String Theory

Screenshot 2016-05-12 11.12.45

This piece is dedicated with love to the B family! You are awesome. Thank you to The New Yorker Magazine, 16 May 2016 edition, for a cartoon which best explains the complexities of connections in and around who does what when it comes to a 504 and/or IEP.

Looking at this image is the ever present reminder the student is in the middle of a complex, abstract equation of life –  every single connection is to the student, yet the strings often have to be connected, manipulated and flexed by the parent(s). The toughest job I have as a teacher/tutor is to assist in getting the right strings pulled in the exact right way to obtain the most appropriate assistance for any student.

Some days it is rope pulling (when I wish to keel haul someone); some days it is floating spider silk so gently, so discretely no one realizes they are caught in the ‘web’. There are days when only wool tapestry thread , coated with wax  will mend the hole and some days where the finest, purest and cleanest cotton must be used for carefully suturing voile with no known evidence. There are meetings where a hole needs to be made and sewn together later. I have had to use verbal seam rippers at times to be clear.

The existence of http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/01/19/top-ten-most-ridiculous-comments-heard-at-an-iep-meeting/  confirms it is not just my perception, it is the perception of those of us on the front lines who wish to change the perception of special ed.  Before we had the label special ed, these children were often beaten, mentally abused and not cared for or about. They were and continue to be expendable based on how our various legislatures dysfunction in the U.S.

Most of our prisons are filled with people who fell into the category of special ed, if someone had but only noticed the discrepancy and got past the issues of race, poverty in upbringing and children who did not conform to a model of normal. The foster care system, coupled with special ed is almost a direct ticket to one of Dante’s  seven levels of hell as you rarely find anyone interested in weaving the fabric to make some one’s life whole.

I prefer to see the ‘system’ as a weaving machine. The better I become at woof and warp, shuttling the yarn, adjusting the tension, the more likely I can obtain the services to improve the quality of life for many, deplete the folks in line for prison and give the gift of loving to learn.

To be able to partake in the belief and then the journey  Sakichi Toyoda  began and his son Kiichiro continued would be to move special ed from flour sack rags to

MATERIAL from Theory

  • 88% wool, 12% silk
  • Dry clean
  • Italy
STYLE #: G0171201

FABRIC: KEMP      PRODUCT NAME: JAKE W

It took a long time to get us the Toyota car of today and the perseverance was extraordinary.  We can get there!

 

http://www.toyota-global.com/company/history_of_toyota/1867-1939.html

http://www.wsj.com/articles/trousers-that-solve-all-your-problems-1462992223

http://www.theory.com/JAKE-W/G0171201,default,pd.html?dwvar_G0171201_color=B7H&start=5

 

Autonomy is NOT for the weak of spirit.

In the final months of 2015 and beginning 2016, I learned how the word autonomy is often carelessly substituted for it’s  more distant cousin, tenure.  In the State of Iowa, educators at the K-12 level determined the use of the word autonomy  was a great way to cover many aspects of teacher professionalism, including stagnation.  I am sure autonomy was meant to reward teachers for persistent professional development and changes in their professional practice in much the way tenure is handed out. The problem is tenure and autonomy do not mean the same thing, do not convey the same entitlements and both are not a singular, crowning achievement. Both words are based upon concepts of good judgement,  efficacy and use of prudent thought- especially in the realm of education.  Autonomy does not mean ‘right to self govern’ by caveat and it is not an excuse for poor teaching practices.

Autonomy has now been bandied about in a number of  meetings I have attended at the bequest of parents for students who fall in the category of being entitled to a 504 (http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/section-504-2/ ) or IEP (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualized_Education_Program).   It is the practice of misusing the term autonomy which has become an anathema to the education process. I have reason to believe administrators at the school, district, county and state levels inherently know the mis-appropriation of the word and yet have nothing else to use to cover what does not happen in the classroom.

Although I understood the context of how autonomy was being used, it took multiple school districts and situations for me to determine the consistency of the application of the word to get around students with different needs. The common practice  in Iowa seems to be identifying a behavioral problem instead of the learning issue/disability preventing the student from succeeding.  While it is disturbing to see so many students not receive appropriate services and disheartening to see it covered up by selective use of vocabulary, it does not change the fact – Iowa can and should do better.

In my brief experience(s) with local schools and districts, I have witnessed a pretty firm degree of  intractability and disengagement from teachers and administration. I can not help but wonder how things could be different if these self same people decided to work with students and parents.  I need to introduce the word fulcrum . Fulcrum is much more useful and seems to actually change situations.

 

When Parents Choose NOT to Conform and Help Their Children

When I was a classroom teacher there were always parents who could not or would not conform to the basic rudiments of organization and being a back up support to their child. Part of it was the parent lacked education and was disorganized in their own life, part of it was living a complicated life with multiple jobs and then there were the parent(s) who for whatever reason had the resources, where with all and time and refused to conform as if my asking them to play a role in their child’s education was one step too far (they brought them into this world – apparently this was their entire job in their world view).

