Where On The Continuum?

 

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Those of you that know me personally, or have been reading my blog for some time, are aware that I am a special education teacher and an independent special education consultant. I have a myriad number of friends with children that have some type of diagnosis. I grew up with an aunt with intellectual disabilities, and have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have an online page for parents of children that have various special needs, and am co-founder of a parent networking and support group. I tell you all these things, not to give you a list of my credentials, but to let you know, when I speak about special education, it is from years of experience. My passion and drive has always been to educate an advocate for those individuals with disabilities, and their families.

I am “back in school” to get my Master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders. My classes on transition, collaboration, and behavior have validated a lot of what I have thought for years. The other day, during class discussion, we were going back and forth about the “Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)” continuum. The continuum being from very restrictive, such as individuals living in an institution, to the very least restrictive, when children (with disability diagnoses) are in their general education classes with only a minimum of supports.

I read an article the other day, written by a mother of two children. One diagnosed with Down Syndrome and one not. The article discussed how she wanted her child with DS to have full inclusion. The author believes, in her opinion, that all children, regardless of (dis)ability, should have a fully inclusive experience at school.

Her article made me wonder. Do all parents feel this way? Is full inclusion really the best education, regardless of diagnosis, for all children? Is being with “typical” peers, using the same general curriculum, always the most appropriate learning for all involved? I took this topic to my online page for parents. Those that replied to the discussion, had some interesting perspectives. Parents told of their children, that are in full inclusion, getting in trouble frequently, and often requiring, but not receiving, more sensory breaks. Others talked about a mixture of “pull out” special ed classes and general ed, while others wanted their children out of the general ed classroom altogether, because their child was being bullied. This parent spoke, of feeling her child was safer in a special education classroom. I believe all these parents wished full inclusion would work, but unfortunately that often isn’t the reality. Maybe some of my readers  have children in full inclusion and it is working. I’d love to hear your stories.

Special education has come a long way since the enactment of Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Handicapped Children Act, forty-one years ago. Reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, over the last twenty-six years have created more opportunities for those students with disabilities, and their families. Before 1975, special education services were hit and miss. Some students, who desperately needed services, didn’t get anything at all. Even with all the good that has occurred since this time, there is still a long way to go……….

I am a firm believer in everyone having a voice. I believe in real collaboration, working together to form solutions that will be good for all involved. Do I expect perfection? Absolutely not. I doubt anything will ever be perfect……but, it can be better. Here are some questions I think about, not because I have all the answers, but because I think we need to think about these issues and consider the implications. In this way we (the families, student, schools) can make the best choices possible. Isn’t that what special education should be about?

  1. Is full inclusion always appropriate if a child is unable to work at their grade level? Should we alter the integrity of grade level curriculum in that classroom? Or are modifications always okay? How many accommodations/supports are too many to still be considered for full inclusion?
  2. Is having a special education teacher in the general education classroom for one or two academics, enough?  Does working with the special ed teacher, in the general ed classroom, make the child feel even more different? Is working one on one or in smaller groups in a special ed. classroom, wrong?
  3. What about all the non-academic activities? Some students have difficulty during unstructured times. Some students require more sensory breaks. Some students require a person to teach them and daily practice with them, social skills.
  4. Is is right to expect a general education teacher (who might have only had to take one or two special ed. classes to get their degree) to understand a myriad number of disabilities their students could have? Can we expect them to be proactive instead of reactive in their classroom behavior management? Is it fair and equitable to treat all the children the same? Does fair always mean equal?
  5. How do we keep students from being unkind to each other? Do we talk about a student’s disability to the class? In order to help the class understand “why” a student might act the way he/she does?
  6. Should the student who has a severe intellectual disability, be subjected to taking standardized tests at their grade level? (For example, should a fourteen year old with the cognitive ability of a toddler be expected to take an eighth grade test? And if so, why? How will the results even be close to any kind of accuracy?)
  7. Should a teenager with high functioning autism have less supports in his general ed classes, because he “doesn’t look like he has autism” and “we don’t want him labeled”?
  8. Is overlooking a student’s true needs, an inherent danger in inclusion, because sometimes a student doesn’t “look” like he/she needs special ed services/supports? (whatever that is supposed to mean)
  9. If/When do the rights of a child with special needs carry more weight, than a child who does not have special needs?
  10. Are we making decisions now that will ultimately benefit the student after he/she graduates? Shouldn’t all of school be preparation for life after graduation? Especially, with teenagers, how to we make sure our children will have a smooth transition?

