Teacher Professor

January 29, 2010

Fresh from 1956

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 6:19 pm

This just in: Educators should take advantage of the popular social-networking site Facebook as a free and timely forum for sharing ideas and improving education, writes Nancy Flanagan, a former teacher who is an education writer and consultant. If teachers can overlook the site’s tendency toward lightweight social content and administrators can work through filtering issues, the site could provide a user-friendly and highly collaborative tool for teachers, schools and professional associations, Flanagan writes. Education Week/Teacher in a Strange Land blog (1/28)

I’m continually surprised by the rate of change in the field of education. I saw a great presentation the other day that had clips from different TV shows:
1950’s Medicine: Dr. Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare- White guy-go it alone, do everything yourself- lots of drama
2000’s Medicine: ER, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy- Diverse group including women and racial differences,team work, shared expertise, and use of technology- and lots of cutting edge drama

1950’s Law: Ellery Queen, Perry Mason- white guy, generally rugged detective, solving crimes alone- lots of drama
2000’s Law: NCIS, Law and Order- diverse group including women and racial differences, team work, shared expertise- lots of cutting edge drama

1950’s Teacher- White woman up in front of the classroom- rows, chalkboards, the cool teachers sat on the teacher’s desk- no drama

2000’s Teacher- (You know it’s coming) White woman up in front of the classroom, often in rows, although some grouping now of children, white boards, the cool teacher still sit on the teacher’s desk and there is still no drama allowed, other than the panic over test scores.

I’ve just recently joined the 2000s myself as a blogger and a Facebook participant.  As someone graduating from high school in the 1980s, I am not a digital native.  But it strikes me that there are several things wrong with the scenario above.

1) Teachers are still predominantly female, white and middle class- teaching kids who are increasingly more and more diverse in terms of language, background and socio-economic levels.  We teach kids to act and think like America thought and acted in the 1950s.  The 1950s were a great time- if you were white, male, non-disabled, and privileged.   If you weren’t,  too bad for you.  And yet, school espouse “traditional values”.

2) Schools still often have the technology of the 1850’s- with a change from chalk to dry erase markers.  Heck, a recent article found that most teachers with “Smart Boards” that are wired to the Internet are really only using them as white boards or screens.  But more importantly, schools perceive technology as “toys” or “entertainment” rather than the cultural paradigm shift it is.  Facebook, blogs and information 24-7 allows us to be connected to other people at a moment’s notice.  And yet, schools are not teaching students how to evaluate information, or how to validate it, so the rampaging rapids that is technology (when does the IPad become available?) sweeps people along with other folks just like them- but not in the same place.  It is possible to read only news that is slanted to your political and nationalistic leanings, blog with people who share your beliefs and interests, and never encounter another frame of reference or analyze the arguments of another side.

3) What connects these two fears together is the fear of the “other”- the person different from what they are “supposed” to be- either in a classroom, or online.   Rather than focusing on the product that is a result of the PROCESS of thinking (ie- informed decisions), we focus on the PRODUCT exclusively (NCLB scores,anyone?) and don’t pay attention to the thinking.  There are some educational philosophers who suggest that the group with power doesn’t really want anyone to “think” or to question, because then the balance of power will be shifted.  Certainly, real thinkers do ask questions, and real questions are uncomfortable, and when kids ask real questions, they’re told “We don’t have time for that”, rather than exploring how to think through the issue.  Or,as a recent school said when they stopped teaching “The Diary of Anne Frank”- “It was a bummer of a book”.  We certainly don’t want children to be exposed to bummers in life, or how to deal when things are not quite ideal, do we?

Which means that while some schools and some teachers focus on thinking and inclusion and true celebration of differences that can only be found through understanding, others see their power, their former thinking threatened.  Heaven forbid that teachers from other parts of the country TALK together…

Which means, that for now, I blog and Facebook during “free” time, since if I were “caught”, people would think that I was “playing”.  And school is serious business…for 1956.

January 28, 2010

Out of Order

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 2:45 pm

This morning, when I turned on his light and said “Good morning, lovey!”, my son rolled over and said, “I’m sorry I’m out of order.” It took me a minute until I got it and laughed.