Not amazingly, the most impoverished children had  parents who tried the hardest as they realized the difference an education would make for their child. These particular parents would have sold a kidney if it would help their child. The kids of these particular parents had the message loud and clear – you must achieve something more than your parents.

It was the middle class, upper middle class and upper class (oh yes, I taught at a private school in Santa Monica, CA) who could not be bothered with the drudgery of following through on assignments, making sure the child sought out help from the teacher, hired a tutor, etc. It was these self-same parents who became nag monsters when their child was doing poorly and they wanted me to fix the problem as apparently it would seem teachers are given magic wands with their diplomas.  These parents could not be bothered to attend Back to School night or contact some one for help navigating the on-line school website portal where student agendas and grades were located.

Now, many years later as a tutor, I continue to confront these same issues with the same cast of characters. When I attempt to impose order on chaos, I am right alongside with this year’s flu vaccine……you want the shot except you might be run down for a day, your arm might hurt, you have to schedule it and so forth so you don’t obtain the shot and get virulently (literally and figuratively) angry when you get the flu.  In today’s world, most teachers post assignments on-line and computers can be checked during the course of the day. Teachers are able to respond to e-mails instead of attempting phone tag. So many things are more efficient and yet the same small group of parents can not get it together.

Whether it is fear and/or arrogance, it does not benefit your child to make the choice of not conforming. It teaches your child (without any words) what one type of lazy behavior may be and allows them to follow suit. Trust me, kids know everything – even when you tell a fib.

As a teacher, I often had anywhere from 30-180 students depending on grade level and subjects taught. Following up on one student took all my time. Uncooperative parents meant I did not ever get to sleep as I had to respond to them.  As a tutor, I typically have 20 students at various ages and abilities over different subject areas. In my case, up to 50% of those students have an identified special need which can be ‘on the spectrum Autism’ to full-blown ADHD with missing executive function skills and lack of impulse control, severe dyslexia, visual or aural processing issues, etc.  If I have 10 of those students a week, this means I must rely on the parents of these children to do what I can not do when I am only there once or twice a week.

When the parents of these and my ‘regular’ children choose not to conform and be helpful, I am limited in what I can do. The school is limited in what it can do. Change is NOT what some one else does to your child, rather it is what you create/instill/demonstrate/work on with your child. You have it all backwards if you believe a tutor or teacher has that much control over outcomes for your singular child. You are the person who needs to support the teacher and tutor in making change occur.

Sometimes parenting is difficult. Life is not fair – ever. You may have to give up your favorite TV show or social activity so you can check your child’s homework and review on-line the assignment. You may need to actively engage in studying, which is not homework; Studying is what good students do above and beyond homework. You may need to go to bed late. You may not be able to over schedule your kid and need to think about what can be cut out for the time being to get things back on track. You might need to review Algebra on Khan Academy so you CAN have a conversation with your child about math.

Whatever it is which needs to be done – please do it! This is YOUR child. Help me help your child to learn, succeed and be a productive member of society. Help me achieve the goal of self efficacy for your child by pulling your part. I want to work WITH you…..not alone.

This disease of COALG and the unfolding on college campuses everywhere.

 Idylls of the King

I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

During my childhood and into my adult years,  I was fortunate enough to know a woman named Yvonne Oshiro. She was no ordinary woman. Not by a long shot. She was the mother everyone should have, most especially if you were a child with special needs. Yvonne had a love larger than the sun and hopefulness beyond the rays of said sun. If belief could make something into being, Yvonne would have been the most important and significant alchemist.

What I learned from Yvonne is too large to put into a blog, journal or book. It was the experience of a lifetime in small bites over a long period of time. I learned there are no Children of a Lesser God, there are only children who become adults. Don’t get me wrong, Yvonne did not think every born child was functional. She knew better. Yvonne grew up in Italy bordering on France in a time when surviving winter was an endeavor. Yvonne knew some children were not able to live. She loved them anyways. For the children who did live, Yvonne waged a campaign on ‘the system’ to make sure those children had access, education and human rights/dignity. Each child had a purpose and was going to live a life worthy of dignity.

Throughout my life I have worked with students at various levels. At times I am hopeful a child has  some possibility at living a meaningful life and I know when I wish we had better euthanasia laws in this country. I do not say this with cruelty or any sense of mean spirit. I say it from the point of view of the oath doctors take – do no harm. We can and often do things which are beyond reason in the name of keeping some one alive and we rob them of their dignity while providing them with something we call being alive. I also say this about cancer patients as many people seem to think being alive is the same as living a life.

In the case of children with special needs, they have a purpose beyond the medical establishment and studies surrounding what and how something happened. These children can often learn productive skills and have a life beyond a vegetative state. Many of these children would pass for Children of a Regular God if we understood what we, as a society, needed to do.

