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.

 

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

The Mythology of a Good School/District

This is a reflection on the stories surrounding Measure E:

Most teachers from the generation prior to me tended to stay in a teaching position within the same district for their full career. Once they achieved tenure, the only other objective was to work ones way up the ranks, possibly to a position in the district office.  Due to the relative seclusion of both the teaching profession and the individual school districts, teachers did not have much with which to compare their profession.   Due to the stasis, a good school and district remained so for the long term due to no or limited turnover. 

At or around the mid-80’s, education began to change in ways which no one could have forseen and for good, bad or inbetween, we now live in this new education dilemma.  Women, who were mainly the K-12 teachers historically, began to realize they could work outside the classroom, even in academia. Teachers began to leave the classroom for other higher paying positions, particularly those who were the creative types and had a background in math, science or the ability to sell something.  New teachers began to be trained at an alarming rate and quality control began to, in some regards dissipate and in other areas quality improved. There was stasis no more within the system and this began a change in the profile of what a good education seemed to be – a change that we are now reaping in the 21st Century.

What were once good/great school districts, shifted as the profession shifted. This came about in some subtle ways and good/great schools and districts became case studies in what was.

The example I like to use is the following as it is the community I live in:   Alameda, where I live, is not overall uniformly a great district.  Within the last six years, some schools did not meet the State of Ca or Federal requirements for improvement and are being pre-emptively changed – Chipman Middle School is one of them. At the same time this is/was happening, a large contingent of Section 8 housing was razed and reconstructed into something ‘new’ and new, new homes were put in what would be Chipman territory.  The new new homes got a new new school called Ruby Bridges.  Interestingly, as the ambiance of poverty shifted, so to did the test scores…..not anything really noteable – in fact, no one that I know of has mentioned it as anything more than a Michelle Rhees  (over hyped score improver in DC)   anomoly (there is no data so to speak, just a perceived feeling things have changed a bit in Alameda).

Since chareter schools are able to hit the reset button when they open, test scores start from a new baseline which wipes out any of the ‘past’ history and lets everyone breathe a sigh of relief at not being on the bottom rung and maybe, just maybe there is a way out of the hole (generally something which looks like parenting and parent involvement – two things poverty stricken families do not tend to have in good supply).  The teachers at the new charter school (old Chipman) will receive all the accolades in a few years when there is a path of data to support they did indeed improve test scores. No one is sure where all the students who would be going there, went there,  are there in Grade 6 this year but it will be a new school in Grade 7 are going to be ‘disaggregrated’ but the data suddenly will change.

Mythology works best when the story is clear and easy to follow –

The term mythology can refer to either the study of myths or a body of myths. For example, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece. The term “myth” is often used colloquially to refer to a false story; however, the academic use of the term generally does not pass judgment on its truth or falsity. In the study of folklore, a myth is a symbolic narrative explaining how the world and humankind came to be in their present form. Many scholars in other fields use the term “myth” in somewhat different ways. In a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story. 

One of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models for behavior

 – Wikipedia

In the case of Measure E, the mythology is not clear and the story is kind of all over the place. I am not sure specifically what the ‘good’ schools are and how the district is overall due to the fact(s) which indicate there have been massive shifts in population and teachers within just the last six years while I have been here.  I am not quite sure the money is really the answer to solve the woes of AUSD as it seems there are many other factors at work/play here.

To me, the whole Measure E Syndrome is based on a mythology of what Alameda has been, how it desires to portray itself, not the reality of what is.  Yes, even the island has foreclosed houses and short sales.  Alameda, in spite of its bridges, was not able to keep the big scary banking beasts at bay.  I am not even sure who the hero(s) are any more or if they ever existed. From my perspective, Alameda seems to have forgotten how euhemerism works.

Hopefully there are enough people who will read between the lines so when the voting happens, the result is not something attributable to the Gods.