Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tales from the Land of Special Education

I do love some of the stories which get passed around while principals and administrators are having lunch. In the course of preparing for negotiations with the teacher's union, I was telling the District team that I felt quite strongly that the entire staff needed more CPI training. My son's principal is on the negotiating team, and she was backing me up.

"In the interest of full disclosure," I said. "My son was manhandled by untrained staff, dragged through the library by three adults when he wouldn't leave the playground early. Then his teacher called the police on the day he hid under a table, because while he was under there, he told them he was so angry that if he had a blowtorch he'd blow up the school. All the staff in his grade have had CPI training after that incident, but that's only one grade level in one of four elementary schools. There are other kids like this in the rest of the District."

Yes, there are," said the principal. "Just yesterday I dropped in on a kid who was working in Resource. He's also in third grade, and he didn't have a good day. When I walked in, he was rubbing two pencils together to start a fire."

I burst out laughing. My principal smiled at me. "He was quite determined, you know. I'm not sure what it is about these nine year old boys. I didn't say anything, but all I could think of was, 'Gee kid, first you've got to wear through both layers of paint, then you've got to get a spark going. Got a box of tinder anywhere around?'"

The point being here, of course, that my son under the table did not have a blow torch (and I don't think he actually knows what one is?), and the threat was a statement of his anger and frustration. The Indian Tracker in Training over in the resource room couldn't have started a fire, and his threat was a statement of his anger and frustration. Both these kids are young and are in controlled situations surrounded by adults, and they Do Not Have Access to Weapons at that moment. If you have an iota of common sense, you'll not dramatize the frustration they are already feeling. But with my son, they did. With Indian Tracker in Training, they didn't.

And there are still boys and girls like this all over the system. Depending on what training any one person has, each child can experience a respectful environment filled with adults who have a sense of humor about the whole thing, or chaotic environment where adults are reactive, anxious, and dramatic.

I actually know who the Indian Tracker in Training is. Really cute boy. I can just see him bent over his table, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, pencils in a blur as he rubs them together.

In other news, one of the staff at school has gone out of her way to be mean to my son. Intolerable, really. It's been a pattern all fucking year. Once again, I've had to go find the principal, blow the whistle on one of her staff, and, after she's reprimanded the staff member in question, feel the glares of other staff members as I walk through the halls.

Some time ago, a parent told me that a staff member, unsolicited, told her that all my son needed was a good spanking. She wouldn't tell me who had said it, but she did say that it was someone who wasn't directly involved with my son. Great. Somehow that makes it worse to know that staff who don't know him are gossiping with PARENTS about him. (This goes right along with the school psychologist who talked about him in the Kindergarten yard. And his first teacher from early this year who told another parent that my son had assaulted her, but that the district had hushed it up, because, you know, I'm on the Board.)

My son's Second grade teacher was wonderful with him. Spent hours of extra time with him, developing a respectful relationship, going over work, talking about recess issues, etc. At one point she even set up a system that if he was anxious anywhere on school grounds, that he could tell an adult that "I need Mrs. Fine" and someone would come get her. A very good influence on him.

Well, Mrs. Fine is rather opinionated. My son was in the library with his aide, and Mrs. Fine told him that he was disruptive to her class. After she sent her kids to recess, she came back to the room he works in and made a big stink about the fact that he was sitting on the table doing work. ("When you were in MY class you used to sit on a chair.") So she tried to get him to sit on a chair, and he refused. Then she tried to get him to apologize for disrupting her class. At that point he refused to apologize, because she had (HELLO!) already ticked him off.

So she said to him, "That's it. I'm done with you. I've cared for you all last year, and I was on your side. But no more. I'm done with you." And she walked out.

The aide told me after she detached her chin from her chest, she had to spend the next forty minutes dealing with a huge rage. My son tore up all the work that he had done, including his research in the library, tossed chairs, etc.

I was venting to a friend about this latest insult, and she was upset enough that she told me who had made the spanking comment: the librarian.

Oh joy. So it's not a staff member who's directly involved, just one who has contact with every child in the school and a majority of the parents. Excellent.

