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

 

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This is NOT ‘accidentally on purpose’ – this is absolutely on purpose.

In the last six months, many aspects of my life have gone through ‘change’. My address (a whole new state), my back office for tutoring, my weight. While those items have changed, my very real beliefs and sense of equity have not changed one bit – they just become stronger in conviction.

I know exactly why I left teaching in the classroom and now, 10 years later, when many more teachers have ‘left’ (fled and not replaced), I realize I was just a bit ahead of the curve. It is a challenge to find anyone these days who wishes to become a teacher due to the insanity of getting the credential and the further insanity of making through the first two years- never mind possibly getting through the first five years  and making it work for them, when they are seasoned and can be great.

As education went to  further extremes of the business model (charter schools, for profit secondary ed, small schools within a school, TFA and so forth, supplementary educational services) approach to education, those in charge continued to intentionally overlook and then ignore the most obvious problems arising from a ridiculous system. It is not that anyone has  forgotten or overlooked what we do in schools, it is most often the people in charge selectively choose to ignore, not address or lower the level of the problem until they  are called out.

Teachers are not by nature a dumb lot so one would have to guess administration, school boards and other community members seem to have a hand in the manipulations of kids getting an education. And this is why teachers become frustrated. We know. We know administrators and businesses (all the non-profit charter schools are BUSINESSES) intentionally on purpose have to overlook things so they meet the bottom line, present some sort of numbers to the people interested in their concept and hope to goodness no one catches them. A perfect example is how charter schools are able to skirt ADA rules for special ed students. You would be amazed at the stories, pack of lies and so forth surrounding this aspect of education.

When an article such as the one written by Jeff Guo at Storyline hits my reading, it is impossible to put down. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/22/these-kids-were-geniuses-they-were-just-too-poor-for-anyone-to-discover-them/?tid=sm_fb   It is the embodiment of all the things I know are going on and have never had the ‘evidence’ to prove as we don’t talk about this stuff in polite company. It is too unseemly to discuss all the ways we betray students in this country.

What Mr. Guo wrote about is the basis of work looked at by Malcolm Gladwell, Shankar Vedantam, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  It is the not so ‘hidden’ mess right in front of our eyes if we would just pay attention.  What is shocking is the fact this information is in no way hidden at all and that is the largest disgrace.

The result was an atlas of inequality.

We blame money as the cause for ignoring the gifted and talented students within a school district. It is not money. It is will. We know these students are out there and it is our job to find them. We have to do a better job. Instead, we do the opposite of what is best practices.

We give minority students and/or students of poverty the worst teachers, the new teachers, the teachers we can not figure out how to help. We give these same students Supplementary Education Services (SES), which is polite terminology for whatever half-rate tutors we can find after some ‘business’ takes a percentage off the top for hooking us up (trust me – I know the system and have seen it as a teacher, as a tutor and having been approached to work for these organizations). We created state tests which were so low in caliber, when the common core came out, most notably the standard for the economically advantaged kids, we flipped out to see the low scores. Reality met head on with the games we played to try to fool ourselves.

We put the socioeconomically disadvantaged students in charter schools which do not (the statistics prove it out repeatedly) which do not do anything more or better than a good, well run public school.  We do everything in our power to disenfranchise this group of students including evaluating them at the same time, at the same rate for gifted and talented programs.

Is it really any wonder at all education is in a shambles?

What can YOU do?

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As a parent, you can use the SES money towards a better tutor for your  student.    http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice/help/ses/description.html  

Districts must make available to parents a list of State-approved supplemental educational services providers in the area and must let parents choose the provider that will best meet the educational needs of the child.

 The school districts do what is cheapest, NOT best. Find an independent tutor to work with a small group of students. They can be paid by SES funds. Trust me, the threshold to be a tutor for supplemental education services is low. You can find tutors willing to work with students for less than their ‘listed’ costs on a website such as https://www.avidbrain.com/

-Stay away from the sites which promise you tons of tutors as you will find it is a numbers game and the sites with the ‘most’ tutors are not the sites with the BEST tutors. There is a difference.  Sites with the most tutors need to prove to investors they have a business model. 20% of the tutors on the site do 98% of the work. The other tutors are window dressing……I’ve been there. I was the 20%.