Unfortunately, even teachers in Grade K-12 have limited exposure to students with differentiated needs. There is generally a requirement of one or two courses to obtain your credential and the rest of your ‘learning’ is on the fly, in the classroom.  Since my background is speech pathology, I took years of classes in development both pre and post-partum. My learning continued on the fly, in the classroom – it was a different experience. I also had years of Yvonne ‘experience’ and wisdom under my belt.

I now work as a tutor and my students span K-12 and college. Until last year, I only had collegiate students which were ‘normal’ and needed to learn how to study. Supposedly they had the ‘capacity’.

Over the course of Fall of 2013 and Spring 2014, I was contacted by a family to tutor a student at a local private college. The conversation went in fits and bursts. A parent letting me know what the student’s needs were and being frustrated and angry, a phone call regarding navigating the behemoth of the registration department at the private college,  etc. and so forth. In the Spring of 2014, I was asked to tutor the student as things had headed south and the family was hoping there was some way to turn things around. This was a turning point for me. I so wish Yvonne had been alive to give me guidance for what I faced and ways to think about navigating the ‘system’.

All the rules and ways in which ADA works are  upended on college campuses. Colleges and universities have limits on the amount of support/assistance/help they can provide to students who are not ‘normal’. Since college professors outside the education department are not required to know about how students learn and differentiated instruction, I was left trying to explain to various PhD professors what should be done differently for this particular student so they could succeed. None of what I suggested was challenging or difficult and all of it would benefit any other student. It was definitely not ‘routine’ lecturing and assigning essays. Furthermore, who the hell was I (I do not have a PhD) to tell a professor how to do their job. In the process of advocating for a student, I saw the unabashed ugliness of professors  and heads of departments who may be top in their field yet lacking in expertise of sharing the power of their knowledge. It was horrifying to be condescended to by professors as a tutor when both of us should have the goal of helping students learn. The hands of the director in student services (students with special needs) were also tied and the registrars office made things much more complicated and less streamlined than necessary. By time all was said and done, the student was severely penalized on a number of fronts. I was penalized by not being able to help the student. I was brought on to late to unravel a mess  even the best knitter would call something worse than frogging.

Whether the student did or did not succeed, whether the student could have succeeded without a tutor and support is a discussion for a different day. What is at hand is the very elemental idea of providing a student with the pieces in place to succeed.  A college education at a private university should not be cobbled together from duct tape and baling wire not even provided by the registrar or dean of the school.

When a college or university looks to accept a student, one of the elements under consideration is whether this student has the capacity to persist and finish their studies so they may obtain a degree. At this particular university, the student was not allowed to enroll in the fall as they had to prove they could handle 3 + classes at a time (full-time status) instead of the one or two the student had been taking at community college previously to meet undergraduate requirements. Since this had not been explained until ‘after the fact’ to the student or parents or me, it was an unfortunate delay. The student was then ‘registered’ into classes by the registrar and put in classes with professors least likely to be willing to work with the student to help them succeed. In point of fact, some of the professors pointed out the student ‘seemed’ normal and did not understand why they might need an extension on a due date or why sentences may not be perfectly written but actually made sense or why doing oral/aural Socratic method would have told the professor everything they needed to know as the student had a challenge writing. I do not actually think there were more things this university could have done to make the student uncomfortable and to feel hopeless.

Instead of doing the task at hand of educating a student, this university did everything as obstructive and not conducive to learning as was possible. This was not the end.

I was subsequently referred to another parent and student new at the university for Fall 2014. The student was not given the help and support on day one to meet their needs. They actually changed classes the second week of school which created a large obstacle which has not been entirely overcome at this time. The professor(s) from the same department as last year’s grief, did not learn a thing so they have made things entirely difficult.  One of the issues is the professors need to go off on tangents during lecture which is incredibly challenging for this student who has processing issues. I have seen the notes from the note taker SELECTED by the professor……they are an outline. This particular student needs more than an outline.

It is unclear what the professor (HOD) is trying to prove – they can make  a student so miserable they will leave the campus, they will make the student rue the day they ever thought this subject was important (it is, trust me), they can prove they have a PhD yet lack the substance of actually being an educator……I could go on and on. I have no clue what motivates this person to think they way they do about education.

What I do know and what I think is important would be classes on college campuses for students who need more TIME.

Some students would actually benefit from one class stretching two terms. It may be a student who is a parent, going back to college and they work full-time. They can not commit 20 hours a week and do well and have the information matter in their education. If they had two terms, they could succeed, do well and actually learn something.  It might be a student with needs for differentiated instruction. We have different high schools around the country which have block scheduling and students can have two hours a day of Algebra for one term or they can have one hour a day for two terms. Both situations fit different students. Selecting one over the other is a fancy way of selecting which students succeed…..I don’t think I need to elaborate.

No, college is not high school. Yes, we should figure out how to educate more students. What is wrong with helping students succeed if they need more time, better notes, oral/aural discourse instead of writing a paper, books on tape, etc.? What is it I am missing which makes educating the ‘not normal’ students so wrong? Would we deny a returning service member the assistance to succeed? Yes – we do that all around the country. College campuses should be beyond needing to ‘see the disability’ to serve it and yet we do it to those who would benefit so much from an education and in turn benefit our community and country.  What is it we fear so much we can not actually do what is right/correct?