I know how you feel- we all need a day where we can hang up our “out of order” sign.

January 27, 2010

Goofy-footed

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 9:49 pm

This just in:

Students who are ambidextrous are more likely to have language difficulty, struggle in school, and develop symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder by the time they are 15 or 16 years old, according to researchers at the Imperial College London. However, researchers say that while students might have a higher risk of difficulties, most of the students studied had no problems, and using both hands to write is not a definitive indicator that students will do poorly in school. BBC (1/25)

One of the advantages of Elizabeth having had a label is that it gave us an understandable constellation of behaviors that she might exhibit- and a selection of responses to choose from.  Slow verbal processing?  Indicative of autism.  Slow down, break the instructions into several steps.  Writing her own jokes?  Indicative of giftedness.  Encourage and analyze.  Meltdowns when she’s tired?  Well, that’s just her.  Give her more sleep.  While she has challenges to deal with, generally, they fall into a pattern and the labels she has had help make sense of them.

My son Ray?  I don’t talk about him as much in the book or here because he just doesn’t fit as cleanly into a category.  His behaviors are so all over the place that it’s hard to figure him out.  I am actually more anxious about Ray than Elizabeth because I don’t know what to do most of the time- nor do I know how to ask for help.  I don’t know what to call “it” that he and we deal with.

My pregnancy with Ray was a surprise.  We had completely planned him, but not his timing.  Elizabeth was eight months old, and I found out that the complete exhaustion I was feeling was not all due to a fussy baby, but that I was already three months pregnant.  It was right after 9/11 and the whole world was topsy turvy and to find out that Ray was coming was a complete shock.  And it was a difficult pregnancy.  I was sick constantly.   I was scared and anxious the whole time since Elizabeth’s babyhood was challenging.  And I was tired- so tired.

When he was born, he was beautiful.  Less fussy that Elizabeth, as long as he was being held.  As long as he was in my arms, he was a curious, happy kid.  Put him down, and he turned into a screaming, wailing, hysterical knot.   We called him Possum because he would have been quite happy being permanently attached to me.  I learned to cook, to clean and to potty train a toddler with one hand.  He didn’t startle as easily as Elizabeth had, but he was so curious about things, he didn’t eat much.  He would be eating and get distracted by my face, my necklace, the dog, and turn his head away to watch the new thing.  He would fall asleep quickly when he was being fed.  And when he was uncomfortable, he let us know!  He would fuss and fuss until the irritatant was gone.  We tried Ferber’s Cry it Out method after months and months of his being rocked to sleep, only to wake up with a howl when I put him down.  The Cry it Out method worked for a while, until he got sick and we’d be back to Square One.

And he got sick a lot.  He had numerous ear infections and pneumonia when he was six months old.  His first Christmas was spent at the emergency room, where they gave him a breathing treatment, which made him scream, and then me rocking him, listening to him breathe because it was so burbly.  It became a pattern- he had pneumona every Christmas for three years in a row.  I took him for allergy testing the October before his fourth Christmas because I needed to know if it was the Christmas tree?  The wrapping paper?  We were in Florida, so it wasn’t the chill in the air.  Naturally, the testing turned out negative, and he was fine that Christmas.

He also didn’t eat much.  He would latch on, and gulp, until he wasn’t hungry anymore and then lose interest.  He wouldn’t, however, eat until he was full.  Which meant that he was constantly hungry and constantly cranky.  I was told at the time that “Babies will eat”- only mine didn’t.  He started solid food “on time” and weaned himself at 15 months because he had no interest at all in nursing.  We taught him to sip drinks and he continued being fussy about what he would eat.  From his first birthday to his second birthday, he gained not one ounce, despite our constantly putting food in front of him.  We tried backing off and letting him be hungry.  We tried forcing him to eat.  We tried with silverware and without silverware.  We tried letting him select and we tried colorful food.  Nothing worked.  No weight gain.