Blog readers, what do you think? I would be interested to hear your opinions, your experiences……

 

 

Taking The Next Step

As many of my readers know, I have been a special education teacher for twenty-six years. For several of those years I have also been an independent special education consultant. I grew up with an aunt that had intellectual disability. I have a grandson on the autism spectrum. I have dear friends who have children with a myriad number of different diagnoses. About a year and a half ago, I started thinking about going back to school. (I have either been in school as a student, or as a teacher, for 43 of my 48 years. Wow. That is a lot of school.) I wanted a graduate level degree in autism spectrum disorders. Although I am a passionate advocate for all individuals with disabilities, those with autism have a special place in my heart. Last January my new adventure began.

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I have been enjoying my classes. There is something to be said for going back to school in one’s forties. I enjoyed college my first time around, and did well. (C-N Class of ’90, Go Eagles!) After receiving my bachelor of science in special education, I set out to begin teaching. Twenty-six years, with a plethora of experience later, here I am. I am back in school. My professors are probably around my age, which is kind of funny. This time around I am not intimidated by my instructors, as I was when I was in my late teens and early twenties. (Professors are not the gods of academia as once thought, but go grocery shopping and to their kids ballgames, just like the rest of us. Go figure.) I’m bringing a lot of experience to the table this go around, and have ample opportunity to show off my intellect and my razor sharp wit. (Well, okay maybe not razor sharp anymore, since I’ve mellowed with age, but definitely not dull. Just sayin’.)

In one of my classes we have been discussing transition from high school into adulthood. That transition is difficult enough for a typical high school student, but for a high school student that has a disability and has been receiving special services it can be down right overwhelming! I want to share something I wrote in one of the discussion boards about transition. We had been talking about a broader vs. more narrow perspective on this transition from high school to adulthood. I think it bears repeating.

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“Before answering these prompts, I just wanted to say that I was so into this reading. I was reading silently, but would frequently interrupt myself with, “Exactly!”, “Yes!”, and “That is what I’ve been saying!”, as I scribbled notes in the page margins with a highlighter. Honestly, this subject is one that has been on my radar for quite some time now.

Kohler (1998) describes the tenets of a broad perspective of transition for a student, as one where all classes, programs, and activities while in high school are part of a plan, that focuses on a student’s goals after high school. Each student is different, and requires a plan that addresses their individual needs, interests, and preferences. In a broad perspective, students are not treated with “cookie cutter” plans—one size fits all. This way of thinking does not just accept a checklist of transition steps, that covers legal obligation. A student’s school career is ultimately about preparing him/her for the rest of their life!

In my opinion, I feel that unfortunately, many schools still do not hold the broad perspective of transition, falling back on the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. The more narrow perspective primarily focuses on the last couple of years of a student’s high school career, and setting them up with agencies/providers for their postschool life. In the reading, (bottom of page 180) I was struck with the sentence, “Many local education agencies’ tendency to meet the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law has resulted in expanded IEP forms……”. So, true! As special education teachers we have paperwork on top of paperwork! In the case of transition, there is a bog down in the process. All of education should be preparation for life. With this in mind, shouldn’t we be concerned with everything leading up to life beyond school?

I was deeply touched by the part of the paper that discussed how schools work with college bound students, preparing them, readying them, helping them for the time when they will leave high school and step out into the “real” world. Why should it not be the same for our students that receive special services? Are they not just as worthy as a college bound student? Can’t their futures be just as bright as the ones who ace their AP courses? The narrow perspective puts our students in special education, into a box. A “to do” list. Half the time, these young people aren’t even actively involved in the plans for/about THEIR lives! I have been asked to attend IEP meetings for high school students in a consultant capacity, by parents who are desperate to have the school consider a more broad perspective for their child.

