Teacher Professor

September 29, 2010

Yay Me!

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 12:56 pm

Elizabeth is struggling with the right level of self-esteem.  I want her to feel good about herself.  I want her to feel capable and pretty and fabulous.  And I also want her to know her place in things, but not feel stuck.  I want her to appreciate that she’s not the best at everything and that is ok, but she can always work at doing better.  I do not want her to be, as so much of our culture is today, narcisstic and ego-centric.  I want her to be able to appreciate the strengths of others without feeling threatened.  I want her to know, as a friendof mine says, “There is enough success for everyone.”

But she’s having a rough time of it.  She’s “bragging” too much- as her friend Emily tells her in an irritated tone.  And she is.

See my boots?  Aren’t they lovely?  Don’t they match my outfit beayooootifully?  Isn’t it cute?  Aren’t they the greatest boots EVER?  SEE?!  I love my boots… I got an 100 on the test, Mommy!  Mommy, I got a 100!  I’m so good at math!  I love math!  See, Mommy?!  I got a 100!  Emily, I got a 100!

Down here in the South, self-degradation is an art form.  “Oh, this ol’ thang?” is a required response for admiration of the dress you just spent a small fortune on.  It’s also required that you turn the tables and admire someone else’s clothes, hair, achievements for them, since it wouldn’t do for them to point out to you how wonderful they are.  They, in turn, will then admire you and compliment you so that you can then “Oh, this isn’t anything” right back.  Down here, the game is such that everyone mutually admires each other, and the more you “aw shucks“, the more fabulous it is.  We just have other people do the appreciating for us.  It’s a very complicated game that involves subtle cues of when one is to compliment and when one is to stop and how to draw attention to yourself without, you know, bragging.   It is certainly not a game for people with autism- even high-functioning autism.

For whenever Elizabeth finds something fabulous about herself, she will tell you.  Over and over again.  She will fixate on it.  She will share her joy beyond the point of Southern sensibilities.  She can sense that people are pulling away from her and she knows- she just KNOWS- that if she continues to share the excitement with them, they will finally SEE it and share it with her.  She has not learned the subtle trick of drawing attention to something and then letting the other person run with the Appreciation Ball. If she feels good about herself, well then, by golly, she’s going to tell you.

It’s no acccident that her favorite character is “London” on Disney- the self-centered “rich girl” on “Suite Life”.  She laughs hilariously at London’s antics.  But she’s jealous of London’s easy lifestyle, her ability to get what she wants when she wants it, and so Elizabeth has started imitating London’s tone, words and general attitude- particularly at times when she’s feeling anxious.

And Fourth Grade is an anxiety-producing time.  I can see her trying to figure out how to fit in, what to say and what to do.  I can see her thinking through the behaviors of her peers trying to figure out the code.  And since boots and fashion and grades are the secret to her friends’ success, well then, she is just going to point out to them how well she’s got it figured out.

I have tired to explain the “rules” to her- but I recognize their inherent contradictions… no one likes a showoff , but at  the same time be aware of your own strengths; to wait for others to appreciate, but not to depend on other’s opinions for your own value.  Do women- any women- ever really learn this balancing act?  I try to explain it as best as I can; she looks at me like I’m speaking Greek, and I just have to say “It just is.”

Be your own audience” is the only way I know to say it.  “There’s enough success for everyone“, I remind her.

And… there’s always the possibility of cultural difference as well.  We are planning a trip to see her grandmother in Boston and her friend Tracy said recently, “Ohhhh, that’s right.  You’re from Boston“, as though that explained many things.  I had to laugh a bit, knowing that some of it is autism and some of it might just be plain Yankee forthrightness- a cultural difference that had led to communication issues at times between me and James.  There’s a reason the song “I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty” is set in New York City…

September 27, 2010

Don Draper at 8 Years Old

Filed under: Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 8:53 pm

Ray has started his own blog (for family and teacher viewing) and I am absolutely fascinated with the workings of his mind.  I have to say that I am blown away…

First, an explanation- He did this- all of this, with  the exception of the period, the space between and the capital at “…Ray.  Leave…” completely by himself- the typing, the words, the concept.  He was working on a project for the Fall Festival and I suggested that he write up his ideas in his blog.  This is what he did….

I am doing a poster on “Fall Festival” and I got the idea of doing a motto . My motto is fresh, new, interesting here it is.

 Come happy.  Leave scared.

My motto for me is.

Talk to Ray. Leave with ideas.