At 2 years old, he was officially diagnosed “Failure to Thrive”.  During this time, we were deep in the diagnosis and treatment of Elizabeth’s autism and I was losing my mind.  We took him for allergy tests, we took him for celiac disease testing, we took him for Multiple Sclerosis testing- all came back negative.  On one hellish day, I took him to the doctor where they gave him a medicine to drink, which involved holding his nose and almost choking him.  Then, I had to take him to the playground in a snowsuit to sweat so that they could get a sample of his sweat.  He didn’t like the snow suit and just sat and screamed, which did result in him getting hot.  I had Elizabeth happily playing all over the playground so I had to keep an eye on her.  Back to the doctor for a blood test, which he screamed throughout, and then off to Elizabeth’s speech therapist- which we were late for and got “the look”.  and then I dropped them off at the babysitters, and went to teach a college class.  I was barely conscious and exhausted from the screaming and the trauma of being at doctors all day long.

And… nothing.  No results, just nothing.  We took him to a pediatric gastroenterologist who didn’t see the need for a biopsy, but was going to do it if we pushed.  He looked little 2-year-old Ray right in the eyes and said “If you don’t start eating, you will be put into a hospital where we will put food in a tube down your throat.  Do you want that to happen?”  Ray looked terrified, shook his head and cried.  That night, he came to us and said “I eat, Mama.  I eat” and choked down food.  He gained an ounce the next week and the crisis was over.

But to this day, eating is a major ordeal.  I have cried and cried over his eating.  He will “pocket” his food in his cheek, chew and chew and chew without being able to swallow it until he finally spits out a completely chewed up mass.  He will eat “yummy” things like candy with no problems, but stuff you “gotta” eat- nope.  I have hidden vegetables in desserts to no avail.  As soon as the taste is off, or he sees a strand of orange or green, he’s done and refuses to eat. And “typical” kids things like mashed potatoes, rice, pizza, biscuits, or muffins?  Nope.  Chik-Fil-A chicken nuggets are about the only thing I can guarantee that he will eat.  And cookies.  Always cookies.

It is a major source of power struggles in our family.  He does not recognize when he is hungry and will get ferociously cranky until I am forcing food down him, when he then does an about-face and becomes sweet.  I have let him get hungry and he throws a tantrum.  Once, over breaking a toy when he was hungry, he had a 3 hour screaming hysterical tantrum- all because he had missed lunch and I was tired of fighting with him.  I offer food- he refuses.  Or he eats until he’s not hungry anymore, not until he’s full.  At the age of 7, I am encouraging him to recognize when he’s hungry and to take matters into his own hands- to go and get a snack.  He’s not great about it, and at some point, he can’t think clearly enough anymore to go and help himself.  The only time he can be reminded is right before he loses it and then he’ll get himself a snack.   Sometimes.

Diabetes?  Celiac?  The tests say “no”.  I lean towards anorexia myself, but you can’t treat anorexia when the child is seven.  He’s still small, still skinny and still fussy.  And oh, the irony of having a child who can’t eat… when I battle weight gain and emotional eating every day.

When he was four, he was incredibly resistant to a routine doctor’s visit- screaming up a storm and going into hysterics.  I took him to Play Therapy because it was so severe and the doctor, hearing Ray’s negative experiences with doctors, suggested it.  The play therapist worked him about four times and then told me that “He’s a great kid!  Intelligent, highly verbal, active imagination.  Nothing wrong or anything to work on that I can see”.  And I took him home.

But there WAS something- he was… different.  He had been with me completely for a year, but at a year old, I started a job and took him to daycare where he cried unconsolably for hours after I dropped him off.  His hysteria at my leaving him continued all the way to first grade, when he would cry when he went into school- every morning.  Second grade has been much easier, but just the other night, he had to be peeled off of me and returned to our well-loved friend who was acting as our babysitter because my husband and I went out on a date.  We don’t go on dates often, and we don’t get babysitters who last long.  He resists new things to the point that he won’t do a sport unless his sister or his daddy are involved somehow.

