A Day in the World of Special Education

Thoughts and Reflections of a Teacher

In Need Of Peace

November16

                   

I am more concerned with the behavior and attitudes of some of my students than I have ever been.  I know there are good days and bad days and I  usually don’t have too much of a problem letting go of the bad ones.  Recently, letting go has been very difficult.  Maybe it is because we used to have a bad day here and there and starting with a clean slate the next day was never a problem.  It is now.

All of my students are here for a reason and I have always taken that into consideration.  Until this past week I have never sent my students to ISS or had them moved to another location because of their behavior.  I am not saying I am a great teacher with perfect classroom management.  I have just been lucky.   I have always made the choice to deal with behaviors issues on my own, in our classroom.  Until this past week when the safety of my students, my classroom aide and myself have been put in jepoardy. 

Bullying has been escalating in our classroom.  I have two students that constantly pick on the weaker students in the class.  They know what upsets these students and they know how to upset them.  These students have been stripped from privilges and they do get upset about it, but their behaviors are still escalating.  Last week everything came full circle and it was not a pretty circle. 

One student that has severe anger issues was being picked on.  He was upset because two students (the bullies I spoke of above) were being extremely disruptive during a Smartboard lesson.  One student was moved to the other side of the room and given an assigment from the textbook in place of the Smartboard lesson.  He was working one on one with the classroom aide but still did what he could to ruin the activity the rest of the class was doing.  The other student was feeding off of him and being just as disruptive and disrespectful.  He started making fun of the student with anger issues for not understanding something and kept making fun of him by telling him how “stupid” he was and what a “retard” he is. 

I decided to quit the lesson and give everyone a textbook as an alternative assignment.  I figured I would retry the lesson after lunch if everyone had calmed down.  The two students kept harassing the other students that were just trying to finish their work.  They were insubordinate and refused to do what they were asked to do.  They were angry with me for stopping the Smartboard lesson.  I told them I did not stop it, they did.  It was their choice to do the textbook assignment.  They all know what is expected of them and what the consequences are.  When I told them they could not eat lunch until they had completed the first half of their textbook assignment, the two disruptive students became unbearable.  They threw pencils and papers, swore at me and told me that was I was doing is “illegal and I should be fired.”  This went on and on and on until the one student that was made fun of earlier finally opened his mouth and said, “Shut up you guys, just do what she asked.”  Then all hell broke loose.  They really started picking on him by making fun of him for having to use his fingers to add and subtract, not being able to do pull-ups in gym, and for living in a trailer.  My heart was breaking.  This student really ignored it for as long as he could and then just fell apart.  I even let the students that were behaving outside so they did not have to be exposed to the other two, but the separation was not enough.  The student being teased lost it and retaliated by stating he was going to bring a knife to school and stab one of the students.  He kept giving them the finger and swearing at them.  After this another student became involved and it was three against one.  I had one student removed from the situation and I immediately separated all of their desks in separate corners of the room with their backs to each other.  It didn’t end though.  It went on and on until the student that was being bullied got taken out of the room becuase he was making verbal threats to kill other students.  This is not the first time this student has made threats like this.  He has stated that he wants to kill other students and our classroom aide.  This student spent the next day in ISS and the other three spent the following day in ISS. 

I was hoping for peace by Monday, but I don’t think I am going to get it.  The student making the verbal threats came back to class on Friday and was in a great mood.  He was doing great with his work until he had just one section of social studies left.  He said it was too hard.  I helped him with two and asked him to do the final four on his own.  He immediatly blew up and his behavior escalated to a point of him having to be restrained and almost taken away in an ambulance. 

I have so many concerns with these students’  behaviors and the complete lack of emapathy, sympathy, remorse and respect.  Nothing seems to bother them unless they are losing out on something.  Other people suffering is a joke to them.  For example, we were discussing 9/11 and the thought of burning bodies jumping from the towers was funny to them.  The thought of dead bodies floating in the water after hurricane Katrina was hysterical.  The teacher in the ISS room came to me on Friday and said she is very concerned about their lack of empathy.  She showed them a Dr. Phil video on bullying and they thought that people getting bullied was funny and made fun of them. 