********

I’m seeing a marketing genius- or at least a really good con man!  I’m also amused at how my own blogging has inspired him to reach out as well.  This is a boy who has loved words since he was born- would listen to their rhythm, their sounds, their feeling in his mouth.  I watched him like a hawk during his first two years to see if autism was going to strike him also.  It didn’t- not quite the same way.  Sensitivities?  Oh yes.  Irritation?  Oh my, yes.  Anxiety and shutting down- ohhhh, yes.  Language?  Language was never a problem for him- It’s not so much the words he uses, as the way he uses them.

To tell you about his love of words, I love to share the story of when he learned the “F” word when he was six.  One day on a field trip, a very helpful little boy taught him all of the words- all of them.  All of the George Carlin list-ok, not ALL of them…  When he got in the car, he checked his new knowledge with me.  “Mommy, is Sh#$ the ‘S word’?” 

“Yes, yes it is.  It is not to be used in our household.”

“Is da$# the “D word’?

“Yes, yes it is.  It is not to be used in our household.”

“Mommy, is F#*k the ‘F word’?”

“Yes, yes it is.  It is not to be used in our household.”

And he sat in the back of the car, rolling the word around in his mouth.  *F*^#k… FU#$… F&^K.  Trying an emphasis on each letter.

Finally, with significant disappointment, “Huh.  I thought that it would be longer”. 

I love that story… and how he wanted such an important, forbidden word to have that weight, that gravitas behind it, and how such an explosive, four-letter was almost… boring.

After all- why use a little word, when a big word will do?  Why not have a bunch of words?  Why not have a motto for himself?  And so, Ray- I leave with ideas. 

And, by the way, in typical kid/old fogey interaction, he taught ME how to change the color on the font.  See? 

September 26, 2010

No Superman- But a Lot of Wonder Women (and Men)

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 10:21 am

There is a new film out that has the support and backing of a number of folks, including my friend Steve, Oprah and Bill Gates, among others.  The film “Waiting for Superman” is the story of children around the country in low-income areas, who are trying to get into the “good” schools- the charter schools in which admission is often determined by lottery.  The title comes from the narrator who shares how, as a child, he kept waiting for Superman to come and fix all of his school’s problems- and how devastated he was when he realized that there was no Superman who would come swooping in and fix everything.

It’s a film that questions why, if these schools offer such a chance for kids, why can’t ALL schools be like them?  Why, when children and parents are flocking to get into a few select schools, why aren’t those options available to ALL students?  It takes on issues such as teacher tenure, financial limitations and the slowness of a system to respond to changing demographics.  It’s a call to action for parents and the public.  It wades right into the middle of many, many sticky issues- and it drives me crazy.

My first reaction was a remembered one as a parent.  We had asked to get into Brown, a public “School of Choice” when we lived in Louisville, Kentucky.  We toured the school, got on the waiting list and were told that since the school selected students from an equal distribution of zip codes around Louisville, we were unlikely to get in because of the proliferation of families from our area.  As we toured with many other parents from our part of town, we asked each other “What will you do if your child does not get in?”  “Go to a private school” was the unanimous statement.  My children did not get in, and we did, indeed, go to a private school.  We had that option.  We had that choice.  

 But I was struck- here were literally hundreds of families being turned away from the possibility of attending a particular public school, and many of us would rather go private than to go to another, more traditional public school.  The public school system was missing out on tens of thousands of dollars from the state that it could have received had my children, and all of those other children who opted for private been given a chance to go to Brown.  If Brown was too small to handle all of us, why the heck didn’t the school system develop another school- to be just like Brown?  You would think that the pressures of supply and demand would force a school system to develop another Brown.  And which school in the district had the highest test scores?  Brown.  There were literally dollars and learning being lost.

I was told by other families that Brown was “too progressive”, “too different” for the school system to develop another one.  That the “system” would really prefer Brown to go away, but that parental pressures and long-time ties to the community kept it alive.  And I was floored… As a parent, I was appalled at a system that a) intentionally lost money and b) was too focused on their way of working to look at what WAS working.  At least, that was my perception.

My second reaction, as an educator, was to find out “why”.  Turns out that Brown is expensive to run.  Turns out that Brown has families that pay for extras through the PTA.  Turns out that Brown has teachers with experience and from training programs that no longer exist.   Turns out that Brown is hard to duplicate, and so the system was focusing on other “schools of choice” that were easier and cheaper to implement.  Schools such as the language immersion program at Hawthorne.  But the perception among the parents turned away from Brown was that of an intractible system.

That intractability of a large system is exactly the issue that the film addresses.  But what really gets me is that almost everyone highlighted in the film as “innovative” or “fixing the system” are from OUTSIDE “the” system.  There are “educational entrepreneurs” and people with Ivy League degrees who taught for a few years with no formal education training.  ALL of the highlighted schools are charter schools.  And that is such a slap in the face.

