Never take fashion advice from fifth graders

Last week, I wore a chunky white bead necklace and one of my fifth graders said I looked like Wilma Flintsone.

Today I wore the cutest bright green dress from Old Navy. A different fifth grader pointed at me and said: "A green leper!!!"

He meant leprechaun. But that doesn't make me feel any better.

Vocab rehab

Vocabulary is an ongoing struggle for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The funniest parts of my day usually end up having something to do with vocabulary! Like these two stories...
1) Yesterday I had to explain what the word "insulation" meant. I gave examples and non-examples. I found a picture and projected it on the screen. I acted out what happens when you don't have it and when you do have it. I pretty much spent the better part of 5 minutes for one word.
About halfway through the lesson, everyone turns to look out my window because someone is riding a noisy lawn mower three feet away from us. And suddenly "Samuel" enthusiastically shouts: "I can hear the INSULATION!"
2) We're reading an excerpt from Dear Mr. Henshaw (Beverly Cleary) in our basal reader for fifth grade this week. I wanted to make sure my kiddos knew what a diary was. Fortunately, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid has become widely popular in book form and in movie form recently and several of my students are currently reading the series. So a diary was an easy concept to explain.
But then one of my students (and I still can't figure out if he said it on purpose) raised his hand and said: "I'm going to read Diarrhea of a Wimpy Kid". And then a girl piped up and asked me very innocently and genuinely what "diarrhea" was.
I glanced over at the speech pathologist who was helping out in my room. We were both trying not to laugh and trying to think of how to delicately explain diarrhea to our immature fifth graders. In the lull, some helpful students volunteered:
"It's gross!"
"It's nasty!"
"It's stinky!"
.... And then someone said matter-of-factly: "It's LIQUID"
And that's when both adults in the room finally gave in and snickered like fifth graders!

Maybe next time I'll get a barker

As of today, "Jose" is no longer in my classroom. His new teacher at his new campus in the behavioral unit is a 6'2, 253 lb black man. PERFECT.

So my fourth grade group in the morning is down from four to three. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around this new reality. I realized that I didn't have to hold my breath and watch the door to see if my little troublemaker would stroll in late this morning. The kids were visibly relaxed and much more themselves. And. Get this... are you sitting down?... I actually got to TEACH! Yes, teach! No more chasing Jose down the hall. No more interruptions and warnings and choices and limits. No more stress over which battle to pick with him. No more putting out fires he's started with the other students. No more random meowing (yeah, he would do that when he was feeling particularly defiant. Just a high pitched meow here and there. Not that funny, really.)

I know that troublesome students will find their way back into my classroom again eventually. But for now? I'm just taking advantage of the relative peace and quiet to do some hard core teaching!!

Never mind that I thought the same thing

Yesterday, "Jose" came in and announced to my classroom: "I go to different school Monday".

Immediately, "Michael" pumped both of his fists in the air and shouted "YAY!!". And I, of course, had to strongly admonish him about being unkind and disrespectful.

"But he's always bothering me!"

Filter, Michael, filter.

Excuse me while I gloat

**Note: to fully appreciate this post, make sure you've read the one below it first!

Today, I felt fully supported (and triumphant!) as my principal and the head of the entire deaf education department sat behind closed doors to have a little chat with my two visitors from yesterday.

After ninety minutes of discussion, I was called in to join the meeting. First, our special education compliance supervisor apologized to me. Then, the behavior specialist apologized to me. (And also went on about how good their intentions were, blah blah). Oh, how nice it feels to be on the receiving end of brown-nosing!

I only have one thing to say about this whole situation, and Nelson sums it up best:

Number 5 has not been ruled out

What do you do when your behavior specialist and your special education compliance supervisor pay you an unexpected visit? What do you do when they pull you out of your classroom WHILE YOU'RE TEACHING and demand to meet right then and there? What do you do when they yell at you and personally attack you for 46 minutes (yes, I kept track)? What do you do when your behavior specialist twists facts around to make you look bad? What do you do when your special education compliance supervisor questions your training? What do you do when two "superiors" who LEGALLY have no say in a certain matter (since they are non-voting members of the IEP team) try to exert their will?