I can immediately think of a case that is a prime examples for the narrow perspective of transition. This case was a young man diagnosed with intellectual disability and several medical issues. He is extremely personable, gregarious, and doesn’t know a stranger. He is a friend to one and all. He is also very daring, and athletic. (He recently tandem jumped out of an airplane, and is a member of a rock climbing club.) In my mind, for this young man, the sky is the limit! Sadly, his transition planning was about checking off the legal boxes for his plan, per IDEA. His involvement in his own life, consisted of being asked, “What do you want to do after high school?” Because of his intellectual disability, he struggled to voice his dreams of life after high school. His mother was told that they were inviting agencies/providers to his next IEP meeting to prepare him for after graduation. He told his mother he did not want to work at the workshop. That was boring. He was not interested. He even said to his mother, “Why can’t I play on a community softball league? Why do I have to only play with the Special Olympics?” The whole situation just bothers me. I want so much more for him, than the school or the local board of DD is willing to give!

 

On the other hand, I read a story recently about a high school special education classroom that owned and operated their own coffee shop, in the school. They worked as a team, everyone was involved! They took orders from teachers and students, and delivered coffee (and baked goods!) They were learning social skills as well as business skills. They were required to collect payment for the drinks/food, and figure out change. They kept “the books” for their business, giving some of the proceeds to school based activities and functions (the rest going back into the business). Their teachers commented that the students confidence and self-esteem had flourished. They were more open to ideas, and excited about what the future might hold. I think this opportunity was a great example of a school that has a broader perspective on transitioning through high school, and being adequately prepared for the world beyond the school. These students are learning things across the board, that will help them as they step out into their communities.”

I understand that there are some students with more severe disabilities that might not be able to work out in the community. They might be learning life skills in high school, as opposed to academics. Working at a sheltered workshop might be the best placement for some of these individuals. That is fine and good. My point is that all students are unique, with their own abilities and interests. We cannot have cookie cutter responses to our students in special education, just because “we’ve always done it this way”.

Having a tailored plan requires effort. That is the point of an individualized education plan.

  • Kohler, P (1998). Implementing a transition perspective of education. In F. Rusch & J. Chadsey (Eds.), Beyong high school: Transition from school to work (pp. 179-205). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

 

 

Autism Awareness-A Call To Action!

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As some of you know, that have been reading my blog for awhile, I am a special education teacher. I am also a consultant and advocate. It has been both an interesting and rewarding choice for my life’s work. A choice that I have never regretted. At times, it has been fascinating and encouraging, and other times frustrating and overwhelming….much like life itself. There are good days and well, the not so good days.

April is autism awareness month. Those of us who are immersed in the world of autism understand that awareness is not just one month out of the year, but an every day call to action. As time goes on, more and more people are being made aware of autism because they are personally being touched by it. They have a loved one with an autism spectrum diagnosis, or a friend’s child, or a classmate or the family that sits behind you in the pew at church. Even though the CDC just announced that so far this year the numbers of autism diagnoses are stable, but up to this point, the number of autism diagnoses has accelerated over the the past 25-30 years. In the late 1980’s autism was known about, but considered fairly rare. My college professors said that I, as a special education teacher, would probably have more students with Down Syndrome or intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities than a child with autism. At that time autism was about 1 in every 10,000 births. By 2000 it was 1:150. Then it was 1:88. Now it is 1:68.

The people in this epic battle with autism, don’t always agree on what causes autism. They might not agree on what are the best therapies. Whether or not a strict diet will help ease the physical pain that often accompanies those with autism. Individuals with high functioning autism have their own issues with which to contend. “Oh, he doesn’t look autistic. I think he will outgrow it. Just give him time.” (As if, there is a specific autism “look” and “giving him time” only delays the intervention that is desperately needed.) Sometimes supports are overlooked because he seems “so normal” accept for his quirkiness. It is a struggle.

