Monday, September 27, 2010


A little girl with autism, H, transferred to our district from another state this year, and I did an evaluation on her last week to determine if a regular kindergarten would be the right classroom for her to be in. I stopped by H’s room this morning to see if her teacher had some paperwork I needed. When I was leaving, she followed me to the door and threw her arms around my waist. As I crouched down to see what was up, I found out that she was crying. I comforted her and asked her why she was upset, and she sobbed out, “I just want all my dreams to come true.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week in Review

As I say goodbye to students on the bus sidewalk, confirm that “yes, I will meet with you Monday regarding E’s behavior plan,” wave adieu to little hands peeping though bus windows, and jokingly mumble under my breath about having a glass of wine when I get home to tired coworkers as we walk to our cars, I look back on the past five days. I really dug my heels into the job this week. I started up some (so far) successful behavior modification plans, gave IQ tests, consulted with teachers regarding students, observed students in their classes, and as always, typed reports. I love lists and other organizational goodies (see: dork), so here’s a recap of some of this week’s highs (I could write about the lows, but c’mon, I’m ever the optimist):
  • For the first time, I signed my name as “Certified School Psychologist.”
  • I wore my purple pumps from Nine West and felt like a power house walking down the hall.
  • My PM duty was changed from the gym to standing on the sidewalk supervising lines of students as they head to their busses (hooray!).
  • I’ve had awesome homegrown apples for lunch all week that Boyfriend and I picked when we went apple-picking last weekend (I love falls in NY!)
  • I got to play Uno with two 5th graders as reward/reinforcements for having a great week on their behavior modification plans.
  • I got my business cards (with the incorrect email address… boo).
  • I have keys to my office, a swipe ID card to get into my building, and my email system is finally set up.
  • I got oodles of hugs from both strange and familiar kids at dismissal
  • I had my first psychologist department meeting. It was great to connect with fellow professionals, especially those psychologists I’ve spoken to since starting, but haven’t met face-to-face with yet.
Now, it’s time to make dinner (teriyaki turkey tenderloin, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, and broccoli)!


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Honeymoon is Over

"Honeymoon." It's that blissful period at the beginning of a relationship or endeavor when things are peachy keen (jelly bean). The school psychologist knows the honeymoon is over when teachers start to panic and the referrals start rolling in. For me, that time is now.

The beginning of the school year always begins with students (and teachers) putting on their best faces. Kids are still in that bleary beginning of school phase--perhaps due to nerves, perhaps due to the return of the early wake-up call. Teachers aren't yet aware of the "problem kids," and haven't gotten into academics enough to find out which students may have a tough time. Ah, but two weeks in, the gloves come off and the true personas come out.

Teachers at my building are starting to get a little wacky now that they're back from their honeymoons. When I pass folks in the office or hall, it's a sea of concerns regarding a student's behavior or low academics. It's a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who is new to the district and is jumping in headfirst. I'm also not as experienced with behavioral interventions as other, more seasoned professionals. But, since I've had to write two Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) in the first 10 days of school (we were out of compliance with regulations) and have more behavior modification plans coming down the tubes, here are a few basic, beginning of the school year suggestions to address behavior difficulties. These may be well-understood classroom management techniques, but it never hurts to have a refresher!

- Put a daily schedule with class and homework on board. Ensure students understand and have written it in  agendas, if they use them. Outline each subject area lesson and set expectations for what will be required and how the lesson will run. This may increase compliance, especially when consistent.
- Provide strict guidelines/classroom rules and behavioral expectations. Reward and provide consequences immediately and consistently. Explain why a reward or consequence is being given in direct, understandable language. Stick to your guns regarding what you expect from students and they will be more likely to comply.
- Teach and model how to follow the classroom and school rules. Many times students do not understand what they are expected to do because they simply haven't been taught. Generate lists of ways to or behaviors that would be examples of following the rules. Engage in roleplays of appropriate rule following. Point out and praise students who are following classroom and school rules. Be explicit with identifying the behaviors that are correct. It may also be beneficial to teach and model examples of not following classroom and school rules.
- Remember the importance of proximity. Seat students who have difficulty controlling themselves, who are easily distracted, or who are frequently off-task near the source of instruction (i.e. the board or the teacher).
- Circle the room during instruction, rather than remaining solely at the board, in order to monitor students' attention and focus. Teach from various points in the room when the board is not necessary. Visit students' desks frequently during independent seatwork to ensure they are on-task and working appropriately.