Well... when they l left and I had finally caught my breath and picked my jaw up off the floor, I was faced with a few options:
  1. Call the superintendent and TELL ON THOSE MEANIES!
  2. Throw something breakable.
  3. File a grievance.
  4. Pout.
  5. Drown out the injustice in ice cream.
  6. Find reassurance from my awesome colleagues that I don't deserve to be bullied.
  7. Find their cars and slash their tires.
  8. Feel smug knowing that I'm in the right and they can't do anything about the IEP team's decision.
What I actually did was send both of these bullies an email (and cc'd my principal):

If you need to meet with me again at any time in the future, I will be happy to do so when you have scheduled an appointment, and with an administrator present.

Thank you.
It's unfortunate, really, that I'm a professional teacher (and a Christian one, at that!) and couldn't really do number 7. But I still might do number 3.

Eleven more weeks

There are only a few hours left of Spring Break. I feel pretty good about all I've done since we've been back from our trip:

I went out to breakfast.
I wrote in my journal.
I shopped at the thrift store.
I went to a birthday party.
I took a bubble bath when the weather turned nasty.
I spent six hours on my sewing machine.
I made some greeting cards.

There would be more to that list if I could get motivated to do something with myself today but it's like my body is feeling prematurely tired just thinking about going back to school.

This is how I'll be feeling tomorrow:

funny pictures
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Let's postpone Monday

No, don't worry; I'm still alive. I've been on Spring Break (or "Spring Pause", really, because it's just a week after all).

We got back yesterday from a four day jaunt across some of Texas and New Mexico. It was wonderfully fantastic: we got to see some incredible sights and sled down some sand dunes; we got to drive a lot and listen to NPR; we ate ice cream for dinner three days in a row. I would upload some pictures, but frankly, I just can't be bothered right now. I am much too busy sitting on the couch, alternately watching the TV screen and the computer screen, and spending all of my energy lifting the Fig Newtons from the package to my face.

Speaking of which, I do not understand people who win the lottery and then go back to work the next day. What's up with that? I don't care who you are or what you do, when is working ever more fun than not working? This week, I have felt more happy, healthy (yes, despite the ice cream), and more ME than I have since my last break. I miss that feeling when I'm all stressed out at work with no time to do the things that make me happy.

So for the rest of the week, I'm just going to do things that make me happy and enjoy the rest of my time off. Some of those things will eventually take me outside... it's gorgeous over here: warm sun and seventy degrees! Has spring sprung where you are?

The art of persuasion

My brother has a new site called noticer where he posts links of interest. This charming letter from a third grader protesting Pluto's demotion made me smile:

Wish I had some breathmints

It was so nice of the PTA to provide dinner for us tonight, since we have to stay at school until 8 for parent teacher conferences.
Eating Mexican food strong in cilantro and onions?? Not a good idea right before talking to parents face to face!

God still does miracles

It's the sound of a host of angels singing "Hallelujah". It's the sound of a million people applauding. It's the sound of rainbows in my classroom and unicorns running free through the fields. It's the sound of my feet as I jump up and down with excitement.
Because that meeting I was telling you about in my previous post? That meeting went well. So well, in fact, that "Jose" is finally going to get the help he needs by going to a behavior unit on a different campus. He's scheduled to leave the last week in March, right after we get back from Spring Break.
We met with the psychologist (who is a different person than the incompetent "behavior specialist" who's been out here a few times already). She took one look at the stack of documentation I'd been keeping since September (all 24 pages!) and her eyes widened. She said most schools barely hand her two pages. She flipped through it. She went through his official file. She listened to our list of failed interventions. She formally recommended him for a behavior unit.
And I was so excited, it was all I could do to stop myself from peeing my pants. She even said that we should have called her directly a long time ago (but let's not focus on that: better he gets the help late rather than never). The principal even complimented me on my excellent documentation because we couldn't have made our case without it. And my colleagues asked me when we were going to go out and celebrate!
My face hurts from smiling.