I don’t know how to make all of this right.  I feel so bad for the two students I have that want to learn and want peace in the room.  I have taken on a “zero tolerance” attitude about all of this.  There is a desk in the little hallway outside of my room and one statement of disrespect toward anyone or anything lands them a seat out there until they make the choice to return with a better attitude.  I want to spend more time focusing on the students that want to take advantage of Smartboard lessons, iPods, art and cooking.  We could have such a fun room and I am so exhausted on trying to convert the ones that just don’t care right now.  I know they need the structure and I have tried to give it, but things just aren’t cohesive in our room right now.

What is the solution?  I have tried to motivate these students 100 different ways.  I know that things going on at home are a huge contributer and that is why I think a structured, yet fun learning environment is imparative, but it’s just not working out right now.  Should I keep them all separated in the classroom?  Our room was centered around the Smartboard, but they are ready to kill each other.  How will I ever get back what we had?

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Presidential Confusion

November10

                                         

At the beginning of the year, I had some students that had no idea who the President was.  The ones that did know had no idea what a term was let alone that his second term was coming to an end.  Some of them did not understand that he was the President of the United States because they don’t really know the difference between a state and a country.  I knew I had some work to do.

We began the year by learning about who the President was, what his role is, and the key issues America is facing today.  Then we talked about both presidential candidates and VP candidates.  We even learned about democrats and republicans. We had so much fun diving into the key issues of the war, the economy, health care, education, etc.  The students had no idea how many of these issues directly related to them and their families.  They would talk about family members losing jobs, their mom not having health insurance, their parents’ complaining about high taxes, etc. 

By directly relating these issues to them, I had wonderful results.  By the time election day came, all of my students could name the presidential and vice presidential candidates, what party they were running for and where they stood on key issues.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  They were so excited when they got to school on Wednesday.  Some of them knew who won and those who didn’t came running in asking, “Who won?  Let me see the newspaper!  Can I turn on the news?”  Those questions I could have only dreamt of them asking me!  As a bonus, a student asked about the electoral college so I took advantage of this teachable moment and explained it.  They really grasped it.  I was so happy and so proud of them! 

I have to give kudos to Scholastic News.  I used a lot of their magazines and resources to explain all of this to them.  Our Speech Therapist has suggested taking things to the next level by having the students keep up on current events to see if Barack Obama is going to make all the changes he said he would. 

I am so proud of them…

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It’s Not Always a Behavior Issue…

October27

Last week I was having some behavior problems with a student.  He had been off his meds for over a month and was having an extremely difficult time focusing.  This is a student who is at a 6th/7th grade math level and last week he could not solve a simple subtraction problem to save his life.  I do newspaper activities with my students on a daily basis because I feel it is important for them know what is going on outside their “world.”  On Friday, I gave them a newspaper scavenger hunt.  One of the tasks was to find an interesting article and find the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where & why).  They were typed out just like that in parenthesis.  We work on the 5 Ws in just about every subject so they know the drill.  My student with behavior issues was refusing to do this problem.  He said, “This is so stupid and I can’t even believe you asked us to do this.  Why would you make us do something so pointless?  This is such a waste of our time!”  I went through the normal routine of following directions and the consequences if he decided to continue his behavior.  Usually he will calm down and just continue his work.  He would not let this go.  He kept complaining and was so angry with me.  This went on for almost 20 minutes.  Finally I said to him, “I don’t understand why you are so upset about this.  I ask you to find this information all the time.  Whenever you pick an article to share with the class you have to tell us who it is about, what happened, when it happened, where it happened and why happened.  This is the same thing.  It is no different than what you do everyday.”  He just looked at me and started laughing.  He said, “I am so stupid!  I thought I was supposed to look for the WORDS who, what, when, where and why in the article!”  I made sure he knew that he was not stupid at all and it was so wrong of me to not explain things better. 