Monday, September 13, 2010

School's out... and I'm stuck in the gym

It's only the fourth day of school and already my PM duty is starting to grind my gears. Every afternoon, I report to the gym to supervise students who wait there for their bus to arrive. There's about 40 PreK-8th grade students that wait in the gym for my assigned bus, and another 35 or so that wait for another bus on the other side of the gym. The gym itself is about the size of a run-down studio apartment. I am barely exaggerating. I know what you're thinking. "Aimee, why are you complaining? Having 70+ kids anxiously waiting for their four-wheeled ticket to freedom (which is always the LAST BUS to arrive) in a small, hot, loud stress chamber is a blast!" ...... I can't even make a witty, sarcastic retort for that, because that statement sums up the hell that is PM duty pretty darn well.

Regardless, as in all things, I try to find the positive: helping all the little lost Pre-K'ers find their way; watching an older "cool" girl hold the hands of two nervous kindergarteners on the walk to the bus; making a squirmy fourth grade boy who wanders and refuses to sit on the bench with the rest of the troupe sit in the middle of the gym floor to wait, then devising an incentive plan to help him keep his backside where it belongs (we're trying it tomorrow); getting waves and hugs from children I have never seen before; seeing that awkward middle school flirting hasn't changed since I was in school.

But by far the best experience I've had in PM duty thus far has involved M, a first grader with autism. M is a student who has a one-on-one aide throughout the school day to help keep him on task and keep him safe (he wanders, runs off without warning, and has difficulty navigating the stairs). Since the school year started, M has been without his aide, and has had random people filling in for parts of the day. Consistency and structure are hugely important for children with autism, and disruptions in their routine have the potential to be disastrous. M also reacts poorly to lots of commotion and noise. You may think that sitting in a gym with 70 other students would be a bad idea. You'd be right.

This particular day was very difficult for M. By the time dismissal came around, the woman who was his aide for the day had to leave to go to a doctor's appointment, so I volunteered to make sure M got on his bus safely. About the time I got M finally seated for more than 15 seconds (he repeatedly rolls on the floor), a little girl was dropped off in the gym and promptly starting crying because she was anxious to go home. I seated her next to M so that I could keep an eye on them both. M was quite startled to having a crying ball of Pre-K next to him, but turned to her looking quite concerned. What happened next made me all warm in my tummy. M started patting her forearm and wiping the tears from her cheeks with the crumpled paper towel she was holding. It was precious. And, for those of you who are familiar with autism know, children with autism can have great difficulty with social understanding, including interacting with peers and showing empathy, so to see M react to her in such a way was uncharacteristic and fantastic. Ahhh kids.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Testing, Testing

I've been exchanging phone calls with M, a psychologist from our Central Committee of Special Education (CSE) building, this week to arrange to pick up my test kits. See, probably the biggest part of being a school psychologist is conducting psycho-educational tests to determine if a child is eligible for special education services. These most often contain a cognitive test (read: IQ test; the "psycho" part) and an achievement, or educational, test. These measure a child's potential to learn (the cognitive) and what they actually have learned (the achievement). In traditional school psychology, if a student's cognitive ability, or their ability to learn, is not comparable to their actual achievement, their may be reason to suspect that they have an educational disability. So, if Sadie's IQ is 100 (the average standard score), while in math, reading, and writing she has standard scores below 70, it suggests that she is capable of learning at a typical rate, but that she has not achieved to the "average" level. This is called the discrepancy model, which is quickly being replaced with Response to Intervention (RTI), as per federal and state mandates. In the RTI model, students who are identified as struggling are engaged in targeted academic interventions in order to increase their skills before they fall low enough to qualify for special education. The whole discrepancy vs. RTI battle is something I could write about forever, so to spare you, there's information about the two models here at the LD Info website. You're welcome.

Anyhoo, I digress. Being a new psychologist in the district, I had no test kits available to me at my building. The psychologist who was previously in my spot took them all when she went to her new building. M called me this morning to say I could come over to another building in the district to get my test kits. Hooray! You must understand, getting test kits is like Christmas for school psychologists. New manuals to read, new manipulatives (read: toys) to test out, etc. They're like a security blanket, the one constant in the job that rarely changes and that we come back to day in and day out. Remember how I said I was a dork? Indeed.

