Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This makes me cry

But I'm not sure if it's tears of anger, of sadness and sympathy, or of pure surprise and shock.

Courtesy of Fugly Horse of the Day,

Two and a half years old, overbitted, terrified just standing still, being slapped and yelled at. Jeez. Not even three years OLD? Let the darned thing Grow UP!

There's a horse so screwed up that it would most likely be a blessing if it were to go to the meat market now before it gets more "training". Rearing is impossible to train out of a horse -- and a rearing horse is a dangerous and deadly horse. Judging by the way he's landing, I'm guessing his back is already screwed up by wrenching and falling so frequently. And if you hadn't thrown a long shank craptastic bit in his mouth and held on to the reins so tight (which PREVENTS him from walking forward, you dumbass) and then started yelling at him, he would have reared. Never. Horses don't DO that the first try out.

If you slam the brakes on from the front, and you gun the engine from the back, there's no place to go but up. And hey, now you've abused the horse right into being deadly. And lamed his stifle and maybe ruptured his gut.

He was a cute boy too.

Shit, I hate finding stuff like this.

Go ride a bike, but get off the damned horse.

Edited to add: They pulled the video. But it has been up for a year and shows two yahoos terrifying a horse over and over again by yelling at it. Every time they get on it, the horse flips himself over. The final indignity is when the horse flips himself up and over and then comes down straddling a fence. Rather than breaking the fence apart and rescuing the horse from rupturing a gut, the ignorant owners continue to yell at the horse and beat on it until it lifts itself up off the fence and canters away with a definitively injured rear stifle. Ugh.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The boy needs a hat!

Halloween is coming, yes it is.

Have I mentioned that Saul is going to be Zorro?

Bestill my heart. Ahhh.

As we prepare for The Big Day, let us review.

Black head scarf? Check.
Black domino mask? Check.
Black shirt? Check.
Black cape? Check.
Black pants? Check.
Black gloves? Check.
Black hat? NO.
Black boots? NO.
Sword. NO
Bullwhip? NO.

OK, the kid's not getting a bullwhip. Sorry, but no. (I wouldn't mind a bullwhip should I ever go out in public as Zorro, but the kid's not getting one. The kid says, "But Mom! That's not AUTHENTIC!" My son, all the way.)

Sword? Gonna have to be a stick or a pole covered with that Halloween staple, tin foil. Sorry, but I just can't bring myself to bring one more plastic THING (light saber, medieval sword, light saber, and light saber) into the house.

Boots? Eh. I figure I can cut out a cylinder of black fabric for his lower legs and call them boots.

Hat? Oh good lord, I've lost my perspective. I cannot bring myself to plop a black cowboy hat or "Gansta fedora" (of which there are plenty in the Halloween supply store) on his head and call it a Zorro costume. I'm using the Darth Vader gloves as Zorro gloves, that's fine. And we are recycling his Dracula cape with the bright red satin lining as his Zorro cape, true. However, the hat needs to have a flat brim, a low crown, and no creases or shaping. Sorry. It just does.

So how do you send a nine-year old out as Zorro with no hat?

You don't.

And that's where I've lost it. I'm making the darned thing. I recognize that this project demonstrates that I must have misplaced my last bit of sanity somewhere amongst the dust bunnies, but I know how I'm going to build it, I have the materials, and darn it, I'm making the thing.

Did I mention that I need to make a crown for the Ariel costume and that I'm making a string of beads to dangle from Neo's pirate bandanna? Bizarrely focused on headgear this year.

By the way, Neo's going to look AMAZING this year. Found a fantastic Pirate coat for her. I'm jealous of it actually. I wanna go Goth too now. If going Goth means that I can wear a fitted black coat which sweeps out at the waist and ends at the knees, with silver frogging down the front, WIDE turnback cuffs and a small mandarin collar, then I wanna go Goth.

Or just hop on a nearby black horse in my knee-length dashing coat and gallop off into the sunset. Yeah. That sounds good.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Electric Company, School House Rock, Free To Be You and Me, Bell-bottom denims and ...

Wordly Wise.

This graphic just screams "I am a product of the 1970's!!!"

There was a cover with an owl on it too, now that I think of it.

I used these in Miss Williams' Fifth Grade class, and I think in Mrs. Robb's Fourth Grade class. It is beyond weird that my son uses this series WITH THE SAME COVER in his Fourth Grade class.

Cue Barbra:

Light the corners of my miiiind.
Misty water water color
Of the way we were.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Evacuating from fires

I haven't seen this number reported on CNN or on the AP wires, but I've been reading a newsgroup listing of horse owners. One regular on the list evacuated her horses to "the fairgrounds" (in San Diego? I've lost track of where exactly she is, but can go check again.)

She's reported that the last inventory of horses on that property was 2530.

Not including dogs, cats, etc.


CNN keeps reported "Thousands of animals on Del Mar racetrack", but then they keep going back to all the dogs in crates. More than a thousand horses is just an insane number.

One million people, twenty five hundred horses, thousands of dogs and cats. Can barely get my head around it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Egg Shells and Spiders

Saul left school today. We caught up with him sitting on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street to come home.