-Tutors are generally independent contractors.

-If you go with an SES ‘provider’, some business is making money and the tutor is maybe getting $12-20/hr.  Since an SES tutor has a low threshold to meet to become a tutor, you are not getting your monies worth, you are getting what is cheapest for your school district.

-If you go with an independent tutor, the tutor makes the money they are worth, stick with the job and know what they are doing.

Not my monkey and definitely not my circus to follow or lead.

My family roots are from Poland and Russia – the area where the demarcation changed so often there are no clear and specific maps which can identify whether I am actually of Russian or Polish extraction. This knowledge helped me to  understand how the following phrase came into being:  Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy . Literally it means not my circus and not my monkey. Figuratively it means ‘not my problem’. It was from the part of the world where no one knew, on an hour to hour, day to day basis what was indeed going on. 

For a long time I believed many things in education were my problem (fault) as I had worked for a charter school and they encouraged carrying the burden of guilt on ones back, with scaffolding if necessary. The reality was the folks at said charter school were no better at managing the problems than anyone at a regular public school.  Is This Working? – This American Life on NPR, put together a piece which demonstrated the not so subtle issues of learning and behavior. Charter schools, if they function at all, function for a very thin strand of students and do not do anything different for the rest than a public school with caring and concerned teachers as well as involved parents.  It is amazing to look at what money has bought and not delivered on – the rate of college graduation for the groupings of students most in need of an education has not changed in any noticeable increment since the advent of charter schools……

I began to realize over time ‘my problem’ was to show up, do 150% of whatever I needed to do and follow through to make sure what I did stuck.  The rest of the problem was up to students and their parents/guardians since I only saw students a couple hours a day when in the classroom and once or twice a week when tutoring. All those other hours were with other people who had control over what was going on in the child’s world – learning, behavior, etc.

Over sufficient time, I learned I did not need to fear  telling students or parents the truth-what they needed to hear.  It served no one if I was afraid to tell the truth and tried to modify and shape behavior with no real goals/outcomes. The worst was when I felt desperate. Once I began to lay everything out and clarify how/why things work, I started to notice people self selected and my student load in tutoring changed.

My load went from people who could afford me and the nuance of ‘having a tutor’ to the people who understood and valued what a tutor did – at any price. I can be found tutoring for free or in exchange for an ethnic food cooking lesson as all I am giving up is my time. For the student, I am making a huge difference. These immigrant families seemed to better understand the American Dream than most Americans.

The parents and students who were ‘on board’ actually changed and grew and learned and developed while everyone else was just happy to ‘have a tutor’. The more I stuck to my guns, the better things went. I was able to excise ‘those with little will and low commitment’ to connect with those who gave it their all. This system was especially effective with SPED students and parents.

Where I used to merely grin and bear at, I found myself being happy, fulfilled and enjoying everything I did. I found out what I did even had a name – Telling Truth to Power. I was not fearful to tell the truth since I knew it actually mattered and to not tell the truth, while it seems like a kindness, is actually mean.

I recently took a tutoring job to see if there could be reasonable success with online tutoring at a rate of 1:4. The students were 3+ years below grade level in math. What I found out was the parents who understood the concept got on board. The parents who had been making excuses over the years (hence students being far below grade level) and chose not to get on board were frustrated when I made them and their child accountable. There was no specific way to get buy in. There were many ways to get excuses.  It always hurts to hear the truth although amazingly, the truth is what sets us free.

There have rarely been  monkeys and the circus I attend is Cirque de Soleil.  I still don’t know my ethnicity.

Weeding in the SPED Garden

I have multiple jobs – one foot is in ed tech and I do various consulting projects. My other foot is in tutoring. An elbow is in blogging, a wrist in various other non-education writing gigs. One shoulder and hip works with parents of special needs students who need help navigating the mystery maze within hacked up fields of IEPs and 504s. Other wrist and one hand quilts (to keep me sane). I do some volunteer work (also to keep me sane). The other body parts just try to keep up.  In each part of my life, I like to consider it a garden, getting ready for new crops, to grow and bloom and make great flowers, fruits and vegetables.

