While still working on my credential, I observed a teacher who reserves a space in her classroom for the students who don’t want to learn. Students can choose to sit in the back of the room and joke around quietly with each other rather than waste her time and take away from the students who actually do want to learn. After she installed that routine in her classroom, she noted a remarkable leap in productive instructional time. The students who wanted to learn improved by leaps and bounds as compared to when she tried to teach them alongside unwilling participants. At the time, I was horrified by her plan and wrote my assigned reflection on just that thought: horrified that someone would give up on kids. Here’s a quick quip from that reflection: “If I am to succeed in Special Ed, I have to believe that there should be better expectations than the simple one of ‘be quiet while I teach the others.’”
Here in Chicago we’ve been experiencing an extremely warm spring. We just finished off eight record days of over 80 degrees. The exceptionally warm weather has really brought about quite a bit of turmoil in the neighborhood where I teach. The gangs have been becoming more active and my students look at me worriedly every time they hear a police siren outside.
The warm weather has also brought something out in one of my more difficult students, Juan (pseudonym used), who I dedicated a whole blog entry to in December. Recently Juan’s behavior has been slowly spiraling out of control, but what happened this past week was unexpected.
This past month has been a March Madness of IEPs at my school. We all try to hold IEP meetings during this month to review student progress and make schedule arrangements for next year. I found myself called to LEA several IEP meetings with students of various disabilities that were having or have had a history of behavior problems. Being the EBD teacher and Positive Behavior Support Coordinator, I have been given the role of behavior specialist. As I sat in on meetings I noticed a common theme; many teachers struggle with behaviors that appear complicated, but have a fairly simple resolution.
In 1795, John Newbery published a children’s book called Goody Two-Shoes that tells the story of a poor, but virtuous orphan girl named Margery Meanwell, who went through life with only one shoe. One day, she met a rich man who gave her a pair of shoes — two shoes. The fable teaches us that being virtuous pays off.
The modern-day term “goody two-shoes” was popularized by this story. Growing up, I was pretty much a goody two-shoes. I did everything I could to avoid troublemakers at all costs. While I knew that there were kids in my school who got suspended, even expelled, I was never friends with them. And with that, I’ve never had to deal with the idea of suspensions until now.
This past week was full of new experiences. One of my students, David (pseudonym used) got in to some trouble over the weekend with the local police and fire department. Long story short, he was unmedicated that day, angry over something that happened at school with a classmate, and decided to release his anger at home.
When he was absent on Monday, I called home to make sure he was OK. When his mom reported that he would be back the next day, all was well. A few hours later, she sent me an e-mail saying he will be out for the week, with no explanation. I assumed he was sick and went to the doctor. The next day I get a note from our lead counselor telling me to pack his things and post his grades as he has been withdrawn on behalf of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. That day after work, I got a call from his mother letting me know that he may be out longer than a week, but was not sure how long. During our conversation I discovered that she was unaware that he had been withdrawn from school and the emotional saga that ensued was heartbreaking. I have talked to her every day this week to provide a shoulder to lean on. I feel as though even though he is not technically my student, he is still my student.
Working as an EBD teacher in my first year is hard! I struggle daily with deciding what battles to fight and which not to fight. I am constantly asking myself if I am protecting the student from their disability or if I am enabling them. I recently chose not to address a student's actions, and because I didn't, the child took that inch and ran a mile with it, resulting in her fighting with another student. I was told that every negative or inappropriate student behavior in EBD has to be addressed and dealt with. I disagree.
In retrospect I should have addressed the first issue so that it didn't end with my student fighting another. I also realize that I am new at this and I will make mistakes along the way. This bad decision has made me excessively aware of each and every thing my students do as I work through all the potential outcomes of an action before I provide a response. I honestly detest it.
I finally did get a chance to sit down with mom and dad right before break. They agreed that something seemed to be off — they saw the same change in behavior at home. Felipe was having an especially hard time getting ready in the morning, which of course affected the rest of his school day. As a mini-team, we decided to simply give Felipe a break, slow things down a little bit, and see what happened after the New Year.
The Monday after break, Felipe walked into school the happiest little clam I had ever met. He was so excited to be back! Dad told me that during vacation, Felipe woke up every morning asking if he could go to school again and if vacation was finally over. While I was surprised Felipe craved being at school so much, I could understand his desire for the structured school day and the learning opportunities school offers him.
This year my school has decided to use mini-lessons as a way to increase our student’s comprehension. As a school we have been doing professional readings, watching video clips (both of good mini-lessons and not-so-good mini-lessons), developing and modeling them as well. I really got a feel for all of the components that must be in a mini-lesson: Connection, Teaching Point, Active Engagement, and Link. Because I am on my school’s Instructional Leadership Team, I was one of the first to begin piloting mini-lessons in my classroom. When it came time to actually try out my mini-lesson I was excited. I thought that my students would really enjoy it and I couldn’t wait to hear their discussions during the active engagement component.
I planned and planned and was finally ready for my math mini-lesson. I called my students over to the carpet, and the wonderful smooth transition that I envisioned in my mind was so different from what I was witnessing. I should have known at this point that this wasn’t going to be good, but I kept going.
Meet Felipe. Felipe is one of the most adorable little kids you’ll ever meet. He has perfect curls and long, long eyelashes. Teachers and administrators he meets out in the general education world fall for his charm all the time. They come up to me and say, “Aww, Felipe is just so cute!” Sometimes, I’ll even find myself battling to be the disciplinarian when he plays around, doesn’t finish his work, and has to stay in during recess to do it.
With a little bit of encouragement, Felipe is usually very compliant and willing to work. Recently, however, I’ve noticed a complete change in his behavior. Felipe needs constant redirection for every task. He’s less willing to work with the classroom aides. He shortcuts in line and is not willing to share, and there are times when he has simply been rude toward both adults and other students.
This week is going to be the last week of school for the first semester. As I put the finishing touches on final exams and study guides, I took a moment to reflect on my students over the past four months and would like to share some of my reflections with you.
My students have made some notable gains. I currently have one sixth-grader. He came to me refusing to do any work that required him to read or connect several ideas together. He also could not subtract, multiply, divide, and would get instantly aggressive at the mere mention of fractions or decimals.