Shit. Are we really back HERE again?

I never know quite how to think of myself.

For years at a time, my armor is quite strong. I can remember the details of the battle, Achilles chasing Hector around the walls of Troy, the sun on my back, the weight of the leather shield across my arm, "as when single-hooved horses that are winners of prizes course swiftly about the turning-points." I know what I did in battle, how close a victory it was, and I can give myself strength to move forward, the words and phrases of my own epic echoing in my head, giving me strength. I can even laugh at myself when I trip and fall. Silly Person. Did you not see the banana peel on the sidewalk?

Then there are times when I can feel an itching under the skin, and I realize that the armor's only an eggshell, trying to hold in a persistent bird. There's an egg tooth scraping under my shoulder blades, and I can feel that ugly friend trying to get out. It's wet and its eyes are too big for its head. And it knows that although I'm pretending to be strong, I'm really only that little kid with a bag of coping skills, filled with forty years of experience in saying, "I'll be OK as soon as I get my breath back."

I've had the wind knocked out of me a number of times, falling from horses, and every time it's just as terrifying. Even when I'm talking myself through it. "Muscle spasm. You won't suffocate. Don't try breathing in. Breathe OUT. Breathe OUT. Muscle Spasm." And the blood is crashing in my ears and my chest feels like knives should be sticking out of it. I know now not to focus on the panic or on the pain. But it doesn't mean that they've gone AWAY, just that it's the right thing to do, to tell yourself, "Muscle spasm. Breath out. Calm down." That coping skill takes some of the fear away, but I'm not sure it brings me my breath back any sooner. I hate having my breath knocked out of me. I know all seven times I've experienced it. More frightening than the pain of broken bones or childbirth, not being able to breath.

One of my bigger fights with a certain therapist involved the symbolic idea of journeying down into Hell and walking up out again. It was stupid to fight so hard with her about it, but I really objected to that metaphor, and I knew we were going to keep referring back to her favorite metaphor throughout therapy, so I wanted to get my objections "down on paper" so to speak before we started.

She kept saying that people close the gates on Hell in order to cope, and that now we were going to open them, climb down into Hell, and find all the demons. After finding them, labeling them, and working out why they were still tormenting us, then we would finally be able to walk straight up out of Hell and leave them behind.

I said, OK Fine, I can go with the Hell metaphor if you want, but I don't believe that you can just walk up out of Hell. I think you go down into Hell and wrestle with them for as long and as hard as you can. You get bloody and muddy, and you work out why they are so very powerful against you. Some of them you can recognize as being silly, like the fear of a giant spider living under my bed. Surely if it existed I would have seen Some Sign of it in all these years. So I guess that demon has been vanquished and is longer living in my Hell.

But I don't believe that you can walk right up out of Hell, because there are some demons that can not be pacified and be reasoned with, and in fighting them you can chip away at their strength over you and stench they leave behind in the world, but I'm not sure that all demons can be fully left behind.

I think that when you are strong you can fling open the doors of hell, wrestle with a few demons, and then leave before your energy is sucked dry. You have to be realistic and know that there are some that remain. You turn around the way you came and climb back up out of Hell, cleaning off your pants on the stair, and come back a stronger person. Another day, when you are ready to wrestle, you can go chip away at the big bad meanie living under the floor.

The fight I had with her was that she wanted me to commit to wrestling ALL my demons and walking through Hell. I kept saying, I don't have the energy for that. I'll get to most of them, but I don't believe that you ever fully let go of some, so I'm not going to pretend that all is going to be hunky dory when I walk out of here. "Twelve Sessions! Demon Free! Guaranteed!"

She said that I wasn't committing enough of my energy. I told her that since this was couples therapy, and not individual therapy, I reserved the right to fight some of my demons in private.

We went back and forth.

"You can walk through Hell."

"No. You can slosh around in the muck, and then you can come out a stronger person, but you don't ever walk through it."

"You are refusing to envision a door on the other side."

"This is all made up anyway. Why are we arguing about this?"

"If I don't feel as if you've made the proper commitment to therapy, then I'm not sure that there's much I can do to help you."

"You know? I've been in and out of therapy since I was six. I know how this works. I get it. I object to being the Identified Patient. It has happened in every family therapy I have been in, so don't do this in this couple's session either. I'll commit to walking around in Hell. When we get to the point where we are walking out of doors, then we'll have to decide which door I'm choosing in your mythical construct. OK?"

Stoopid woman. She still gets me angry. And I haven't seen her in years. Humph.

OK, so why am I writing about that woman, a perfectionist Buddhist, by the way?

I think because my armor is cracking. I think the demons are slithering up the stairs and sticking their grimy fingernails under the door, leaving grease stains on the carpet.

I've said to a number of people that participating in the last IEP meeting, that five hour THING, was like a car wreck. I keep reliving portions of it. How could I have said what I needed to say in a way in which the ten other people in the room would have heard me? Maybe if I were more forceful. Maybe if I were less likely to quote research. Maybe if I were more protective of my son. Maybe if I were more aggressive. Maybe if I were more placating. Maybe if I had invited more comments. Maybe if I had been less inviting of comments.