Somehow something seems fishy if students are accepted to a private university and actually set up to fail. It reeks of…….making money. Children of a lesser God  seems to be the way I would describe people who see money as more important than education.

When Price and Toll Are Mutually Exclusive Concepts

As a tutor I face an abundance of conundrums.  I have to make decisions as to whether or not to take a job as each student I tutor, each assignment I work on with a student reflects on me, my credibility, integrity and reputation. There is no price for having integrity and a good reputation, especially if you have a teaching credential.  My teaching credential makes it even more of a challenge when tutoring in areas involving writing as there is the doctrine of academic dishonesty, which is as serious or more than plagiarism.  It is common for me to turn down jobs and recently I have had to specify for English and History tutoring, there needs to be a draft paper completed by student before I will tutor. All of this came about many years ago for me and has recently reared its ugly head in fine form.

Most teachers figure out a way to obtain a ‘writing’ sample of students the first week of school – in all subjects. This is done as a baseline of sorts and also as comparison for future assignments. It helps support your Spidey Sense if a student suddenly writes above their ability.  When I tutor, I ask to see a past assignment(s) so I can understand my student and understand where the gaps are and work with them to master the rubric or expectations of the assignment.  In addition, teachers who have graded thousands upon thousands of papers, have a true sense of something cut and pasted from the internet versus actual student work AND we should know how to ask appropriate questions regarding work quality before we make the shot off the bow of academic dishonesty.   Often times, students in middle school and the start of high school are not aware of what plagiarism and/or academic dishonesty looks like, sounds like or feels like. More often than not the ‘first time’ can be a great learning experience if handled correctly and professionally. If a teacher really has their game on, they can help the student not only overcome the problem, they can be instrumental in helping the student push forward and do their best work.

In addition to the obvious issues of plagiarism and academic integrity, there is something called style and it is not the latest fashion trend.  Style is how each individual writes and is often something akin to a ‘personality’ of the writer or how the writer presents themselves. It is not easy to qualify or quantify and for some it is easy to replicate (Ex: a current author completing a book based on an unfinished transcript/document of a now deceased author – (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/books/review/book-review-the-pale-king-by-david-foster-wallace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0    and http://nypost.com/2013/08/25/five-new-j-d-salinger-novels-to-be-released-starting-in-2015/) which can, much like a forged painting, cause many problems.   Interestingly though, style is in some ways akin to  ‘quality’ of writing – Can you write a compelling piece of which a bored person will enjoy reading OR will some one just put it down out of boredom?

I have found more often than not, students cheat since they do NOT know better, not the wish to pull one over on a teacher. Some students do indeed pay for essays and there are secret mills which sell all manner of garbage to the highest bidder to submit as their paper.  It is incredibly easy to talk to a student and ascertain they did not write the essay. There is no need to mount a CIA and NSA investigation as simple questions indicate what a student knows or bought.  Some school districts now require students to ‘run’ their essay through some software product which does word count, lexile, sentence analysis and all other manner of  technologically intriguing things to suss out if the paper was indeed written or cut and pasted from various internet sources. Three of my students attend this type of school district.

I never had the joy of cutting and pasting anything other than a quote as I am hell bound to get my specific point across. It is a matter of pride I write my own essays, blogs, papers, etc. I expect the same from students. I will work tirelessly with them to edit, discuss, refine, etc. and at the end of the day, it is theirs. Knowledge can not be bestowed with a magic wand, one must earn it with hard and diligent work. Being as I know a fair enough amount about English and literature for a science major, it is not often I find myself challenged by another teacher for writing a students ‘literary analysis’ paper. In other words, pretty much anyone would never mistake me for an English major or writer.

What  recently happened was not pretty nor was it appropriate. A  teacher  questioned a student I tutor  regarding academic integrity over a literary analysis on ‘Of Mice and Men’ (based upon all manner of selfish reasons to wish the student ill will and no intention of actually being an honors level English teacher).  Said teacher made it clear to student and parents of student I ‘wrote’ the paper as I do not have boundaries for tutoring. This teacher has the foul attitude of letting students know they will not earn an A one moment earlier than she has determined, no matter how well they write as she is the arbiter of all.  Her reputation not only precedes her, it is ill-gotten gains based on her own limited background which does not include anything resembling the hard work of a PhD.  This teacher torments students in Grade 9 Honors English as she is allowed to – she has tenure.  To make matters exceedingly worse than her arrogance and the administrators who support this heresy, is the price of privilege.  This teacher is part of a uniquely interesting school district.

The school district was formed via a community which could not obtain an annexation so they ‘voted’ themselves their own school district – long before charter schools were even a dream. The district operates in much the same fashion as a charter school and is considered a select district. Over the years the number of school age children in the population dropped so they allowed for inter-district transfers. The transfer is meant to keep out anyone who is not white, first and foremost (I looked at the recent data on ethnicity and it is not representative of anyplace else in CA). The second part of this is to force parents and students to be compliant with the whims of the district or their inter-district transfer is somehow magically ‘terminated’ the next year.

