Transitions

February 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

Transitions happen yearly for most students as they progress from one grade to the next but major transitions only happen three or four times in public education. Right now we are preparing for my daughter to transition to middle school. She has been at her current school since the age of 3! She went for her first school evaluations at close to 2.5 years old. So as you can see a transition to a new school is MAJOR!

I have NO FEAR!
Ha!
I am as surprised to say that as you are to hear it! I am looking forward to a fresh start for her. The past 7 years have had good times and bad! I am still grateful daily for the rock star preschool teacher my daughter had who was always honest, never judged and made it nearly impossible for anyone to fill her shoes! We have had quite a few exceptional teachers since then. Did I mention she did first grade twice – so yeah we’ve stayed at this school a long time. Although we had those exceptional teachers we have had the weight of her diagnosis and a dense IEP following her grade to grade, along with a one to one aide and a zillion accommodations – teachers must get a little sick when they find our my daughter is on their case load.

What’s different about middle school is that I am ready. I know how to start things off right this time. I know I need to ask for a lot of meetings before hand and make sure the staff is educated about her diagnosis before she arrives. I know what up I’m up against in terms of the administration and I finally am receiving outside support to help with all of this.

What is frustrating as I have said in past posts is when we leave it to the next teacher to gather the information on their own and so much gets lost in the transition and in translation. Teachers need to assist in advocating for students as they move from one grade to the next but the truth is so much gets lost in the shuffle. At the end of the year each teacher is swamped with work and information and at the start of a new school year every teacher is totally overwhelmed. We listen to past teachers and we read IEPs and prepare for accommodations and modifications but it still takes a while to get to know a student and truly understand their needs. I have a fantastic idea about how to make this process smoother and I need some time to execute it but when I do I will share it!

For now I am urging teachers to spend more time on transitions and advocate for their students moving on and off their case load. I urge parents to spend the extra time to sit down with the team and discuss in an explicit way about who your kid is and what you see as the big picture for them, what’s important and what you would wish the team would just let go of. Communication is essential and as parents we may end up getting dubbed “a squeaky wheel” but we all know what happens to a squeaky wheel don’t we 🙂

Marriage

February 27, 2014 § 5 Comments

So I have to talk about this because it’s been eating away at me. I have mentioned in previous posts that having a child with needs affects the entire family. What I haven’t particularly discussed is how it affects a marriage.

When I became a special educator and worked with very involved children I learned the staggering statistic that 80% of marriages with special needs children end in divorce. It seemed true based on my student population at the time. ( I have no idea if this statistic is still valid.)

Years later my daughter was diagnosed and this statistic rattled around in my brain. The diagnosis was so emotionally overwhelming. It was then I made sure my husband and I entered counseling to be proactive and learn coping techniques for dealing with the stress.

It was definitely the right thing to do and it really helped us start a solid foundation as we faced our “new normal.”

I’ve said before I am lucky to be part of a happy marriage. I will also tell you that the stress of the day to day school “stuff” is the hardest to deal with. A night of a hard homework assignment can cause the entire household to end up very cranky. I am assuming people experience this with a typical child as well. A call from a teacher about behavior gets everyone a bit edgy. A note home about a “bad day” can ruin dinner. The impact of these daily stressors with a child with needs are not difficult one a time but like anything else that is endured for long periods it wears you down.

On the best days we laugh about it all but those are also likely the days when we have endured so much that there is nothing left to do but throw our hands up and laugh. Ultimately we know that in the scheme of life our daughter getting another bad report card really doesn’t mean a damn thing.

In the end the advice I offer is before teachers write that note or make that phone call about our child’s imperfect behavior or lack of success remember the ripple effect it will have and think twice if it’s necessary especially if you have already sent a similar note home a thousand times. We already know and we may actually just be throwing our hands up and laughing that night!

Dads

February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dads.

Dads

February 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

successful exceptional education

Over the years my husband and I have gotten very good at managing stress and have a pretty healthy, pretty happy marriage.

I know one thing that has helped for us is a sort of division of labor – we both have our jobs. One of my major jobs in handling our daughters health care which is involved, as well as, her educational needs. In the beginning my husband would attend all the meeting and appointments but as our lives have grown busier I do it all alone. I’m not complaining – he handles other stuff alone. It’s just how it is.