My days often start at 4:00 AM as I deal with international people; the day’s end late as I tutor. I work to balance my time since so much of me is drawn in many directions all week AND on weekends – by choice.  In many ways I think I am helping shift the fulcrum the world rests on.

Currently I am dealing with a ‘weeding’ project, which is very different from pruning, composting and planting. Weeding is step one so you can clear the land. In the background you compost so you can later add this to the soil. You plant when ready and prune as necessary.

If you are a parent of a special ed student, the following will resonate with you.:

Weeding out is intense – most especially in the SPED garden.  I have to read SELPA paperwork which had to have been designed by people who truly believe any information seeing the light of day is bad information and any information which could lead a person to better analysis, decision-making and planning must be buried and the person trying to make sense of it all, burned at the stake.  These weeds are so entrenched in the garden they are often irremovable and one just tries to garden right around them.

Weeding also  includes finding out why the garden has the following random stones and boulders in it: A teacher gave a math test on perimeter, area and volume in the following manner to a student with dyslexia and other processing problems.

(1)  All problems had a formula written next to it – except in the case of the complex polygon which was a square and semi-circle. Only the formula for the semi-circle was present so students could assume the area of the square need not be calculated.

(2) The question on volume of a cylinder had no formula…..was student to answer the question OR did teacher mean to leave off/scratch out and forgot?

(3) A cone was shown with apex point up and circle opening down. Student was asked what was at top……correct answer: circle.  In previous presentations, the cone was shown circle up. Students were supposed to interpret turning cone in space. Never mind the misconception of a cone having an apex point.

(4) Picture a two layer, four cube per layer form put on paper at an angle and three of the top cubes were removed, leaving five cubes total. Same said dyslexic student was asked to draw what they say on the various faces.  No one bothered to help student number the various faces and then list those numbers/positions on chart with front, side, top, face, etc.

The does not include the supposed ‘assessment’ of 17 pages given to student for IEP (IEP took two separate sessions so assessment was able to ‘slide in under radar’ as it had not been completed prior to original IEP) with none of the accommodations  as noted in original IEP.  There has been no way for me to perform error analysis of student work as it is impossible to sort out grading system/rubric, etc.

Weeding includes talking to school psychologists so they can tell me I should call the stones shale, gneiss and chert, not explain the stones are math problems. If I were to call them stones, surely it would all make more sense as I was weeding.

In addition, weeding involves trying to understand why, week after week for three months a student who should be getting math assistance in study hall can not obtain this assistance as ‘different teachers teach math in different ways’ and the study hall teacher (also a special ed teacher) does not understand how this students math teacher does math.

I am still weeding. Hopefully I can put weeds in a pile and burn add, the ash to compost and start over.

While I have been weeding, I have been planting brand new, fresh, non- gmo seeds with the student based on math the way one would teach a math major or, in layman’s terms, using the book(s) Math on Call and Algebra to Go for concept bases, referring to Khan Academy for process, painstakingly doing notes and samples in organized fashion with student.  I tutor the student two hours a week. By the way, seeds are producing seedlings at this point!

Working with the parent, I have been composting – anything which is not understandable to student (disorganized work in folder, crazy notes, etc.) is being composted. Parent is learning all about IEP  process and throwing out any previous notions regarding the school, the SPED teachers, SPED education programs. All of it is going to compost heap to be mixed with upcoming ashes.  Amazingly, like all good compost, there is no smell. I have not taught parent about schist and chert nor gneiss. It does not help the parent.  I have taught the parent how to look for orderliness in the garden, how to ask for help – with a spade (shovel if necessary), hoe, pruning shears. I had to explain to parent there will always be stones, rocks and occasionally boulders and give the parent tools to remove, even if it requires a tractor (like me).  The parent has earned the right to see their child in a beautiful, thriving garden. The student has earned the right to grow and mature and blossom.

