Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Power of One Part II

So these past two weeks have been a roller coaster of excitement (NOT!).  It started on the 9th when I had to send Ms. W to the emergency room because she had such a terrible infection that she was in constant pain, but still showed up to teach.  She is always a trooper, but I knew that she needed to get better before she could come back to work.  So she was gone for Thursday and Friday.

It amazes me how I got anything done before I had her support and help every day.  Granted, I didn't have quite this group of kids to deal with in the past, but still, she is an amazing support!  I know that I depend on her for a lot of things, but it hasn't been obviously shoved in my face like it was when she was gone.  I really struggled those two days to keep it all together on my own.  The kids were feeling my stress and reacting accordingly (which means that they were trying my last nerve.)  By the end of the day Friday, I thought that I was going to collapse from exhaustion or have a nervous breakdown or do both simultaneously.

So my thought on the power of one is that this job is too hard for any ONE person to do alone.  I can manage the behavior and I can teach the academic lessons, but trying to do the two at the same time is difficult at best.  Also, I realize how much I depend on having an adult to talk to during the day to keep me sane.  We laugh and joke and encourage each other all day long.  Ms. W is ONE person in my school life that I cannot do without!  It is a terrible pity that excellent para's like Ms. W are paid such meager wages for all that they do to help the kids.  She is one of the best teachers that I have even known, even without the fancy license and degree.

The thing is, that the next week, on Tuesday the 14th, I had to go to the doctor for an ear infection and missed a day of school.  I was really worried about leaving Ms. W with the kids and a sub.  She was so great though!  She assured me that everything would be fine and that the kids would make it through the day without too many problems.  I was sure that she was right.  I have full confidence that Ms. W will keep all the balls in the air (a juggling metaphor to mix them all in together) while I have to be gone. 

I really started to think about having both of us being sick and not having our team together.  I think that the kids actually do better when I am gone than when Ms. W is gone!  I was starting to feel like the un-necessary person in my classroom.  It just goes to show, that when ONE essential person *** Ms. W*** is gone, it changes everything.  I probably need to let her know more often how much she means to me and to our students.  So this post is an homage to her!  The fabulous partner in my continuing adventures in teaching this year!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of One

It is amazing to me how powerful the number one is.  It can make the difference between a great day and a not so good one.  If you add one more student to a group, you totally shift the dynamics of that group.  I took a really great class in college called Small Group Communication.  We talked a lot about how groups interact with each other and the dynamics of group interactions.  I thought that it was a fascinating class, and I learned so much!  I think back to that class all the time.  I find that when working one on one with students at different times, their personalities stay essentially the same, but when I am working with groups, the addition or subtraction of even one student totally changes everything! 

Last week we added a new student to our classroom on a temporary basis.  This student has a lot of medical needs that our school just isn't capable of dealing with.  He was with me until they could work out a school situation that would better meet his needs.  Adding that new student totally changed the atmosphere of my classroom.  We had done a great job of teaching procedures and rules so that our day flowed smoothly.  With the new student, it threw us all off kilter.  Students who had not been showing behaviors started acting out, and it felt like chaos was reining in my room.  This was so frustrating to me.  I had hoped that we could just get through that one week with my new student without turmoil.

Needless to say, this week we went back to the beginning and started learning procedures again.

I also lost a student who moved to a new school last week.  She was one of my two girls.  Losing her has really made me sad.  She was my oldest student, a 5th grader, and she was such a delight in our classroom.  She was really starting to open up and becoming a real leader in our room.  I will really miss her smile and her stories everyday.  I believe that I have something to learn from each of my students, and V really taught me the power of a simple smile. 

So now my classroom is down to 6 students.  This worries me because I always say that whenever you lose one, you will probably get 2 more that are twice as bad move in.  So we await our next addition with baited breath...  I am sure that we will find a better way to help the next ones feel at home in our room and keep the peace that we have fought so hard for! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010


You know that game at the arcade, whack-a-mole?  The one where you try as hard as you can to hit the little animals as they come up out of their holes?  And you are frantically trying to anticipate where the next mole will come up?  You have a great big mallet and a limited amount of time to hit as many moles as you can.  Some days at school, I feel like I'm playing whack-a-mole all day long (without the mallet of course).

This is what I'm talking about.  All of my students have the need for adult attention.  They seem to crave it.  They will do anything to get the attention they need.  Positive or negative, they will get the attention they want.  So as a teacher I try really hard to give them positive attention and teach them patience when they can't get it immediately.  I really try to keep from acknowledging the behaviors that lead to negative attention.  Some days it is really a struggle to keep things positive. 

