Monday, February 28, 2011

Mister Mayor

Today our school building welcomed the city's mayor into our midst. Before February break, we had many Black History Month contests going on for students, one of which was an essay contest. Students were encouraged to describe which African-American (famous or otherwise) they would honor if they were mayor for the day. The city's mayor chose three winners and came to our building today to announce and congratulate them. The winners each received a prize from the school and their whole classroom won either an ice cream or Subway lunch party. Each winner also received a gold pin from the mayor. After he read the essays and did some photo-ops with the winners, the mayor answered some questions from the students.

What a great experience it was for the winners and their classrooms! Our mayor is a well-spoken, articulate, intelligent African-American man. With so many of our students lacking positive male (and positive African American) role models in their lives, the opportunity to meet and chat with the mayor was fantastic. He seemed genuinely interested in the students and their experiences/questions. Being one of the lowest schools in the district academically, positive recognition from a figure of authority was a step in the right direction towards recognizing the good things going on in our building, as opposed to only the negative things. I hope that the students took something away from the experience, other than a tummy full of subs or ice cream!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Break Me Off a Piece of That

 Today marks the beginning of my "February break" from work. This is the first year that my district has scheduled a week off in February and a week off in April, instead of 2 weeks off in April.

Seriously?! What delusional individual expects teachers and staff, let alone students, to last from January 3rd to mid-April with only MLK, Jr. Day and President's Day off in-between? Yes, those working in the school system get a lot of days off. But, frankly, when you have apocalyptic days and work with kids like Squirmy McAntsypants, you need them. This break will be very welcome. Things have been wearing me down at work lately and I'm feeling a little burned out, so I'm welcoming the down-time with arms open so wide a semi-truck could drive through.

I plan on spending my vacation relaxing and recharging. I'm not going on any fancy or warm vacations. I'll be sitting in the snow that hasn't let go of it's hold on Western NY, as usual. There will be mornings spent at the gym, lunches with colleagues, and household chores to be done. The latter half of the week, I'm going to visit my dad and grandfather in the next city over.

Come February 28th, I'll probably wake up whining and grumbling that I have to go back to work, because no vacation is ever long enough. But, hopefully I'll be a little more rejuvenated!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Moving Day

I had a tough conversation with one of my buddies yesterday. T is in 5th grade for the second time and is having a lot of trouble. He's in special education and receives services in his general education classroom. He refuses to do work, will not complete assignments, and disrupts others who are trying to get their work done. He is in the lowest groups for reading and math and is struggling with basic concepts. He's experiencing a lot of frustration.

We had a CSE meeting last week for T to reevaluate his individualized education program (IEP). There was a lot of discussion between the team and his teachers to try and figure out what would be best for him. We were concerned that T would fail 5th grade again and remain in the same place academically he's been for the past year. Ultimately, we decided to place T in a 6:1+1 classroom. We thought that his intensive behavioral and academic needs could best be met in a smaller classroom.

T comes down a few times a day to check-in for good behavior. When he came down yesterday, my colleague MB and I explained to him that he was going to a different classroom that would help him be more successful in school. T was extremely upset. He is a very proud young man who doesn't respond well to embarrassment, upset, or unexpected situations. T was completely against going to the 6:1+1. He didn't want to leave his friends, and, although he wouldn't say it, I imagine he took it as a blow to his pride. We told him that we would never do anything to hurt him, and were thinking of his best interest and what would help him the most.

As the afternoon continued, T calmed, though he still wasn't keen on the idea. I went to his new classroom (which is the room that my "average" friend B is in) and explained to the rest of the class that they would have a new student after our February break. I told them that T was nervous and scared to come to their classroom, and that they would have to make him feel welcome when he arrived. The boys were so excited! They knew T and were happy he was going to be in class with them. Seriously, they're some of the sweetest boys ever.

