Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bittersweet

As the year is coming to a close, half of me is so happy to be getting ready to put this place behind me. The other half is sad to go. I have made good friends here. Miss Meanie is evil and I hope I never have to see her again, but many of my colleagues were awesome.

The kids were awesome too. Even when they were wreaking havoc.

Today I had to break the news to Persius that I won't be back next year. Persius is still upset that I haven't been able to run the academic groups since January (because I suddenly became the full time behavior teacher) and he asks me about it every time he sees me. "Miss Butterfly, I just have one question," he'll say. "When are you coming back to teach us?" Usually I've just replied, "I don't know, buddy," or "It's not up to me," because I was still holding out hope that they'd let me go back to my academic teaching duties and hire an actual behavior teacher. When I told Persius before that it wasn't up to me, he marched to the principal's office and demanded to know if he had made that decision. (He hadn't. It was Miss Meanie.)

So today I went into the academic room to get a stapler, and Persius was in there doing his reading group. When he saw me he asked me, "Will you come back and be our teacher next year?"

I'd been dreading telling him this. I sat down next to him and said, "I'm going to be teaching at a different school next year."

He jumped into my arms like a little kid and hugged me, rocking back and forth, saying, "But I don't want you to go! Why do you have to go?"

I didn't know how to explain it to him except to say, "I just have to." I tried to tell him, "But you can write me a letter if you want, and if you give it to any of the other teachers here, they can mail it to me."

"And can you come over to my house? Everyone I like is going to come over in the summer!"

I kept on telling Persius that I wouldn't be too far away, and that all the other people he liked would still be there next school year, and eventually convinced him that everything would be okay.

Tomorrow I have to tell the little kids, which should go over a little easier... they'll be sad but their attention spans are significantly shorter and they'll be more excited about summer break. I'm not even going to tell Ruddy until over the summer... he's going to be at Rec Camp with me, so that will give me some extra time to break the news to him slowly.

Which brings us to the good news... I got a new teaching job! I will be an Adaptive Classroom teacher! The elementary school I'll teach at is only a few minutes from my house. I'm so excited about it... it is a fresh new start.

I just wish I could bring Persius and Ruddy with me!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ruddy's Turn

Now that Montana and Anise are at the Therapeutic School, Ruddy is the only student who is with me full time, And when I say full time, I mean all the time. Mrs. Meanie pulled all of the assistants out of my room, which means I have to be the one to take Ruddy to recess, lunch, specials, the gen ed room, and anywhere else he may go. Ruddy has become very attached to me and hates for me to step outside of the room. When I walk across the room to get something out of the fridge, he shouts, "Miss Butterfly, where are you going?" For a few days I got him to join the reading and math groups going on in the next room, so I could get some work done testing other kids. Ruddy got bored and came back into our room, and when he saw that I wasn't there he had a conniption fit. When I got back into the room he yelled at me, "Why did you leave me? You abandoned me!"

He is very lovable, but it is also somewhat like bringing your toddler to work with you... you don't get much other work done.

Today though, Ruddy had a meltdown that rivaled the ones Anise and Montana used to have. In fact, I have my suspicions that he was actually copying some of the things Anise used to do. He was swearing a blue streak, and even called me a bitch. He even threatened to hit me with a lunch box because I wouldn't let him leave the room! "Don't make me do this! I don't want to hurt you, but I will! Just think of how much pain you'll be in!" he shouted in my face, wielding the lunch box menacingly.

People at my work say I am the best at keeping completely calm in these situations. I barely blinked, and just waited him out. Eventually he threw the lunch box in another direction, but then he climbed up on a table and found where the scissors were hidden and threatened to cut his own ear off.

Over the summer I am going to be helping to run the city's Special Recreation program. Ruddy is signed up to be there, Whenever I tell people this, they roll their eyes and say, "Just what you need, right?" But I think it will be a lot better. Special Rec is different. Its all about having fun, and we don't force the kids to do things they don't want to do. I think it will be a good thing for him. But it will probably be just as exhausting!

I am really ready for this school year to be over. Is that a negative thing to say? I'm just really looking forward to a fresh start.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mid-May Check In

When I started this blog a few months ago, I had four students, two who were with me full time and two who were with me part time. A lot has happened since then. I tried to make this group of kids into a class, but it was harder than it seemed. I thought I'd update you on them.

