Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Let's begin with graduations. Two of my students, a brother and a sister, graduated in May. The sister with a real diploma and the brother with a SPED diploma. To their credit it was a tight race until the end or the beginning, depending on your view of education and life. The sister is convinced she is on her way to law school. Her brother is convinced he is on his way to prison. Their grades are quite equal which is not good news for the sister, Tamala. Brother Jose cared little about grades and more about social activities and skipping during his four year stay in high school. Tamala ran hot and cold with her studies during the same four year period. If a club trip to New York was in the works then her grades improved. Otherwise, boys and love were her priorities.
Jose began a period of intense worry around the first of May. He fretted daily about graduation. Each morning he came to me with the same question, "You heard anything about my graduation?"
Each time my reply was, "You're graduating on the 25th with the other seniors."
He failed to grasp the idea of a SPED diploma. You showed up, you're graduating, in accordance with your I.E.P. goals. I suspected, like others, his concern was more about being slapped by life after high school, e.g., job, living arrangements, responsibility for himself, adulthood, etc.
Tamala continued to be convinced she was on her way to law school. Somehow she is skipping over the first four years of college and the soon to be birth of her baby. Talk about being slapped by life.
I read in the local paper about an apartment fire in a complex where Emo, my goth student lives, in the middle of June. The fire began in a bush outside of his bedroom window. It engulfed the Section 8 apartment that he, his mother and her boyfriend occupied. Fortunately, the firewall stopped it from spreading to the other apartments. The cause of the fire has yet to be released, but I have my suspicions.
Roosevelt, a former student from three years ago, dropped by my house several times this summer. Sometimes with the mother of his daughter and the daughter, mostly by himself. Each time he bragged about his current job and how good a job it was. It didn't occur to him that he was sitting in my house at 10:00 A.M. which should be prime employment time. I patiently wait for his maturity to catch-up with him being a father. I'm still waiting. So is he.
I've tracked several news reports of home invasions, drug deals gone bad, drive by shootings, and car pursuits by the local police. Many involving the immediate families of my students. I vaguely question myself how these activities fall into No Child Left Behind and the government school system.
School begins in a week and many of my student will again search for a place they can find some moderate safety, if not a glimpse of a better future then their present environment. My portable classroom will again become a haven for a mere 180 days.
That leaves only 185 days in the year for them to find a way to survive life.
Monday, March 26, 2007
So many souls I encounter in the field of education are pursuing happiness. It may be the happiness of “molding” young minds, of meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, of receiving a paycheck, of pleasing administration, of being in control of something, of, of, of… and so on. Somewhere inside of me I’m sure there is a quest for happiness. I’m also convinced that happiness is an extreme. The other end of the spectrum is as vague to me as the definition of happiness. Not yet have I encountered a person that has achieved happiness. There appears to always be something missing or something else to pursue. My students often expound on the things that could make them happy. Their happiness meter may peak with the acquisition of a new girl or boyfriend, acquiring the same type clothing their peers are wearing so they can also be individuals, planning a party that seldom materializes, a daily breakfast, a caring parent, a parent, and so on, and so on.
Jerry's happiness goal is the National Football League. Regardless of the number of times we discuss the relatively few players in the NFL compared to the population of the country, he has no appreciation of the long shot against him playing professional football. He also sees no connection between playing in the NFL and not playing football in middle school and now not playing in high school.
Taylor's happiness goal is to continue as a country boy with minimum responsibilities. The last of this is in direct conflict with the pending birth of his baby by his fourteen-year-old girlfriend. Taylor makes no connection between earning a high school diploma and securing a descent paying job to support his new baby.
Tamela's happiness goal revolves around "true love". In this case her boyfriend, Won-Ton-Soup, of five years is the one she keeps going back to after they breakup. However, Walter, is the one she likes. Walter is her boyfriend's friend. They hang together, they steal together, they get high together, all three dislike Tamela. Her happiness goal continues to be elusive even after telling Walter she likes him.