Since parents want their children in this school district by inter-district  transfer, they are often willing to accept a degree of  shady behavior and professional ineptitude   by teachers and administrators.  This is where the toll of bad behavior on behalf of the adults who educate children is sometimes greater than the actual price of privilege to attend the district. The exactitude of how the  behavior is meted out is also mainly directed at the inter-district transfers as they are expendable. The English teacher above was motivated as much by her own unhappiness as by the fact of ‘eliminating any challenges to her authority or that of the administration’.

What is truly sad is the student  who was punished in this whole situation. The student is quite intelligent. The student was so frustrated they did not wish to put in their full effort and once they did, viola, it became a nightmare of Stephen King proportion. I know – I was blamed for causing the misconduct. The student was ultimately vindicated, as was I since I would not edit the students most recent paper in order for the teacher to see the waywardness of her claims.

It is not an easy balancing act and I commend the parents who are able to make it work. This includes the parents of SPED students (I tutor one of them) in the district who have had to tolerate teacher(s) not clear on how IEP’s/ 504’s work. The lack of clarity is not due to lack of education, it is due to lack of initiative on behalf of the teacher. No one seems to stand up to these people and they are bullies. They are better bullies than the kids on the playground as they can hide behind the guise of being adults.

Introduction of a new acronym: TINO-Teacher in name only.

As a teacher, tutor and student advocate, my plate runs pretty full. You would be well within reason to assume I need to spend the least amount of time with teachers, principals and SPED staff at schools when dealing with students of differing needs. Alas, most of my time is sucked out by teachers pretending (and I mean this is the broadest sense of the word) to have competence in their subject, working with differentiated instruction AND communication with parents and/or myself.  On top of dealing with teachers who should be embarrassed by their inferior skill set (and not wishing to seek help/support), I have to deal with principals and district office personnel who seem to have mastered the Peter Principle so fully, they can not even provide communication.

For the above mentioned reason, teacher tenure needs to be resolved.  Don’t get me wrong. I have many teacher colleagues and principal friends who are the top 2% of all, unfortunately, I can name them on my fingers and toes – the rest have retired.  Tenure has become code for the most egregious and intractable behaviors towards students I have ever seen.

I am not anti-union. I am  absolutely against any teacher who goes into the profession to NOT interact with parents and students, most especially those who qualify under the phrase ‘Children of a lesser God (and not only due to deafness)’.

Please find what I had to spend today doing. This is after more than 10 hours of IEP work last school year (the first six hours done in one and two-hour sessions) with a marathon four-hour session which was supposedly to get this all on track.

At the end of the day, we need to start calling these folks what they are: TINO’s.  There is no other explanation.

On Thu, Nov 7, 2013 at 9:34 AM, <Natalie.Berkowitz wrote:

Dear SPED DIRECTOR NAME  and PRINCIPAL NAME,     In addition, superintendent of district was sent e-mail.

I feel compelled to express my disappointment and dismay at how this school year unfolded for STUDENT NAME and, my speculative guess would be, other SPED students at this school and probably within the district.

SPED DIRECTOR NAME made it  clear to me when the marathon four-hour IEP was completed last year with both of you, the  2012-2013  school year experience would not be self-perpetuating. It is unclear what happened or who dropped the ball. It is evident with STUDENT NAME leaving  to attend a private school the ball was dropped multiple times with multiple people.

I can start with the e-mail I sent to both of you the first week of school in Sept. 2013- which was never responded to in any way. I had reasonable concerns about STUDENT NAME transition this year and apparently my concerns were well founded.

According to PARENT NAME, STUDENT NAME mother, teachers were too ‘consumed’ with work, most especially the math teacher. I repeatedly worked with PARENT NAME to ask for various things to happen so STUDENT NAME could have better success. Prying a copy of teacher or other top student notes for STUDENT NAME was all-consuming.

The math teacher hand wrote her assignments and tests – the WORST possible situation for STUDENT NAME. Not only were they handwritten, the quality would have been better if I gave 12 monkeys a laptop.  If nothing else, the layout of the assignments and tests could be organized. I am unclear where MATH TEACHER NAME obtained her credential and how she manages to work with students of varying needs. She is unwavering in her unwillingness to change and do  anything to benefit students. There is a free version of math typing software  (equation editor) which could be used.

MATH TEACHER NAME excuse of decimals and fractions being the most difficult section of the math book does not excuse doing all which is possible to assist students with alternate needs. Amazingly, when I wrote out the problems in DARK large writing, STUDENT NAME was able to do the work. It is not ‘teacher prerogative’ to write-up assignments and tests if there are students with IEP’s and specific needs.  MATH TEACHER NAME would benefit from a refresher course on what tenure provides.