By the time I got in touch with the Principal to report the second grade teacher, the aide had already reported the incident. But then I layered on the idea that the librarian is offering out parenting advice which includes corporal punishment.

There was a long silence on the phone.

"Suisan. I don't know what to say. I deeply apologize for my staff. I will talk to these two individually, one is getting a reprimand, and I will talk to the entire staff again about respecting our own kids."

"It's OK. It's not you. These older ladies really think they know what's best, no matter what us young whippersnappers say."

"Yeah, but: Spanking?"

"Well, that's a new one. I'll admit."

After a silence, she said, "You know. Correct me if I'm wrong, but by the time a kid like this is eight or nine, it's not as if the parents haven't tried every possible method to gain compliance. I'd say, if it worked, we wouldn't be talking about your son. It would have already worked, right?"

I burst out laughing. Again. Then she added, "You know, if it works, then we should be able to do that on school grounds. Maybe the librarian wants to demonstrate technique sometime in the courtyard. I'd be very intrigued. It would "Foster Innovation", right?" (Fostering Innovation is in our mission statement.)

I laughed some more. What a ridiculous roller coaster ride.

(Can I get off now? Huh?)


sxKitten said...

Back in 1980 or thereabouts, my mother had a phone call from my brother's grade 6 teacher, who was calling, in tears, to confess that she had lost her temper and spanked my brother. My mom laughed and said not to worry about it, that she'd done the same thing on many occasions.

Ironically, this woman was the best teacher he'd ever had, someone who'd worked really hard with my brother (and my parents) to get him through the year. But my brother was adept at pushing peoples' buttons (mine included), and would invariably keep pushing and pushing until you snapped.

Kate R said...


It's good you're taking the ride with a principal on your side. That's worth something, I hope.

I have relatively easy kids and I'm even more grateful because my friend who doesn't has never had an advocate in the admins. Never, ever. Sometimes a teacher, but not the principals or vice-principals or counselors of the elementary, middle or high schools.

None of them have made the extra push to help her with her borderline special needs kid.

So far for my one slightly troubled boy (he cried every lunch period in first grade) the best adult friend he found was the custodian. That guy would sit with him through the whole period. I still don't know how to express my gratitude.

Doug said...

I remember having a tantrum of sorts in seventh grade. I was very, very upset about something. The teacher said to me, "Will you just look at yourself?" It was surprisingly effective, and after reading your post, I think of all the many things she could have done to aggravate the situation. (Did I appreciate it at the time? Heck, no!)

I'll echo Kate -- I'm glad the principal is on your side.

Suisan said...

Kate, I adore our custodian. He's really the only male role model in the entire elementary school.

The principal now allows him to give out awards to kids who help him during the day, to clear their table properly, to pick up crumpled jackets left on the playground, etc.

Any kid in lunch period who has a habit of not bothering to eat, tends to be seated at "John's table" where he talks very quietly and sincerely to them about their day and about their interests. The kids just love it. And they are entertained enough that they sit and eat their lunches.

Again, our custodian is a prince among men. And I too do not quite know how to express my gratitude.

Suisan said...

sxkitten, I know kids like that. I do. The poor teacher--she must have thought her career ended right at that moment. (Actually, it could have. Without much trouble at all.)

Doug, The thing that was great about Mrs. Fine last year, was that she was really tough on my son. "What do you think you're doing?" and "We don't do that in this class." and "Do it now or do it later." But she had built up a great deal of respect for him and with him, so she therefore received a great deal of respect from him.

My son can be pushed to behave -- but he has to know that you absolutely mean it. No idle threats, no yelling, no drama. HOWEVER, he has to respect you first.

I actually prefer a tough teacher to a whiner and a "Please won't you, oh please" sort of tactic. But there is a place where you go wayy too far.

CindyS said...

I can't imagine saying such a ridiculous thing to a child! That would be hurtful to hear as an adult let alone as a kid. Stupid people make my head hurt.

This year's ride is almost over and then you get a two month break - or do you guys get that in the US?


Suisan said...

I'm counting the days, Cindy.

School's out on June 7, then we come back the last week of August. So, yeah. Good loooongg break.