The research on charter schools- those schools that were highlighted in the film as giving a chance to the students?  The research shows that they are no better academically than “regular” public schools, and in many cases, worse.  They promise great things, but they do not deliver consistently.  Much of it depends, of course, on the individual school.  Variability of scores?  Wow- results that are just like public schools. Perhaps the “charter” part is not the important part.

How credible would it be for people with no training in business or engineering to walk into Apple or Microsoft and tell them how it should be done?  How far would someone with a business degree get if they tried to tell surgeons how to do their job?  After all, people buy computers, right?  People get operated on, right?  Does that make them experts, simply because they are a consumer?  How can people- very smart people, admittedly- but with no training and who worked for a few years or went to school themselves, or who worked on the fringes, really and truly understand the monumental task that changing schools involves?

Because schools are micocosms of society.  Let’s start with the teachers themselves.   It is a battle to even go into teaching today.  When I told my grandmother, an R.N. herself, that I was going into teaching, she told me, “There are three things a woman should never be: A nurse, a teacher and a prostitute.  They’re all under-paid and under-valued.”  While I can’t speak for the other two fields, I can certainly speak for teaching- and she’s right. Most men and women today have many, many other choices- choices that pay better with less stress- and so the ones that do go into teaching go into because of a genuine love for children- and a deep desire to make a difference. 

 When I, as a teacher of teachers, stand up in front of prospective educators, I’m selling them on aspects of the profession that will provide internal motivation- the love of children, the feeling of doing good, and the knowledge that they are making an everyday difference in children’s lives.  I do not tell them that few people will thank them for the job they’re doing.  I do not tell them that they’re going to be working 12-14 hours a day grading and preparing and worrying.  I do not tell them of the vast hole of neediness that their students have and how they will be unable to fill even a small portion of that neediness.  I do not tell them of the parents who will come in yelling at them or the parents who do not come in at all.  I do not tell them that due to public concerns and money whims, they will be asked to raise a child’s reading level 3 grade levels in one year, while increasing the numbers of students within the classroom and cutting the supply monies and reducing professional development.  I do not tell them that 50% of them will quit within 5 years — and if they teach special education, within 3 years.

I do tell them that I can empower them. I tell them that we know what works in education — this is not some secret that we’re holding on to. We know that involved parents, time, interactive learning and healthy lunch programs all help to raise test scores, increase student graduation and make for happier teachers.

It is wonderful that the film asks parents to take responsibility for their child’s learning.  Test scores go up when parents — at any school– become involved.  But as families becomes more and more impoverished, as the structures of society begin to crumble, when parents and families are dealing with so much stuff in their own lives, that they can’t even take care of themselves, much less their children– it is the teachers who are the last bulwark, who are expected to “turn them around”.  When children are so hurt and angry and betrayed at a family, a society, a system that has forgotten them, they are difficult to teach.  Not impossible- just difficult. And we do.

And when school boards, governed by “ordinary” people, reduce the number of days that students will be in schools, and when “innovative” practices, such as year-round schooling, are shot down by a local school board because schooling cuts into summer vacation plans, and when after-school programs are cut for lack of funding, there is not much time to do what we need to do.  But we do.

And when students come to school hungry because they have not eaten, or their families only buy food from fast-food places because it’s the cheapest food available, and children are obese from lack of exercise because their streets are dangerous, and the school food is the poorest quality from the producers, but the healthiest that children are going to get, it’s hard to get their attention for learning triple-digit multiplication.  But we do.

And when the system is scared and powerless from a public that demands high test scores, but is unwilling to do those things that raise test scores, it’s hard to teach in ways that are less than “traditional”.  Let’s look at just math.  In almost every international test, we are dramatically outscored by Singapore.  According to a friend of mine in the Ministry of Education in Singapore, they spend all of first grade on nothing but place value.  No addition, no subtraction, just place value.  And they GET place value. The children LEARN place value. When they move  to second and third grades, they do nothing all year except addition and subtraction.  No multiplication, no percents, just a deep and true understanding of math. Multiplication doesn’t really start until the latter part of third grade. There is no surprise that we are more competitive at the fourth grade level compared to other countries.  They haven’t covered what we’ve covered.  But once they get to fifth grade, they don’t have to spend six, nine, twelve weeks reviewing.  They don’t have to cover fractions in four weeks in fourth grade, and again for four weeks in fifth grade and once again, for five weeks in sixth grade.  There is no surprise that we sink to the bottom by twelfth grade- they understand in depth much more than we do.