Round and Round.

I know what this is, in my logical heart. This is reliving my experience with my parents over and over again. You are reasonable people, how can you refuse to hear what I am saying? Maybe if I try it this way. Maybe if I appeal to your intelligence. Maybe if I fling myself to the floor and whine and whine until you take me off the ice. I don't want to ice-skate on this bumpy pond today. Maybe then you'll hear me.

Round and Round.


I don't like thinking of myself as weak. But then, there's only so much a person can take.

Dear Butcher said to me last night, when I was trying to explain all this, "You are the best person in that boy's life. You are the one who is helping him, sometimes the only person who is helping him, so that he can be a functional person. One day when he's forty, he won't be lying here in bed with these demons picking on him. He won't have had to go through this part. Because you are helping him every single day. Every day. And with your help he'll figure out how he needs to cope. He'll know that there's someone who really gets him and understands how he ticks. He'll have his own demons, but he won't be raised to think that he's invisible."

"But what does it mean for him if the one special person in his life isn't ABLE to get what he needs? They all just sat there and nodded."

"They didn't want to hear you. It had nothing to do with you. They weren't ready to hear you, but that's not on you. That's on them. It's not your fault."

I can hear that, and I can agree in the moment that he's right, but my diaphragm doesn't believe it yet. It's still spasming.

Somehow I know that I'm still doing a good job for Saul.

But on the other hand (what an excellent Greek turn of phrase. On the one hand, men,... on the other hand, deh.... It's called a "men, deh formation" in Attic grammar lessons. Burned into my head as a child. And then again ten years later as a student of Homer. What a digression.) On the other hand, I feel as if I'm floundering. And it makes it all the harder to watch him flounder too. I'm supposed to be lifting him up, but the life jacket won't quite hold both of us.

While Saul was home we did two weeks worth of work in a language arts book. Oddly enough, the same book, With The Same Cover, that I used in fifth grade in a private school three thousand miles away and thirty years ago. Please don't let it be the same edition.

I took him back to school, and he was full of pride at the work he'd done. Twenty four more vocabulary words under his belt. (And dammit, I think it was the same word lists from when I was in school. I fucking recognize the poem in the crossword. Agh!)

His aides were eating lunch, so I stood at the side of the field and watched him during recess tumbling in the grass with Bobby and Anan. Three awkward boys, gawky thin legs scraping the air, rolling in the grass. No tickling, but lots of laughing. At one point Anan rolled next to Saul and draped his arm over Saul's belly. Anan who two years ago could not speak English. Bobby who struggles to this day with the vowels. Saul lifted his head, saw Anan's arm across his hips, and gently patted it with his hand. Then he reached out with the other hand and patted Bobby on his dark shiny hair. Everyone else was running around after balls, swinging off the jungle gyms, and out in the middle of the field were three boys lying in the grass, looking like puppies at rest.

I wish he hadn't run off from school.

And I especially wish his aides could have stood at the field to see how he returned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Talka tikky talka talk

came back from a five and a half hour IEP.

Not functional after five and half hours of conversation on the same topic.

Need a nap.

(Generally it was a non-confrontational meeting and we're going to get what we want. Eventually. After we meet and talk some more to iron out the details. And meet with the ones who weren't in the room at the end. And get it on paper. And then talk some more.)




Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I was tagged

Because I don't bloghop that much anymore, I didn't realize that I had been tagged.

Cindy tagged me to do a screen capture of my desktop.

I try to keep the icons away from the center of the screen, and I'd sorta prefer an olive and burgundy layout, but I like this desktop too.

Neo and I share a computer, so when she's done with an art piece, she saves it as my new desktop. The next time I turn on my computer, wa la! Art!

This is Genre, and you can read more about her and what Neo thinks of this piece on her blog, which is over there ------ > on my side bar.

Originally I set up my desktop to highlight an autumn picture of my handling a chestnut stallion, but it hasn't been on my desktop for years. I somehow always expect it to be when I start the puter up. Hmm. Here it is, just because. He was a grand old man, that guy. Unhandled his entire life until he came to us. (It's a bad picture of a stallion handler, that's fer sure. I had him all set up, four square and perfect, and then someone brought a mare out of the barn. I wasn't comfortable controlling him with that wimpy Indian leather show halter, and I overreacted. As it was, he just pranced in place. I still get embarrassed at my aggressive face and body language in this picture. Gah. But it is a beautiful picture of Tirf's power and autumn in New England. I think I was 23 when it was taken. I think he was about 23 too. I'm so young and he's so old.)

Can't think of anything else to say about my desktop except that I'm glad that Neo feels comfortable enough to shift it around when she wants to.

I can't think of anyone to tag. I'm terrible at memes, come to think of it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Building a house

What books have I read lately?

I downloaded and read the entire content standards for fourth grade from the California Department of Education website. Enjoyed reading those. Quite intriguing, actually. More on that later.

I've read two books on Social Deficits and Social Deficit Training by Michelle Garcia Winner, and now I realize that I really need a third book by her before Wednesday. Ha! Not happening.