One day last week, it was really difficult to keep up the positive attitude in my room.  It seemed like as soon as I started working with one student, someone else would start with the behaviors that normally get them in trouble.  As soon as I shifted my attention to the newest outburst and got that settled, someone else would pop off.

It was so frustrating.  I knew that I wasn't making the situation better because I was feeding the negative behavior with attention.  I was helping the situation continue each time I stopped teaching to deal with the behavior.  And the behaviors that were occurring weren't horrible, they weren't harmful to the student or even to stuff in my room.  They were just annoying.  Little stuff like being out of their area, talking out, not working, tattling on each other, etc. 

So at the end of the day, I was exhausted.  I didn't get any teaching done, and the kids and I were crabby.    I went home and had one of those really long moments of self reflection where I beat myself up and then try to make a new plan.  How do I stop the whack-a-mole cycle?  How do I keep from feeding that negative attention monster?  The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that I am going to have to put teaching academics second right now to teaching behavior management.  As frustrating as that is going to be... I think it's the only way to keep the whack-a-mole from starting. 

The next time this starts, I am going to stop paying attention to the little behaviors, even if they are annoying.  It will be difficult and might feel chaotic for a while.  I think I can do it, if I can stand that the behaviors will escalate before it gets better.  I know this will be a good thing in the long run. 

So think of me while I throw out the mallet, and embrace each of those moles as they pop up their ugly little heads. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Grand Adventure

Much to my amazement and consternation, there are still many things that I haven't done in my 11 years as a special education teacher.  I thought I had seen it all.... or at least all of the interesting parts.  This year, I have begun a totally new classroom experience.  I am the teacher of a self-contained student learning center with elementary students ages kindergarten through 5th grade.  All of my students have serious needs, socially, emotionally, academically, and in many other areas.  We call this the intensive intervention classroom.  My students have multitude of diagnoses, from ADHD and Autism to Developmental Delays and chromosome disorders.  I have students with emotional disturbances and students with extreme family situations. 

You are probably thinking to yourself, what did she DO to piss of her principal and get this assignment...  Actually I volunteered for this.   I know.   I must be crazy to take this on.  There have been days when I have seriously doubted my own sanity.  The planning for this classroom started last spring when our special education team started talking and planning for this school year.  Each of our 4 SPED teachers had 1 or 2 students who just didn't fit in with the others.  They had more difficult behaviors, or were significantly lower functioning academically.  We just didn't feel that we were meeting these students needs.  The idea came up that we needed a classroom for those students where they could have direct instruction in stuff like social skills and behavior management.  EVERYONE thought this was a great idea.... NO ONE wanted to be that teacher. 

Now I will stop my story here to interject that I might have a martyr complex and crave punishment.... the jury is still out on that!

Anyway, after a lot of thought, and more thought, and maybe a prayer or two.... I decided that, with all humility of course, I would be the best teacher in my building for this job.  I asked my partner in crime, Ms. W (the world's best para educator) if she would be willing to take on this challenge with me.  After we talked about it a lot, she agreed that we could give this idea its best shot at success.  So I went to the principal and told her that I would volunteer to be the intensive intervention teacher (on the condition that she allow Ms. W and I to keep working together).  My principal agreed and the planning began.

You would not believe the amount of planning required to start a whole new classroom concept.  The plus side was that I got to "recruit" my students from the student body, just as long as I took the ones the principal wanted also.  I started to meet with parents and describe a classroom that I haven't even started yet.  I asked them to trust me to come up with a plan for meeting all of their student's needs.  Thankfully I was supported by everyone on my SPED team, especially my principal and the school social worker.  We decided to start the year with a total of 8 students from across all 6 grade levels.  You might be tempted to think that only 8 students sounds pretty good for a teacher.  You would be mistaken, because I have had several teachers tell me that they would take 30 other students rather than my 8. 

Now you are probably starting to think.... she's complaining a lot for a person who volunteered for this job.  As the master story teller Garrison Keeler says... "I told you that story so I could tell you this one."

I freaking love these kids!

Every day is a challenge and has been from day 1.  When I go home at night, I am exhausted.   I have worried and fussed more about this classroom than I have since my first year of teaching.  I feel unsure and apprehensive almost constantly.  I'm also having the most fun I have had teaching in years.  I can't believe that I can really do this.  Other than the kids, one thing that really keeps me going is having Ms. W by my side.  I literally could not do this without her.  She is constantly keeping me on my toes and making me smile.  We are a great team and our styles compliment each other. 

So here we are... 2 weeks into the school year, and I haven't had to call in the police, or the SWAT team, or even the principal....   I consider this to be a great omen for the year.  I can't wait to see what happens next.