Books? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Books!

After the children, the second thing I notice about my new Special Ed classroom is that there are no books.

Okay, that is a slight exaggeration–but not much of one. There are History textbooks, but they’re years beyond the reading ability of even the school’s Regular Ed students. There is a small box of four-page booklets of less than 40 words each that my 5th grade students say they have been re-reading since 2nd grade.

No Books and No Learning Allowed

Does Anyone CARE About These Kids?

I learn that none of the children enjoy reading.
Are you surprised?
That weekend, I buy five copies each of storybooks popular with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders–most of the students read at only a 1st or 2nd grade level. Books like Amelia Bedelia, Frog and Toad, and Little Bear.
Frog and Toad Are Friends Cover

I Wish They Were MY Friends

Deputy Dan Book Cover

Loads o’ Fun, ‘Cause Loaded With Puns 🙂

I also buy Reading workbooks (from a series called “Spectrum”) at the same levels. On Monday, the children learn that reading can be fun. They love the new books, and are eager to read from then on.
I am told that an excellent rate of Reading progress in a Special Ed elementary class is one half-year of gain per each year in school. That year, some of my students are measured gaining a year.
Full of Myself Mug

My Coffee Has Never Tasted So Good

But I have now joined the supremely-stupid ranks of my fellow teachers: From this point on, I will continue to spend personal money to do my utmost for my students and their future success in life–to do more for this goal, in most cases, than their own parents care to.
I later learn that I shouldn’t entirely blame The District for not providing books. Classroom books can walk out the door with students, or with substitute teachers. Entire classroom libraries can leave when permanent teachers are transferred to other schools.
But four and a half years LATER, I learn—
Do you remember that, instead of putting me and my Special Ed kids in a classroom, they instead stuck us in a storage room? No window, no connecting door, and half the size of a regular classroom (violating District policy in all three of these failings)?
Small Meeting Room

Do You Feel Trapped In This Small, Windowless Meeting Room?

Well, my principal had to take something OUT of that storage room to move my kids INTO it. What she’d taken out was books. Discontinued textbooks for each grade level and subject. And supplemental books: Science books. History books. Art books. Music books. And, (you saw this coming, didn’t you?) matched sets of 4 or 5 books each of:
“Amelia Bedelia”.
“Frog and Toad Are Friends”.
“Little Bear”.
Fun-for-children books at every reading level. Books I could have used instead of spending my own money.
Irked Sheikh

It’s Not Like Money Just Bubbles Up Out of the Ground Or Anything

There was even an entire set of Spectrum Reading workbooks for each grade level. Enough for an every child to use, as long as each child used separate paper to write answers so that the books could be re-used.
The administrator who unlocked and let me into the smaller storage room some of those books had been moved to (the rest had been distributed elsewhere) let me borrow some of those fun reading books. And some excellent discontinued History books written in much simpler language than our currently-approved doorstoppers and paperweights. But she made me promise not to tell anyone.
Teachers were not allowed to teach using materials from inside that locked room.
Hand-Slapping Irked-or-Disappointed Baby

No. Just no. May I Please Choose a Different Parallel World?

I caught children often trying to exit my room with my books tucked into waistbands, etc., until I learned how to control this. (Students with good behavior were permitted to borrow books by signing them out.)

I was warned by fellow teachers about some substitutes walking out with books, and advised to lock away my own books when I knew in advance I’d have a sub. I’d guess some loss blamed on subs is due to them not noticing student theft–but not all of it, because of a specific instance that was related to me.

I was both told of classroom book supplies walking away, and observed it first-hand. I don’t believe these are thefts with evil intent, but teachers conserving resources for their next set of students. Possibly some feel justified in light of their own financial outlays.
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Rey Is Once Again Trying to Cut His–

Rey is once again trying to cut his penis.

Rey, 11 years old, is a sweet, highly intelligent young boy with an extreme lack of self-control. He is in constant motion. He is a danger to himself and others.

He has inadvertently sent students and teachers tumbling down the stairs, knocked children over when swinging his backpack wildly about, and begun to tip himself over a second-story balcony railing while trying to look at the garden below. (I caught his ankle just as he toppled.)

When Rey is given a pencil, he chews on it and pokes himself with it on different places on his body until he punctures his skin. When given crayons, he chews off the paper and then eats the crayon itself. When given paints, he paints every object within reach—he helps out the brush by using his fingers and hands as well.