I've read huge portions of the Conduct Disorders section on Special Education Law and techniques for documenting IEP requests. As I go, I take notes on those and then scoot over to Wrightslaw to research California law. I take notes on those.

(As a research geek, can I just put in a plug for the beauty that is Wrights Law? Every topic is hotlinked and they maintain on the website all the opinions from all the court cases they reference. They'll talk about a Supreme Court Case, and then, viola, there it is. It's not only their interpretation of it, but there's the opinion itself. I'm such a goof. I was actually GIGGLING the other day when I read a Supreme Court opinion regarding "stay put" orders. There it is in black and white, the Supreme Court justices telling the State of California that there was no exception for "dangerous" students because, nationwide, school districts had looked for loopholes to segregate disabled students from their peers, AND that the Supreme Court and Congress did not trust school districts not to exaggerate the danger posed by disabled students in order to segregate them.

Lest you all think that the Supreme Court wants dangerous students in schools, no, they don't. But they do want the District to be responsible for the behavior of their disabled students, not blame or punish the students for being compromised by their disability. Wow. Once you've walked down this road that I have been on with Saul, it's almost an indescribable feeling to read that on paper. Chills, giggles, and tears, all at once.)

So where is all this going? For what am I preparing?

Saul has his annual IEP on Wednesday, where we set goals and objectives for the rest of this year. Last year his IEP was essentially scribbled on the back of an envelope and I signed it so that he could start receiving services. The goals were never met, and now as I look back at them, there was nothing In Place that would have helped him build to that goal. (Forget about dragging him through hallways or giving him untrained aides. They went from, "This kid can't stay in his chair" to "Saul will stay at his desk in the classroom 80% of the time by the end of the year" with no details as to how this could be accomplished. Wonder why it didn't work.)

I'm not doing that again this year. This year we're going to be much more benchmark and objective based. Legally, they have to have "reasonable" and "measurable" goals in place for him. I'm not going to go back to what doesn't work and try to make it work. Saul has demonstrated a number of times that when he says he's not going to do X, he really and truly means it. Is it Oppositional behavior? Is it Anxiety? Is it an as-of-yet-undiagnosed processing disorder? Honestly, I don't really care. Truth is, he's not going to do it. Fighting about it for the next forty-eight hours ain't going to do no one no good no how. Let's try something that works!

What's working? Mr. Ho, his at-home instructor. Oh my lord, I do love Mr. Ho. I'm not sure why you sent him into our lives, Lord, but I silently thank You every day that he rings our doorbell and shuffles into the house carrying his canvas bag full of exciting projects. Mr. Ho is a retired engineer who became a Math and Science teacher for the District in his retirement. Mr. Ho does not believe in long division or rote learning of the multiplication tables. He believes in applied math and problem solving.

Here's an example: Mr. Ho heard from Saul that he Hates Writing. He asked me what I thought the problem was. I explained that Saul seems to have a physical problem with pencils on paper -- the paper crumples, or the letters doesn't look right, or sometimes his anxiety about proper spelling gets in the way of him writing anything. On the other hand, Occupational Therapists have evaluated him and said that his pencil grip is appropriate and that he doesn't rise to the level of disability.

The next day, Mr. Ho started talking about Ancient China and pottery and kilns. Then Mr. Ho started talking about soot, and the development of ink. Saul offered that he had once had a feather quill pen but that the tip had broken. "Oh, yes. They are very fragile and always breaking. Have you ever seen a metal tip pen?"

Out of his canvas bag came a pot of ink, some smooth paper, and three metal dip nib pens. Saul dived on them, and with Mr. Ho's quiet tutelage, Saul was able to write some letters in a consistent script. Mr. Ho left him the materials and wrote a note to Saul on the practice sheet. "Saul, you are a very smart student and a very sweet boy. I like working with you very much, Mr. Ho."

Mr. Ho commented to me as he left the house that day, "Saul can write, and he does beautiful work when he slows down, but why aren't his texts on a computer?" I shrugged and said that so far the District had been unwilling to have him learn on the computer because when he was frustrated he banged on the keyboard. Mr. Ho said, "I can teach him to type. That shouldn't be a problem!"

Over the weekend, Saul tried to use the metal nibs, but ended up bending one. He was very embarrassed, angry, and frustrated. Mr. Ho came back and asked how the practice had gone. Saul bowed his head and said, "I dunno what happened. I got angry or something but I broke your pen."

"That happens all the time! That's why they only cost you a few cents at the art supply store! Now. Do you think the Ancient Chinese used metal tip pens the first time they discovered ink?"

"No. Didn't they use brushes or something?"

"Yes. They did." And out of the bag came an entire brush calligraphy set, with an ink stone, ink stick, water spoon, brushes, and a brush rest. Saul literally fell off the kitchen bench onto the floor.