The gardening goal is to have IEP furrows in fine form SOON, by at least last four weeks of school. This is so all teachers can be on board in September of next school year and begin pruning in October as necessary, rather than waiting until March to look at IEP and begin the weeding.

In the weeding process, I have almost had the metaphorical hoe taken to my forehead a couple of times, had dandelion seeds scattered about to see if I would catch them and water put in the garden to flood it. This gardener has stood steadfast.  What is interesting is this garden wants so desperately to grow it is happening before my very eyes.

Update:  After participating in a final four hour marathon IEP meeting, a reasonable IEP which can be understood and implemented has been achieved.  The effort was worth the fits and starts of achievement in order to get something which truly demonstrates where student is currently at academically and how to proceed forward. Overall, this particular IEP took a minimum of 15 hours between actual meetings, phone calls, e-mails, going to classroom to attempt to ascertain disconnect from school to tutoring.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat as this student is going to become a steadfast beautiful tree in a forest of strong, brave, smart and wonderful trees.

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.

Why ‘grading’ the teacher is not only wrong, but ineffective. Part II of II Blogs

Gawande, Atul, Personal Best, The New Yorker 3 October 2011  p. 44, 46-50, 51-52

This is Part II of two blogs begun March 2012 which addressed Dr. Gawande (New Yorker Magazine Article). He has a  quest for ‘coaching’ to continue developing  into his Personal Best.  I felt it necessary to analyze the article written by Dr. Gawande in order to address a professional sense of self-reflection, that of a professional surgeon.  Dr. Gawande so thoroughly addressed his personal role in medicine AND all the other potential factors  of medicine that I was compelled to use this as an example.   Dr. Gawande admitted the fault of being human and demonstrated humility in  not being  God.  He noted that the human condition is imperfect yet there is a way to learn and continually improve ourselves over time,  most often with self-reflection and insight from others as it is difficult to view ourselves while being ourselves.

Only by carefully observing other professionals outside the field  of education can we begin to develop a consciousness of  professionalism, what it means to good, better, best, great and so forth and look for tools to apply to the teaching profession.  Focusing only on education assumes the worst case scenario – teachers are distinctly different in the world of humans, but instead of being viewed as deities, in America, they are viewed as pure evil by many, often including their own administrators and the government at state and federal levels.

When we see what others do, we get past the misanthropic view of one group of people (non- teachers)  regarding teachers and notice more of  the similarities between teachers and other professionals.  Once back from the brink of insanity,  we can address the multitude factors which effect the outcomes of education, which are not strictly the result of teacher quality.  Many outcomes in education have everything to do with poverty, parental involvement and  self motivation/will.

If we were to blame only surgeons and doctors for ALL medical outcomes, no one would have surgery any more. It is both a science and an art.  There is not ‘perfection’, rather there are gradations of success based on a whole slew of issues above and beyond the doctor/surgeon.  We may seek perfection –  this involves coaching and improving professional practice.  It is NOT the golden bullet to prevent all problems.  Doctors can not account for your DNA, what you choose to eat, how you choose to take care of yourself.  Doctors have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations, they obtain a positive outcome as they take an oath to do no harm.  In the case of doctors, we need to look from within regarding outcomes of surgery,  because we came to the doctor damaged.

When we grade a teacher, we wish to push results and outcomes on people whom have the least control over what goes on in a child’s life. Teachers have only 40/168 hours, including sleep. Take out sleep (which is substantially important) and you have 40/118 hours assuming kids sleep a 10 hour night. In both cases, 40 hours is very little and yet so much is expected.   Teachers, like doctors, have to work with what is presented to them and hope that with their best ministrations will produce positive outcomes in nine months of the school year of eight-hour school days.  Let me be clear – most kids do not sleep even eight hours a nigh.t Not all school days are actually eight hours so the numbers I present are skewed by things such as testing, minimum days, staying up late at night for a variety of reasons and a multitude of other issues (lockdowns, snow days, illness, etc.).  Grading a teacher on amount of time of ‘influence’ alone is inadequate.