Montana was the first to get sent to the Therapeutic School a few towns over. From what I've heard, he is doing great there, and his behavior has improved a lot, at least in that setting. It doesn't mean that he is turning over a new leaf... Recently I had two boys added to my caseload who were coming out of the Therapeutic School. They were put straight into general ed classes, and went right back to their old behaviors. I think it is the school, and the therapeutic environment it is able to provide, that makes the biggest difference. I miss Montana a lot. The other night I had a horrible dream that he died in a plane crash. It was a stupid dream, but it haunted me for days. But I was at the Therapeutic School yesterday and heard that Montana is alive and doing well.

Anise, the original student for whom the self-contained class was developed, stuck around for a few months. But she developed habits of trashing the classroom, hitting staff, and kicking out the screen and jumping out the window so she could run away. She was the second one to be sent to the Therapeutic School. I have no part in the decision of whether to send them there... if I did, I probably would have kept Montana... but I was glad to see Anise go there. She needed way more than we could give her. She's on her first week and I've heard she loves it there.

Ruddy is still with me and is the only student in the class right now, which has created a weird dynamic between he and I. Since I only have one student, the special ed director, Miss Meanie, reassigned my assistants, which means it is just Ruddy and I most of the time. The assistants used to do a lot of work with Ruddy and go with him to music and PE and stuff, but now I have to do it. Ruddy has started to get separation anxiety about me and can't stand if I leave the room to work with any of the other kids on my caseload. He needs so much attention, it has started to feel a little like having a toddler!

Ruddy has made it to Level 4, which is the second highest level in our classroom. He did that by getting 10 cumulative days of having 90% on his point sheet. I am trying to transition him back into general education, but I worry that he won't be successful. He's been working really hard to deal with his anger. It has been quite a while since he has trashed the room. The problem is that Ruddy has trouble understanding that he has any sort of control over his behaviors. He doesn't understand cause and effect. If he gets a consequence, or if someone says "no" to something he wants, he thinks it is because the person doesn't like him. Ruddy asks for a million things per day. He wants to go for a walk, he wants a stick of gum, he wants to play with the iPad during work time, he wants to play music during reading group, he wants to drag all of the desks and chairs together and make a fort. I am pretty easy going, and many times my answer will be Yes, if it is doable. Yes, you can have a stick of gum if I can see that it helps you sit and concentrate. Yes, we can make a fort during break time if we put it back afterwards. But in a general ed class, or even a special ed class with more than one student,  all of those things wouldn't always be possible. He doesn't understand why he has to do the stupid state testing on the iPad. I try to explain to him that every kid in the state has to do it, and maybe even every kid in the country. He points to a sign he made that says "I DON'T LIKE IT WHEN PEOPLE BOSS ME AROUND!" In his mind, rules exist only to interfere with his fun, and he shouldn't have to follow them.

Persius... Persius could break my heart! Persius was one of the first kids I knew, back when I was running the academic groups. He has autism and his thinking is very black-and-white. He spends a lot of time flopping around in his chair wailing that NOTHING IS FAIR! Before I ended up as the behavior teacher, I used to let Persius come to my room and take music breaks when he was having a hard time in class. He claimed that music calmed him down, and it did seem to work. He liked this weird electronic music that you can only find on YouTube. When I'd turn it on, he'd start to dance, his pale freckled face breaking into a grin.

After my academic groups were taken from me, Persius asked me every day when I was coming back. At first I had been told that the set up was only temporary, so I would tell Persius that I would be back soon. But then "temporary" became "permanent." Every single time I see Persius he grabs my arms and begs me to come back to run his groups. I started telling him, it wasn't my decision, it was my boss's decision. So Persius marched to the principal's office and demanded to know why the principal had made me stop teaching the academic groups. The principal told him he had nothing to do with it. (That is true... it was all Miss Meanie's doing!)

Persius's regular ed teacher tells me that Persius also complains every day to her about me being gone. "You made a real difference to Persius. He really misses you," she said.

Today Persius saw me outside and came to give me a hug, saying, "If you don't at least come back to run our groups after summer vacation, my life will be ruined!":

I don't have the heart to tell him that I am not coming back at all next school year.

I've been starting job interviews already! It would be awesome if I could get a job lined up before summer vacation even starts! Wish me luck.

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."
"Ruddy..."
"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!