As they ground the ink and tested it for consistency, they talked about relative hardness of materials (a Fourth Grade science standard), the types of animal fur used in the bristles, what section of the food web the animals represented (Third and Fourth grade standards), Chinese history (Eight Grade History), the emigration of Chinese laborers to California, and the growth of California as a state (Fourth Grade standard). They measured the perimeter of both the stone and the ink stick, calculated the area of each (Fourth Grade standard) and discussed why the stone needed to be so much larger than the stick if the stick needs to be ground on the stone. They also talked about water, water conservation (Third and Fourth Grade standard), and a recent newspaper story about an anniversary celebration of a dam nearby. They talked about the condensation cycle (Fourth Grade standard) and presented various questions to each other about why the dam was curved and not straight, and discussed the erosion of canyons over time.

Mr. Ho wants to build an entire program around Saul, covering all content areas, presented in a conversational style, with access to technology for research, writing, and for assessment of accomplishments. He wants to teach Saul how to use a calculator, how to type, and he wants to school to help Saul learn how to cope with being in a group. Every day now that he comes to the house he says to me, "Parents I work with always tell me their kid is bright, and they're right. But generally the kid is bright in ONE area. I talk to my retired friends about what I am doing with your son, and they cannot believe that I am working with a fourth grader. Saul is exceptionally bright across all areas. He always ends every conversation with 'But what about...?' He needs an advocate, and I want to be his advocate."

It's a long speech, usually given at the door on his way out, but he says it every time.

So, on Wednesday, I'm proposing that the District provide for Saul's needs and that they stop focusing on what isn't working: sitting in class bored out of his skull to the point that he explodes and asks to go home. He is going to need to be trained in social skills, how to wait for a pause in conversations, how to operate in a group and let others take the lead from time to time, etc., and he is going to need to be given access to technology and trained in how to use it.

The District is quite focused on having him come to school, and that's fine, he needs recess and lunch with his peers. Mr. Ho is fragile and cannot be made responsible for Saul for the entire 6.5 hours of the school day, but on the other hand, Saul's day needs to be "chunked" as it is. He needs PE instruction (Fourth grade standard is the manipulation of other objects, balls, bats, frisbees, and an understanding that games have rules), music instruction, social skill instruction, and free reading time. Mr. Ho doesn't need to be available for all of that. But Mr. Ho has already said that he's happy to put together an entire curriculum for Saul as long as the District works with him to develop a means of measuring Saul's achievement. This is going to have to be some sort of technological accommodation or testing method.

And how will the District provide the all important "Social Skills" instruction? Well, that's why I've been reading the books from Michelle Garcia Winner. I'm also bringing my own expert on Social Skills training, a counselor from the camp Saul went to this year. We're going to lay out a curriculum that the District can follow, one that has discrete IEP goals, daily progress goals, and weekly assessments, to help Saul learn how to cope with other people in his environment.

So, by next Wednesday, I need to put together a environmental plan (where he will learn), a time chunking plan (how long will he spend on each topic during the day), a social skills curriculum (in what areas does Saul demonstrate that he needs help), and an argument (a calm one) regarding why the District needs to provide for Saul in this manner. I'm leaving the educational plan up to Mr. Ho.

The most obvious argument is that Saul hasn't yet learned a single thing in his current classroom setting, and therefore needs accommodations to achieve at the levels that No Child Left Behind mandated for disabled students. The second argument is that Saul is not the only child who has this type of disability, lack of social awareness. The District is going to get more, they already have a number of them on campus right now, and it would be in the District's best interests to get their collective butt in gear to address the needs of all those students. Saul's program can start as a pilot, and as he gets more confident in his abilities, the program can serve the other kids on campus by the end of this year. Then there's the more legal argument that the District has to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education for Saul. I have met with experts and I have talked repeatedly to the Director of Special Ed on this topic. There IS no private placement for Saul which would be appropriate. So, that means that legally, the District must provide.

Still, I'm not sure that the District is eager to walk down this road.

More reading ahead.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Educating the Kidlets

So y'all have heard the various stories about trying to get Saul a decent education, one that doesn't involve high drama, phone calls to the police, or aggressive/violent outbursts. There's good news on that front. I'll write another post on that later. But let's spend some time on Neo, shall we?

At the beginning of the year, Neo said that she wasn't going back to Middle School. Too much bullying, too boring, and there really was no point. She's a GATE student, meaning that the school district gets grant money to level-up her education and provide for her "gifted" status. (I have to put gifted in quotes, because there's a huge controversy brewing right now over the way we identify these kids in our district. One multiple choice test in third grade. No teacher recommendations, no class grades, etc. Ummm. Surely we are missing out on a raft of kids whose parents, like us, did not even know to TAKE her to the test in third grade. She was identified, through testing, at the start of her fifth grade year. She's now in seventh grade. So far, her GATE education has consisted on one field trip in fifth grade, and one trip to a paint-your-own-pottery studio in sixth grade. Wonder why she's bored in class. Hmm. Can't imagine.) OK, so forget about GATE for a sec, let's just focus on the fact that she as an individual doesn't want to be in school.

Just before school started, Neo and I met with the VP, and he immediately switched all of her classes so that she would be in sections with her friends. He also took the names of the kids who were bullying her last year and promised to, as much as he could, keep them away from her and her friends. During the second week of school the VP called together a meeting with all of her teachers and me to discuss Neo, what made her tick, and what each teacher could do to keep her engaged and interested.

