. It’s going to be better than whatever the school system can offer, but I don’t feel the need to force the public system to provide those kinds of educational experiences and opportunities. We’re doing it as parents, and that’s as it should be.

D.