Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being a special education teacher means my teaching role is different from a regular ed teacher. I've done both roles, and I know the pitfalls of both. I know that in this position, I have fewer students, fewer assignments to create and assess, and fewer parents to deal with. I know that to a regular ed teacher, looking at that huge stack of papers to correct over the weekend, my handful of students looks easy.

But let me tell you what it's like.... Every single one of "my" kids thinks I am theirs, singley, wholey and without fail. They think when they need help, are having some crisis, real or perceived, I should be THERE, NOW. My relationship with those kids is different from a typical teacher/student relationship on many levels. I am there go-to rescue person, their safety net when things are falling apart, the person they feel they can be honest and open with, the person who will go to bat for them in any class or situation. I am the one person they feel comfortable venting to, taking out their frustrations and angers on, the shoulder they want to cry on.
When a regular ed teacher has those same students in class, they may sit, quietly, complacently, pretending to work, trying hard to look like everyone else, even when they are overwhelmed. They just want to fit in. Or on the other end of the spectrum....They may be the opposite, loud, obnoxious, disruptive, trying to play the part of the class clown instead of being a 'dummy'. Either way, they don't want the 'normal' kids to realize they themselves aren't 'normal'.

But when they come to my room, it is a group of special ed labeled kids all together. One of the biggest arguments against resource room programs points out the tendency of these situations to bring out the worst in these students. They feed off each others' problems, exemplify and exaggerate their own worst traits, and just create a haven of mismatches, all thrown together, fighting for attention, wanting to just be themselves for awhile.

Just today, my third hour guided study period, a group of 11 kids, all with their own unique set of issues, was a whirlwind of chaos and confusion. One didn't want to do the assignment he needed tomplete for science, a simple look up vocab words in the glossary assignment. Another was upset at me, himself, the rest of the world because he didn't have a netbook because he intentionally destroyed his last week and needed it to do an assignment, so he kept walking out, slamming the door behind him. Then, another was mad at his sister because she took his iPod so he was in BIG TIME refusal to do anything mode. Four were trying to complete their science fair posters, but have no idea individually how to do it - no idea what a hypothesis is, variables, etc.... -demanding my constant help, even though they have not really completed a true science project to create their posters from, they all expected me to figure out how to write their hypothesis, make their graphs, etc... Another was working on a science worksheet and needed help finding answers. In the meantime, the one with the science vocab to do, is usually allowed to play games on iPad for 20 minutes but he'd taken it home over the weekend and left it, so he was upset about not having it to use. Another needed a computer to print a paper for a class, as if I am to just wave my hands and create one. Another needed to go to the library but mostly just wanted to wander. The poster kids have markers and glue and are creating major messes of paper and stickiness everywhere. And thank goodness, one was absent.... but it was still a typical hour of chaos and some productiveness, but where I felt like I was juggling bowling balls or flaming torches. trying to keep them all sort of on task, without injuring each other.

Every parent, every student, thinks THEY, THEIR child, is the most important one. I get that. I totally get that. But keep in mind, I have 16 students on my case load, another dozen or so special needs students I touch base with over the course of the day in various cotaught classes, as well as the regular ed kids in those classes who turn to me for help and support. I cannot babysit one student all day. I cannot always be there for every little crisis and event. The best I CAN do is help your child learn to be independent on their own, learn to be responsible for their own decisions and actions. I will do everything I can to help your child be successful. I will. I promise you that. But.... I am one person. Ultimately, you and your child must take some of the load on your shoulders as well.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mike needed a partner so I am sitting next to him. He keeps asking me to sniff his shirt, but there are some lines I will not cross, and sniffing students is one of them. It is blogging time in 8th grade English so if I am going to sit next to Mike, I have to blog along with him so if this entry seems a bit out of context and the norm for my posts, please just read along, laugh when appropriate and enjoy.

Poor Mike cannot get his netbook to log in for some reason. The WELCOME logo is simply spinning. I should get up and get his notebook so he can blog the old fashioned way, but watching him sit and sweat is too amusing.

Casey just got detention for talking during blogging time but she says she won't show up in Mr. Krehbiel's room before school for it. I hope she doesnt' end up getting suspended for it.

Mike's computer is still trying to log in but he needed tunes so I hooked him up to my iTunes account The Band Perry singing You Lie, which was all going well until Mike pulled too hard on his earbud cord and then the music blared for everyone to hear so now I am embarassed.

I wonder why his computer is soooooo slow today. Sometimes having netbooks is more trouble than just not having them at all. I wonder if anything is to be gained by blogging online over the good old fashioned pencil/paper method. If their blogs weren't set to private, so others could read and respond, I could see a greater value for sure, but the way it is now, I am not sold on the idea.

10 mintues is up!! bloggging done...
Our district was part of a great project that put netbooks into the hands of all students, grades 7-12. Woohoo. Great idea in theory but in reality, it has become many issues that are inhibiting teaching and learning.

For some teachers, the netbooks have not changed their teaching. Other than having students type a paper here or there, nothing innovative or engaging has been done on the netbooks.

For other teachers, they have tried to explore new ideas for effectively integrating the netbooks into their classes, using various applications or projects. The actual effectiveness of these efforts varies from teacher to teacher. Some are using wikis with great success to encourage students to communicate with each other collaboratively. Some of using interactive programs to engage students in math, social studies or science.

Some classrooms boast they are using the computers for research, but in reality, students are just cutting and pasting content from online sources without understanding reliable sources, plagiarism issues, etc...

But the most frustrating part of the program is the LACK of responsibility on the part of students to bring their netbook to school every day, charged, ready to go. A teacher that WANTS to use them effectively, who has a great plan, still finds 10% of the students without them on any given day. We've had parents take netbooks from students as a punishment. Some can be convinced to let the student bring it to school to use only for educational purposes. Others simply insist the netbook will stay at home. Wait... it is school property. Well, how do we fight THAT battle??

Students, for the most part, are usually fairly responsible about what they are doing online, but unfortunately, in many classes, students are facebooking, skyping, playing online games, etc.. instead of doing their work. Some teachers try to monitor but it becomes a constant fire fighting expedition to keep track of what every student is doing every single moment.

I love technology. I love using online experiences to engage students. I just feel a sense of waste in the amount of funding being used inappropriately, ineffectively.. right now.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I've always been a bit skeptical of online learning platforms, thinking students need the interaction with a teacher and other students to actually learn successfully a topic with the in-depth knowledge they need to retain the information and have the ability to apply it in new situations.

For a variety of reasons, I have a group of 5 students now using Compass Learning for their math instruction. These are students who have no experienced success in the regular classroom curriculum, even with a wide range of instructional strategies explored, with changes of teachers, venues, etc... So in a last ditch effort to offer them success, the decision was made to try Compass Learning. The crew was enthusiastic, at least somewhat. I think a large part of their willingness to try it was their lack of success in other attempts.

The jury is still out. We are into week 3 of the experiment. For most of them, it has become one more way to fail. Whether the material is too difficult, or they simply are reluctant to actually listen and try the lessons in the way they are intended to be used, the botttom line is - they are rushing through the instruction, taking the quizzes and failing them.

One young man needs constant help, asking about every single question, every single concept. Another clicks through, almost seeming to make it a game to see how quickly he can go through the modules.

I'm not sold on the online learning platform yet. We'll see how it goes!