And he is incredibly sensitive.  There was one time that he came out of school all happy and cheery and he went to slide down the stairs banister.  I jumped and grabbed him and said “No, Ray!”  He immediately went into his “Black look” where he glowers, loses his language, grunts and is all around nasty.  It takes him hours to get out of his Black Moods- and it was all triggered by a “No”.  I have learned to discipline him not by correcting him, but by asking him “Why is that not a good idea?”.  Any hint of disapproval and he shuts down.  Any possibility of losing, and he doesn’t want to play.  He collects small things and hoards them- he has a desk drawer full of nothing but little tiny things- erasers, pieces of rocks, paperclips.

This past Spring, he was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder, which covers some of these issues, but not all.  He also has Tourette’s Syndrome, which means he tics when he’s nervous or anxious.  He’s also seriously close to Attention Deficit Disorder, but no sign of hyperactivity.  But none of these labels are quite right…

And he’s also stunningly bright.  He was talking in full complete sentences when he was 18 months old.  He’s reading 161 words per minute as a second grader, which is the rate of a 5th grader.  He’s very good socially and always has friends who want to play with him.  He loves to cuddle and has a hilarious sense of humor.  And despite inattention in things like finishing classwork, completing puzzles, or cleaning his room, he can sit and listen to me read a story for hours, sighing when I stop as he has to come back to this world.

But he won’t read challenging books himself, he loses track of completing projects, he has a very hard time setting goals for himself.  He can’t find the words to describe his feelings.  He didn’t do well on subtraction facts until we started charting them at home so that he could see how much better he was getting.  And even then, he wanted something for it- a dollar, a toy truck… something.  He wants to clean his room and gets distracted in something.

But he craves positive attention- absolutely craves it.  He will glower ferociously when a simple “No” is told to him, but a positive discipline plan works miracles for him.  We have reward systems for cleaning, brushing his teeth, being nice to his sister… we pick and choose the battles, but most things are not “problems” unless I have to fuss at him.  His response to being fussed at is a complete shut down or melt down.

And so, we’re frustrated and have tried on many possibility for labels.  ADD?  Probably, but the medication decreases appetite- absolutely not a possibility.  OCD?  ODD?  Not autism, but certainly traces of it. Certainly anxiety disorder, but more than that…

And I worry… oh I worry about him.  He seems to be a kid ripe to try drugs, early sex, anything that makes him feel connected and complete.  I try to help him find things to do that help- playing drums, guitar, reading… but he’s not “hooked”.  His behaviors make me ponder addictions- how we all find something- exercise, work, music, sex, drugs…  to fill the loneliness.

And… he writes with his right hand, but reaches for things with his left.  The soccer coach called him “goofy-footed” because he shoots with his left foot.  And now, I read the research above and wonder… is THIS the problem?…

And so  I will continue to worry… much as all mothers do, but he is a child for whom I have no pattern, no constellation of behaviors that I can point to and say “There’s the label that will help him find ways to help himself”.  Goofy-footed is as good as anything else at this point.

January 26, 2010

Just Joking Around

Filed under: Autism,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 7:48 pm

Elizabeth has always had a bit of a challenge with humor. She “gets it”, but is about a beat behind. When the other four year olds were discovering knock-knock jokes, she would be in tears because she just didn’t understand why people were laughing.  Ray, on the other hand, has an amazing wit- and perfect comedic timing. The other day, I was laying down the law on something and he was trying to soften me up.  “Please.. you’re the best mommy in the world”.

I smiled, because, really- he is so cute, and said “Nice try, but no”.

pause, pause-walking away- “Ok, fine, but you’re now only the second best mommy in the world”.  I laughed out loud!

So- for Christmas, I bought them both joke books- to enjoy, to learn, to memorize for Elizabeth’s scripting purposes. When kids are telling jokes, she needs to be able to contribute- so I gave her jokes to tell.

But she is incredibly analytical and read and re-read the book, to figure out what made a joke funny.  On a recent long car trip, she said “Mommy, they’re using words that have two meanings- there are a lot of homonyms and homophones, aren’t there?”

Me- “Exactly!  That’s why they’re funny.  People are expecting one thing, and the words makes it different for them.  The surprise makes it funny”.  I felt odd explaining it to her, but she was figuring out the “rules” of humor.  It’s so typical of a kid with high-functioning autism- she doesn’t innately find humor, but she can analyze it to figure out why others do.

