Monday, April 17, 2017

Don't Know What To Say...

Last week I got called down to the principal's office.

For the record, let me tell you that in all of my jobs, I've always been a stellar worker! I've always had great reviews and I've never gotten in trouble for anything. So I wasn't that worried when I got called to the principal's office... even though he told me that he'd invited my union representative.

When I got there, I made friendly small-talk with the principal while we waited for the union rep.
As soon as the union rep got there, the principal wasted no time in telling me, "We've decided not to renew your contract for next year."

I was surprised, because my review isn't even until the middle or end of May, and that is when they usually tell you about their decisions whether to renew or not renew your contract. This was somehow different. They had all gotten together in a special meeting to talk about not renewing my contract.

I know this makes me sound like a horrible teacher. I must have done something wrong, right? My union rep reassured me that this isn't true... especially after I asked if there were any specific reasons, and the principal sort of shrugged and said, "Oh, nothing specific."

You may remember when I began this blog, I explained that I was hired as a learning support teacher. I was supposed to teach academic skills to small groups of K-3 kids with ADHD and learning disabilities. I had set up a great classroom with lots of different multisensory opportunities for learning. I was also supposed to provide behavior support, but usually in a resource setting this is pretty mild and involves things like check ins, pep talks, and helping teachers create behavior support plans for individual kids. But the reality was, the kids who needed behavior support needed a lot more than Resource. They were tearing up classrooms and frightening the gen ed teachers, left and right! Whenever a kid started flipping out, I was called to the scene. If I was in the middle of teaching an academic group, my academic kids had to be sent back to their classes, and all groups would be cancelled until the flipping out kid had settled down. They were losing their minutes but nobody seemed to care. The only advise I was given was to stop making individualized, engaging lessons, and just put them all in workbooks. This way, any random person could step in and take over... it would just be a matter of flipping to the right page and reading the script. The idea made me gag.

Then in the middle of the year, we got a new kid who required a self-contained classroom. So the special ed director... I will call her Mrs. Meanie... declared that I would now be the self-contained behavior classroom teacher. All of my academic groups would be taken over by substitute teachers, often a different teacher each day. Anise, Ruddy and Montana were dumped into my room. From this, I had to somehow create some semblance of a classroom. In the mean time, my academic kids... many of whom also have some degree of social and emotional disabilities and really struggle with changes... were being taught by a different random sub every day. I hated to go into the other classroom where they'd been sent, because they would cry and beg me to come back. And I had to tell them, "I can't."

So that is what I dealt with. I still had to write full lesson plans for each of the academic kids every day, and case manage them, while also running the behavior classroom. The principal came in and observed a few times and complained that I wasn't posting "learning targets" on the board. When I explained that I wasn't really doing any teaching anymore... the kids just worked on work sent by individual gen ed teachers... he said, "Well, there should be academic lessons going on in every classroom." Except I had been told to just give them their folders of gen ed work. So...

Anyways, I've been canned. But I still have to stay until the end of the school year and act all cheerful around the principal and Mrs. Meanie.

Plus, today they had Skipper (the kindergartner with autism) in my class all day, because he was having behavior issues in his gen ed class and the teacher was fed up. What could possibly go wrong with putting an autistic kindergartner into a 3rd-5th behavior classroom?

It actually wasn't that bad. except that Skipper, being a little guy, needs a lot more of my individual attention than the others do. He is unable to sit and work independently. This means that the others balk because they feel like they're not getting attention (I only have an assistant for part of the day) and I get ZERO work done. Even less than usual. Believe me when I tell you, I have not had a lunch break or planning time since January.

But I'm fired because I'm doing an awful job. At this.

I'm terrified I won't get another job for next school year. This could be the end for Miss Butterfly. Stay tuned...

Friday, March 31, 2017

This Is What Rage Looks Like

A few weeks ago I posted this picture as an example of what my classroom sometimes looks like after one of my kids has gotten upset. This is actually a picture of a classroom that was hit by a hurricane, but I was only halfway joking that this is what my classroom can look like.