Try telling a school system, one that is aware of the pressures faced by our graduates in an international marketplace, that we aren’t going to be teaching our children multiplication until fourth grade, and you will hear screams.  There isn’t a school board in the country that would see the delay of content as a step ahead — and so we keep cramming more and more into our curriculum, hoping that it will stick.  Our curriculum, according to friends of mine at the US Department of Education, is a “mile wide and an inch deep”.   And the more we have to teach, the more challenges we face in schools, the more teachers need ongoing training- training is that being cut as well.  There’s no surprise that we’re losing in math scores and almost every other kind of score — we don’t spend the time to teach it.

I applaud the movie for bringing the topic of education to the forefront.  The struggles that we face on a day-to-day basis can be helped with the actions the film is calling for — more involved parents, greater flexibility to respond to student needs- things that are happening at so many schools- public and charter- but not at enough.  But it doesn’t call for those things that really and truly make a difference in all schools- teachers who are paid well, respected by the society and the parents, and training.  Leaders who are trained and are not just promoted because they’re the winning coach.  School boards who focus on what is best for children and not what we’ve always done.  And curriculum that focuses on the development of a few skills well. 

Schools aren’t bad because they want to be.  Schools aren’t bad because we don’t know what we’re doing.  Schools aren’t necessarily bad because of “bad teachers”, or “bad principals”.  Those reasons are too simplistic for a very, very complex issue.   Schools are failing because too many people think that they know how to fix them and schools are pulled apart in the ensuing struggle.   Polls consistently show that families support their local schools, but are worried about “schools” in general.  In other words, the perception is that education in this country is terrible, but my local school is doing the best it can.  Schools are struggling because our society is struggling. There is no easy fix.  Familiarity breeds, not contempt, but understanding of the struggles that educators face every day.  Familiarity breeds respect for what teachers can accomplish, given what they have to face. 

I only wish that the movie had shown the same respect and the same familiarity with schools.  I applaud the efforts of Bill Gates and Oprah to fix things.  I applaud Dave Guggenheim who directed the film.  But they might ask the schools and the teachers, too — they’re working from the inside.  They know.  We’re all on the same side.  Let’s work together to move education forward, and people from within the system understand the complexities- and want to fix it, too.  Just ask us.  After all, we chose it for our life’s work- to make a difference.

September 23, 2010

The Same- But Less

Filed under: Autism,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 2:54 pm

I’m almost afraid to say this out loud…

I’m nervous that I’ll jinx it, or that by speaking it out loud, events will make me a liar.

So… come in close, will you?  Bring your ear to me… closer.  Touch some wood, will you?  Shhh..

I think that Ray’s medication is working.

He’s still Ray, and still essentially contrary, but the scenes- the screaming, the glowering looks, the yelling at us- those have all decreased dramatically.  He’s eating more.  He’s sleeping better.  I’m having a glimpse of the “real” Ray.  And you know what?  I kindof really, really like him.

He’s funny.  He’s doing his homework with only mild protest.  He’s enjoying school. He handles transitions better.   He still has tics.  He still sulks.  He’s still “deaf” when it comes to setting the table and getting ready, his room is still a mess, and he still doesn’t wear underwear if he can get away with it, but the fights to change those things are less.  The intensity of our interventions are less, but more effective.  The essential contrariness and irritability patterns haven’t been changed- but it’s muted.  It’s manageable.  He’s still Ray- but less so.

He’s on Daytrana during the day- 5mg- and Clonidine at night- 5 mg, and I’m grateful that the medications allow him clarity to respond to us, rather than losing him to the clouds of emotion, tiredness, and anxiety.  I’m grateful that the medications allow me the clarity to be able to reach him, rather than being lost in my own clouds of reaction, tiredness,  and anxiety.

I’m afraid to trust this.  I’m afraid to depend on this.  I know that things- tests, events, weather, illness- can undo it all in a moment.

But for right now, we’re reaching him, and for that, I’m grateful.  I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

September 22, 2010

Thinking People

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 11:18 am

I’m very excited/flattered/honored that The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism has accepted my slightly edited piece, Advertising for Autism!

This site is a particular favorite of mine.  Only up for the last four months, the daily pieces have been a collection of my old favorite bloggers, many new voices (to me) and a variety of insights from parent to professional to multicultural issues to age-related issues. All with something to share.  All with something to add.  All with respectful differences in which issues are discussed with reason, with knowledge- and with acknowledgement that sometimes differences can’t resolved.  It’s a place to find comfort without drowning; information without proselytizing, a place to think with the mind without losing the essence of the heart. 