And applying them!  Now that she’s has figured out the rules, she is now writing her own!  She has quite a few, in my terribly-biased view, really funny jokes!  So- here they are…

Q: Where does a skeleton learn?

A: In skuul.

Q: Why does Right love jellybeans?

A: Because there are never any left.

Q: Why does Left hate school?

A: Because he can’t write.

BRILLIANT!  You should see the look of pride on her face when she watches people laugh.

I’m quite looking forward to her career as a comedy writer…

January 25, 2010

Identity Labels

Filed under: Book- Parent's Guide,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 11:09 pm

Who are you?  What do you say?  What do you do?  We have so many ways to describe kids and so many ways to describe ourselves.  My daughter and I are both adding identity labels on and it’s an odd process.

Today, I forgot to tell Elizabeth that she got into the gifted program.  In my defense, my husband was out of town and the morning was a little rushed.  Also, I was purposely making it “not a big deal” since a) her brother is not in it yet (they identify at 3rd grade mostly) and the two of them are so competitive that he is likely to shut down and not even try to do well if she is already in (if he can’t win, he doesn’t play), and b) I want to emphasize things she DOES have control over like effort and neatness, rather than grades or program placement.  Because I forgot to tell her, she went to school and got to hear how a bunch of her friends got in.  She and I had already talked about how she may or may not be “accepted” and how that it wasn’t a big deal either way- so she felt sad, and in her incredibly plucky way, went and found a friend, “Hannah” (all children’s names are changed) that also had not gotten in.  She came home from school and told me that her bestest friend “Emily” HAD gotten in and wouldn’t be in her Thursday afternoon class anymore.  “Oh yeah,” I said “I forgot to tell you- I got the letter and you’re going to go with her”.  She shrieked, ran out the door and jumped up and down with Emily, very happy and thrilled.

Later, once dinner was on the table, she asked “Does this mean that Hannah’s mom forgot to tell her, too?”

“I don’t know, honey”… and Elizabeth sat and pondered a label that she didn’t have before and now she does and how that changes her friendships.  We talked a brief bit about how really the job of a teacher is to help all kids learn stuff that is hard and you might be in different classes and do different things, but you’re still friends.

“Will I be able to stay in?” she asked.  “How will it be different?”

“Remember, you’ll have Emily,” I reminded her.

“Yeah,” she said with relish.  “And now I get to carry the special notebook the gifted kids carry.”

And I’ve gotten the label of “Author”.  My book is now available for pre-order and I’m getting ready to go on a small book tour, and I’m not sure what an “author” is.  I saw the cover for the first time and it was exciting and thrilling, and… foreign to see my name on the title page.  I wrote the book this summer because it was therapy- it was the book that I wanted to read when we were scared and panicked and thrashing about looking for the “right” label, therapy, program- trying to find a new “normal” and integrating what I knew as a professional with what I felt as a mom.  I wanted someone to hold my hand who knew what was going on and yet would be deeply sympathetic.  Someone who understood the toll it took on my marriage, my friendships, my job, and my finances- and yet, provided a way to celebrate, and laugh, and and be really curious about what was happening.  But somehow, while I was writing this book for others that I could help, it wasn’t real.  I showed it to my husband, my mother (who both read every word and had lots of ideas and insights), my friends (some of whom read it) and some other mommies (who gave great feedback and added their own stories).  It was a bit like writing a really big paper- and having a doctorate means that I’ve written a lot of papers.  But now, it’s out- it’s beyond my “just one more edit” place.  It has a COVER and is available for pre-order.  It’s a process of connecting to other people who I don’t know- going to Barnes and Nobles and being “that” person.

I’m actually rather shy- new people and situations make me really anxious.  I so relate to my son when he hangs on the periphery of a crowd and has screaming meltdowns when I have to leave to travel to a conference.  Familiar roles are easier.  I’m comfortable with being a teacher.  Teaching is wonderful, when the students (of any age) have the “oh wow- I GET it” moment.  When you can visibly “see” the connection that was made.  Being a professor means that I present at professional conferences and I write professional articles for other professionals just like me.  If I know the “script” that teaching content that I know and love, I’m happy.