Maybe we'll kick and scream on the floor together

Tomorrow I have a big meeting that I'm not feeling very hopeful about. I'm having an "M.D ARD" for a student. It means I'm basically having an IEP to address major behavioral concerns and determine if this is the right placement for "Jose". You may remember previous posts about Jose. I don't have very nice things to say about him which is why he's not often featured on this blog. If you want to know what he's like, imagine the most passively agressive oppositional-defiant ten year old EVER. Who walks out of your classroom if you're making him do something he doesn't like (ex: any kind of work). Who plays staff members against each other. Who bullies other kids (one set of parents is threatening legal action!). Who pushes my every button like some kind of professional button pusher. Every day with him is an exercise in self-restraint: to keep my voice calm, to stay consistent, to give choices, to not let him see how angry he makes me.
My colleague suggested yesterday that if you needed to break down prisoners-of-war to make them talk, it would be more effective to have them come deal with Jose than it would be to waterboard them.
There have been many times where I've felt like marching into the principal's office declaring: "Someone's gotta go!!! It's either him or me!!!". But I haven't. I've kept careful documentation of every single time he's been defiant and disrespectful. I've overhauled my classroom management system more than once.
And despite my best efforts, this is where the system fails: I can't make his two other teachers keep documentation. I've offered two or three ways they could do this (shoot me an email, and I'll document it; talk to me when I'm in your class every day, and I'll document it) but bottom line is they don't do it. And I can't make them adopt the management system I've found works "best" for him either.
So tomorrow when one of the district psychologists comes out to run the meeting, I have a feeling I already know what she's going to say: "Your campus hasn't been consistent in your interventions, therefore a decision about placement cannot be made at this time".
I sure do hope I'm wrong. But if I'm right about the outcome, I may be the one to have a melt-down instead of him this time.

Test Distress

Standardized state testing is almost upon us.
In Michigan, state tests are in October. Students take them: wham bam, thank you m'am. Then no one thinks about them and everyone teaches normally until the end of the year.
Not so here in this fine state. Our tests are spread throughout March and April and every staff meeting since August has been about improving test scores. Teachers are forced to tutor for two hours twice a week after school expressly to raise student's test scores (Oh, Teacher's Union, WHERE ART THOU?). We take practice state tests twice a year and students' scores are graphed on bulletin boards. We hold pep rallies to get kids pumped the day before test day. We promise them Happy Meals if they pass. We take them to the movies if they get commended ("commended" means an almost perfect score).
In everything we do and say we are communicating to our students that this test is the only important thing in their academic careers. If they fail, then they might as well have stayed home all year instead of coming to school because that state test is the only thing we want to look at for proof of progress. And the adminstration communicates to us teachers that if our students fail the state test, then WE have failed them as teachers.
I know the kids are feeling the pressure because my fifth graders have burst into tears when they failed the math practice test. Yesterday we graded the practice state test for reading. Most of my fifth graders did pretty well, but some sat there looking sad. So I closed my classroom door and reminded them that I don't care if they pass or fail the test: what I care about is how hard they tried. "Because 10 years down the road, you are not going to remember if you passed or failed this test. But how hard you try determines how successful you are going to be in life". I mentioned that there are other teachers who are counting down in big fat letters on the board "31 days till the test" and so on, but that I did NOT want them to worry or stress out about it.
As soon as I got those words out of my mouth, they all piped up. Apparently, they don't appreciate the countdowns either. One student said: "It makes me feel worried and then it's one more day and I say OH NO". One girl said: "Ms. K does that and it.... and it.... and it makes me so... IRRITATING!!"
There you have it. I know that state testing serves as school accountability, but shouldn't we be trying to shield our students from all of this pressure instead of passing it onto their shoulders?

Wanted: floating device

Posting may be light for a while. I'm drowning in a sea of paperwork and IEPs while simultaneously navigating the shark-infested waters that are Office Politics. I'm doing my best, but at the end of the day, whatever work isn't finished I just pretend doesn't exist. I close my eyes, plug my ears and sing LA LA LA LA THE STRESS ISN'T REAL IF I DON'T THINK ABOUT IT!!
Thankfully, in a little less than two weeks, I'll be able to come up out of the water and gasp for air. Spring Break will give me a while to catch my breath before going back under for the final push until June.
In the meantime, I'm trying to do things that make me happy... like giving Barney a new toy and watching him leap gleefully around the house with it. Or watching TV with Max. Or trying new recipes.
What do you do to stay happy?

Can you tell it's Monday?

Things I would rather be doing than being at work today:
  • reading in bed
  • watching T.V, curled up in a blanket on the couch
  • looking for a different job
  • shopping
  • drinking something hot
  • playing with the dog
  • getting a root canal
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