Her math teacher suggested moving her from seventh period to third, as her kids in third were quieter and more focused, so Neo wouldn't stand out in the crowd as much. Her second period "applied industrial arts" teacher commented that since his class was based on hands-on learning, she was going to be pretty busy during the class as it was, but that he would keep an eye out for her.

Her Science, English, and History teachers all, independently of each other, brought up that they could assign special projects for her to do, either in school or at home, which would be linked to the curriculum. We spent a fair amount of time during the rest of the meeting brainstorming what those projects might be.

Science: The teacher needs an updated list of useful websites for her students. Neo could research her current list, write up reviews of the websites (see if they are still active) , search out new ones, and write up reviews of those as well. Since Neo is also an artist, perhaps some exploration of vertebrate anatomy and drawing of bones and muscles could be done too.

History: Neo is very interested in Asian art and culture. Perhaps Neo could do more research in the school library on the culture of Medieval Japan, comparing aspects to European culture of the same time period. Since she's an artist, perhaps she could research some of the clothing and costuming of Medieval Korea, China, and Japan and prepare a report for the class, with drawings.

English: Neo needs more practice in all forms of writing across the seventh grade curriculum. Short essays she can do in class while the rest of the class is doing grammar worksheets. Essays relative to the research she is doing in other classes. Further reading in whatever genre the class is currently focusing on. Start her on literary critique -- looking for symbols, themes, archetypes, and plot devices.

Excellent. Great to have you all on board. Sounds like a great plan.

Neo received her first progress report the other day, so a quarter of the year has passed. I asked her, as I was complimenting her on her grades (all A's, mostly ranking in the top ten to fifteen percent of her classes), "What sorts of special projects have you done so far? I haven't seen any."


"Wait.... None?"


"You're supposed to be doing extra stuff in class, especially after class tests. What do you do in class?"

"Math homework. Homework for the other classes. Read."

"Has anyone ever sent you to the library to research a topic while the rest of the class was working on worksheets?"

"No. And they're STILL doing that stupid reading aloud thing. I hate listening to the rest of the class read out loud. I'm not supposed to read ahead either, but I've already read the entire History textbook, most of the Science text book, and I'm always reading ahead in English."

"Has your English teacher given you extra things to read?"


"You SURE?"


"OK, then."

Called the VP.

"Hey, Bill. You know that meeting we had at the beginning of the year?"

"Yeah! How's that going?"

"Ummm. Neo says that she's never been assigned extra work. I've never seen any, but I'm not always sure what's standard and what's extra."

"But they said they would!"

"I know."

"OK. I'm going to call them together again. I'm not going to tell them I spoke to you, but I'm just going to say that I want to get an update as to how Neo's doing and what sort of response they've gotten from her as to the projects they've done. And I'll call you back as soon as I can."

"OK. You handle it how you think it's best. Maybe they have. Maybe Neo's just being snarky, I don't know. Maybe the extra work they've assigned wasn't challenging enough, and they need to bump it up another level, but I'll tell you that she's still complaining of being bored. When she does that, she separates herself from the rest of the class, because she starts calling them, 'those idiots.' It's not a great pattern to get into."

"I appreciate that. I'll remember to bring that up too, that maybe she needs to go even more in depth. This is also really important too. You know, for GATE, not just for Neo."

"That's a whole other kettle of fish. Let's get this one part settled first and then we can get into GATE."

VP called me yesterday evening, sounding more dour than I have ever heard him before. He apologized at least five times before he ever got into the meat of the matter.

None, as in not one, teacher has given her an extra assignment. The Math teacher says, and I think she's correct, that Neo seems engaged, interested, and challenged by the level of work in front of her, so she hasn't prepared anything extra. That's fine, I'm OK with that, and I told the VP to let her know that that approach was OK.

But this is where the VP got upset. The English teacher said that she didn't know how to present more complex ideas or extra work to Neo. The History teacher said that there wasn't anything else that she could have Neo working on, other than the text that the rest of the class works on. Quoting the VP, "I'm just so disappointed in my staff, Suisan. They came in this room and talked about all the great things they were going to do for this kid, and now they think it's OK to let her flounder. How can they NOT KNOW how to do this?"

"Look Bill, it may very well be that they don't know, but then they should have said that up front. And, I'm sorry, if a History teacher doesn't know anything other than what is in the text, than she doesn't know the curriculum well at all. As for the English teacher, no excuse. If she can't figure this out, then she needs to get a High School English teacher on the phone and get this kid some High School level materials and instruction. Now."

There's all sorts of trainings districtwide to get teachers certified in GATE instruction. If you're certified, then you can apply for an extra stipend, considering all the extra time and energy you'll be putting into these GATE projects. Want to know something extra super funny?

Neo was put in this schedule with this group of teachers because she's identified as GATE and every single one of these teachers has expressed interest in having the GATE cluster in their class. I didn't know this until yesterday. These are the teachers who want to be working with these kids. Only one of them has taken any GATE training. One class out four. One teacher out of six has taken one class out of four. (I'm not sure that PE really counts as GATE differentiated instruction, so let's make that one teacher out of five has taken one class out of four.)