When we spoke this morning, M suggested that I come early so that he could get some test kits that he had been saving specifically for me. After driving around the building block literally 5 times trying to figure out where to park (I still hate big city transportation drama), I finally get inside and find M. What blew my mind was the sheer lack of resources that were available. In the tiny stock room, there were many test kits that were extremely out of date, masses of test booklets but no way to score them, and very few kits of the tests used most frequently by psychologists. I couldn't decide if I was surprised by this. But, all of that aside, I should be very thankful that I got what I did, especially being a brand new psychologist and at the bottom of the feeding chain. I struggled back to my car with a few cognitive tests, behavior rating scales, and a visual-motor processing evaluation. Time to hunker down with my security blankets.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First Day Woes

Today was my first day at my building with kids. Three weeks of vacation after my summer job ended led to all sorts of jitters, planning, and shopping trips (NY & Company, Banana Republic, and Target... you're welcome). Last night, I had butterflies in my stomach like I did all those years ago waiting for the first day of school as a student. It's okay, I know I'm a big ol' dork... did we not establish that in my last post with the "I loved school" comment?

After some driving around to find parking this morning (yay working in the middle of a large city!), I pulled up in front of my school. With my cell phone all charged from the drive (yay sitting in traffic for 20 minutes trying to move .5 miles!) and my big ol' "teacher bag" all packed with materials and lunch, I stepped out of my car ready to face the day. And promptly locked my keys in my bag, in my car. Yep.

I began my morning with a 30 minute phone debacle with AAA, which caused me to miss my first day of AM duty at my post on the third floor, and subsequently seeing all those bright shining faces coming in for their first day of school. However, I had some more interesting news. Over the winter, someone stole my AAA "identity" and used my account when they ran out of gas. Even better, the check they used to pay for said fuel bounced, making it appear that I defaulted on payment. Oh, and my account expired three months ago, but I was never billed for it, so I didn't know it needed to be paid. Hooray! After shelling out the cost to open a new AAA membership (they wouldn't renew my old one due to the bad payment by my doppleganger), I was back in my car within an hour, and I was able to actually start my day. Thankfully, it went swimmingly, though of course was a little wacky due to normal first day of school craziness that will be ironed out soon.

The best part of my day? Returning to my office to see that a colleague had left a beautiful flower arrangement on my desk that my boyfriend had sent for my first day. Remember when I locked my keys in my car? Naaahh... me either.

So you counsel kids?

When I tell people I'm a school psychologist, I typically get one of three responses:

1. "Oh, so you're a counselor?" (No, but I do some counseling. I do not, however, plan your high schooler's schedule, set them up with scholarships, nor listen to their college entrance woes.)
2. "Oh no, don't psychoanalyze me!" (I am. Every day.)
3. "..........." (Blank stares are awkward, by the way.)

Dr. Branstetter of the marvelous blog Notes from the School Psychologist said it best: "...if a teacher and a child psychologist had a baby, it would be a school psychologist." School psychologists have all the marvelous knowledge of education, classroom management, behavior and academic interventions, and special education, but also tap into a vast wealth of fun facts regarding mental illness, treatment/therapy options, and child development. If we want to go by what the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) says (which we should, for they are our gods), school psychologists "help children achieve their best. In school. At home. In life." How they do that is anyone's game, and really goes by a child-by-child, school-by-school, district-by-district basis.

And then there's me. I grew up in a Western New York suburb that was about as white collar, mid- to upper-class, WASP-ville as it gets. I loved school. I was in the top 20 of a class of 600+ students, took 6 AP classes, bled extra-curriculars, and wanted more. I'm still trying to figure out how I ended up working with kids that hate school. I majored in Psychology at a small private school in the Southern Tier of NY state and was 2nd in the College of Arts & Sciences, then completed my Masters/Advanced Certificate back in Western NY. I graduated in June 2010 and ventured into the "real world."

I was lucky enough to not only have been hired in a terrible education job market (I can still hear the choirs singing behind the glorious sun rays and fluffy clouds), but also in one of my top districts. The

-It's in one of the largest cities in WNY.
-It's a highly urban area.
-It's ethnically diverse (which I must stress is not a bad thing at all, just a bit foreign for WASP-y ol' me)
-My building is marked as "needing improvement" by the superintendent. (Read: low academic achievement and high levels of suspension-worthy shenanigans from the kids)

Maybe you're wondering why I'd want to work in a district that may seem to some to be something to steer 100mi clear from. I love a challenge, and these kids can be a challenge. Their lives are a challenge, and trying to get through to them is a challenge. It's a challenge for them to not only dream, but to reach their dreams and better their lives. But, with great challenge comes great reward, and that's what kids are... endlessly rewarding.

So, join me on my journey as I navigate the ins and outs of all the joys and pains that comes from being a new school psychologist in the world of education. In this blog, I hope to share anecdotes, blunders, cute kid sayings, advice, educational & psychological commentary, and who knows what other musings. Should be a blast!

Can you hear the singing too?