The journey with autism is real for a lot of parents. All these children that have been diagnosed over the past quarter century are growing up. What do families do when their child with autism grows up? The supports for adults with autism are sorely lacking. As these children grow up and age out of the school system, there will be a tsunami of autism in the adult world, like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We, as a society, cannot abandon these individuals or their families. Burying our heads in the sand, will do nothing to solve the problem.

This is a call to action. Not just to wear a special color on a special day, but to stand up and advocate every day. To make a difference in the lives of these individuals……

Autism Stats:

*Prevalence of ASD is estimated at 1:68 births (CDC,2014)

*It is five times more prevalent in boys than in girls.

*There is no known cause or cure.

*No two persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are alike.

*Early intervention (EI) is key! Outcomes improve when diagnosis and intervention occur early.

(stats from: OCALI- Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence)

A previous, older post of mine,on autism….notice the difference in the stats from the mid 2000’s to now.

https://gibsongirl247.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/autism-is-not-a-dirty-word-2/

 

 

You Might Be The One To Make A Difference

 

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I read something not long ago about the church. This particular article focused on families that have children with disabilities. Being a special education teacher, and a vocal advocate for those with disabilities, these kinds of articles always catch my attention.

I have heard over and over again from parents who have children on the autism spectrum, about how they want to go to church. They want to worship with fellow believers. They love singing both praise music as well as old, familiar hymns. They want to quiet their souls so they can hear a word from God. The thing is, they don’t always feel welcomed when they cross over the threshold of the church building.

Oh, it is not always the words that say, “You’re not welcome”. Sometimes it is the stares. Sometimes it shows itself as impatience with or fear of someone who looks or acts differently. Sometimes it isn’t intentional. Sometimes people just don’t know what to do, how to act, or what to say…..so they don’t do anything.

And with that, the door slams shut on a vast mission field.

Autism. Intellectual Disability. Learning Differences. Anxiety or Depression. Emotional Issues. A different physical appearance. ADD/ADHD. Health Impaired. Chronic medical issues. Sometimes the disability is obvious, but often times it is not………..until it is.

As followers of Christ, He calls us to love our neighbors…whether they are literally next door, down the street, on the job, at school…..or at church on Sunday morning.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

This Sunday open your eyes and look around your church. See people.

You never know……you might be the one to make a difference in someone’s life.

The world is desperate for those who are willing step out of their comfort zones.

I Can’t Go Wrong

102_3462 The beginning of that school year was the beginning of my career as a special education teacher. I was twenty-two years old, just beginning to put my knowledge to the test. Looking back, I didn’t know near as much as I thought I did. Isn’t that the truth for most of us, when we were in our twenties? Big on ideas, not real big on life experience.

The morning was underway. Attendance had been taken, and learning groups had already begun. Bobby*, a sixth grader, wasn’t there yet. He was late. The classroom clock ticked off the first moments of the school day. The door opened and in walked Bobby*. He came up to me, eyes averted, and mumbled something about being late. I, in my own naive youth, abruptly replied to him with, “I understand you are late to school, but it is important for you to be on time. Now you are going to be behind this morning. Hurry up and put your stuff in your desk, so we can get you in your group.” My teacher mindset appreciated punctuality and I wanted to get that across to him, but Bobby* wasn’t finished.  He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry. Last night, with all the rain and wind, the living room wall caved in. I was up most of the night with my Daddy putting tarp up, so our stuff didn’t get wet.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes. I looked away. Now it was my turn to mumble an apology. This poor boy, who was a good student, and had a tender heart, after a difficult and stressful night, now had to listen to his teacher gripe at him. He had helped his Daddy. He was doing important work to save his family’s house. I felt badly about my cavalier attitude, not comprehending what it meant to live in a house that was weather worn and crumbling.