Lest y'all think this instruction is new, we've been offering GATE-cluster sections for at least seven years. This is the first year that we've offered classes towards additional certification. Holding an additional certification allows the teacher to apply for a stipend on their yearly paycheck, which is the carrot for getting them to attend classes.

And, since I now know that Neo was placed in a GATE cluster, I also now know, looking at the staffing ratios, that in at least three out of her five classes, there are three to four more students who are as bored as she is.

Ye gods, what sort of a system is this?

The VP is meeting with the Director of Curriculum and Instruction on Monday to address the teachers' claims that they don't know how to teach the curriculum in any greater depth. Then he's meeting back with the teachers, along with the Director of C&I later in the week. If necessary, we'll need to set up a Section 504 plan for Neo which would allow her to learn on Independent Study until such time as ALL her teachers have ALL their classes under their belts.

And I have a lengthy IEP meeting for Saul on Wednesday to prepare for.

And then there's always laundry. And dishes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A working relationship

I have to go back to yesterday's post and the comments there.

Anonymous says:

I'm a teacher who found your site through educational blog rings about a year ago. I read because I appreciate hearing the perspectives of a Board member, and, more importantly, those of a parent with a special needs child. At times, however, it also demonstrates a pattern of dealing with educational conflict that I find can often cause more harm than good.

This post certainly describes a teacher who made a bone-headed decision that put Neo in an uncomfortable and unfair position. I don't defend the teacher's actions one bit.

But I do wish you would reconsider your approach to situations such as this one. Certainly call the teacher. Certainly express your disapproval and concern. But please also ask her for any further information that you may not have (I'm not sure what it might be in this case, honestly, but should always be asked as a sign of good faith), and give her a chance to work through the matter with you personally before you call a VP. Not because I don't want her to "get in trouble," but because she is an adult, and she deserves for you to express your displeasure to her personally. It's a far more effective and professional first step to take. If it's not solved at that level, then I'd be the first one to call a VP at that point. But everyone makes a bone-headed mistake. Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours.

Best of luck resolving this situation. I hope it is addressed successfully for all parties involved.

October 09, 2007 8:13 PM

To which I replied:

Suisan said...
Thanks, but I have to call the VP to find out who the sub WAS on that day.

And the VP is the only person at that school who is actively looking out for my kid, Board member status be damned. He was the one who set up the SST meeting for her at the start of the year, he's the one who checks up on her at lunch to make sure she's OK. I'm calling the VP.

In most situations, I'd email the teacher first, ask for her phone number, and talk to her. But, I'm sorry if you don't want to hear this, this situation pissed me off, and I am going straight to the VP with it. The teacher will simply have to deal with hurt feelings and be a professional in his/her job.

I'm pretty much done with teachers and staff refusing to accept criticism by saying, "But I have feelings too and you should have helped me lick my wounds." The VP is her supervisor, and that's who I would report a rude store clerk to, the manager. I wouldn't try to chase the clerk down and get her to express her side of the story.

Man. I wish teaching wasn't all about the emotions of the adults. Because the kids have emotions too, and the adults who complain about hurt feelings are at the very bottom of my list of worries.


And if you really think that EVERY conversation I have with EVERY teacher on EVERY topic is spelled out here, you are very mistaken. I send flowers to teachers, I give them hugs, and say great things about them in front of other parents. I nudge them towards getting better training, and I let them know what the larger public thinks of their efforts, good and bad. But I don't chronicle that here. Sorry if you thought I did.

Sometimes someone does something so boneheaded that they truly deserve to get their feelings hurt.

Signed, an angry parent and a frustrated to hell and back Board Member.

OK, here's the thing that sent me over the edge, just so you all don't think that I'm some sort of raving lunatic. Perhaps it will better explain why parents get so easily frustrated with teachers, since I'm going to assume that very few of you out there are Board Members who get complaints from parents about teachers, and who have had to navigate this particular quagmire.

My child's teacher is a professional.

My child's teacher sees my child for more hours of the day than I do.

My child's teacher is an employee of a professional organization.

As a parent who is concerned for her child's well being, I expect the teacher to act with the utmost professionalism at all times. Most of what Anonymous said about solving it at the one to one level makes some sense, but on the other hand, Anonymous said, "Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours."

This is the attitude, this one right there in that sick purple color that drives me right over the edge. This teacher is not my friend, nor is she my family. Because you hang out with my kid does not make us friends, and I'm not taking her out to coffee to patch something up.

How exactly is the teacher going to work out a solution with ME? I'm not the one she pulled to the front of the class. Do I want her to come back into class, put more attention on my child, and explain that it was a mistake? No. Do I want her to apologize to my kid? Maybe, but Neo never wants to look in her face again. I want her to recognize from someone in authority that if she ever does that again, she could seriously jeopardize the integrity and reputation of the District, if not her own teaching abilities. It's racist. It's stupid. And I shouldn't have to explain this to her.

