Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's My Name?

I took a first grader out for testing this afternoon. While we walked to my office, we chatted about his family and he told me about his brother. I asked him what his brother's name was, and he said "Cash." I couldn't think of a student named Cash with the first grader's last name, so I asked what his last name was.

He replied, "Money. Cash Money."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Squirmy McAntsypants

After a few serious and informative blog posts, I figured it's time to get back to business. It's time to tell you about Squirmy McAntsypants.

Squirmy, a kindergarten student, came across my desk because his agency case worker referred him for a re-evaluation to see if he needs a more restrictive environment for behavioral issues (i.e. smaller classroom or agency). He's currently only receiving speech services. I observed Squirmy in the classroom yesterday and he was decidedly not squirmy. He was mostly composed, on-task, and got his work done. Hm. Curious.

I took Squirmy for IQ testing this morning, and his true colors began to shine through. He was quite excited, and took off running down the hall towards my office. After choosing a special Santa pencil to do his test, and sharpening it for approximately 2.25 minutes until it was half gone, Squirmy bolted down the hallway towards the room I was going to be testing in. He was instantly overwhelmed and intrigued by his surroundings. There were bags of donated clothes, uniform shirts, hats & gloves, computers, coffee making supplies, office supplies, tables, chairs, white board markers, wall hangings, and all kinds of goodies. Squirmy cataloged this in his mind for later.

Whoever decided to make the first subtest on a preschool IQ test have blocks as manipulatives is possibly insane. Squirmy immediately began rolling the blocks as dice around the table (and floor), stacking them, and generally doing everything with them except replicating the patterns I modeled for him. He also decided it was time to check out his surroundings, and went for the computers. He was so insistent on trying to play on them  that he checked each one by pounding the mouse and keyboard. After redirecting Squirmy and getting a few more answers out of him, he was off again to pull clothes off the shelves, investigate a carousel of funky scissors, and see if said scissors could cut through shirt fabric (the shirts went unharmed). He also asked if he could wear my glasses and tried to remove them from my face. Remembering that he had broken his own glasses in half yesterday after my observation, I kindly declined. Squirmy decided he wanted to try and pull the American flag from the wall instead, anyway.

Squirmy calmed somewhat after the promise of stickers for good behavior upon completion of our "games" and became interested in subtests where he had to complete picture patterns and match pictures that had similar characteristics. But oh! What was that on the floor? A red sticky gift bow left over from our holiday donations?! Squirmy had to have it, and couldn't concentrate on defining any vocabulary words that I was throwing around. Determined to make it stick to his head, Squirmy ignored all else... except his special Santa pencil, which he began rolling across the table. I pulled Squirmy into my lap, thinking proximity would help him to focus.

After he stopped trying to pull my sweater up, he discovered that maybe the red bow had stick left to it after all (or maybe I just have better balance, since it kept falling off his head. I wonder why). Onto my head the red bow went, and we began some word riddles.

Yes, gentle readers, there I was: sitting with a red holiday bow atop my head and Squirmy McAntsypants wriggling in my lap waving his special Santa pencil like a baton. I love my job.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Go to the Office!

I've spent the majority of my week attending in-service trainings. Boyfriend summed it up best: "I bet you're thrilled to be sitting through more courses after graduating, huh?" You have no idea. I went into the week with a rather whiny, grumpy attitude, but in actuality, the in-services have not only been useful, but interesting.

The major themes of the trainings were cultural awareness/sensitivity, academic trending, and disproportionality in education and discipline. We discussed a lot of issues regarding race and ethnicity, and how it affects how we interact with/teach our students and how the students learn.

Before we broke for lunch today, we had "Team Time" where we discussed Patterns in Office Referral Data by Grade, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender by Kaufman, Jaser, Vaughan, Reyonds, et. al. (2010). The authors examined the office referral data for an urban school district. All males were found to be written up more than females, especially for external behaviors, such as physical aggression. Females have their own relational aggression that's going on, of course, but because males behaviors are more observable (i.e. more fighting and less bullying), they tend to be written up more often than females. The article also reiterated the disproportionality that black males experience when being written-up for behavior problems.

The most interesting and important part of the article, personally, was that the results showed a pattern in types of office discipline referrals across grade levels that related highly to the developmental level of the students being referred. Huh? What does that mean you ask?
  • Elementary school students had more referrals for acts of aggression (fighting, verbal, and physical threats). This is the developmental time that students are trying to make friendships and establish relationships.
  • Middle school students had more referrals for acts of disrespect (use of profanity and disrespect towards adults). This is the developmental time that students are working toward identity development and autonomy.
  • High school students had more referrals for attendance issues (skipping class and leaving the building without permission). This is the developmental time that students are trying to increase their independence.
I definitely see this pattern in my building. Although we only have students PreK-8, I definitely see more referrals for younger students getting into physical altercations (biting, hitting, slapping) and for middle school students mouthing off or using severe inappropriate language towards staff. I think that more research needs to be done to establish if this pattern is being seen elsewhere in the nation, but it's an interesting theory!