I learned a lesson that day, one that stuck with me. I learned a lesson that didn’t just apply to my career in teaching, but to life. Things are not always what they seem, in fact many times, we only skim the surface of what is going on with people. We often jump to our own conclusions about others because it is more convenient.

And that is wrong….. so wrong.

None of us is perfect, and most are fighting battles that others know nothing about….because of this, I can’t go wrong treating everyone with kindness.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV

*Bobby is not my former student’s real name.

Sometimes In Life, A Door Opens…

Zi6_0127As many of my readers already know, special education has been a driving force, for most of my life. Maybe I should say, helping and encouraging individuals with special needs and their families has been my driving force. It is one of the things in my life that brings me joy, and contributes to who I am as a person. God put a desire in my heart, a calling, to be a voice for those who deserve to be heard.

Sometimes in life, a door opens, and we are unsure if we should walk through it. Life might change….and change can be scary. It is often times easier to just stand for awhile, in the threshold, unsure of whether or not to take that next step. With that said, a couple of months ago, my husband and I walked through that proverbial door and embarked on a new adventure. We took an opportunity that allows us to create ways to help, encourage, and advise families of those with special needs.

Please check out our new website. The website is still “in progress”, as a matter of fact we feel the site should always be evolving and growing to be all we want it to be, while still taking steps toward our dream. Would you help us to help others by sharing the blog and website? Would you like, pin, share and retweet? If you, yourself, have a family member with a disability or you know someone who does, would you let them know about the website as a resource? Make comments. Ask questions. Be real. Help us make a positive difference in the lives of others.  The most recent addition to the website is the first in a series of videos I’m calling “SpecEd Answers”.  Check it out!

You Are Not Too Old

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The other week, on my blog, I posted about dusting off a dream. I’ve been excited about making an official leap into having my own business. I have been an intervention specialist (sped. instructor) for the majority of my adult life. Even before I worked in special education professionally, I worked in it with my heart. Decades later, with much experience, many stories, and multitudes of people that I have helped in some way, I wanted to start my own consulting business. I have been consulting and doing advocacy work with parents and their children informally for several years. Recently, I have felt led to do more, say more, help more, and try harder. My husband continues to be a wonderful support for me, always having faith in my abilities and seeing my heart, even when my vision sometimes became blurred.

A couple of days ago, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was wondering if I had what it takes to do this big thing? Would I be able to follow through? Was I too old to take more graduate level classes? Would parents care about this? What if the whole thing just blew up in my face? Sometimes negative self talk is more dangerous than anything else we may come across.

So, this morning, I arose early as I normally do. I straightened the house, started the coffee, and fixed breakfast. I slipped into my boots, grabbed the feed pail, and started over to the barn. The morning was quiet and the clouds were low on the horizon. Peaceful. Just then, God stepped into time and space. My time. My space. Although His voice was not audible, He spoke to my heart. Now, I am just as sane as you are, but something happened there in the yard, on the way to the barn. God spoke. He said, in a whisper only my spirit could discern, “You are not too old.” Just like that. I nearly dropped the chicken feed. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I stood rooted to the place. I looked out over the back field, tinged with the early pinks and purples of the morning. “You are not too old.”

I began to think about all the people that I’ve read about in the Bible, from the time that I was small. Many times, God had His children wait. Years would pass. Life went on. They wondered. They wandered. They grew older.  Until God told them, “go”.

“You are not too old.”

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isa. 55:9

The Children That Changed Me–The Wrap Up

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Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve had educators tell me that they didn’t really see the point of having my students in their classrooms. “They aren’t going to learn anything anyway.”   “I don’t know what to do with them.” (As if they were a thing, instead of a person!) At first I found it extremely frustrating. After awhile I realized, if the teacher could not look beyond the disability to see the child, then it was their loss. Not all teachers were that way. Thankfully, there were many, many who reached out, worked hard, and met the challenges that special education entails. Both the students and the teachers walked away from the school year having learned something new about each other.  I’ve learned that special education isn’t perfect. It’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it’s going back to the drawing board and figuring out something new to try. It’s about not giving up.

