Tag Archives: severe disabilities

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. 
 

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.

Frustrations

20 Aug

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I’m frustrated today.

I can find any number of reasons to be frustrated on a given day, but most of the time it just sort of passes and I move on in the space of a few minutes. However, today I’m just frustrated generally about the increasingly tight restrictions and procedures dealing with NCLB.

It has been awhile since I have vented my spleen on this particular legislation and the idiots who developed the law and the clowns who continue to push it as if it were the greatest thing in the world. I will never vote for any politician who supports NCLB. Period. And for the record that includes every senator running for president. I’ll sling the crap on GW Bush for assembling the unholy coalition that allowed this travesty to be inflicted upon this country’s youth. And what it does to kids with severe disabilities….there is no spot in Hell vile enough, hot enough or painful enough for those perverted sadists who would inflict even greater discrimination, humiliation and degradation upon these kids.

Every one of my kids will get a regular education diploma, even though none of them can write or spell their names. Few of them can pick out a picture of themselves from an array of 3. Even fewer can pick out their written name from an array of three. We are working on identifying the numbers 1 and 2. We are working on counting to 2. They have absolutely no concept of what “2” is. And yet, I am expected to address high school math and literature standards. They will each have a portfolio of pictures sent showing evidence that they have accessed the standards. Then, they will get a regular education diploma after they put in 7-8 years in my program. That means they will get the same diploma as every other student who has actually passed the real graduation tests and did all the work. Which immediately begs the question: just what exactly does a diploma prove?

There will be many students who will not get a diploma, but none of them will have severe disabilities. They may have studied as hard as they could, but they could not pass the test. They may be very employable, but they will not get the diploma that my kids get. The state will say they did not earn it.

And then there’s case where my students get the exact same diploma as your sons and daughters who took advanced classes and got all A’s. It’s the same diploma…are the standards really the same? Just how much is a Georgia diploma worth? I’d say it isn’t worth squat when someone with at IQ of less than 20 can get one. I’d say that the fact that these kids are expected to do the same as those who have IQ’s of 120 is a gigantic farce! But NCLB says that anyone not getting a regular education diploma is considered a drop-out. This is what happens when the baboons in the legislature decide to stick everyone under the same (unfunded) rule. It makes everyone equally worthless!

The time that has not been spent trying to teach them their own names, faces and the numbers 1 and 2 and the shape of a circle has been spent cleaning up drool, snot, pee, blood and poop. Lots of poop today. Almost as much poop as is produced in the federal and state capitals on a daily basis. Too bad poop isn’t considered for the alternate assessment. Too bad poop isn’t one of the standards for graduation as much as it is for being a lawmaker or government bureaucrat.

Videos on TeacherTube

15 Apr

I have a few videos on TeacherTube with many more to come. My first attempt was demonstrating the Qchord, which is a sort of musical instrument that I sometimes use in the classroom. A more practical video is one I made on the use of switches for students with severe disabilities to use for communication. There’s also an activity attached to that lesson, about 101 uses for using switches in the classroom. Then I did a couple of videos on positioning for students with orthopedic impairments that some might find interesting. And my most recent effort was a screencast about using the Boardmaker software program that special ed teachers frequently use for communication and language instruction. I have some more videos demonstrating that software that I’ll be uploading once I get the narration audio track finished. The problem is that I’m very seldom in a space or environment where it is quiet enough to do narration! There seems to always be noise somewhere around that can be picked up by the mic! Plus we are in full-IEP mode right now so I’m squeezed for time. A ton of folks are hitting my IEP series right now, so I know a lot of people are using that resource.

After talking with one of the new SID teachers in the county, I got a lot of new ideas for resources to add. One of the most common questions I get asked is about my lesson plans. They are not very good or satisfactory enough for my taste and certainly not for addressing state standards. However I do have a data sheet that sort of functions as a lesson plan that I’ll be attaching to a future video on discrete trials. Future features will involve:

-Discrete trial teaching (DTT)

– More Boardmaker overlays

– Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

– Para training

– Schedule/lessonplanning/curriculum

I’m presently looking to get permission from parents to include actual students in future videos, so that should be pretty exciting. Even if I only get one permission form, I can demonstrate quite a lot of what I actually do. So far, I don’t know of anyone else doing anything like this, but if there is I’d like to know about it!

I use TeacherTube because YouTube is blocked by our school and TeacherTube does allow unlimited uploads. You can also attach lesson plans and activities to the video which can really increase its usefulness to other teachers. The downside is that viewers don’t often leave very many comments or give very much feedback compared to what I see on YouTube. The most discussed video is entitled “Pay Attention” which has over half a million views but only 83 comments and the next most discussed has less than 50 comments. It’s not a very interactive community, which is why I see having a blog to support my efforts as being a useful thing.

That’s my weekly wrap up. We’ve only got about 6 weeks left of school! Where has all the time gone?!?

D.