His Actual Desk

When given scissors…well, Rey can’t be given scissors, EVER, because he pokes himself with the points, including on his eyelids. He cuts his clothing and sometimes the skin underneath, including his genitals. (Somehow, he keeps managing to find scissors and smuggling them into class.)
When seated at his desk, Rey flings his arms and legs outward and scoots the desk noisily all about the room, several feet at a time. This has made it impossible for him to have a partner at the two-person desk. If Rey scoots too close to another student’s desk, he reaches into their belongings and treats them as destructively as his own.

I spend a great deal of the day moving Rey away from others. The isolation and difference from other students depresses him.

Despite Rey’s challenging behaviors, his intelligence shines forth. He is sometimes able to concentrate for fairly extended periods when working alone—particularly in testing conditions of total silence.

Rey’s work on the annual writing assessment merits a grade of B. This is especially impressive because the assessment isn’t even normally administered to English learners. (I had decided to give it to Rey because I had suspected that he would excel.)

Obviously, this poor kid’s impulsivity loses him friends and gets him into difficulties outside of the classroom. Rey recently spent some time in police boot camp after he decided it would be fun to throw large cement chunks at passing car windshields.

Rey has frequently expressed self-loathing when his behaviors get out of hand. He is a highly intelligent, sensitive and often considerate boy in a great deal of difficulty.

Let’s look to Rey’s family for help, shall we?

Rey’s father tells him he is ugly and dumb. Rey is handsome, but has a skin condition that causes a mottled complexion.

Let’s look to medical professionals, shall we?

Doctors have recommended medication for Rey’s obvious ADHD symptoms. Good for them! But his loving, compassionate father refuses.

What does the school system do for a boy like Rey?

Well, other than putting him a Special Ed classroom and leaving him to his own devices, absolutely nothing.


Despite our sympathy for Rey, let’s look around him for a moment:

Why are the other children in my class subjected to Rey’s presence?

Why is no one concerned with their learning or safety?

We all know how little learning would occur for each of us if we were in a room with Rey all day.

We all know how uncomfortable we adults would feel with Rey near us.

How would you like your child to be seated next to him?

At the time I left teaching, years ago, there were plans to eliminate Special Ed classrooms and place all special-needs children into regular classrooms.

I believe that, just as a court can order administration of insulin for a diabetic child, in such obvious cases of extreme ADHD that a child is a danger to itself and others, the poor kid should be rescued from abusive, neglectful parents and have court-mandated medication–and until that is done, the child should NOT be accepted into government-funded school facilities. When I am made King of the World (I have gender-neutralized the noun “king”, since it is perceived to be more powerful than “queen”), this shall be one of my many edicts.
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My First Parent: Special Ed-Conomics

I am very nervous. I am about to meet my very first parent of one of my special ed students.

I have worked almost 8 hours preparing for my first “IEP” conference—a time when the teacher assesses and reports on the Special Education child’s progress toward the goals which were set months earlier. The conference takes place with the principal, assistant principal, psychologist, nurse, teacher, and parent.

I carefully and slowly explain each point to the mom, waiting while my words are translated into Spanish. She remains silent during the entire report, even when asked for input. When I finish, I ask her again, “Do you have any questions for us at all?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, she does:

“Can I get extra money from the state because I have another one of my children in Special Ed?”

That’s all she wants to know. Not “How can I help my daughter?”, or “Isn’t there more YOU could do to help my daughter?”

I learn that this mom has eight older children, all of whom were labeled Special Ed and all of whom are serving time in prison. (No—I am not making this up.) I also learn that, yes indeed, when a parent is on welfare, the state gives extra money for each child labeled “Special Ed”.

I don’t want to think what I’m thinking. But I bet you are thinking it too.

Special Ed Versus Regular Ed Spending Pie Chart

How Many Kids FIT On That Special Bus?