The other day Anise (who is back from Residential, at least for a while) tore our room to shreds. She was mad because she didn't want to go back to doing work after taking a break, and because Miss Dragonfly and I were busy with other things and weren't paying attention to her. (I was working on IEPs at the computer, and Miss Dragonfly was helping one of the boys with school work.) She raged for an hour and a half. About halfway through, I took this picture to send to the special ed director to let her know exactly how the day was going. Keep in mind that this was only halfway through the destruction process!

We don't have any sort of isolation or "time out" room. They are actually becoming illegal in my state. Instead, we are supposed to do "therapeutic holds" (aka restraint) when a student is being a danger to themselves or others. Restraint is supposed to be a last resort. They can rage like this for hours and all we can do is stand by and try to say things that might deescalate them. In the meantime the other students in the class have to be taken to another classroom, and they lose their whole routine for however long it takes the upset student to calm down.

I've worked in schools with time out rooms before. The good thing about them is that, once the student is inside, he is safe. He has nobody to hurt, and nothing to hurt himself with. Plus, there is nothing stimulating to escalate him further. Usually they just end up sitting down and crying, at which point you can try to go in and sit with him, comfort him, talk him through what happened, and eventually get them back into their routine. I've rarely seen a kid alone in an isolation room for more than 10 minutes. On the other hand, I have seen students rage for up to two hours, and I have seen students need to be restrained for up to half an hour. (The teacher restraining the student will try to release the student whenever he starts to seem calm, but for some students, such as Montana when he's in a rage, as soon as they're released they turn around and start trying to hurt themselves or someone else again, and need to be restrained again.) I think isolation rooms can be much better, if they are used correctly.,, never as a punishment or consequence. But that's just my humble opinion.

Anyways, the next two days went more smoothly, partially because Anise didn't come to school. The boys played wonderfully together and got lots of work done. I got a lot of evil paperwork done as well, since Miss Dragonfly could easily handle the two of them when they were both calm. (I would much rather actually be teaching, but people keep telling me that being a special ed teacher is more about case management, which kinda makes me not want to be a special ed teacher so much.)

Ruddy has been asking to go back to his regular class. He can't yet, and he doesn't understand why. We have conversations like this:
"Why doesn't my teacher like me?"
"She does like you, Ruddy."
"Then why doesn't she want me to be in the classroom?"
"I think she's just worried because you did some unsafe things in her class, and she wants everyone to be safe."
"I am being safe."
"You're being safe right now, and we are working on being safe in the classroom, But when you were in your classroom, you were doing unsafe things."
"Wait, so my teacher thinks I'm not safe?"
"She's worried that you might do unsafe things."
"She thinks I'm not safe. That means she doesn't like me."
"This place is like jail!"

I am pretty sure someone in his family told him that he's in my classroom as a punishment, because for the first few weeks, he loved being with us! Then we had his IEP meeting, and the next day he came in all glum-faced and begging to go back to his general ed class.

Is anyone even reading this? Anyone at all???? Hellooooooooooo????????

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Can We Make This A Class?

I don't really like rows of desks, but in this case they sort of
make sense. 
I haven't written in this blog all week! I don't usually get home until after 6, and then I spend at least an hour finishing up work, and I feel bad spending additional time on the computer instead of spending it with my dog and cat. They wait patiently for me all day and when I get home I just want to play with them!

Anyways, it has been an interesting week. I got to go do an observation at the Therapeutic Day School. My main reasons for being allowed to observe there were that Montana will officially be going there starting in April, and I will also be getting two new students from there. My room has become somewhat of a holding cell for kids who are transitioning to or from the Therapeutic Day School. I'm starting to accept that for what it is, and trying to do the best that I can with it.

The TDS has a level system in which the kids get extra privileges once they are getting a certain percentage of points on their point sheets. The levels don't fluctuate from day to day like I've seen at some schools. Instead kids have to work hard over a period of time to earn their next level, and once they are there they can keep it unless their behavior starts to seriously decline. However, they can also be put on a Building Trust level, where they lose all of their privilege for a few hours or a day until they can prove to staff that they are back on track. They would get on Building Trust for things like running away from staff or trying to hurt others.