I think that the 6:1+1 placement will be good for T and will give him all the positive adult attention and academic support he needs. I'm sure that on his first day, the boys will be overly welcoming. But, how T will react on February 28th? Not sure.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The following quote from a local newspaper sums up my undergraduate experience perfectly:
"The... bond is arguably tighter than at most schools. There's no med school, no research facility, no nearby big city to escape to. The glue that binds students through frigid winters is equal parts academic, basketball and beer. That's why a horde of alumni stay in touch long after their paths diverge." - Donn Esmonde
This weekend is Alumni Weekend and Boyfriend (who is also an alum) and I will be going to visit, along with my dad, his girlfriend, and her son, who is going for a college visit. To kick off Alumni Weekend, alumni across the country were called to celebrate "Pride Day," and wear clothing with the school name and/or colors.

Being the proud alumna that I am, I chose a sweatshirt with the school name emblazened across my chest (this coincided nicely with "dress down Friday"). First thing this morning on the way to breakfast, a first grader asks me, "What's wrong with your uniform?" Guess my lack of "teacher clothes" threw him off.

Friday, February 4, 2011

You're a psychiatrist?

I had my observation/review this afternoon with my principal. It went very well!

My principal is doing a portfolio review for me, since there is no formalized assessment manual for psychologists. In my district, psychologists and other Committee on Special Education (CSE) staff have only been in the school buildings for a few years. Before that, they were centralized in one building and would go out to hold evaluations and meetings. Schools are still a little shaky on what our roles are on the school staff, and how to measure our "effectiveness" at our job. My principal asked me to write a job description that she could reference while putting my portfolio together.

I was so tempted to refer her to this blog post. Maybe not the most professional. I printed her a description of what school psychologists do from the National Association of School Psychologists website instead.

Educating administrators on what it is I do, one pamphlet at a time. =D

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

You Were Born 16

Are kids really getting to be kids these days?

I was watching Modern Family the other day, and it was the episode with Manny's birthday party. As the preparations are made for his party, Manny starts to realize that even though he's a kid in age, he's never acted like one. He worries that he lost his childhood and starts to regress a bit trying to find himself.

A few weeks ago, I went to Boyfriend's niece's 11th birthday party. Talk about a little adult. Niece has always acted older than she is. She's a very mature, precocious 11-year-old. She has two very young half-sisters and she has had to provide a lot of the care and "mothering" for them. Niece has also been moved around a lot due to family circumstances. She's had to grow up very quickly, but is a bit of an anomaly. As much as she acts like a mature young lady, she is still very much a kid in her play and the toys she likes. She's in that awkward in between stage where in her heart and body she still is a kid, but in her mind and soul she isn't.

In my building, I see little kids acting way beyond their ages. R, my little apocalypse buddy (who is doing much better, by the by, especially since D is out on formal suspension following the Hulk'ed-out chair throwing incident), is the eldest, but at 10-years-old, he's hardly prepared to be the man of the house. He has many very young siblings, and is often up in the middle of the night feeding the babies. How can a kid concentrate in school when he worries about keeping his siblings fed at home? While he may be extremely well-spoken, put together, and articulate on the outside, what is he inside? Another middle school student is late to school every day because he has to get all his younger siblings off to school on the bus. He is falling behind in ELA, which he has first period, since he misses half the instruction time. Is it okay to sacrifice one student's grades in order to help boost the potential academic success of 3 others?

The whole "growing up too fast" hits close to home. When I was in high school, my mom was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. She went through intense chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and sickness. When I was at school, I was the model advanced placement, top 2% of my class student, but at home, I helped take care of my mom. I got food for her, when she could eat, I ran errands, and I cleaned up when she was sick. She passed away the second to last day of my senior year. After that, I stepped into her shoes a bit. As an only child, it was just me and my dad, so I took over the cooking and cleaning, not something an 18 year old is necessary prepared to do. But it helped me cope and it had to be done, so it was.

I guess there's two points to this post. One, don't take anyone at face-value, because you never know what's going on behind their face. Household environments, family structures, personal experiences, etc all have the potential to be uber tough, especially when working with urban populations. Two, when you can, let kids be kids. Let them play (and not just video games, real imaginative play), let them be curious, let them try things, and accept responsibilities that are not theirs to have yet. As educators, we can't control what goes on when they leave us, but we can help them to have something good while they're with us.