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Sex In the Classroom

Three boys are dry-humping the class furniture.
Three Humping Dogs Memory Sticks

Ever-So-Classy Real-Action Humping Dog Memory Sticks

We should be used to it by now.  It happens throughout the day, every day, often accompanied by grunts and moans.   Just as with dogs, they will use any available surface:  the cupboard doors, the corners of desks, the backs of chairs.
The Office has expressed only token dismay at this behavior, and has suggested that I find more stimulating class activities to distract the boys from their non-academic pursuits.
I am a first year teacher in a Special Ed classroom. I have been assigned no mentor. No supervisor has yet visited my classroom, or me.
Nothing I’ve tried within my four storage-room walls has worked. (We have been illegally stuck in a half-size storage room rather than a classroom.)
I request a conference with each of the children’s parents, with an administrator present.  I am told by The Office that this can instead be addressed at the annual Parent-Teacher conference.
I request that the offending children be removed to a class for children with emotional problems.  The Office refuses, with this reasoning:  “Those classes are really terrible places, with severely disturbed children.  Do you really think that these boys will benefit from being placed with kids like that?”
These boys ARE kids like that!
I honestly do not think they would be any worse off, and they might get the help they need.  What I am certain of is that if they are allowed to continue, the rest of my students won’t stand a chance of getting the help they need.
If I were the school administrator confronted with such a situation, I would, in the following sequence:
1)  Discuss the matter with each of the children together and individually, to see if this is simply a case of jacking the new teacher around;
2)  Arrange for another adult to drop in on the class to mentor, and help control the activities;
3)  If the acts continued, refer the families to social services and send the children to the school psychologist.
If I were a parent of another child seated in a room like this, with a non-responsive school administration like this, I would threaten a lawsuit for exposing my child to sexual behavior and risk of sexual assault.
If I were other than a first-year teacher, having to put up with this and watch my other students sit through it,  I would film the behavior and then plant that lawsuit idea myself.
Wet Floor-Piso Mojado Sign

Don’t Take It Lying Down

If your own administration is shirking their responsibilities and leaving you and your young charges with a student who is a risk to them or you:
Plant a seed and watch it grow:
Initiate a carefully-worded discussion with the (sadly) total of one or possibly two parents who are actively involved in seeing their special ed children succeed. Subtly let the parent(s) know what’s going on. Invite/encourage her/him/them to drop in often and observe.
Administrators don’t have to pay attention to discontented teachers. But if discontented parents make enough noise, that can make them nervous.
(Don’t forget to first keep a log and take video to document the situation and what steps you’ve already tried, and what steps the administration has not.)

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Shocked By a Rock

I am shocked by a rock.
Rock In Hand

If This Met Your Daughter’s Head? Your Son’s?

It is my second day of teaching. I am in my Special Ed classroom when an extremely agitated playground supervisor bursts through the door with two of my fifth-grade students. The supervisor thrusts out one of her hands to show me a rock almost the size of my fist.

“Clyde threw this at Tina’s head as hard as he could! The only reason she wasn’t killed is because she was running away from him, and she tripped and fell just before it hit her!”

Tina is standing there frightened and pale. Clyde is standing there happy and unrepentant. Except at the fact that he missed. Happy? His face is positively beaming. A smile of pride splits it from ear to ear. Even after only two days of knowing him, I believe that if Clyde’s rock had made contact and truly killed Tina, he would enthusiastically add a little victory dance.

Of course, I send Clyde to The Office. The District has very strict rules for protecting the safety of our students. I know that students are suspended immediately for threats alone, with no exceptions, because my poor next-door-neighbor’s 6-year-old was suspended just for pointing his pencil and saying “Bang!”. What will happen to Clyde for trying to bash a girl’s head in with a rock? And he is no six-year old.

Here is what happens: The Office sends Clyde back moments later to rejoin my class.

The Special Ed teaching lesson has begun:

I am here as a babysitter, nothing more. My students are not expected to behave. I am expected to keep them out of sight and out of mind and deal with any problems within the four walls of my classroom.

Several weeks later, after more office referrals for violent acts, The Office responds with this note:

“You are sending students to The Office too often.
Work on your classroom management.”

Great Lesson in “Respect”, District.

The real lesson for the students, and a very effective one, was to follow the Nike Rule: Never threaten–Just do it.

And for me, regarding my classroom management? At no time in my first months alone in my classroom as a new teacher, and a new teacher in a Special Ed classroom with several emotionally disturbed children mislabeled as having learning disabilities, was anyone ever sent to instruct or assist me in how to “work on my classroom management”.

(No Caption Needed)

Not that my classroom management was the problem here, but I think you get my point.
Next Teaching Post: Sex In the Classroom
Originally posted Jan. 1, 2012 based upon a career that ended many years earlier.


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