I felt horrible after this situation.  I just assumed he was giving me a hard time when really he just didn’t understand what he was supposed to do.  Even though this is something he did everyday, he was doing it in a different activity.  He just couldn’t make the connection.  This just goes to show that we cannot just assume they know things.  I just figured that since they did it everyday, they would automatically know what to do.  I didn’t take into account that the activity was different than usual and he was having such a difficult time focusing.   We cannot always assume the problem is behavior related.  My ignorance caused him to become frustrated, which casued the behaviors.  I don’t blame him for not wanting to look for words in an article.  He is right, that would have been a waste of time and he knows I would not ask that of him (unless they were vocabulary words or something like that).

So, my lesson from this experience has forced me to do some things that I should be doing naturally.  I have to ALWAYS check for understanding, no matter how simple I think the task may be, and I have cannot assume they are giving me a hard time for the heck of it!  I have to get to the root of the problem causing the behavior.  Most of the time, there is a direct correlation between behavior and being confused and frustrated about school work.

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A lot To Think About

October5

I haven’t posted in a few weeks and a lot has happened since then.  I have decisions to make about how I run my classroom.  It has been a busy few weeks.  We have had our ups and downs as any class does.  The Smartboard has been fun, yet a problem at the same time.  Our new Science and Social Studies curriculum is exciting, yet somewhat of a problem.  The main issues seem to lie in all of the technology that is being offered to my students.  They have a Smartboard, interactive textbooks, demos, and labs for Science, and interactive textbooks for Social Studies as well.  They also are able to utilize an iPod.  I feel that my students are very lucky to have all of this at there disposal.  However, all of the technology seems to be more of a distraction.  I am thinking this will all wear off and they will eventually settle down once the initial excitement wears off.  Of course I want them to stay excited, but I want them to learn also!

Here are some examples of the distractions.  When we use the Smartboard, they are so consumed over who gets to click next or write on the board that they are not comprehending anything we are doing.  Then, when they write on it, they keep changing the colors, making mistakes on purpose so they can erase, etc.  A lesson that should take 20 minutes turns into 45 minutes.  I know it is exciting and fun for them, but it is frustrating for me. 

With the interactive textbooks, they are able to use the computers or Smartboard to listen to a shortened version of the section of their books and are able to do interactive activities.  I would have given anything for this when I was in school!  If I give them the independence to do this on their own with me walking around checking on them, they will skip ahead or say they did it when they did not. 

Whole group instruction has been a disaster.  They are staring off in outerspace and the only time they pay attention is if they are up at the Smartboard.  Not to mention my two “angels” that I mentioned in a previous post have SERIOUS problems during whole group instruction and have the ability to ruin things for everyone.

I am just frustrated because I am so excited about all of this technology and I know that they can really benefit from it if they give it a chance.  I know the problem does not lie in the technology itself, but on my classroom management.  I have to admit that this is the most challenged I have been in  a while.  I have had students with much worse behavior and have dealt with it fine.  My classroom is by no means a disaster and things usually run smoothly, however, I just know what they are capable of.  I feel that they are taking so many things for granted.  I am ready to just give them worksheets and use the textbooks for a week to show them the difference.  They are in this setting because textbooks and worksheets did not work for them.  I am trying to offer them something fun and creative but they just don’t seem to care. 

I remember a workshop I went to about 4 yrs. ago about middle school behavior and academics.  The speaker told us that students in middle school are so wrapped up in their hormones and social life that everything just goes in one ear and out the other.  As I think back to my middle school years, I remember all of my friends, boyfriends & what I did outside of school, but I can only remember one of my teachers.  I think I remember him because he had this enormous paddle that had holes in it with a lot of decorations on it. Maybe there is some truth to it.  I remember a lot of my elementary teachers and most of my high school teachers as well as what I learned and what classes I took.  Middle school – nothing.  Not only are my boys teenagers, most of them come from broken homes with parents that don’t have much time to spend with them.  This is not true for all of them, but most of them.  They are dealing  with so much outside of school that they have a lot of trouble trying to focus or remember what they are supposed to be doing in school.