I particularly like their logo- the child with the candle… I looked up light quotes and I found two that capture what their site means to me:

Edith Wharton- “There are two ways of spreading light- to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”.

Chinese Proverb: Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

I’m honored to be in such company that is adding light to the autism conversation…

September 21, 2010

How to Attract… Women

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 8:53 am

Take notes, now!

According to Ray, 8 years old:

I put sugar and water under my arms.  They said that that makes me smell sweet!  That, and giving them a Silly Band.  I’ve got lots of girls to choose from now!

 Who knew it was that easy? 

And yes, he did take a shower last night to remove the stickiness.  Sugar water as deodorant?

September 20, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

Filed under: Autism,Home Things,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 1:09 pm

I had a walk down Memory Lane yesterday that was… exhausting.

My grandmother is turning 91 next month, and we figured that, as the last of her generation, we would pull together pictures of her sisters to share with her.  Help alleviate some of the loneliness.  Only… there aren’t any pictures.  No one has pictures of her or her sisters, other than a few wedding photos and one when she was gorgeously posed at a swimming pool (Jane Russell had nothing on my grandmother).  But decades and decades of pictures are… not there.  There are a few taken of her in profile, a few more of the other sisters- in profile- but that’s it.

My mother had tasked me to look for pictures of Grammy, because surely, surely there are some from THAT trip- that trip to meet James, the trips to meet the babies, the trip when we were traveling through… surely.  And so, I dug out my boxes and boxes of photographs from my life.  Which was a feat…

I have moved houses 8 times in the last nine years.  Since I became an adult at 21, I have lived at 18 addresses.  My mother had my addresses listed in her address book under C for Claire, H for Hughes, L for Lynch, and has now resorted to D for Daughter.  (Don’t ask- jobs, graduate school, fires… lots of reasons).  That’s a lot of entries.  That’s a lot of packing things up, putting them into boxes to move on to the next location.  I have managed, like a turtle, to carry most of my memories with me from place to place.  The photos have survived a fire, a flood and Two Men and a Truck.  I even managed, during down times to organize some of them.

Which means that when I was out of a job when the children were 3 and 2, that year was very well-documented.  When I was homesick when I went off to graduate school, I have those years very well documented.  Elizabeth’s first year of life when I wasn’t working?  Very well-documented.  Ray’s first year of life when Elizabeth was 1 turning 2?  Still in the Eckards bags.  His second year of life when we were going from doctor to doctor and therapy to therapy?  Still in the Walgreens bags.  Eckards went out of business in our neighborhood that year.

I was supposed to be looking for pictures of my grandmother.  But instead, I went wandering down Memory Lane.  I looked at pictures I have had since I was living on my own at 19.  In the space of an afternoon, I relieved 25 years- And there were several things that struck me.

The first was how rarely our family has documented itself.  I have whole albums of the children only because of James’ love of the camera.  He handles social situations by being the Camera Man; by documenting it, he doesn’t have to be as involved.  But before James, I have a couple of parties, a couple of activities, and some “moments”, but not a lot.  My family tends to see the camera as intrusive, and we avoid it.  I have no pictures of my uncles, very few of my mother, a publicity shot of my Daddy, and two of my grandparents.  Even my wedding- a couple of shots of my family and that’s it. Lots of the babies, lots and lots of pretty views- but very few of people.

The second was how absolutely happy I looked in some of the old photos.  I know that I wasn’t completely happy- that I was anxious about work and school and sweethearts- but in most of them, I am with friends, we are having a good time and I was absolutely incandescent with joy.  Incandescent.  How full of love and life and joy I was.  And how in more recent pictures, I am tired and I am wary and I am proud and I am so many things, but that purity of emotion that youth posseses is gone.

The last thing that I realized, which is the hardest to admit, is that there was/is a huge difference between my two children.  Elizabeth is my child diagnosed with autism, but her baby pictures, her toddler pictures, her preschool pictures- show my happy, smiling baby, posing for the camera.  There are several pictures where she is absolutely balled up with joy as she grabs her toes, as she squeals, as she reaches for me.  There are some where her sensitivities are clear, as I comfort her at the beach, as she tries to do Tummy Time, but overall, she was a joyous baby.  Incandescent.

Ray’s pictures… Ray’s pictures are almost all of either him fussing or him watching.  Ray- my child without a label for so long, who has been diagnosed with Tourette’s but not autism- looks out at the world with wide, anxious eyes.  From the beginning, he looked startled and fearful.  And we have very, very few clear shots of him.  In most pictures, he is a blur, a movement, a profile.  There are a few exceptions- a precious few where his bright blue eyes are snapping with intense joy and he is interacting with someone- normally Elizabeth.  Those were the pictures we handed out to family.  Those were the ones that we passed around.  But there were achingly few of them.