Maybe she could have told me over coffee that she was planning to use my daughter as a class example, and then I could have told her that it was a stupid idea, not to mention some sort of racial profiling. But she doesn't treat me as a friend, letting me poke around in her lesson plan, and I would be shocked if she did so. She has a job to do. In her job, she has a boss. Her boss evaluates her, keeps her on target, and corrects her when she's drifting off course. As I said in the comment, if I ran into a store clerk who said something odd, I wouldn't follow the store clerk and get her side. If a more professional person made an error, perhaps a lawyer or a nurse, I wouldn't necessarily take it up with them either, if they worked for a large company. I'd report what I experienced to that person's supervisor.

A doctor or a lawyer who is self-employed, well, that's an entirely different story. That's more like a marriage.

Teachers are perhaps the most emotional people I have ever encountered in a place of business. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it is all so very inappropriate. As a rule, teachers do not like to think of themselves as employees in a large corporation. Teachers, as a rule, do not like that they get evaluated. They do not believe that principals, former teachers, should have the ability or the right to tell them that what they are doing in class is on-task or appropriate.

The back side of that is that it is very, very, very hard to dig a bad teacher out of the system. Not an abusive one, or an aggressive one, just a bleh, lazy one. The evaluations generally are not particularly honest or in-depth, because an honest evaluation is usually met with great lumpy tears and exclamations that feelings were hurt.

I am coming to the end of my term as a District leader. Soon I will just be an obnoxious parent. If you want to know why parents get their backs up, it is because of experiences like mine, where I have bent over backwards to make myself available to my children's teachers, asking them to call if they have any questions, setting up informal and formal meetings, and the teachers don't really WANT to be all that communicative. Then I'm supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt and not report a problem, a problem which could be repeated on other children can cause everybody a lot of angst, because I'm supposed to project onto the teacher how I would want my family to be treated.

My family understands that mistakes are made and that they answer to their employers. A good working relationship with their employers is a primary concern, not hurt feelings because someone caught you out making a mistake.

Damn, that touched a nerve.

Need Coffee

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

You MUST be Muslim with hair like that!

When the teachers are more stupid than the kids you really have to wonder about the educational system.

My last name is my husband's, and although it's Lithuanian, it sounds vaguely Turkish. (Ends with a J-A-N, which is often a Turkish form of the Armenian ending of I-A-N.) Total coincidence that this name sounds so Middle Eastern -- he could have just as easily been named something that sounds Polish. Most Americans recognize Polish names as belonging to either Catholic or Jewish families. But this name's just odd.

My first name is Persian. I was named for a Persian fairy-tale character.

Neo's first name is Armenian. She was named to honor my grandfather's relatives and my aunt.

When you see Neo's name on paper, and you see her dark eyes, thick eyebrows, and dark wavy hair, it is easy to see that she has some Middle Eastern heritage in her somewhere. But here's the thing. My father's family has a lot of Italian blood, and her last name is from a family of Lithuanian Jews, and her father has thick, dark wavy hair. So really, in the American melting pot, she could be anything.

The seventh grade History class is studying the Five Pillars of Islam. At the very beginning of the unit, before the class has started reading the textbook, the teacher calls Neo and one other girl (whose father is Saudi) up to the front of the class. "Now then. Tell us something about Islam."

Poor Neo.

This is a kid that HATES being made the center of attention in a classroom, and now she's being asked about ISLAM? WTF?

She told me in the car later, yelling in frustration, "I didn't know what to say! I couldn't embarrass the teacher, but I mean really! Papa Arthur left the Middle East because he was CHRISTIAN! Armenians aren't MUSLIM! Your whole family is Christian. I don't even know much about Christianity. Forget Islam, I hardly know anything about religion as it is! What the hell was I supposed to do?"

Actually, that was all really well said. There's a part of me that wishes she had said such a thing to the teacher, but I think you have to have left Middle School before you can successfully turn into a brat.

Then there's the awful racist part of it all. Do we ask black kids to come to the front of the class, unprepared, and ask them about slavery? Or about Voodoo? Or Santeria? Good God, that would be decried on the national media. This smacks of: "Look class. We have a strange being in our midst. It may very well be a turban head. Let's ask them about the Muslim religion. Because it's all so Different and Odd and Weird."

The POINT of having a unit on Islam is so that children will come to recognize that there ARE other religions and cultures in WORLD HISTORY. Is this not obvious? Even I can see this. Are the Chinese kids going to be called to the front of the class and be asked to explain Taoism? Wouldn't you be assuming an awful lot to think that all American children with "Far Eastern" heritages all practice one religion?

So now I have to call the teacher, and this one's a sub, so she's going to be hard to track down, and call the VP, etc., etc., etc.

I'm thinking that the teachers responsible for the World History curriculum need a little more training.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tears and laughter

My life sucks right now.

I could go into detail, but it would be repetitive and boring, nothing you haven't heard before, so just take my word for it.

In other news, I got an email today from a friend, laden with nasty language and statements that would curl the hair of some of my day-today friends, which is so goddamned funny that I laugh every time I read it. It's now folded up into a little square in my back pocket so that I can have it close by while I navigate my sure-to-be-frustrating day. I must have read it twelve times already and it still makes me laugh.

Humor, dark, nasty and twisted humor, is a beautiful thing.