But I tend to keep my professional life fairly separate from my personal life.  My personal life is much less clear.  Parenting is something I’m figuring out, as I get to know these little people who are my children.  (Adolescence will change the rules again- I know…).  Wife- working on every day.  Daughter- I’m pretty good at that, too- most of the time.  Friend- I could always do better, but I’m there when I’m needed.  All of these are roles that are defined by a relationship to someone else- someone I know- and the scripts and relationships are well-established.  But “author”… that’s a role of something DONE.. and now what?  It means talking, blogs to communicate with a larger audience- and sharing with people- just like me- whom I don’t know yet.  And that’s perhaps the scariest part of all.  Being an author implies a relationship with people who (hopefully) want to read my book and have questions about both my professional and my personal sides, and being shy, I’m nervous to meet people in this new role.  I don’t know the script.

So, if you see me in my new label as author, I’ll probably be carrying the “special notebook”.  It’s working for my daughter as she tries on a new label, too.

January 24, 2010

Qualifying

Filed under: Twice-exceptional,Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 11:16 am

I feel very odd- my daughter just qualified for the gifted program.  On the one hand, I’m thrilled.  I TEACH in gifted education- I recognize the absolute need to meet the needs of ALL children, including those who learn differently- and differently includes those who learn faster, quicker and need a challenge that traditional classrooms can’t offer.  When children aren’t challenged, they turn that energy elsewhere- and so much potential is lost.  Having experienced education myself as a bored, desperately wanting to fit in kid, to a child challenged who found other people interested in obscure, off the wall things, I am a deep advocate of gifted education, particularly public gifted education programs.  I have seen too many kids from low income families whose parents didn’t know how to challenge their children, or couldn’t provide the “extras” that middle to upper class families do.  Without gifted education and the environment of challenge, those children have not a chance of hoping to “get out”.

But on the other hand, I TEACH in gifted education.  I’ve seen classrooms where the linguistic highjinks are stunningly fast and the pace is wonderfully quick, and children are asked to think in ways that are wonderfully complex.  A program at the Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia outside of DC has ninth graders designing and making the technology for children with disabilities and writing grant proposals.  Called the IBET program, it’s the Integrated Biology, English and Technology program and is one of the most outstanding programs I’ve ever seen- at any level, much less high school.  Much less freshmen in high school.  And I’ve written and taught language arts curricula for gifted kids at all levels- where the children are asked to analyze, compare and come up with metaphorical language as early as first grade.  It’s a ball asking seven-year-olds to compare and contrast “The Ugly Duckling” with “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” to a story that they wrote themselves and asking them what the underlying metaphor for each story really is…

Which was similar to the Twice-Exceptional Program I taught in Albuquerque, NM,except that I also got to include all of the wonderful strategies I know from special education- multiple modalities, breaking it into smaller chunks, books on tape, making it visual, and behavior management.  And those kids thrived (and continue to thrive, due to fantastic teachers such as Dennis Higgins, et al).  But Twice-exceptional programs are few and far between… and understanding of twice-exceptional children is limited.  It is a passion area of mine to bring development of strengths to special education and remediation and working around the areas of disability to gifted education- as a professional.

But this is MY daughter.  And my experience is with kids who can’t read- with learning disabilities and behavior disorders.  Autism is a whole new ball game with my daughter’s issues of language.  Kids with language processing disorders are often a “beat behind”.  They’re processing the question, the joke, the response- when typical kids have already moved on.  And to be with gifted kids who are often a beat ahead…?

But “Elizabeth” IS bright- her long term memory is stunning- she memorized the multiplication tables in second grade and is tops in her school in the timed tests.  She’s unbelievably analytical- she’s currently in the process of analyzing the structure of jokes to figure out how they work, and is writing her own.  She doesn’t come up with them immediately, but she comes up with them and she can tell you how and why they’re jokes.  I have memories of her banging on the washer and dryer as a baby and listening to the tonal differences between them.  She understands how numbers relate to each other.  And Lord help me, she’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.  Homework is done immediately and neatly.  She works ahead in her math textbook because she’s “got to do  more”.  She gets very anxious when she doesn’t know how to do something and falls apart when things are out of order in her notebook.