This shot captures it- taken about 5 years ago for Halloween.

Or these…

In the boxes yesterday, I saw how my children are such a part of me and my family.  How Elizabeth lights up from within like I did.  How Ray’s dislike of the camera is a trait that is, apparently, inherited.  Although his profile is all Lynch, the turning away from the camera is all Silcock.  How necessary, and yet how uncomfortable, the camera is for documenting things.

I went to bed exhausted, as I told James, from “my emotional journeys”.  It was very difficult tracing those paths.  Of  remembered joys- of remembered heartbreaks.  Of realizing how many, many choices were made along the way.  Of recognizing how events in your life can both stoke and grind at the light within you.  Of recognizing how far down the road I’ve come, and how far I’ve yet to go.  Of being disappointed that I don’t have pictures to help my grandmother’s loneliness, but I do have pictures that make me grieve.  And laugh.  And smile wistfully.  And post random “Do you remember?” pictures on Facebook.  Oh yes, I have those…

September 17, 2010

Piaget Pizza Friday

Filed under: College information — Teacher Professor @ 7:15 pm

We have a tradition around our house for Pizza Fridays.  I got to be friends with Vicki when Elizabeth was her student and invited her over one fateful Friday night several years ago.  It’s an open invitation.  Sometimes there are 15 people; sometimes it’s just us.  Sometimes it’s all kids; sometimes the grownups outnumber the small ones. Sometimes it’s frozen pizzas; sometimes it’s Dominos; sometimes, it’s Sals. Sometimes we watch a movie; sometimes we play games.  Sometimes it includes root beer; sometimes it includes real beer.  Either way, it’s a chance for us to relax, and enjoy each other and friends.

This Friday was a little different.  I asked all of my Juniors- the ones taking “The Block” class of three classes morphed together- Educational Psychology, Intro to Special Ed and Special Ed Law- to bring their kids to the College. I ordered pizza, and they conducted “the” experiments that Piaget developed 100 years ago to describe how kids think differently at different ages.  You might remember  Preoperational, Concrete Operational, Formal Operational, etc. from Intro to Psychology.  Those experiments.  The ones developed by, as students around here say, “Pig-It”.

It’s important that they understand this.  It’s important that as they become elementary teachers or special education teachers that they really and truly understand why kids act differently at different ages; what “delayed” really means; why typical kids in third grade love mysteries and magic shows and why typical preschoolers and children who are delayed talk about something that happened “yesterday” when it happened four months ago.  Why understanding a good Knock-knock joke is a leap of development.

And so all of my students, their own children, and their babysittees and their friends’ children-and my children- came to the College this Friday night for two hours to eat pizza and to go through the classic Piaget experiments.  The look of amazement on one student’s face as she said “He answered just what Piaget said he would!” was priceless.  They all talked about how “real” it was; how they had just read it, but now understood it.

Perhaps the funniest element was Ray.  As we were racing around at home before we went, he came out of his room with a plain white t-shirt that we had gotten as part of a set for tie-dying purposes last year.  He had written on it in permanent marker “Teachrs Rule” and decorated it with hearts and peace symbols.  He was so proud of himself that he was helping the “baby teachers learn to teach” that I just didn’t have the heart to point out the mistake.  He was responsible for changing the YouTube cartoons for the little ones and he was happy.  Elizabeth was following the toddlers around to make sure they were all right and she was happy.  James got to float around and take pictures and he was happy.  And Emily got to socialize with lots of new children and she was happy.  It all went smoothly, I know that my students learned it- really learned it- and I am happy.  All are happy in the household this Friday night!

Next week, Friday Night Pizza Night is at our house.  Come on by if you’re around! Pizza Friday Nights tend to make us happy…

September 16, 2010

Readers Welcome

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 10:59 am

There exists between readers and a writer, a sortof “invisible” wall.  After all, I don’t exactly know everyone who is reading this, or who might read it later.  Certainly, writing a book is the best example of a really long monologue- a lone voice in the wilderness of Amazon, Barnes and Noble- shouting in a cacophony to get your attention, but once your attention has been captured, it’s an entirely one-sided lecture.  I tried to make my book amusing and informative, and helpful and supportive, but in the end, it’s you reading my thoughts with no real chance to respond.