In order to explore  various ideas within education reform, I also sought out different pieces of writing from others who address the ideation of grading teachers.   It is not enough to say something is a  bad or good idea, rather one needs to support different views and perceptions so the discussion can center on what is best for children, not what is best for our sense of power over things we lack control.

As Dr. Gawande indicates, coaching is costly and rarely something schools can afford. It is awkward – in the hospital and in the classroom.  Obtaining coaching can be (and often is viewed outside sports and singing) seen as an admission of failure instead of the converse – an admission of willing to improve.  When coaching is used as punishment in education, it automatically infers substandard performance.  To change the perception of coaching in education will be no different or easier than the exact experience Dr. Gawande addresses at the end of his written piece.   Demonizing teachers does not improve their quality – it does slowly wear them down and destroy them which could not be good for students.

I am done picking at the bone of grading teachers with  a public which hates  teachers, who think denigrating and demeaning teachers (public humiliation/bullying/ exposing student success or failure on our backs) is reform.   This bone is from a  recently dead animal which was left rotting on the street, run over by a car and bits of it are smashed into the concrete. The piece of bone left has tendons and muscle hanging from it, smells of horrible decay and clearly would be of no use to the mammal it came from so we need to start over and not be so willing to kill.  Bloodsport does not ever portend to good.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/opinion/sunday/confessions-of-a-bad-teacher.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263603261494594.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/more-wk-value-added-.html#more

http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/06/my-view-when-did-teacher-bashing-become-the-new-national-pastime/?hpt=hp_bn1

So, to use a quote:

New Yorker Magazine cartoon (5 Dec 2011) by Victoria Roberts: “There’s an elephant in the room and no zookeeper.”

Let’s try to find a better course of action because grading teachers is not working the way we assumed it would.  Here is a smattering of examples of alternative perspectives.  What would be awesome is if the people who hired teachers had as much interest in teacher success as their own rise to power.

Almost all men can stand adversity, but if you want to judge a man’s true character, give him power.   (I have been unable to find the source in order to attribute this quote – if you know it, please comment!)

http://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/the-8-qualities-of-remarkable-employees.html?

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/thompson-how-is-teaching-different-from-all-other-professions.html

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2012/03/thompson-address-behavior-first.html

http://www.kqed.org/a/radiospecials/R201203292000

https://whereiskatima.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/zagat-type-ratings-at-schools-all-for-it/

When society begins supporting ways for teachers to improve their personal best, obtaining the caliber of teachers  wished for will be in reach.  Brigham and Women’s Hospital in MA and Harvard University are fortunate to have such a self reflective staff member AND some one so willing to share their personal experiences in order to help others.  By supporting Dr. Gawande and his willingness to strive for better, these institutions and patients benefit greatly all the way around.

We would do far more to improve education by creating a positive environment for teachers.   It is our choice – surgically destroy education with reforms that have little to nothing in offering actual  improvement or healing what happens in the classroom by owning our locus of control and assisting teachers in achieving their personal best.

Parents and advocacy for their special education child, family II

The past two weeks have been a further  confirmation of WHY PARENTS MUST BE INVOLVED with their childs delivery of special services and  of all I thought I knew and believed about special education at public schools  and an eye opener as to what passes for special education, even in wealthy school districts, even when the parents are educated……even when the teachers are experienced.  Special education is a nightmare and it is actually a wonder to me how children ever exit these programs, much less why we as a society accept so little for our tax dollars. 

My friend (a teacher colleague of mine) has a  younger sister,  seventeen years old who was diagnosed years ago (as in at least 9-10 years ago) with a variety of issues from dyslexia to auditory processing issues is getting ready to leave high school.  This child has received a variety of special ed services over the years.  Up until this past six months, there was marginal parent involvement as the parents felt that the school (and district) had everything in order for their daughter.  This child turns 18 in June 2010 so there is an imperative to accomplish as much as one can in the three remaining months.

