Thursday, February 22, 2007


I've known Scary for a little over three years. At times it feels like ten years. My professional life would be so much easier if I disliked her. I don't. Scary is a loud, rude, overweight, intelligent, black, nineteen-year-old girl. She resides with her grandmother and great- grandmother in a trailer. The trailer is located in the country, exactly where Scary thinks it should not be located. Her baby was born in January 2006 just three months before Scary quit high school.

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

Easy Off, EASY I.E.P.

I enjoy computers. Going places on a whim intrigues me. Being able to surf cyberspace takes me places I probably never will go to in person. Collecting information from thousands of sources is remarkable. Some of it may even be accurate? I find web based programs amazing in their convenience. Even now I'm enjoying writing this using Google Docs & Spreadsheets. However, when a government agency embarks into the use and exploitation of web based programs my amazement dwindles. This brings me to EASY I.E.P.!

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.
Bear 4