A book is in stark contrast to talking to friends and exchanging ideas…  a true conversation with give and take and a flow and an ebb of topics.  Then there is private writing.  The diary, the journal, in which you are the only reader.  It’s an advanced version of talking to yourself. And then, there’s the wonderful blurring of all of these lines with social media.  Even with Facebook, there is some measure of control over who reads your innermost thoughts- and just fyi, some of those thoughts probably should have stayed private.

Blogging is a wonderful place between… This is public- which means that anyone, everyone- has access to it.  The glories of a blog is that some of those “invisible” readers might actually write back- it comes close to a conversation!  But I get to expound on what I want to think about!  I get to reflect and ponder and share!  I don’t have to follow perfect grammar and punctuation rules!  And sometimes, I get to respond to other people’s thoughts!  Blogging, for me, is a wonderful “at this moment” diary as I process through things, a conversation with folks, a chance to share in the larger discussions within the fields of autism/giftedness/education, etc, a chance to try out ideas, and honestly, a way to share my kids’ lives with my mother and my friends.

Over the last week, my readership has jumped.  I knew there was a reason- I knew that Google hadn’t placed me at the top of every search.  Normally, I don’t have personal conversations with one set of readers or one person (Hi, Mother!), since that would be excluding all of those other readers or people I don’t know.  But my fabulous friend, Wendy, a prolific writer, speaker professor, former beauty queen- and amazing mommy and friend (really, if I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her!) apparently made reading this blog a class requirement for her students.

She has learned, as I have, the power of the blog for exploring different points of view, for learning the struggles and the joys, for getting to feel like you know someone by their words.  I have leaned on several blogs over the years- I didn’t always comment, but I read, and I checked in almost every day.  See my BlogRoll?  I check in with them often.  I haven’t met them in person- all right, I’ve met one- but I feel I know them.  I know their humor, I know their eloquence, I know their turn of phrase, and I learn from them.  I learn grace under pressure, I learn things to say in difficult situations, I learn of what’s possible, I learn what to do, and I learn that I am not alone.

So, if you’re in Wendy’s class, or you found this site from a Google search, or you’ve been to one of my presentations and you’re tuning in for the first time, or if you’ve been reading since the beginning (Hi, Mother!),

Welcome!

Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, sit down, lean forward over that computer monitor or cell phone, and enjoy!  And if you have a thought or a reaction, or you find yourself talking to the screen, the Comments section is down at the bottom of the blog.  My Comments policy is posted to the right.  You’ll have to put in your email address- but only I see it.  You may find yourself disagreeing.  You might find yourself cheering.   You might find yourself bored.  Come join the conversation!  Read some of the other blogs I follow.  Read some of the blog posts that I refer to and share with others all the time.  And I hope that as you move on with your very busy life, you find a little bit of humor, a little bit of a tear, a little bit to think about…

And remember…  you’re welcome at my blog anytime!

September 15, 2010

You’re Not in the Club

Filed under: Autism,Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 1:03 pm

M.C. Escher Castle

I did a presentation to special education teachers last Friday, which if I might brag just a little (ahem), was amazing.  The teachers were involved, interested, and active.  One was a parent of a child with disabilities and she “got it”.  They made me laugh, I made them cry.  One of the comments back to me was “You really can speak from both perspectives.  You’re in both clubs!”

I was tremendously complimented, but what I really wanted to say was “It depends on where I’m standing.”  For you see, I am a member of the “Parent Club”- the one that Jess, in A Diary of a Mom welcomes you to so eloquently.  The one that Alysia Butler writes about needing so much.  The one where we find such support, such understanding and a community of people who “get it”.  The one that… so many of us hate being in.  It reminds me a bit of the Groucho Marx quote- “I don’t care to belong to a club that would accept people like me“.  We “get it”, we understand each other, and we support each other- but oh, we miss the days- and sleep-filled nights- of ignorant bliss.

There is no joy in becoming a member of this club- this is no first round draft selection; this is no Bid Night for Sorority.  But there is comfort in sadness together and there is comfort in the types of joys and celebrations that only another parent of a child with autism, or Tourette’s or bipolar disorder, or twice-exceptionality or…. can understand.  And the club is critical to our survival.  I only wish I didn’t need it.  I didn’t chose this club- it chose me.

But I am also a member of the Teacher Club.  The one who also celebrates growth, who also understands differences, who also understands frustrations.  The one who understands the dynamic relationship between home and school, and that what you see at home may not be what you see at school.  The one who loves kids and especially the kids that other teachers don’t understand, don’t want, or aren’t taught how to teach; the kids that other kids don’t understand, don’t want, or aren’t taught how to learn with.  The one who seeks the key to teaching like I solve a puzzle.  This club, I chose.