But she tends not to test “well”- her scores are all over the place.  Very, very high in visual memory and very,very low in verbal processing.  Very high in math, “average” in reading and language.  When you lump it all together, she tends to look like a “typical” or maybe an “above average” kid.  Gifted?  I know she is in so many areas, but in past schools, in past times, not enough to qualify.  Too high to qualify for special education, too low to qualify for gifted.  The twice-exceptional purgatory.

And now, in this place, at this school, she’s made their magic cut off score, which I know is arbitrary depending on what district you’re in.  And I’m terrified- I want her challenged, but not scared; I want her to know how wonderful, deeply talented she is, but not feel “less than”. I want what ALL moms want- my child to grow at a rate and manner that works for her in a supportive environment with friends who are going through it too.

And so, I turn MY child over to professionals with hope and fear.  Love her, challenge her, and help her learn how to be all that she is.  It’s quite a task we teachers have- almost as hard as the one that we parents have.

January 22, 2010

On My Desk

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 10:45 am

As I’m organizing myself to plan for four weeks’ worth of classes (work that should have been done weeks ago, but the tsunami of getting a semester started got in the way), I started cleaning my desk and was struck by what was on it…

  • hand lotion
  • empty candy dish (I want to be friendly, but I don’t want to have candy near me- New Year’s Resolution and all)
  • tape dispenser in the shape of shoe- purchased because it made me laugh
  • pretty Mission-style lamp
  • iphone speakers
  • picture of my family
  • picture from my 40th birthday of me and my girlfriends at the beach
  • a handmade “basket” of popsicle sticks painted gold that my son made for me with loose change in it
  • a snowdrift of papers from various meetings that I have to attend to, but were just tossed on the desk
  • A calendar from Oxford

And that’s me in a nutshell- a bit disorganized, a wife and a mom, a friend, a lover of pretty things, music, funny things, and a traveler.

What’s on YOUR desk?  Kitchen Counter?

Student Teaching is Wasted on the Young

Filed under: College information — Teacher Professor @ 10:18 am

I just have to share how much FUN it is building a new program!  We’re a brand new college, and I AM the special education department (although not for much longer- we’re hiring for next year).  It’s a bit intimidating, but really exciting and I’m LOVING coming up with a new idea and having it happen.

I just asked a wonderful contact in Savannah if he would come and train my teachers in Functional Behavioral Assessments and he said “Yes”- and it’s FREE!  My lucky, lucky students get to learn how to do it right- from the very public school folks who grouch that new teachers don’t know how to do these things.  It’s a great opportunity to link with school systems so that we all feel like we’re really and truly preparing teachers.

I just read in my friend Wendy’s book how student teaching is wasted on the young- “baby teachers” are too busy trying to survive and all of these nifty strategies and ideas that we’re teaching them are overwhelming- they have no idea how to implement them.  And then, when they’ve figured things out three years from now, they’ve settled into their “way” of doing things. 

I have to believe that I CAN show them nifty things and connect it to the “real” world so that they start out trying new and innovative things.  I’m feeling really lucky that I have such good support from the school systems around here who are working with us, not against us…

January 20, 2010

Being the Subject

Filed under: Autism,Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 1:55 pm

There is a study going on at 12 universities and medical sites around the country studying the genetics of autism. The Simons Simplex Collection (click here) is looking at individuals with ASD and their families from a genetic/biological view.  Emory University in Atlanta is one of the sites and I just got an email that is asking for volunteers. 

“Autism Center is now working on the Simons Simplex Research Project that is one of the 13 sites in the nation (and the largest genetic research project in the whole country) that is trying to figure out the cause of autism.  But the project is desperate need of families to participate. Can you send this brochure out (along with my message) to everyone in the state that you have contact with?  There is some criteria that families have to meet in order to participate and they are:
 
•One child (age 4-17) with a KNOWN diagnosis of an ASD
•Child with ASD does NOT have another known genetic condition
•Both biological parents are available to participate
•At least one sibling (age 4 and above) is available to participate.  An exception can be made for families with no siblings or siblings who are too young to participate.
•No other children in the family or extending family members have an ASD
•All participating family members must be willing to give a blood sample
 
it will mean a two-visit time frame to come to Atlanta to do the evaluation.  They will need to have blood drawn, but the project has tremendous phlebotomists that are gifted in drawing blood from children with this disorder. I know that this part can be scary, but to do genetics work-ups, it is necessary and so very important.
 