Cool, so what do we do with that? As a table, we discussed the need for teachers to be re-taught about children's developmental levels and what's "going on" at each age. If you're like me, you had that information in Psych 101 or in a child development class, frantically memorized all of Erikson's Developmental Stages, Freud's Psychosexual Stages, etc, and either filed it into the dark recesses of your mind or promptly forgot it. Having a booster review for staff will be the first step in helping them to effectively address the behaviors. The mantra in my building, and probably in others, is that the staff needs to both be taught how to deal with problem behaviors effectively (instead of just sending the student to the principal--real effective), but also how to teach the student to perform correct behaviors.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Apocalypse Nowish

    So... did the crazy train crash this week and let all the crazy escape? (I'm imagining that "crazy" looks like Ozzy Ozbourne right now... maybe it was the use of "crazy train")

    I only ask because, after hearing from colleagues about the mass bird deaths in Arkansas and Louisiana, and the even mass-ier fish deaths in the Arkansas River, it sounds kind of scary out there. Add onto that the preposterous situation that was today, and I'm thinking that the apocalypse is on our doorsteps.

    The first hour of my day went a little something like this...

    9:00am - return to office after breakfast duty. Start to gather materials for the morning of CSE meetings we have planned.
    9:02 - receive call that two fourth graders have walked out of the classroom and are running in the building (one of them was D; the "cool" thing didn't last very long). Someone who works with them both leaves to intervene.
    9:03 - receive call that a 2nd grader is off the wall throwing books around classroom, etc. Since his usual case worker is predisposed with D and R, someone else goes to take care of that.
    9:03 -  student's mother comes in to discuss his IEP. My colleague, MB, sits down with her.
    9:04 - receive call that D admitted to hitting a peer across the face during breakfast. Inform teacher that someone is on the way to intervene.
    9:04 - receive call that a 6:1+1 self-contained student going bananas upstairs in art. Someone goes upstairs to take care of the situation. Begin to hyperventilate. Meanwhile, D and R arrive in office unannounced. Aannddd...
    9:05 - D hulks out and throws a chair across my office and hits R. Is taken by MB to office, kicking and screaming. R remains behind.
    9:08 - after a couple more phone calls for wacky kids, the individual sent to deal with D and R initially returns to the office and takes R to nurse. IEP Mom leaves rather flustered.
    9:09 - get another call for the 2nd grader. Art Misbehaver comes to office and goes to another room with another colleague to talk and calm down.
    9:13 - MB has not returned after taking D to office, and she is running our CSE meetings, which begin at 9:30. I begin to panic, because I haven't gotten anything done for them.
    9:15 - begin moving files, laptops, tape recorder, etc over to meeting room. Realize that Art Misbehaver is in there and is in engaged in deep conversation. Leave awkwardly. Question whether we informed district parent advocate of time of first CSE meeting. Scramble to find her phone number; fail.
    9:17 - another colleague returns to the office with 2nd Grader and another young student whom I don't recognize.
    9:20 - 2nd Grader and Friend are taken into our CSE meeting room. Still haven't found MB despite searching over first floor for her.
    9:30 - prepared for CSE meetings, have found MB, in CSE meeting room, office informed to send substitutes to relieve teacher needed for meeting. But wait! R has taken off again, and MB heads upstairs.
    9:35 - begin to wonder where my sanity has gone.
    9:37 - begin to wonder where everyone for the meeting is.
    9:40 - dad for the first meeting arrives with our district parent advocate (yay!). Still no teachers. Go to the office to find out what is going on. Discover classroom teacher and speech teacher are absent, but sub was sent to reading teacher. Call reading teacher--sub never arrived.
    9:41 - die a little inside. Apologize profusely to CSE Dad. Find sub wandering hallway, discover he wasn't following the given schedule. Give him correct schedule, get attitude. Thanks.
    9:43 - return to meeting room, apologize more profusely to CSE Dad. MB is MIA. Leave to find her.
    9:47 - return to meeting room sans MB, but find her already in meeting room getting ready. Breathe for perhaps the first time since 9am. Reading teacher arrives.
    9:52 - begin first CSE meeting of the day, 22 minutes behind schedule.

    The rest of the day continued at a somewhat subdued level of ridiculousness. And, if you're on bated breath, D, R, 2nd Grader, and Art Misbehaver all went loco later in the day again, and I believe all were suspended. Oy vey.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    The Semantics of Stigma

    I read a blurb not long ago that President Obama signed Rosa's Law, which will replace the terms "mental retardation" in Federal law with "intellectual disability."

    We all know the stigma of the "mentally retarded." Unfortunately, society has given those words a very negative, disrespectful, and disempowering connotation. But if we actually look at the words themselves, it paints a somewhat different picture. "Retarded," when it isn't being used as a derogatory slang term, means "slow," or "hinder." Let's look at "intellectual disability." A synonym for "disability" is "incapability," which makes the whole switch-er-oo misleading. If we were to say that a student has an intellectual disability, we are saying that they have an intellectual incapability, while a mental retardation implies intellectual slowness.

    Of course, we're all talking in semantics. Words have meaning because of what we assign their meaning to be. That's why "mental retardation" evokes such a bad reponse in common conversation. However, when you use those words, you understand exactly the kind of case being described (for better or for worse). I think that, at it's most basic level, it calls a spade a spade. And honestly, parents have enough trouble understanding their child's handicapping condition and the implications it has for their educational future without being unable to understand their child's difficulties in the first place.

    Personally, I have nothing against "mental retardation." Like I said, it makes language very plain for those trying to understand and help a student in need. Moreover, I think that it would be a disservice to students with mental retardation to call them anything else. In order to adequately describe why a student receives special education services and to meet diverse and intensive needs, I think a powerful, understandable term like "mental retardation" is useful.

    I understand that it's hard to see the positive in something as negative as the word "retarded." It is a very serious term, but I really think that if it's possible to remove the social connotation and look at the words themselves, it helps us to understand that "mental retardation" has its use in the school system, especially if it helps students to receive the services they need.

    .... and this is me stepping off my soapbox! =D