What was very clear in my presentation is that there are a lot of similarities.

What was very clear in my presentation is that there are a lot of differences.

What became very clear during the presentation was:

***That while parents and teachers celebrate and recognize the very specialness of the child, teachers do not have the joy mingled with the grief that comes from missing the child who never was- the child that they were “supposed to be”, only autism/Tourettes/something else got in the way.  That grief may come and go, but it is always, always there.

***That while both teachers and parents are focused on growth, teachers measure progress by how far a child has to go, while a parent measures progress by how far their child has come.  Parents have a memory of the battles-for identification, for services, for stability, for growth- that have already been fought- those that have been fought and those that have been lost.  This memory- biological in its “fight or flight” response- is as old as their child, and those memories are dredged up in every conflict.  There is no “new” fight- there is just a continuation of the same fight, and it might ebb and it might flow, but it’s still the same fight.  But to teachers, new conflicts are new.  New conflicts are time-bound, issue-bound and related to situations that are happening right now, right here.  Parents are aware of the cost and the struggle that has already been spent and want acknowledgement for the progress of the battle.  Teachers often focus on the cost and the struggle still ahead and want support for the battle ahead.

***That while parents see their child as a constellation of needs- medical, educational, therapeutic- teachers see the child in a constellation of others- part of a group, and the actions and reactions and interactions of needs that come from a multitude of children.  Teachers are constantly balancing the needs of the child with the needs of the many.  As parents, we have one child with many needs we’re trying to balance.

***That parents will be working with their child’s autism for the rest of their lives.  Their relationship with their child, and autism, is often bigger than a marriage, bigger than financial solvency, and bigger than anything we might have ever imagined.  As teachers, we leave at the end of the day.  We leave at the end of the year.  We pick up our own lives at that point, which might include disability, illness and other issues that are bigger than we are, but the professional part is limited by time and location.  We do our best for 6 to 8 to 12 hours a day, often more time than we spend awake with our family, but we leave it behind.  Parents pick that back up every day for every year.  They don’t call it “committment” for nothing.  This is a lifetime sentence of being in the Club.

**********

The focal point of the six-hour Professional Development Workshop was “How to Communicate with Parents of Children with Autism”.  There is an incredible need to be able to respect each other, talk to each other, and understand each other.  There were all sorts of “typical” communication strategies- active listening, providing time for communication, and knowing the points where communication tends to break down- delivery of bad news, legal understandings, etc.  The recognition that teachers are caught between the school system and the parents; the legal and financial constraints of a system and the needs and desires of the families, and sometimes, the desire to keep your job and the desire to do a good job. 

Both teachers and parents know that they have to learn to communicate with each other.  They know that everyone’s job is easier, than the child benefits, that progress is made when communication happens.  But it’s important to know that while we’re in the same book, and hopefully, the same chapter, we are not- very definitely not- on the same page. 

One of the most powerful points of the day came when I was presenting effective ways to handle parental responses.  The key piece I wanted to convey was the need for teachers to validate and sympathize, not empathize.  Empathize is to  share those same feelings.  Sympathize means that you understand and you “get it”.  Sympathize is to support:

It must be very hard to hear that…

I can see that you’re upset…

It’s very difficult to… especially when…

Teachers, well-meaning, kind, caring people that they are, should NOT say “I know what you mean….  I understand where you’re coming from…I feel that, too…”  It comes off as patronizing.  It comes off as the precursor to that most dreaded of communication breakdowns- the YeaButs.  Parents/Teachers- wanting the best, trying to understand, trying to bridge that gap- may say “I understand that…yea… unh uh… yea,  but…” and that “But…” is emphasizing the different point of view, the gap, the different page.  Just as MC Escher drew different ways of seeing the same thing, parents and teachers, by definition of their relationship to the child, are in different places from each other.

Because the reality is that when you’re a teacher,  you have a different goal, a different purpose.  Even if you’re a parent of a child with exceptionality, even when you’re a member of the Club in a different place, when you’re in the role of a teacher talking to parents, you have a different context.  You have the context of school.  You have the stage setting of your classroom in which you, and others like you, control the play and the actors; and the parent is but an audience member or maybe a stage hand.  You each have the same desire for growth, but you have different views, different directions, and different needs.  And to say that you do is asking for serious distrust, serious miscommunication, serious conflict.

*****

If you’re a parent reading this…/ If you’re a teacher reading this…

What is needed is understanding.

What is needed is respect.

What is needed is an acknowledgement of differences, while appreciating what makes you different.

After all, you’re not in their club.

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