I was asked to ‘consult’ on this students IEP as my friend felt it was too close to home for her to do since it was her sister and I would be more objective. In addition, it would eliminate any parental transgressions and recriminations from the process so I felt comfortable taking on the task.  Although I know the parents, it is indirectly and so this is a more clinical view of the IEP and its execution.

My role in all of this was to be an advocate for the seventeen year old in as she ages out of the public school system and progresses to college.  I am a credentialed teacher with a background in speech pathology.  My goal was to help the parents do everything possible to make the system work for their child within the reasonableness of what public schools are expected to do (or should morally do).   In this particular situation, I needed to follow up on why said student had not been receiving the services noted on the IEP and identify why the school seemed to want to ‘offer’ up a deal that required parents to sign/waive their rights and their childs rights to future recourse for something which had not happened…….

First goal: Review the paperwork the parents gave me which include most recent IEP’s of last two years and services which were supposed to be rendered.

The IEP pages were so incomplete as to border on ‘why bother’.  It is impossible for me to identify where student is at educationally and why services of a specific type were being provided, who provided the services and what the ultimate goals were.  Clearly implementation of this IEP was ad hoc. I am backtracking with no less than 26 questions to the parents to sort out relevant information.

The second goal was to evaluate what goals had been met, which ones had not been met, which ones were of concern to the parents and what the parents felt were the next goals to reach certain landmarks, most notably passing through algebra.    (If you have read my previous blog on special education advocacy, the previous sentence most likely looks identical……it is.)  Essentially an IEP has goals which are to be met and this can be done quantitatively, qualitatively or both.

There are a number of issues at play in this particular situation – most notably the student has not been given homework in at least a couple years.  This in and of itself is not a problem as philosophically not everyone agrees that homework should be given or how much or what kind.  I do not have evidence that the student is using their planner/agenda book and that could be part of the problem(s).  The parents have been some what out of the overall ‘looping’ of this students education other than showing up for IEP meetings, so I am working to reconstruct (with honesty from all involved) what has and has not gone on in the past of the last few years.

Personally, I can understand a lapse of two weeks or a month of not using the agenda book, however, I can not fathom letting it go longer than that nor could I deem it appropriate to allow a child with an IEP  to slip this far. Again, I had parents tell me they believed their excellent school district would look after the best interests of their daughter and so they were not much involved.

After not having answers to many of my questions/concerns, I spoke with the parents and indicated it seemed completely wrong for them to sign away their own and the rights of their daughter for future recourse.  I could not in any type of good faith recommend accepting a ‘deal’ which was nothing different from what the school district was reasonably expected to provide but did not.

This child has managed to obtain a C in Spanish at a local community college. She did not test in to college algebra and is having to now  re-do pre-algebra and then intermediate algebra to get to college algebra – about 6 -8 extra units of study. It is difficult to sort out what might be recourse as this child did pass the high school exit exam which contains basic algebra skills. I am not sure there is recourse as nothing in the IEP indicated a goal of this child passing through algebra to be college ready.

Since I could not understand why some services on the IEP were being given (actually, they had not, which is part of the problem) as there was no diagnosis to indicate the need nor was there any kind of description of services, I suggested the parents meet with the high school counselor and go to the community college with their daughter to get in writing all the courses she would need to transfer to a Cal State or UC campus and to create a list of goals to achieve these courses.  Disabled student services at community colleges have been cut much like services in other places so I am unsure what the community college will be able to do to augment this students learning.

What was also difficult to me was explaining to the mother of this child how she was entitled to take up the issue of what was not done, however, it could be months before anything would be resolved and her daughter would have graduated by then. In this case timeliness was of the highest order and I am not sure what can be accomplished in three months.   It was painful to explain to the mother the problem with not being college algebra ready and now having to pay for tuition and books to meet that goal  – something her other daughter (my friend) had been saying for a number of years but the mother did not want to listen as it was a GOOD school district.

For the second time in two months, my heart was broken. I knew I would never have been allowed to get away with such low delivery of an IEP and yet, some teachers and a principal in another school district were able to work the system.