Due to no adults (STUDENT NAME math help class and regular pre-Algebra class) doing even a mediocre job of follow through, STUDENT NAME had completed work incorrectly on a number of occasions and it then had to be re-done. It reinforced the wrong concepts when she was allowed to do work and not have it checked. Again, it would have been very easy for a teacher circulating the room to note this or give STUDENT NAME a couple answers on a note card so she could stop if the work was wrong. How/why STUDENT NAME never cried when work had to be redone is beyond me. It is testament to her good attitude in spite of a system hell-bent on letting her down.

When PARENT NAME told me about the delayed test scores, I was horrified. As a teacher, I know/knew which students would benefit the most from immediate  feedback as their learning disabilities required extra time and effort. Not making STUDENT NAME a ‘priority’ is ridiculous. There was a parent and tutor on board. I can not believe 15 years of teaching experience has not provided MATH TEACHER NAME with better decision-making skills.

As a credentialed math teacher, my students were taught how to do math as if it actually mattered and did not write on the assignment sheet or test. It was definitely more time-consuming to grade and look at work. It benefitted the students, not my hours of  work in the day. I am unclear why MATH TEACHER NAME could not see STUDENT NAME did her best work on graph paper (sent with her from home) and to make sure this is what STUDENT NAME used and stipulate this is what would be accepted. Likewise, in all this time, why was PARENT NAME not contacted so something could have been done.

I put together a list of questions and recommendations for PARENT NAME as I knew she was frustrated with the school. PARENT NAME submitted them to MATH TEACHER NAME.   The two which stand out most glaringly is how MATH TEACHER NAME works half a day and yet has 150 students and could not be bothered to find another math teacher, etc. at SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MIDDLE SCHOOL NAME to give morning and/or afternoon support to STUDENT NAME as needed.

The second issue was not seeing ‘highlighter pen’ on IEP.  I clearly remember wanting this on IEP last year as I have worked with teachers such as MATH TEACHER NAME. It was NOT put on IEP.  MATH TEACHER NAME should know using a highlighter is COMMON SENSE, not a modification. I have used highlighters with regular ed students to help them track negatives and decimals. It is not proscribed as SPED.

As I asked last year, do teachers in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCHOOL DISTRICT have such bad union agreements  they only perform ‘work to rule’?  I ask this as I have never in all my life had teachers tell students they may get help at break, lunch or during class but not before or after school, where STUDENT NAME could have benefitted from a small group in an un-rushed setting. The only time I have witnessed this is when there were contract negotiations and some teachers were being a bit too hard-headed.

I also asked for PARENT NAME to be given a copy of problem answers so she (and myself) could check STUDENT NAME work. Teacher response: I will speak to somebody about having an answer key.  I also do not see this accommodation on her IEP.    Why would it be wrong to give a parent an e-mail with the answers?   The parent and tutor wished to help the student, not sell it on the black market.

In addition, MATH TEACHER NAME indicated it was difficult for her to contact all the parents of students receiving D’s and F’s on an exam.  Frankly, this indicates a re-teaching situation as the teacher did not manage to succeed in getting enough students ‘on board’. This should never have been a punishment to STUDENT NAME by not contacting PARENT NAME so something could be done immediately and I could have given extra time to the situation.

To be clear, last year I was frustrated. This year I am inconsolable at how things unfolded.  Hopefully the last 10 weeks and all of last year will not be a complete wash and STUDENT NAME will get the support she deserves.  I urge you to find out why your teachers have so much animosity to parents and tutors. Please discern  if these teachers might benefit from some refresher work on interacting with special needs students, their parents and tutors who have been on board.  It would be a complete disgrace if all students were treated in this poor manner in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCHOOL DISTRICT.

Respectfully,

Natalie Berkowitz

Nothing is created or destroyed. Things are transformed. Study your chemistry and zen.

Success is what an individual achieves. Progress is what happens when the world is raised up!

 

Parent response to same group of people after I submitted my letter with parent permission:

I want to begin with well said Natalie. Sometime you can be straight to the point and come off as harsh to some (What the IEP team thought of you last year).. However I now see why. If I would have sit back like most of the parents do and think that these teachers and principle knows best and our children are in good hands STUDENT NAME  would be left behind at this school.

I want all to understand that I have TRIED and put A LOT of trust in the school and especially PRINCIPAL NAME. I really wanted this year to get better. I do not have the time to be a single mother, a full time professional and a “principle” of the special ed dept. I have however tried to keep in contact and email all. But I get NO response back. TEACHER NAME said after our meeting face to face in his office this week he would get back to me by the end of the day… he did not. He told me that he himself has worked with special ed for a long time… Come to find out thru SPED DIRECTOR NAME that was not accurate… I ask where is the written progress report (last years excuse was system was down.. I wonder what this years excuse is) that is supposed to come home from the teachers stapled to the regular progress report… Ast. principle had no clue and has never seen that as a requirement in all his years. This shows that there is a huge disconnect. I really have no idea how to do this. I feel Very bad for those “special students” that get pushed aside, or parents did what I did and believed in the team. Then come to find out nothing actually gets followed.