Every month for the past two school years my happiness goal has been to think about leaving teaching. I know I'm exaggerating, but the amount of useless, government imposed documentation continues to rob me of my enthusiasm. Each time I sink into the paperwork doldrums one of students seems to pull me up. This time I can thank Donald. He is severely disabled, can't talk, and I suspect has no comprehension that he is in school. He has been away from high school for about six months and I expected he would never be back. Children's Services had placed him with his aunt in another town some 60 miles away. I was surprised that his mother had arranged a parole from the state prison and had been awarded custody again. She walked him to school today. He stood in the hallway grasping a pencil in his left fist. He loves holding pencils. I saw him and he reached out with his right hand, and grabbed my coat.
"Hello, Donald," I said.
"Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee," he replied! After the ear-splitting greeting he followed me into his classroom.
Donald dedicates most of his school day walking around the CDC classroom looking at different objects. Sometimes, those objects are other students food. Once a food object is spotted most often it will disappear into his mouth. The other students get upset and then take food from their fellow students. A vicious cycle of survival.
Donald's mother frequently is incarcerated. Her drug problem and her complete lack of resistance to follow the desires of other people often leads to trouble. I've talked to her several times when she brings Donald to school. Sometimes, he will ride the SPED bus if she is able to awake in the early morning. My conversations with her has led me to the realization that the only difference between her and her beloved son is that she can talk, somewhat.
Donald lends some degree of happiness to my life. I walk with him down the long hallway each morning. During the escort I talk to him about the beautiful morning, him being in school, his pursuit of education, how cool he looks, but I do not mention his frequent lack of cleanliness. His mother has considerable difficulty in this area. Donald doesn't seem to mind the aromatic disorder he leaves behind. During our walk he smiles each time I speak. Approaching the double steel door that divides the long hall he always becomes fascinated with the push bar. His free hand pushes the bar several times. I suspect to hear the loud noise it produces. Then we continue our trek to the CDC classroom. Donald appears happy in all of his situations. I wonder what his extreme in happiness could be?
Bo Man Tim seeks happiness in power. Gang power. Know one working in the school knows for sure what gang he his affiliated with, but the common belief his that he is a member. I watch him on the sidewalk between classes and during lunch. He holds court as various and numerous males pass by offering the "secret handshake' and mumbling "important words". Their free hand holding the sagging pants up around their plumbers crack. Bo Man Tim appears to spend more time on out-of-school-suspension then he does in school. I've been entertained by his mother during several telephone calls. I suppose it could be safe to assume she is "snowed" by her baby boy. She frequently tells me how much Bo Man Tim loves the high school, how he wants only to graduate, and she believes he is a genius. I gather that his extreme happiness is remaining an innocent child in his mother's eyes.
About two weeks ago I knew I would achieve happiness because Spring break was beginning on March 19th. My anticipation grew with each passing day as I counted down toward happiness. It came and I knew I was going to do wonderfully fun and relaxing activities. By the 21st, Wednesday, I began to feel a lack of any happiness and then the realization began to grow that I would be happy on the 26th, the first day of school after Spring break. I walked Donald down the hallway this morning telling him about the wonderful day he was about to have. I passed Bo Man Tim and his court. Happiness is an extreme that know one ever reaches. That is probably the best we can hope for. If you are reading this, be extremely happy, sort of......................
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Her mother was released from prison two days before Scary's eighteenth birthday. A special birthday gift that Scary didn't need. Her mother moved into the trailer with promises of starting new and being a positive part of Scary's life. The old adage of "a day late and a dollar short" would apply in this instance. Scary gave birth under the same circumstances her mother had; unmarried, barely eighteen-years-old, fathered by a boy that also dropped out of school, with neither one having prospects for a job and no desire to be employed.
I first met Scary at her annual I.E.P. meeting as she was getting ready to be promoted to the ninth grade. Her grandmother attended along with a bevy of "feel good" middle school teachers excited that Scary was going to high school. The excitement was firmly based in the joy that she would no longer be in their snug brown brick, neatly manicured government school. Perhaps I'm to jaded by the battles I encounter daily in a large urban high school, but I've long thought that middle school teachers are comfortable in their "save-the-whales" mentality. They seem to believe all students are buying into their utopia of educational bliss. A place where I.E.P. meetings last three hours or more. Where goal sheets can number thirty or more. Parents, teachers, social workers, therapists, distant and near relatives all contribute to a life plan that goes beyond high school where every child attends college, graduates, and become world leaders in medicine, education, politics, science, and technology. However, every now and then, or more often, a student like Scary upsets the cart. A student that does not give a damn what adults think is in their best interest, goal, or life path. These students are going to do what they want, whenever they want, according to their own mysterious and unorganized plan. At times they go along with educational teams just to get away from the team. They can speak the right words, agree at the right times, and nod their heads to make adults feel comfortable, then move on to the next team.