I've put together my own level system that is pretty much the same as that one, except I added my own class's special privileges. For instance at the TDS one privilege they earn is being able to wear hats on Fridays. There is not really a school rule at our school saying they can't wear hats, so this isn't something special that the kids really care about. Some of the privileges I added in were being allowed to use the iPad for their breaks, being allowed to listen to music while they do independent work,  and going to recess and "specials" without an aide.

I also ordered some desks for my classroom. Since it used to be a Learning Support room, what we had was just a bunch of tables that were used for small groups to work at. On Friday the custodian took away one of the tables and brought me four desks instead. I'm not usually a big fan of desks lined up in rows, but in this case it kind of made sense. I spaced them out with plenty of room away from each other. They looked really nice and the kids loved them.

This coming week Anise will be coming back, and Montana will still be there, so for a while I will be back to 3 kids. Plus I've got Skipper some of the time. Skipper is a kindergartner with autism who is having a really difficult time functioning in his classroom. The other day he ended up spending most of the day in my room because he was hitting other kids and "using other kids as trampolines." Not good, Skipper, not good. He's this adorable, big-eyed, shaggy haired kid who is so sweet when he's happy, but like them all, he can be a terror when he's anxious or angry. He's supposed to start coming into my room for "breaks," but I think it is as much of a break for the teacher and classmates as it is for Skipper.

I'm a little worried about this week. I would like this blog to be an inspirational story of how I pull a ragtag bunch of kids together and make them a class... but that is hard to do when they are coming and going left and right. Like I said, it is more of a holding cell. But it is what it is, right? At least this last week nobody threw any tables!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Montana Makes Me Cry

Okay, Montana didn't single-handedly break my heart. It was a little bit of everything.

Yesterday the principal said he wanted to meet with me. This is pretty normal because they meet with us randomly throughout the year for evaluations. I wasn't even worried about it. Until I got there and found out that he was giving me all 0's and 1's on my evaluation (similar to getting D's and C's on a report card) Mostly it was because he said he didn't have "evidence" of a lot of the things that teachers are evaluated on. A big reason for that is because I usually have 1 to 3 kids in my class at the time, they are usually working 1:1 with aides, and more frequently than that they are screaming and hurling furniture at the walls. I tried to explain this to the principal. It was like trying to explain something to... well, to a child who is hurling furniture at the walls. Nothing was getting through. He also complained that my room wasn't "welcoming" enough, and also that I had too many things out in the open that could be used by students as projectiles. So basically I am supposed to turn my room into an empty cell, with all the toys and books and art supplies under lock and key, while still making it look "welcoming."

I went back to my room with my proverbial tail between my legs, but I tried to get into a good state of mind because Montana and Ruddy were there, and we had an assembly to go to first thing in the morning. We try to go to those things when we can, and I'd been preparing them for over two weeks by talking about it every day during our daily Good Of The Order meetings.

The assembly went smoothly... both boys sat nicely through it. We went back to class, and started our school work. Then it was time for Montana to go to gym class. He usually looks forward to gym class, and today was no different. Miss Dragonfly always brings him to gym class and then stays with him until it is over. In the meantime, I did some one-on-one work with Ruddy.

All too soon, though, Montana burst through the door, followed closely by Miss Dragonfly. He quickly grabbed a chair and tossed it against the wall. As I hustled Ruddy into the next room with his work, Miss Dragonfly explained, "Gym class was cancelled due to the assembly."

The assembly. Of course. I hadn't put two and two together.

To make things worse, the special ed director happened to be there. She looked at me sharply and said, "He should have been told ahead of time about that."

Well, yeah... but...

Montana whipped through the room and tore it apart. He tore up books, tore the posters off the walls, tore up all of his school work, overturned every chair and table, even knocked the clock off the wall and smashed it on the leg of an overturned chair. It went on for an hour. As long as he wasn't actually injuring himself or anyone else, we had to just wait it out.