So, my questions that I have to answer are these: Do I keep things as is and hope the initial excitement wears off so they can start to focus?  Do I get rid of whole group instruction all together? I do more individual than whole group, but I do enjoy doings things with the entire class.  Do I take away all the fun stuff for a week so that maybe they will see how good they have it?  I would appreciate any comments and suggestions :0

 

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T.G.I.F

September19

                                                               

I am so glad this week is over.  It was so difficult to stick with the consequences in the classroom today.  They were all so disappointed that I did not get them their usual Friday afternoon movie and popcorn.  They couldn’t believe it.  We took some time this morning going over all the fun things we could be doing this year.  Then we brainstormed all of the boring and not so fun things.  Then we discussed which behaviors needed to be addressed and worked on.  Of course we did it all on the Smartboard 🙂 They were pretty well behaved today.  I know that there are so many behaviors that might irritate me, but I can get past those as long as they can be ignored by the other students.  I am all for picking my battles with these guys. 

The Smartboard has been so much fun for all of us so far.  Once we get past the, “I want to click next! I want to write it down!  I want to highlight that sentence!” phase, things will be better.  I give them some time at the end of everyday to just mess around with it and play with it.  This seems get things out of their systems so that when we do a lesson, they are not all fighting over who clicks, writes, or underlines next.

Even though I have a lot of paperwork to do, I am looking forward to my weekend 🙂

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Angels Apart

September17

                                 Raphael's Angels

I have had somewhat of an exhausting week and it is only Wednesday morning.  Does anyone else believe in the full moon theory?  I know how lucky I am to have the students that are in my class this year.  They are easy to work with and follow the rules and routine most of the time.  It has been fun teaching the core subjects because they are actually interested.

So, how has my week been exhausting so far?  Well, I have two students that continually  “feed” off each other by arguing, tweaking, and instigating other students, and arguing with each other.  Sometimes they are sneaky about it and other times they are very open about it.  I guess it depends on if they just want to be entertained by a reaction from other students or attention from the adults.  However, when they are apart (one is absent or the other one decides to ignore the other) they are angels and two of my best students.

I have always been able to allow my students leisure time when they are finished early with an activity or assignment.  They are allowed to read, draw, play a math or word game on the computer, etc. Most activities are educational in nature, but to them it’s free time so they don’t complain.  I have found that with the current situation, I have just had to keep them as busy as possible.  There really isn’t much down time in between transitions and they have noticed.  “Ms. Monaco, why are we working so much?  Can we read? Can we draw? Can we play a game on the computer? ” They all get time at the end of the day for computer or just to socialize as long as they haven’t lost any time.  So they good students still get rewarded. 

So I guess I am just tired because keeping them busy and trying to ignore my two “angels” takes a mental and physical toll.  I have to give kudos to my other students because they have done a great job at ignoring the “angels” also.  They really are running out fuel when they don’t have an audience and so many activities to do.  They are changing slowly, but these things take time I guess. 

I would appeciate anyone’s suggestions 🙂

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Eight Days A Week…

September11

If only I could have just one more day!  It’s all I need.  Of course I would have to be in room with no windows or any other distractions, but at this point I could deal with that.  I don’t know if I just need more experience of being a mother of a toddler and a Special Ed teacher that teaches all the core subjects, or if maybe a lot of people go through this too.  Time management. Two words that mean so much. 

Every year I try and set a goal for myself as a teacher.  Well, this year it is effective time management.  I need to be able to get paperwork done, make sure I deliver my students information in a creative way so they don’t nod off, take care of personal issues like errands, groceries, Dr. Appts., etc. and still have time to spend with my son (oh, I would also like to be able to do all of this and get to bed before 3 AM).

The work day is just filled up.  I have to remember to let myself and the students breathe sometimes!  WIth all of their services, pool, gym and lunch, it is hard to get everything in.  All of these things are crucial towards their education and they need it.  Well, maybe they could skip lunch for a Social Studies lesson…

I am happy that I have such well-behaved students because it makes things flow so much easier.  They have been doing well so far.  I do believe that having them make up the rules and consequences made a huge difference.  I know that classroom management is the key to a successful learning environment.  This definitely helps out with time management because I can spend time doing what needs to be done with them instead of addressing behavioral problems all day.