Scary entered high school with a loud, boisterous fanfare. She was sent to her principal's office four times in the first three full days of school. By the third week she was a self-contained fixture in my class. After three school years, numerous Behavior Intervention Plans, more meetings then I care to remember, that made all of us feel we were striking a blow against behaviors that impeded Scary from being successful in high school her plan became visible. For a full nine months her plan became more and more visible. Then in January 2006 the cycle began all over again.
Her son was born with little difficulty for Scary. Her grandmother provides most of the paternal care. The father comes to visit Scary on weekends, by bus. Scary is not welcomed at his parents home in the neighboring town. Both of these two young "parents" have been arrested frequently for such things as disturbing the peace, shoplifting, and other petty crimes. Department of Children Services appears ineffectual to aide the new baby. I saw Scary one evening walking on a street in the local projects dressed for financial gain. I do not know what she was up to, but it could not have been anything good?
As most teachers believe, students leave school, and few ever return to provide updates on their successes and failures. Scary had not contacted me for nearly a year, but I had received updates on her family's welfare from various sources. Then one busy, negative behavior ridden Wednesday one of the assistant principals approached me with a FAX in his hand. A local section eight housing complex was requesting a letter of reference to assist Scary in securing an apartment. The principal decided it was me that should compose a masterpiece of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and pronouns that would surely sway the apartment complex manager in giving Scary, her son, and new daughter a comfortable apartment away from the country life she hated. It was suggested that in would be more effective if it came from me and not on government school stationary? I thought differently. I composed the letter, a full three paragraphs long. My aide read the finished product and commented, "This is really good. You wrote three paragraphs and didn't say anything." She was correct. However, it appeared to be a glowing recommendation. The assistant principal and principal received their copies just as the FAX was completing transmission to the apartment manager. The principals were not happy, but Scary was, the manager was, and I had done my job, hopefully, with a final contribution to Scary's life plan started so long ago in middle school.
Scary moves into her new home on the first of next month.
Friday, February 16, 2007
On the surface I have no major difficulties with EASY I.E.P. The idea, perhaps the dream, is to have Individual Education Programs, (I.E.P.), readily available via computers on the web. Gathering together all meeting participants, hovering around a computer, discussing new goals and objectives for a Special Education student is noble. Noble if the computer is working, if the internet is available, if EASY I.E.P. hasn't suddenly assigned your student to another teacher, and if everything prints after all participants agree on the final I.E.P. These are only the major "ifs"! Let's not forget the overwhelming motivation for any system to sign-on and use this program. It's cheaper then the one previously used which was in use because the first computerized I.E.P. system crashed when the company suddenly disappeared.
The Sasquatch family is punctual. They are also large humans with long hair and a 15-year-old daughter that they have very little understanding of the things she wants to do and the things she does do. "Lolita" needs to please any young man that shows an interest in her. They have came in through her bedroom window late at night. She has gone out her bedroom window late at night. At times she has stayed inside her room and they have stood outside her window. All of this aside, she is a very sweet, friendly, and caring child that thrives inside a very poor family. A family more concerned with how to receive the next government check and if they have a lawsuit against anyone or group.
The whole family showed for the scheduled I.E.P. meeting on the coldest January day we had experienced in years. Daddy Sasquatch entered the assistant principal's office and announced, "Those idiots don't know a damn thing! Global warming my ass."
Momma Sasquatch agreed with, "You damn right man."
The whole family settled into the available chairs. Dad, Mom, two little girls, two little boys, and of course my student "Lolita". I turned the computer cart so the parents could see the magic of EASY I.E.P. The first page of the document was visible on the screen. The Sasquatches leaned in unison toward the screen. They were fixated on the scanning pixels of the I.E.P. document.