One of my greatest treasures of the “special ed world” has been getting to know my student’s parents. Sure there have been some… um…..how shall I say this, interesting ones.  Yet, most of the parents I have met have been good people. I consider it a privilege to know them. Are parents of children with special needs perfect? No. Do they sometimes get angry, or frustrated, or feel sorry for themselves? Sure. They are human. Are they thankful, and happy, and see even the smallest improvement as something to celebrate? Yes. I don’t think parents are perfect. I do think they are real. Many of us will never know the pain of watching our child struggle to eat without a tube. We won’t understand the feeling of knowing that our child can’t be on the local soccer team because he/she can’t walk, much less run. We won’t be able to commiserate about what it is like to see our child struggle to read or write and not have them feel dumb or stupid….or different. Or what about the parent that has a child trapped inside his/her own head, who is smart and funny and creative–but is unable to communicate it, because autism has stolen that from her? Every time, over the years, that I met with a parent I kept this thought foremost in my mind. These parents love their child, imperfections and all. They are requesting my help because they want their child to meet his/her full potential. Whatever that may be for that particular child. They want a chance for their child, just like any other parent. That’s it. So, if there are any parents of children with special needs that are reading my blog today. Thanks goes to you. Really. You are the ones that deserve it.

The Children That Changed Me– The Memories Make Me Smile

The year is 1997. I’m still teaching in the same county, just a different school…one closer to my house. This would be the school I would teach in for the next ten years. I liked this school. I met many wonderful teachers and a lot of interesting students while there.

When I started at this elementary school I had seven years of experience under my belt and was fresh from the inner city experience. I felt like, since I survived that, nothing could slow me down now! The first day I met my new teaching assistant. She sized me up right away. Checking me out to see if I was up to par. I guess the “evaluation” turned out okay since we became fast friends both inside school and out. We were the dynamic duo of our little school….and boy, did we have some adventures together!

One little girl in particular always kept us on our toes. I will call her Vonda. I will not use her real name to protect the innocent or not so innocent as the case may be. She was EXTREMELY ADHD along with having learning disabilities. Now, I know a lot about ADHD…when I say she was EXTREMELY I mean it. This is the same girl that would walk around the room and touch everyone as I was trying to teach. I don’t mean a hand on the shoulder, or even a tap. I mean a full out ” squeeze you ’til your eyes pop out” hug. Or she might decide to give you a new hairstyle if your back was turned for a split second. The girl was constant motion. One day, right in the middle of a lesson, she jumped up, raised her arms to the ceiling and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Give it up for Jesus!” Okay. I love Jesus, but to be honest I wasn’t in a worshipful mood right then. I didn’t feel the need for a tent revival. I asked her to have a seat. My assistant told her to sit down….she did not. She bounced around praising Jesus instead of doing her schoolwork. You can imagine what the rest of the class looked like with her conducting her very own “come to Jesus” meeting and me attempting to have a lesson. All of them went wild, like monkeys at the zoo. Later that day, I informed her mother about the incident. Her mother apologized for her daughters impromptu church service…but she laughed. She said, “I have to tell you this story about Vonda.”

We were at church the other Sunday. Everyone was listening to the preacher, preach. We were all into the service, when Vonda started acting out. I didn’t want her to interrupt the service so I gave her “the look”. She ignored my “look” and continued to be disruptive. I whispered for her to sit down and be quiet. She looked the other way. I had, had it! She started in again and so I reached over and gave her a pinch on the leg to let her know I meant business. At this, she let out a loud, high pitched shriek. The congregation thought she was calling out because she was “in the spirit”. I just let them think that, as I gave Vonda another look. She was going to be “in the spirit” again if she didn’t quit!

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I had a good chuckle over that story. Her mother and I bonded that day. We both knew what we were up against.