Well, I am going to go and make myself a list of things I need to do for the rest of the week.  I hope I follow it 🙂

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Opening Week

September7

Okay, I know I planned on updating this everyday in order to force myself to reflect, but the first week is just so busy!  I am so pleased with the opening week of the new school year.  I have the same students with one new addition who fits in perfectly. 

The week began with so much excitement, especially over the Smart Board.  The students cannot wait to see it in action and use it.  I centered my classroom around it so as soon as it is all hooked up, it will be getting quite a bit of use. 

We made our rules and consequences together.  I am a strong believer that students need to take as much ownership in the classroom as possible.  They actually surprised me with the consequences.  They were tough on themselves!  That’s fine with me. 

I am looking forward to utilizing our new Science and American History text books.  I know that many of the students are a bit apprehensive about the texts, but we have been doing book walks and book scavenger hunts and they seem to be warming up to them.  What I did showcase was all of the supplemental “stuff” that comes with the texts. 

My challenges are the same as always: keep reflecting, keep up with paperwork, be consistent and flexible at the same time, and make learning fun.  I feel such a huge responsibility with my students.  I want to offer them the best because that is what they deserve. 

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Final Countdown!

August25

Well, there is only one more week of vacation left.  After working this summer, I was worried that I would not have the usual motivation and excitement for a new school year.  I was so wrong to be concerned.  I am revisiting my sleepless nights due to ideas and anticipation swimming around in my head. 

I love the beginning of the school year for so many reasons.  Teachers, administrators, staff, and students are filled with excitement (well, most of them anyway).  The beginning of the year is so fresh and new, even if you work with the same people and the same students (as some of us do in special education).  The last few weeks of summer always leaves me restless from all the ideas I have popping into my head at  the most inconvenient moments.  Someone once told me that you know you’re a teacher when you walk through a store or virtually anywhere and you see something that would would work in your lesson plans or your classroom.  I actually have started carrying a little notepad with me for this reason.  By the time I am finished, I usually forget what I went for in the first place, so now grocery lists are a must. 

I am so lucky where I work (E2CC BOCES) because I have so many resources.  Technology is is strongly supported by administration, which brings so much creativity to teaching and learning.  This year I am getting a Smartboard, which my students will devour!  I am so anxious to use it because I enjoy making learning tangible and fun.  I have so many ideas for the iPods we received last year!  I am learning so much and it’s great that the students get to learn along side of their teacher. 

I hope to use this blog to reflect daily upon my techniques, my triumphs, my students, my good days, my not-so-good days and whatever else pops into my head at 2:30 pm.  I am really looking forward to this new year, but I will admit that I read today that we are in for a rough winter and I got a twinge of excitement thinking about snow days…

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Last Week of Summer School!

August11

This was my first summer working in about 7 years.  I became a teacher for many reasons, but I must say that weekends, holidays, and summers off were definitely the perks I was looking forward to.  However, financial reasons led me to work this summer.  As much as I was dreading leaving my two-year old everyday over the summer, I actually enjoyed working.  Six weeks really isn’t much time and it went by very fast.  I was lucky to have the same students, with one new addition.  The summer school program is definitely more laid back and I wonder how difficult it is going to be to get back into the full swing of things in three weeks. 

As a special education teacher, I recommended that all my students attend summer school to maintain academic and social skills.  I was shocked to see that two of my students decided not to attend. There were also two more students that showed up maybe once or twice a week. I guess it would be more appropriate to say that the parents also decided for them not to attend.   I had two that were dedicated and attended almost everyday.  Of course these two were the ones that needed it the least.  I understand that summer is a time to relax and have fun, but these students were encouraged to attend for a reason.  Sometimes it is extremely difficult to undo the regression that occurs with missing so much school.  Behavior is the main issue.  Learning cannot take place if behavior is not under control.  Some students need summer school to maintain their daily routine and behavior plans. 

While I believe that we all need a break, it is crucial for some of these students to attend the extended school year program.  While I am excited that it is that last week of summer school, I approach the new school year with both excitement and caution.

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