The Families will get from this:
 
1.  A free, NO COST comprehensive evaluation for diagnostics, cognition and adaptive behavior levels
2.  A research summary report listing results of all  the testing and recommended interventions
3.  The knowledge that they are playing an incredible part in trying to figure out what is going on with this disorder.
 
This is truly a very worthy cause for our families to participate it.  With the numbers as high as they are, we just have to have families determined to help researchers find the answers. Researchers can’t do it without the families help.  So please, send this brochure out to any and everyone that you can.  I do so appreciate it!  The number for families to call is:
 
(404)304-0513 or email Tracy Cermak at tcermak@emory.edu
 
And thank you for your assistance!!

The other sites are: Children’s Hospital of Boston, Vanderbilt University, Baylor College of Medicine, UCLA, Yale, Columbia, McGill, Universities of Washington, Missouri, Illinois, and Michigan

I’m Atlanta- bound!  If you have, of know of a child with autism who fits this description, please participate.  This is so important!

January 19, 2010

What Would Martin Say?

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 2:24 pm

Kristina Chew (click here) has a wonderful blog about how Martin Luther King Jr. opened the door for public schooling and awareness of children’ differences- how not only did his dream pave the way to better access for African-Americans, but also for people with disabilites.   And I CERTAINLY agree…

Kindof.  Certainly, disabilities rights have come right along with racial and women’s rights.  The idea of separate schools and water fountains are completely foreign to my children and I celebrate that.  I fight very hard every day to include students and teach teachers how to work in “inclusive” classrooms.  But I worry about a culture in which an increasing number of differences have to have a “label”.  If children do not fit within a very small band of “acceptable” differences, then there must be something wrong with them and we must seek to “fix” them.  The Neurodiversity movement, captured by Amanda of Ballastexistz and Joel Smith of NTs are Weird, and on neurodiversity.com certainly capture this better than I can.  They wonder why there is such a rejection of the notion that people are diverse- not racially, not culturally, but neurologically.  In the great rainbow of abilities and ways of being, only a small group are “normal”- and yet, they dictate to the rest of society what is the expected way of being.  Are YOU normal?  Is your family?  Your friends?  Completely “normal”?  Most people would answer “no”. 

I blame television.  The other day, my 7-year old son said, “I can hardly wait until high school.  It’s when you’re the prettiest and the funniest!”  No insult to my high school buddies, but my high school days were NOT when I was at my prettiest and my funniest.  Prettiest- probably around age 5 and funniest- still not there!  High school was when I was at my 2nd most awkward phase (7th grade gets that dubious honor).  But in his world of parent-approved Disney shows, high school IS when people are pretty and funny and carefree.  And if you’re not “that”- smart, funny, pretty, organized, with a great group of friends, there must be something wrong with you.  And being a culture of “helpers”, we rush in, label, and help the person “fit in”. 

Matthew Smith, in a presentation to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, noted last year that ADD was an idea further developed by schools when the need for students to do well on tests began to increase.  In the 1950s, we needed students who sat and tested well, in order to compete with the Russians.  Kids who wanted to move and be active had to be constrained so that we can “compete”.  If a student couldn’t do that, there was something wrong with them, and we had to help them be “better”.  Rather than conforming schools to the characteristics of students, we had to change the students.   Even in the case of gifted kids, whose actions really DID win the Cold War, schools don’t want “too much”.  Radical ideas- they’re too different…

Now, I’m in a profession of helping children learn to “succeed”.  And I certainly fight very hard for my own children to get good grades, have good friends, and express themselves, so that they can be “successful”.  But I hate that success is often measured by easily they  blend in.  I’m not so sure that Martin Luther King Jr. had that in mind, either.

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