I can not force teachers to be there for students. I can not change everyone’s teaching. You can not instill “caring” for students… that is something teachers should have internally.

I do not blame MATH TEACHER NAME for everything but her emails about she has 150 students – she does not have the time to reach out to me because there are too many. And that she does not see all of STUDENT NAME accommodations. It seems like another teacher with excuses. I am in AWH and very sad.

SPED DIRECTOR NAME- I know you tried. I appreciate everything you did for us last year. However once you walk away from the school, it seems to me everyone just returns back to old habits.

I work very hard to keep up with STUDENT NAME. I know she has tried and she could be a lot more successful if a teacher had the time or followed her IEP. Such as pulling her out for testing… I found out that STUDENT NAME gets pulled out for test and put into a huge room with other students not even taking test… how is this RIGHT? Why PRINCIPAL NAME do you not know what is going on with these children? Why has STUDENT NAME not even seen her aid. Why on 10/30/13 did I send an email to TEACHER NAME and PRINCIPAL NAME begging for a parent meeting and have yet to hear a response.

The state and the district gives funds to HELP! But when a parent reaches out NO one is there… so as you guys forget or are too busy to respond I feel your letting my STUDENT NAME suffer… which means you do not care… I really do not understand where the funding goes if no one helps.

I can not save any of the other students. And I did NOT want to change STUDENT NAME school but I am so overwhelmed with the lack of cooperation.

This email will not help STUDENT NAME but I am hoping that someone can make sure her friends are not having to go thru what STUDENT NAME is going through.

I want to be clear SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MIDDLE SCHOOL NAME does have some great teachers. TEACHER NAME and TEACHER NAME, and TEACHER NAME all have been great and I appreciate those. STUDENT NAME loves TEACHER NAME class as well, however she never seems to have time to help me figure out this IEP mess.

I am sure last year this is what teachers wanted, for me to take STUDENT  NAME away. Its always easier to have the student leave then fix the problems.

I wish everyone the best,

PARENT NAME

Camouflage: The ability to hide and deflect reality

Please note this specific blog piece is my way of coping with an absolutely horrific IEP meetingI sat through this  past week. The parent was shattered – by the very people (professional educators, school psychologist, administration) who should have reached a hand out.  I tutor the student and although I have sat through a bazillion of these meetings over my career in education and am used to (often amused by) the shenanigans inherent in said meetings, this one took the cake and frosting, plate, fork and napkin. I am still trying to figure it out…..And, I get to go back in two weeks for the second half of the meeting.

IDEA 2004 (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the federal law that governs special education, emphasizes the importance of parent participation. Model forms are developed by OSPI to assist districts in meeting their regulatory obligations related to special education.

Parents can review these forms to become more informed about a district’s requirements and processes. Please note that school districts are NOT required to use these forms.  http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/ModelForms.aspx

The following are a list of basic vocabulary one would need to navigate an IEP meeting and one which if you asked the people present (non-parent or student) could rarely give you a specific, logical explanation AND have it make sense, hence the title of this blog.  This is merely a primer, of sorts. The actual details could drive you to the edge of eating chocolate.

Accommodations – An accommodation allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation of the material. This accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. An accommodation is used  when the student is expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

IEP – Individualized Education Plan

Goals –  Goals are specific sentences which include SPECIFIC information, are MEASUREABLE (qualitative and quantitative), ACHIEVABLE BY STUDENT, RELEVANT TO STUDENT and TIME LIMITED.   http://specialed.about.com/od/iep/a/iepGoalWriting.htm

Modification –  Modifications are provided when the student is NOT expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.A modification is an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or assignment is supposed to measure.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

SELPA – Special Education Local Plan Areas

SPED – Special Education in all of it’s manifestations from low end to high end performance, from below basic to highly talented and gifted.  This covers organic/physical disabilities and psychological (which we now know more each day are indeed organic and physical disabilities).

Curriculum -A course/class and the content which is considered included in this course/class over a specific period of time such as grade level and/or age and or school term.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curriculum

Standards –   A specific list of outcomes based on a specific curriculum.  Ideally, the outcomes would represent highest level thinking skills which generally include  the top reaches of  Dr. Bloom’s Taxonomy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_Taxonomy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standards-based_education_reform_in_the_United_States

In a general manner, an IEP meeting is formal – it is scheduled in advance.  Parents, student, school administrator(s),  SPED teachers, regular ed teachers, school psychologist, case manager, social worker, etc. are involved. Some parents bring an advocate and some use an attorney, generally not at this meeting as an attorney is toooo expensive and parents who can afford an attorney can afford private education.  The meeting is designed to take place so each person has input and decisions are made on behalf of student (student can be involved when age appropriate) and the decisions are to be acted upon by each person. In effect, each person leaves the meeting with a to-do list for the next year.  The to-do list includes parents, teachers, student, psychologist, case worker, administrators. It is a team effort.

