Saturday, June 30, 2007

I think I have a handle on this

I keep floundering around in the despair of recounting and remembering everything that has happened this year to my son. I was working on a chronology of who said what when, who slammed him to the floor, who tried to force compliance on him, when he started running away from school, and when he decided it was safe enough to stay.

(I think I may have given myself sinusitis last week while crying. Now I have a bronchial cough. Gah.)

I keep going to meetings and saying, "We need to Do Something about this. Something needs to change." Surprisingly, I've had a really hard time articulating What It Is that needs to change. ("Stop being so fucking stupid" isn't really a workable policy title.)

I found it.

I figured out what the District can do.

(First we need more education for the General Ed teachers about Special Ed requirements, et cetera, et cetera. But that doesn't seem to address the heart of the issue: what would cause an adult to think that it's a Good Idea to drag a child down a hallway, kicking a screaming, to take him to his Safe Place? Or to tackle him?)

It's bullying. Duh.

We address peer-on-peer bullying all the time. This is teacher-on-student bullying. Duh. Why didn't I see that?

No wonder our kids report feeling unsafe at school, even when they themselves have experienced no bullying from other students. It's in the water. It's in the culture of the place.

Now, that's not to say that every school site is rampant with out of control teachers. That's not true. But, what is true is that some bullies have taken hold in the system, and the bystanders are not empowered to act when they see bullying. The administrators have almost no ability to take action against a staff member, whether they are bullying students or other employees, because there isn't back-up from above and there are no policies in place to delineate expected behavior and repercussions.

Hey. I see a problem, and I can fix it.

In fact, since I've been right out in front talking about the dangers of bullying to student mental health, I've already laid the groundwork for a district wide analysis of our Anti-bullying programs, mental health programs, and drug use education programs. How can all this be districtwide if employees are excluded, right?

And this approach, focusing on bullying rather than on "treating the special ed child with respect for its individual issues", is so much easier to communicate. And it gives me a deeper, broader, and meatier method of addressing the problem. We have a true leg to stand on here. What a relief to get this out from under what MY kid is going through and how the District is treating MY kid. That approach is doomed before you start, because then you're just a Board member rolling through a district with a personal agenda.

By George, I think she's got it!

PS: Felt the need to add in here that of course I will continue to advocate for MY kid and HIS needs and rights because I'm his mother. However, knowing that I've got this tool to help other kids in the District because I'm a Board member, and not knowing how exactly to wield that tool has been Really Frustrating. Every meeting I go to I find other admins who flounder around with me in the topic of "What do we DO?" Now I know. Ha!

PPS: Reading this paragraph of this article is what helped me make the connection. (Yes, Kate, your post pointed me in the right direction. Good thing you've got that blog.) I couldn't quite work it in above, but it's great stuff.
....Robert Coles, in The Moral Intelligence of Children (1998), points out that character and morality are really learned in the quiet spaces where conversations take place, in the gray areas between clear right and wrong, in the shadows of connections between young people and adults. He cautions us against being pedantic, hectoring, self-righteous in the way we present moral issues to youngsters. Coles feels that we do, however, have to keep "wading in, over and over...with a willingness to sail on, tacking and tacking again, helped by those we aim to help, guided by our moral yearnings on behalf of others, on behalf of ourselves: a commitment to others, to oneself as linked to others, that won't avoid squalls and periods of seeming drift, but that will become the heart of the journey itself...." Alfie Kohn, in What to Look for in a Classroom (1998), says we need a "well-developed program of pro-social instruction to include training in cooperative conflict resolution and in methods of achieving one's goals that do not require the use of force or manipulation."


Marianne McA said...

"to include training in cooperative conflict resolution and in methods of achieving one's goals that do not require the use of force or manipulation."

Sounds lovely. I remember one of my friends being pissed on by one of her students. And a fellow teacher at the school I worked in being nearly strangled by a determined seven year old with a skipping rope.
And then there was the mum who, out of her head on drugs, tore down all my displays...

If only we'd been more cooperative... (I just gave up teaching.)

Marianne McA said...

Turned off the computer to go to bed, and then thought better of my comment.
So apologies. I haven't read Mr Kohn's book, and that was a stupid reaction to the quote. Even if some situations are difficult, obviously the more training that teachers have, the better.

Suisan said...

I just heard a long radio essay/interview about teachers who had been asaulted by students -- one had brain injuries, etc.

No one SHOULD behave this way, clearly, and no one should be forced to be in a situation where they are scared of their workplace. Including students.

But the happy, happy, joy, joy educational mantras get on my nerves too, Marianne. I get weird reactions to quotes taken out of context too. No worries. (Glad you came back to explain though!)

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