Sunday, May 21, 2006


Rimscape is not an online fantasy game. It is a reality.

One of the saving graces of being an emotionally disturbed genius is creating your own reality and then living in it. I first encountered Lucas while he was sitting cross-legged on the gym floor silently refusing to participate. His principal had approached me to "help" Lucas by tricking him into dressing out for Wellness. The class use to be called Physical Education. No one in a government school should physically tax students. So the name was changed to Wellness. I suppose this new name is used to encompass the total person and to aid them into becoming a well person. Never mind that Lucas could not walk from one end of the campus to another without resting. The long tenured Wellness teacher has no tolerance for non-conforming students. Looking at my class list throughout the year testifies to the idea that non-conforming students quickly come to my class for the semester from Wellness class. Lucas is about as far from conforming as a student can become.

My first encounter with Lucas was very quiet. He may have had a lot to say to me, but he didn't. I left him sitting on the "Wellness" floor after telling him he could drop by my portable haven when he wanted. The principals expects me to make a difference in these student's lives and intercept them before they make it to their office again. I did not see Lucas again for one month.

Checking my teacher's mailbox on a Tuesday morning has become a behaviorist treat. On Mondays I find the normal bureaucratic pabulum. This includes edicts from the school board, and the school department chair, and from the liaisons in the Special Education department at the central office. Is there a commonality between the Central Party from the Cold War days and the central office we all answer to now? In my mailbox on Tuesday mornings are the referral sheets from the principals to "help" the students that had occupied their offices on Monday afternoon.

Tucked in with the other notes was a brief note instructing me to check in with the Honors Geometry teacher, Ms. Bottomline. Lucas is a student in her fourth period class telling me why I should check with her. The vision of him sitting on the gym floor not communicating clashed with my previous impressions of Honors Geometry. I could not and didn't care to argue with Ms. Bottomline's teaching style. She has been teaching the same class for twenty-six years. She teaches to the test, producing very good standardized scores and students. If anything is positive about Lucas it's his non-standardized persona.

After checking when her planning period was scheduled I entered her doorless room at the beginning of third period. All of the classrooms in the main building of the high school are doorless. The school had been built during the seventies trend of open classrooms. A time when the belief was that teaching crossed from one teacher to another and one student to another. Teaching by osmosis was a trend whose time long came and went. Now the school board was funding one door at a time enclosing each classroom. This year alone, one door was funded. It was not in Honors Geometry.

"How are you young lady," I asked Ms. Bottomline? My approach to each teacher is different. None of them view me as a "real teacher". Ms. Bottomline sometimes responded well to my good old country boy personality.

"What can I do with Lucas?"

I looked at her feigning my innocence, "What's he doing?"

"Nothing except drawing weird characters for some sort of computer game." Her desire to have him out of her class was barely masked by her anger for a student not conforming.

I had been quietly following any progress Lucas was or was not making in his classes for the past month and I knew the answer to this question. "How are his grades in Geometry?"

"He won't write notes, won't work in group. He won't even help on class projects!"

Okay, it's tooth pulling time. "But, what kind of grade is he making?"

"He's failing the class. He has no grades for anything except tests."

"How bad are his tests grades?"

The loudness and indignity mostly disappeared from her voice. "He gets one-hundred on all of his tests."

I could have replied in many different ways. I chose the politically correct response. "So you've found a way to penetrate his diagnosis of Emotionally Disturbed and teach to him?"

"But he's not doing any of the work I assign."

"So he doesn't participate and still makes hundreds on all tests?"

"Right, but that's not fair to the other students." I wanted to say it appeared that she thought it wasn't fair to her as a teacher. This student was absorbing everything that came from her and was spouting it back on the tests achieving perfect scores. This was not the time to expound on my belief that fair meant each student gets what they need to be successful. They do not get what everyone else has.

"Is there a chance that you could grade him on his tests scores and disregard everything else he is not doing?"

"That wouldn't be fair."

"Would your life be easier," I asked?

"Well, yes."

"And we would be compliant with the accommodations listed on his Individualized Educational Plan?" I was trying to guide her into being compliant with the law.

"It says he doesn't have to do assignments, but just take tests?"

"No, it says we will accommodate his unique disability. We should attempt to guide him during his high school career trying for academic success."

"Well?" She wanted me to say I could take him out of her fourth period class and shelter him in my classroom. I was not prepared to do that just now. However, I knew in the near future Lucas would become a permanent fixture at one of my computer monitors during fourth period. What I did not foresee was Lucas attempting to drag me into his Rimscape computer world. He would begin to share daily with me the "exciting" world of a computer game "reality". The game Lucas stayed up most of the night exploring. Exploring his reality and trying to ignore his twin brother's form of computer reality inside the same Rimscape world.

The only reality is the one we live in. Perhaps it is Rimscape? Perhaps it is the government school system. Perhaps it is the one we nurture with our students while we attempt to demonstrate that many things are important in our lives. It might even be school at some point.

Reality? What a concept.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting reading. I just rec'd in the mail my ESE certification, saying that I'm now certified to teach ESE from K-12. Of course, it's just a piece o' paper and i don't know JACK SH** about teaching ESE yet (other than what I've got in my head from having an autistic son).

    I'm seeing ESE as a sort of dumping ground and I applaud your approach for dealing with, ah... fussy teachers (26 YEARS of teaching the SAME subject?! I've taught for only 5 and other than 2 years of 3rd grade, I've taught something different each year!) I'm taking notes on how to be a better teacher, I'll have U know...