If it is a first meeting, it can be uncomfortable.  Parents have to, in a very real way, deal with not having the ‘perfect’ child (unless this is a gifted/talented student) and the white picket fence, two cars, dog, cat, etc.  There is a ‘grief’ reaction as parents are indeed grieving the loss of innocence of having a perfect child.  For some parents it is a bit of relief, acknowledgement regarding the idea they have felt something was different, if not ‘wrong’.

If it is a subsequent meeting, it can (and usually does continue) be contentious as we would all like only to hear the best, not the reality of some goals not met with success.  It re-opens the grieving process and causes the parents to reflect once again on ‘how did we get HERE’ and how do we get out – knowing there may never be a ‘get out’.  I have heard this explained as the ‘new normal’.

Since educators sit through these meetings so often, we become the equivalent of ER doctors – inured to the situation. It is not the fact we do not feel, rather, we have to sit through multiple meetings of this nature often and it is the only way we can protect ourselves from emotional hurt as students are very important to us.  Sometimes educators feel sad for a student, despite best efforts, not having achieved a goal. A teacher is truly happy when a student graduates to the next level and/or is mainstreamed. This is high achievement.

Although we deal with students for a limited basis, parents live with them. Parents of SPED students are chronically exhausted and fatigued. It is an incredible challenge to take on one SPED student, even if you have no other children.  Since we have been educated, it should be expected we are able to deal with the situation a bit more professionally.

Normally, when you go into the meeting, everyone introduces themselves. If everyone is there on time, this is done round table style. If people are showing up one at a time, it is a handshake and introduction by name of self and position/title or purpose for being at the meeting. I used to go by teacher/educator. Now I go by advocate.

It is my goal to maintain a cause/proposal and/or promote the interests of the student on behalf of parents who generally have no clue (not by choice) what an IEP meeting should be nor do they understand how school districts would do anything in their power to limit SPED services since they cost the school district so much. My intent is to make sure the student obtains everything they need, nothing less and no ‘just below the radar’ institutional racism and/or other ism is occurring which prevents the student from have an equal and appropriate education.

I am a ‘translator’. I am a reader, editor, discussion creator, persuasion instigator, cheerleader, educator and believer in hopefulness.  I feel empowered to do what is right for the student, in spite of how it may impinge upon an educator or administrator as I have worked with SPED for many years. I have had mainstreaming students, I have worked with SPED teachers and have always been on the student study team.

Knowing all of the above makes this past week all the worse. The SELPA paperwork was created not by Edward Tufte and/or some other graphic designer who had a logical intention to clearly show information…….rather, it was created by some half crazed government entity somewhere who decided cramming as much legalese onto a page and NOT making sure parents understand the information nor can the school district (if this sounds like what banks did with mortgage applications and the most recent financial meltdown, you would be correct!) was an aspiration worthy of pay. This is ‘hide and deflect’, by intimidation. This is the big, dirty secret no one in education wishes to discuss.  Trust me, if some one wanted to fix the problem, it could have been done years ago.

Imagine going into an IEP meeting where the school psychologist gives you a wet fish handshake, states their name and NOT their position.  Imagine being the parent. Add on top one SPED teacher who had so memorized the lines of ‘curriculum and standards based’ yet could not simplify this output for the parent,  arrogantly stated all they ‘did for the student’.  When SPED teacher was asked reasonable questions to help rewrite goals, was horrified by questions and ardently REFUSED anything which might have resembled ‘change’ or different in their world.

No one was able to explain why IEP was not ‘updated’ and in fact at some point in the meeting, the SPED teacher started randomly crossing out information rather than having a discussion with all present regarding each line item. No one in the room was able to explain the actual ‘diagnosis’ and clarified for me it was too broad to define.

By all intents, if it was not institutional racism, there was such a heavy case of STUPID in the room I wanted to scream. I think in this case, stupid brought out the racism. I was frustrated and angry by the lack of professional demeanor, the fact I had to get the SPED teacher re-focused at least five times as she wished to talk about other students in class, etc. and no one else was getting her back on point. Inside I about died laughing when I was told the school would not ‘write a goal’ for reading fluency as that is something done in the elementary school (fluency is apparently not in the middle school curriculum!). I was finally able to resolve issue AND then SPED teacher asked me to write the goal…..which I would gladly do as I know how. The  school psychologist had to help the SPED teacher by reminding her it was the schools job.

By time this portion of the meeting, which should have been accomplished in an hour, was completed, I was exhausted. The parent was in tears for feeling horrible for asking questions. The parent did not legitimately understand many of the issues and no one took the time to explain. The principal practically ‘flinched’ when I stated the second meeting would include getting student into Gr 8 algebra……as in ‘had I done my homework regarding if it is necessary for students to have algebra in Gr 8’ since there were so many schools of thought on this topic.

There was so much more which went on and was included in the IEP inappropriately regarding standardized testing I had to wonder what it was the school and district so desperately needed to hide from.  I doubt I will ever find out – my task is to do a well written IEP AND make sure it is executed. If necessary, I can provide assistance to SPED teacher on how to do something. Perhaps I really do not wish to know.