When issues ramp up I miss his presence at team meetings and doctors appointments . It’s sometimes hard to process all that information alone and even harder to try to relay it all back to him.

As an educator who spends a lot of time sitting in IEP…

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Dads

February 26, 2014 § 4 Comments

Over the years my husband and I have gotten very good at managing stress and have a pretty healthy, pretty happy marriage.

I know one thing that has helped for us is a sort of division of labor – we both have our jobs. One of my major jobs in handling our daughters health care which is involved, as well as, her educational needs. In the beginning my husband would attend all the meeting and appointments but as our lives have grown busier I do it all alone. I’m not complaining – he handles other stuff alone. It’s just how it is.

When issues ramp up I miss his presence at team meetings and doctors appointments . It’s sometimes hard to process all that information alone and even harder to try to relay it all back to him.

As an educator who spends a lot of time sitting in IEP meetings I see mostly moms who show up and it’s mostly moms who do the talking. I will also tell you when a dad shows up and does the talking the energy in the meeting shifts somehow. Maybe it a male presence? Maybe we subconsciously think he’s more likely to be less emotional? Maybe it is because this student now has two people there advocating for them instead of one? Either way the presence of a dad at a meeting carries a lot of weight.

I urge parents to attend meetings and appointments together as much as possible. It’s hard in this day in age to schedule these things but showing that your child has the full support of the family behind them is so powerful.

On becoming background noise…

February 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

I wonder what it feels like to need a lot of re-direction as a student? I wonder what it feels like to have a teacher tell you to “keep your brain and body in the group” a gazillion times a day? I wonder what it feels like to hear your name repeatedly when you are being redirected often?

I was very conscious of this in my own teaching today and I felt so horrible saying the child’s name several times within one class but in the situation I was unsure how else to get this student to attend. In the moment I was caring more about this student learning the material than their self esteem or frustration level. I then noticed and stopped and let the distraction roll in and out for this student. And you know what? There was no difference – there was just less of my voice. That was better for both of us.

I have seen my daughter experience similar times. She used to come home and be so upset because she felt like she heard her name all day long .
She felt picked on.

How do we find balance in this situation? How so we meet our needs as educators in helping students meet their goals without having them feel like they are constantly in the spotlight?

We must remember as teachers that these students will likely be in special education format years and to pace ourselves towards making sure
we do not burn them out on “us”. We need to make sure that the strategies we offer don’t become background noise for them. When we do become background noise we have become ineffective. Most importantly we need to help students move away for extrinsic sources and strategies to intrinsic ones. Sometimes we may need to even let them fail.

Labels

February 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

I watched the video below today of Amiee Mullen and wow it inspired me on so many levels. I have seen her give a similar talk before(I actually believe it’s the extended version of this talk) and I was thinking about her ideas today and how they align with the idea of having to label our kids for special education.

I thoroughly understand why we have to label students, so that in the special education system there are standards. BUT I think it sucks that our children must be labeled as “disabled” in order to receive special education services. I think it’s horrible that children must fit into a category about how they are disabled whether it’s health, neurological, Autism etc.

Amiee Mullen in a different video discusses the definition of disabled through the use of synonyms. She discussed how she looked up synonyms for the word disabled and it floored her. I did the same here is what I found:

Synonyms: broken-down, confined, decrepit, disarmed, hamstrung, handicapped, helpless, hurt, incapable, infirm, laid-up, lame, maimed, out-of-action, out-of-commission, paralyzed, powerless, run-down, sidelined, stalled, weakened, worn-out, wounded, wrecked

Wow!!! Upsetting right?! I personally don’t see my daughter as any of these things, as a matter of fact, I see her as the total opposite – as discussed in the video below adversity has become her opportunity. She has learned to overcome her limitations where she can and build on her strengths, despite her public education and lack of those people who want to try to “fix what is broken”.

We need to remember our children are not disabled although the education system has labeled them this way. We need teachers to see that our child instead has opportunity to develop an ability to shine in a way that is “not standard” but likely more beautiful and worthwhile in the end than what is considered typical!

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