Not all my stories are easy to tell. Some hurt. Some stories I have chosen not to share because they still haunt me today. Stories of child abuse, drugs, and neglect…and a system that many times failed my students. My heart broke. My anger flared at the injustice of it all. When a person is passionate about something…sometimes emotions get in the way. Such is the story that I am about to tell……

I had a new student. I will call her Shelly. Shelly came from a home that was dysfunctional to say the least. Long story short it was all about neglect and emotional abuse. She had grandparents that loved her, but a mom that I don’t really think understood what real love meant.  I really liked Shelly a lot. She was a good kid except when she had “melt downs” and flipped desks and pulled over cabinets and threw things in a rage. You see Shelly was emotionally disturbed. She had a difficult time controlling her impulses….because mom saw fit to do drugs and drink alcohol while she was pregnant with her. She chose those vices over her own child’s health and well being. Shelly would never be “normal” because of her mother. The blame should be laid directly at her mother’s feet. Anyway, as a special education teacher I had to have meetings with parents at least once a year to go over progress.  I don’t know if mom was just having a bad day or what, but as we sat down at the table for the meeting she says to all the school personnel, “the fact that Shelly isn’t making much progress is YOUR fault.”  Now, I am usually a fairly calm and collected person. It takes a lot to get me truly riled up. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to come across that table at her. To scream in her face, “NO. It’s YOUR fault. YOU made the choice to do cocaine. YOU chose to DRINK. YOU chose this life for your daughter before she was even born. How dare you!! Go home and look in the mirror. YOU. YOU. YOU. Your daughter is damaged because you thought that YOU were more important than her and her future.”  I didn’t say this. Instead I just sat there and stared at her. I had to detach myself from it. From the situation. You see, over the years I learned that I can’t fix everyone. It’s not possible. Even though I wanted to help, I could only do what I could do,when my students were with me. Unfortunately, some times I had to turn kids over to situations that were less than desirable…because that is what our system says to do.

Tomorrow I will finish my blog series…my teaching-the later years.

The Children That Changed Me– The Inner City Chapter

These years were some of the most difficult ones I ever had as a teacher, and as a person. I lost my innocence during those years. My students, through it all, taught me some real world lessons that I have never forgotten.

THE CHILDREN THAT CHANGED ME–PART THREE

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In 1995 I started teaching in a new school system. I was placed in an inner city classroom that consisted of nine streetwise boys…all of whom had some sort of emotional/behavioral type of disturbance. I admit at that time I was naive’. I had no idea what lay ahead of me. Let me just suffice to say that during my two years at this particular school I got bit, spit on, threatened, hit, bruised, called every name imaginable and then some. Unfortunately, my assistant and I had to spend more time keeping order than actually teaching. I learned many lessons during my time at this school, with these particular students. Even though these kids had seen and done things that no child really should have to deal with, or any adult for that matter, I was allowed to catch brief glimpses of the truly young children that they were. One young boy had several members of his large family that were mentally ill. An older brother had “a breakdown” one night and broke every window in the house with a ball bat. Then chased his mother and siblings around the house threatening to kill them….until the mother called for help. The next day when this student came into the classroom he was tired, irritable and angry….and really, who could blame him? His own emotional instability didn’t allow him to process what was going on in his life. I appreciated that I had mental health counselors at my disposal to help with the kids, but I still felt inadequate to even make a dent in this child’s life. My heart ached for this six year old little boy, even when he was cussing me to my face.

They were tough, and closed off. Walls had been built up, long before I came on the scene. To be honest with you I spent a lot of those days tired and totally depleted mentally, physically and emotionally. Early on it struck me that at the end of the day I could go home. Home to a husband that loved me, an infant son, a house in a middle class neighborhood where I didn’t have to concern myself with drive-by’s, drug deals, or gangs. A place where I could be refreshed and where I felt safe. My students didn’t have that privilege. I cried for them. I spent time wondering if having me for a teacher would make any difference at all to them. To this day, I’m still not sure. I like to think I did something positive, but I don’t know. I learned that sometimes life, is difficult, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. Sometimes we just do the best we can. That is all we can do. Then we have to let it go.