I was standing next to Miss Dragonfly and trying hard not to cry, feeling like the most awful teacher ever. I was literally holding back tears.

Of course by the end of the day things were a little better. But today Montana spent most of the day blowing up. At this point we have more broken furniture than whole furniture. Every chance she gets, the special ed director mentions what a crappy job I'm doing... no mention of the fact that I never asked to be, or claimed to be good at being, a behavior specialist.

I'm glad it is the weekend!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Montana Makes Me Smile

My "class" is back up to an entire 2 kids, at least for a while. A few weeks ago the powers that be wanted Ruddy to come in for "behavior support" 2 times during the day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It mostly consisted of Ruddy doing whatever the rest of us were doing at the time, while getting reinforced for his positive behavior. (His behavior is almost always positive in my room.) A few days later they said he was getting in trouble in the cafeteria, and they wanted him to come eat lunch in my room as well. Then they said he was having behavior problems at the end of the school day, and they wanted him to come to my room at the end of the day for a "check out" and have me walk him to his bus.

Today they were like, "By the way, Ruddy is going to be in your class all day from now on." At least for the foreseeable future, which could be anywhere from a week to the rest of the school year depending on what they decide at his upcoming IEP meeting.

I was a little irritated at first. Not because I don't like Ruddy... I do, he's a nice little guy... but because I'm starting to feel like my "class" is just a holding cell for kids they don't know what else to do with... kids who are inbetween hospitalizations, or on their way to the therapeutic school, or suspended, or whatnot. It is hard to create any semblance of order when they are bounced in and out like this!

But then the special ed director told me that Ruddy's teacher doesn't seem to like Ruddy and would prefer not to have him in her class at all. She sees no good in him and is just, like, "Get him out of here."

When I heard that, my first words were, "Then lets just keep him in here."

Of course it isn't that simple!

On another note, here's the sweet moment of the day!

On my desk is a little mailbox that I painted at the beginning of the school year. Way back then, when I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I hoped to encourage kids to write by asking them to leave me notes in the mailbox. Then life got chaotic, and I forgot about the mailbox, until today when Montana asked about it. I told him its original purpose. Montana seemed to half listen and then he wandered off. I heard him ask the aide for a piece of paper, but didn't think anything of it.

A few moments later I noticed that Montana was acting like a goof ball. He was spinning around the room, and then he was jumping up and down, and then he was hiding under the table and giggling.

"Whats up with you, Montana?" I asked him.

He giggled, "I think you have some mail!"

Sure enough, the little flag on my mailbox was up.

Inside was a folded up sheet of paper. On it, Montana had written, "Miss Butterfly you are a good techer."

My heart melted.

I kinda wish he wasn't going to the therapeutic school. My days will be easier once he goes... but I sure am going to miss him!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Students And Work Refusal

What do you do with kids who refuse to do any work? This has been a serious issue with Montana all year long. Anise too, to some extent, depending on her mood, but definitely Montana. He will flat out refuse to do work, and nothing can change his mind.

The kids are on an incentive program where they earn a token for each piece of work they do. They can trade their tokens for preferred break time choices before lunch and at the end of the day. They can also save up tokens to trade for a special activity on Fridays. 

The work isn't even terribly demanding. I try to make it fun and authentic, and gear it towards their interests. For instance, Montana and Persius hate writing, so much that just getting them to pick up a pencil can be torturous. So I helped them start their own blogs. They loved their blogs and wrote like crazy for a while... until I started trying to teach them to go back and edit their work for punctuation, capitalization, grammar, etc. Then it became work. Persius still writes in his blog and will even edit it, but Montana just spends his blogging time trying to find pictures to add to his blog, or sneakily visiting other websites. 

Sometimes I can sort of trick Montana into doing some work. Today I had a magazine article about a video game. I started reading part of it out loud in a casual, "Hey, this is interesting" type of way, and Montana came over and sat down. He listened to me read, and answered comprehension questions and everything. At the end, I pointed out that the article had a writing prompt suggesting we write about a video game we'd like to create. When I agreed to do the physical writing part as long as Montana did the thinking, he dove right into it. Afterwards I made sure to tell him he did great work, and gave him his token. 