"Okay, this is the first page of "Lolita's" I.E.P.," I said.
"How much did this contraption cost," Momma Sasquatch asked?
"Huh....I never thought about it," I said.
"A damn lot I bet," Daddy Sasquatch said.
"I suppose so."
"Can you get that internet crap on it?"
"When it's hooked to it, sure."
"Show me that gambling place we get over at Momma's sister's trailer."
"I'm sorry, but we can't do that, we're here to develop your daughter's annual I.E.P." I said.
Momma Sasquatch said, "Oh, whatever you come up with is okay. Just keep her from behind the school with some boy. She ain't gonna get pregnant doing what she does with those boys. Keep her away from the dark ones, too."
I'm seldom at a loss for words, but this was one of those times. It didn't occur to me to go on to the second page. One of the little boys jump up and ran around behind the computer cart tripping over the power cord and severing the lifeline for EASY I.E.P. The screen went black, the hard drive whirled to a stop and the printer cartridge danced from one side of its track to the other trying to shutdown.
"Get on back to your class girl. We got to get going," Daddy Sasquatch ordered my student and the rest of his family. They left in the same order they had entered. After they were situated in their new Ford van they drove off.
Some days later I finished "Lolita's" I.E.P. and sent it home with her for Momma and Daddy to sign. I'm still waiting for the return. "Lolita" never misses a day of school. She bounds off the short bus with the biggest smile I've recently encountered from a student. She loves school, classes, school buses, school food, boys, and her family. Sometimes EASY I.E.P. is just to easy.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Joe is of Middle Eastern descent, 5' 2" tall, approximately 200 pounds, generally dresses in black, and uses markers to write LOVE - HATE across the tops of his fingers. His makeup, when he can smuggle it past his mother in the mornings, is black eye shadow and black mascara. He strives to be Gothic without ever stating he is Gothic. It is fine if others call him Gothic because then he prides himself in others recognizing what he wants to be in life. Doing any school work is out of the question. Failing is a badge of honor proclaiming how others see him. I do not want to lose sight of Joe's intelligence masquerading as a Goth inside his behavior. I like him very much and he knows I do.
Joe rolled into my portable during fourth period today. Sitting himself next to me at the large white library table I utilize as seating. Sometimes, I feel like Grandpa Walton and then at times I feel like Al Capone holding court. Surrounding myself with the students assigned to me has eliminated many of the negative interpersonal behaviors that cause them to come to me. I shoved a folded note to my right for Joe.
"What's this," he asked?
"Looks like a piece of paper," I said.
"What's on it?"
"I wrote you a love note."
"Oh, sarcasm," he said opening the note.
I had written a small spelling lesson based upon what I had read on his MySpace page;
ANARCHIST not ANARCHY
FAGGOT not FAGGIT
Joe you can't be an ANARCHY, but you can be an ANARCHIST.
If you're striving to be something else then you can't be a FAGGIT, but you can be a FAGGOT. However, regardless what people think you are, you remain Joe.
He had no comment about about the note. However, he did have something to say about his MySpace site.
"Have you looked at my MySpace?"
"Why would I waste my time?"
"All teachers are nosy."
"If you didn't want people to see your site then it wouldn't be there."
Some of the other students joked about what he had said about teachers being nosy. We both ignored them. Joe understood that I had taken time to read his writings and perhaps I did so because I am interested in his well being.
It's now been two days since the note exchange. I just checked Joe's MySpace site. The spellings and usage have been corrected. More importantly though the picture of him giving the world "The Finger" while wearing a mask has been replaced by a picture of him giving the world "The Finger" without a mask.
A very small victory for him in what I hope is a long life.
Monday, January 29, 2007
After the other two students have departed the bus Annie will stand and wait holding her hand outward. Waiting for me to take her hand and escort her down the two steps. She smiles and looks around at the school seeing it for the first time and stepping down like a Southern Belle making her debut. Running ahead of me she burst into the cafeteria, stops, looks around and takes a seat at one of the long white tables. These are the same tables that everyday at lunch she eats the white chunks of tofu her mother sends for her lunch. I do not think that Annie likes tofu. She shoves each one of the two inch square chunks into her mouth and swallows after very little chewing. Her mother long ago decided that 5' 10" tall Annie needed to lose some of her 110 pounds and become more healthy. Just last week though it was discovered that after eating tofu for lunch for months, plus the giant pretzels and donuts offered to her by other students and some teachers she had gained 15 pounds. She looks and acts very healthy.