But more frequently, he won't work. If you press him, he'll destroy the work you're trying to give him, and then move on to rip the rest of the room apart. 

I prefer to not press Montana, instead reminding him that he will earn tokens for his break time if he does some work, and that it is his choice. Then I go do something else. He will literally sit on a bean bag chair all day long, doing nothing, while loudly complaining about how bored he is. 

There are two ways of thinking about this. I tend to lean towards wanting to bring the learning to where he's at. In other words, "If Montana refuses to do this work, I need to keep trying to find something that will engage him so he can learn." However, my supervisor, the school psychologist who happens to share the room with me and tends to be somewhat of a micromanager, leans towards, "He needs to comply. Take everything away until he can comply."

I wish I knew what to do, I just read an article saying to focus your attention and efforts on the kids who are enthusiastic, and make joining in seem like the best choice. But I only have 3 kids most of the time, and with Anise away at Residential I'm down to 2! Ruddy loves to do his work and earn tokens, and even asks to do extra work during his breaks in order to earn more tokens. Unfortunately Montana could care less what Ruddy is doing, and would probably rather do the opposite.

So, any advice? What would you do for a kid like Montana?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just When I Was Getting Used To It

This classroom was actually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina...
but it is similar to how my classroom has looked a few times
after Montana and Anise ripped through it. 
Just yesterday I was thinking to myself that I was getting used to this job. I was starting to accept the things I cannot change... that I am now the Behavior Room teacher and not the Resource teacher. Our days had started to take on a pattern, and we were becoming a real class.

Of course nothing stays the same.

Today I found out that Anise has been sent to a residential treatment center in another state, and will be gone for at least a few weeks. And in a few weeks, Montana is transferring to the Therapeutic Day School. So by this time next month my little class will not be a class anymore.

Anise and Montana are the reason we created a behavior classroom in the first place. Before, it was just the "Support Room," where kids could come to take sensory breaks and participate in social skills groups. There wasn't even a teacher...most of the kids were supervised by classroom assistants when they came. When Montana and Anise moved into the district... within days of eachother, each having moved from another state... and had each torn up their classrooms multiple times within the first few weeks... the principal decided that we needed a full-time behavior program immediately. Literally immediately, as in, "We're hiring someone else to teach Resource so you can run the new behavior program, starting tomorrow."

If you are a special ed teacher and you're thinking, "Yeah right, this can't be true... this is a fictional tale written by someone who has no idea of how special ed works!"...Yes, I know how odd it sounds. How could a principal completely change a teacher's job, in the middle of the school year, without even asking if she wanted the new position? But it happened. And after complaining loudly to the principal, vice principal, union leader, school board, superintendent of schools, and my mother, I finally gave up and decided to just go with it.

The first few weeks were rough. The support room had been designed as a sensory paradise, with a cave made out of a table, black sheets, and lots of pillows, where kids could cool off or be alone for a while, several sensory bins, dim lighting, a trampoline, an inviting reading area, a yoga ball, a tunnel, and some toys. Now all of the toys, the sensory bins, the yoga ball, and even the books, had been put in a locked file cabinet. We'd created a daily schedule and rules and an incentive system, Within those first few weeks, the trampoline had been destroyed, most of the books torn up, the tunnel smashed, and the yoga ball deflated along with my spirit.

But I grew to like the kids in spite of myself. I forgave them for destroying all of our stuff, and I bought new stuff, some of which they destroyed again but some of which they liked enough to take care of. I tried to research ways that I could teach them, ways that I could deal with their behaviors, and projects we could do as a group.

I even had moments like the few I had yesterday, where Anise and Montana meshed with each other and with the drop-in kids, used appropriate social skills, did their school work, and even seemed happy. Moments where I thought, "I kinda love this new job!"

And now Anise is gone, and Montana is going.  Weird how things turn out.