Perhaps, I should mention that Annie is autistic. She explores the world around her from inside her own world. I adhere to the theory that she is locked inside herself and may be struggling to communicate with the stimuli around her. More importantly to me I find her to be a wonderfully, delightful young student. Sometimes she will say hello. Mechanical gadgets attract her like a moth to a flame. She loves turning fans, lights, and such on and off. Laughing loudly, when these items surge into their action, the excitement is very entertaining to her. It is so easy to become bogged down in describing Annie's autism. I do not want to write an educational observation narrative.
One unusually warm January morning I had assisted Annie off the SPED bus and we were sitting at the cafeteria table. She behind me as I sat looking out the glass doors waiting for other students and teachers to arrive. I was enjoying a good monologue with Annie, occasionally turning my head to direct the words toward her. Questions that would not be answered by her.
"Did you have a good weekend Annie?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"Don't you think it's hot for January?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"Are you going to have a great day?"
No answer from the other side of the table.
"You're very quiet this morning Annie."
The fire alarm startled me. Jumping up I saw Annie standing next to the wall mounted fire alarm switch. It was pulled down, she was holding her headphones even tighter against her head, and she was looking around trying to find the source of the loud obnoxious noise. I ran to her to console her hopefully out of the fear racking her brain. I stopped the two other students from going outside while I frantically tried to get my key out to open the office and call the fire department. They needed to know it was a false alarm. However, everything was working against me trying to report. The keys were trapped in my jeans pocket, Annie was scared and shaking, the other two students continued to insist it was a fire and wanted outside. To the department's credit the firemen arrived in approximately six minutes. I looked at the four brave firemen burst into the cafeteria ready to save lives and structure!
After trying to explain to the firemen, I was not being very successful. I tried getting the two other students to calm down and stay back some distance. Annie was still shaking badly and looking around. One of the firemen succeeded in shutting the noise off.
"We're going to have to report a false alarm and someone is going to be in trouble," the lead firemen said.
"Well, I understand. Perhaps you need to interview the culprit?"
"Yes sir, we'll need the name of the student that set the alarm off."
I turned Annie around and faced her toward the fireman. "Annie say hello to the fireman."
"Hellooooo," she complied.
"Hi young lady," the fireman said.
"Hellooooo," she said again.
He looked at her and then at me. "Autism," I said.
"Oh. Well, I guess we've done all we can do here. Watch her closer."
Annie and the Great Fire Alarm Caper came to an end except for some paperwork I had to complete. Annie was very subdued for quite sometime. She walked a wide birth around all mechanical gadgets for the rest of the day.
Mr. "Smith's" son is a junior in high school. A fine young man that was not always so fine. In prior schools he frequently initiated fights. Joshua is more then vaguely familiar with alternative schools having been sent away several times by beleaguered government schools attempting to control their environment.
This father showed for the behavior meeting ready to defend his son. Generally, defend would imply an adversary which was not the case. He defended his son because of love, caring, and compassion. He freely told of family difficulties such as a mother fighting her own demons, an older brother hopefully completing an incarceration of four years, and his son now in our high school trying to overcome temptations of being a teenage male. Joshua is not much different then any other teenager. He loves his girl, his car, and his saggin' pants. Perhaps not in that order. Joshua's father is more concerned that his son believe he was on the his side. It appeared he and his son have a long history of the boy doubting his father's support.
Mr. "Smith" loves his son. He politely defended him to the principal that had suspended the boy for three days from high school, "I've taught my son not to start a fight, but to defend himself if he is attacked."
The principal is also a self-ordained southern preacher and has slowly came to the belief that he can "save" students from themselves. However, it should be noted that only select students are worthy of being "saved". The principal will deem which are to be blessed. "I understand what you say, but he was involved in a fight. He should have made the decision to walk away after being hit.", the principal said, leaning back in his desk chair.
I watched more then listened to the exchange between the father and the principal/preacher. Mr. "Smith" wanted badly to be a hero in his son's eyes and the preacher absent-mindedly pushed the buttons on his desk phone appearing to be detached from the situation. Mr. "Smith" attempted to explain the relationship he was trying to repair with his 16-year-old-son before it was to late. The principal wanted to get to the homecoming pep rally.
I do not want the principal to appear in a bad light. He has put in over thirty years as a teacher and assistant principal, seeing his share of troubled students and troubled parents. He found a voice for his frustration in his religion, perhaps a voice speaking more to his own mortality then the needs of a student in a government school?
The meeting was a short one, only twenty minutes or so. Mr. "Smith" wanted to continue talking with me as I walked him to his car. He wanted me to know how much he loves his son struggling to find common ground for them to share, e.g., football, working on cars, going to drag races, and etc. All the things a man of the 60's and 70's excelled in and wanted to share with his son. He only had one request of me, "Could you please find a way to let my son know that I stood up for him?"
I reassured him of this and watched him drive off in the 60's muscle car that he was trying to restore with his son's help.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Of course, the move started the day all students returned to the campus. My little band of students were shuffled off to one of the two school cafeterias. The promise of being inconvenienced for only one week rang in my ears for the next two months. It was true that the move only took one week. However, because these twenty-year-old trailers were moved, they had to be brought up to state and local codes. This procedure involved approximately nine different special teams of workers and inspectors. These groups never seemed to be following a single game plan nor could they communicate with each other. So, as the cold of winter swept into the geographical bowl housing our fine government school, we all sat looking out through the glass walls of the cafeteria. Frequently amused by the circus we witnessed, more often we saw no human workers for days. I did notice that many mornings around 6:30 A.M. a county government truck parked beside the relocated trailers. The driver would get out and lean against the side of the rusted, white truck. He sipped his foam cup of coffee until it was gone and then he was gone.
Finally the trailer passed codes and so did my students. We were back inside our little escape pod. Allowing them to escape at times from the reality of a government school. I would like to think that our new location in the courtyard of the Principal's proud football champion school brought new and unexplored behavior problems. However, many of the faces are new, but the problems are the same. Now the problems are surrounded more closely by neighboring trailers. The place has become known in short order as the trailer park. I appointed myself the Acting Mayor/City Manager.
The power may go to my head as I design the sidewalk supervision schedule for the other teachers.
So far the sidewalk continues to be safely attached to the ground.
As all teachers I work as my struggle with (NPLB) No Paperwork Left Behind increases. We can't leave any child behind without the appropriate paperwork. I've watched the influx of additional Bloods, Cripps, Goths, locally grown gangstas, and imported thugs from outside our borders. They all attempt to stay below the administration radar, sometimes with success. More often they rise to be noticed. At this point most of them pass through my classroom.
With the increase of individuals that stay with me for shorter and shorter periods of time my work load has increased. Additionally, the Atlas Program was dropped into my lap without an invitation. Arranging services for this most transient, (homeless), of students has evolved into a full-time vocation. This group of students come with behaviors that few other students possess.
I've also became aware of several students availing themselves of the "wonderful child friendly environment" known as MySpace. Many of my students, especially the gangtas' and the Goths, have become very involved with this website. It appears that the exchange of cryptic information among fellow group members is the priority. They all seem to be unaware of strangers invading their world; dangerous strangers. When this subject is brought up to any of them the reply is always the same, "No one can get by me."
All of them dismiss the possibility or probability that they can become an addition to THE DEAD KIDS OF MYSPACE. I've forwarded this website to most of the parents of my students and to fellow teacher and administrators. Few have even noticed what I consider as the important message at this website.
There appears to be no neutral ground in the battle to educate. Now the battlefield has no boundaries. We as teachers appear to be always playing catch-up in the attempts to educate with some knowledge beyond standardized tests. The Dead Kids of MySpace are obviously beyond our grasp, but perhaps their sisters, brothers, friends, and peers could be pulled back from the oblivion. We often lose the battles and hope against hope that we win the war.