Monday, May 12, 2008

Life's Many Little Difficulties

As W.P. takes on the challenge of trying to resuscitate my old laptop and Supergirl Two is upstairs napping, I find myself with a little time to "talk" to you all. The house is quiet; some leftover dishes need to be put in the dishwasher and some bills need to be paid. But that can wait today. I have been good.

I'm using the old Dell laptop which I can use until mine either is repaired or I need to buy a new one. I hope he can recover my images, music and favorites, as I've amassed quite a collection; espsecially since I started the blog.

So. Work. I feel a little silly for asking you to send good wishes and prayers my way about my work situation, as I am not in danger of losing my job nor do I face any real threats there otherwise. I think you should save the energy of prayers (which I do believe in somehow) for those who really need them - people with serious illness and strife in their lives. My situation is more like one of frustration and few options for anything better. You know the old saying: The devil you know is better than the one you don't know.

Of any area of my life, I have the most difficult time writing about work here. I have drafts of at least a half-dozen posts that I started over the last weeks trying to convey to you my work difficulties. I hesitate to get too much into detail about my work and its resulting frustrations because of my paranoia that sometime, somehow, someone from my school or school community will chance upon this blog and discover that I am its author. It's not likely but also not impossible. So, names and even situations will have to be changed around to not only protect the innocent (my students and their families) but also to protect me. The other factor that keeps me from publishing any of the drafts I mention is that I have not been able to write anything that really does justice to the quiet desperation I feel about my work situation and the people with whom I work - my colleagues.

Essentially, I co-teach in what is called a multi-age classroom where children from pre-school through second grade are integrated with their special needs peers, in a public school setting. This particular classroom is unique and has many specialists from the special education department who work closely with my colleagues and me. There are also, of course, special subject teachers (art, etc.) and assorted other support personnel. This is my second school year with this school district. I hate it. If I could find a parallel alternative I would take it in a hearbeat.

I am very much at odds philosophically with certain curriculum requirements, firstly. That this school district lines right up and does the state's bidding has earned it a reputation for "excellence". That may very well be in other schools, I'm not sure, but it certainly is not the case at mine. I see so much shoddy teaching in my own classroom from my co-teachers on a daily basis, it's heartbreaking. It is also maddening. There are some days when I think to myself while driving home from that place that I can't possibly take it another day.

One of my biggest gripes is with the attitude of the specialists on what constitutes a good program for children with autism. Their ideas are not put on the table as guidelines or even suggestions, as I'm accustomed to in other schools, but are handed down almost like mandates. I tried this year, to bring to the table some of my concerns about the younger children with autism. The program does not meet their developmental needs and in essence, they are being asked to get in line, no questions asked, with their older and typical (non-special needs) peers. When I brought up my concerns, they looked at me like I had two heads, everyone went silent and one of the more outspoken of the Prima Donas, put me in my place. They know better and there is no room for compromise. That came across very clearly.

It does not matter that I have 25 plus years of experience in the field and that I've worked in a variety of classrooms where things are done differently and better. For the most part, these folks have been working in this same school district for years and years, some of them all of their careers. Many, I tell you, have never stepped foot outside of the county where they live. I would not hold that against anyone usally, but in this case their miopia is affecting the education and future of many children. Obviously my co-teachers can roll over for all of this without questioning. I've never been a person to simply accept things without questioning, so you can imagine how radical they must think I am.

To make things harder for me, my work (everyone's, really) is not valued and I have nothing even remotely like a support network there. I have, I realize, acquired a reputation for being difficult. And perhaps I have been. However, I have put my concerns and ideas out to others in a calm, professional and thoughtful way. I have no regrets about how I communicated what I had to say. Further, my philosophy on certain matters I've expressed to the team are commonly adhered to in the field of education. It's not like what I'm saying is completely radical. My suggestions have been of a scale that is doable on a daily basis. It's not like I'm some idealistic kid fresh out of college who seeks to upturn the established education system. I believe I'm just a threat to the way things are done in this school district. And now I'm paying. I've never been one of the good ol' gals but I managed to get on okay anyhow and there was always at least one person I could rant to who agreed with me.

I love my job in the sense that I know I am excellent at it and I adore the kids. But I don't know how much longer I can put up with the crap. I have few alternatives. Schools in the area are laying off teachers left and right. Going back to a private school or social service program will mean a pay cut, if I can even find a vacancy, as those other layed off teachers are going to be scrambling for jobs as well.

I keep thinking back to an incident last fall with one of the specialists I work with. As she followed me outside with a group of children, one of them, an autistic boy with a developmental level of about 2 years old ran staight for the sandbox and began to dig with a shovel. She watched him do this and turned to me and said "Sometimes you just have to let them be autistic." My expression must have gone blank as I thought to myself: A young child playing in a sandbox is "being autistic"? That's what all children are supposed to do! To me, this exemplifies the lack of understanding of what all children need and a lack of wisdom in providing them opportunies that help them grow into whole people, regardless of their disability. This lack of understanding and wisdom has me so depressed that getting ready to go work every day is a struggle.

I can't wait for summer.


  1. "let them be autistic"

    no matter what else, they are autistic but each is still unique.
    i would imagine it's a tough job getting to know each child so you can know if what they are doing at any given time is just being a child, good or bad or if whatever the activity is, might be because of being autistic. i have a couple of friends whose kids(now adults)have different things they have to deal with. some of them really terrible, yet, sometimes their actions were just being kids pushing their parents buttons like all kids do, or having a bad day or good day.
    blessings on you for the job you do. try not to burn out tho. better to work elsewhere that burn out.

  2. i am sorry- not just for you- but for the kids too. too many mediocre folks in the the teaching profession. keeping the job becomes more important than doing the job- and a whole host of other issues. i hope you don't mind but i linked to your post.

  3. My wife works with the multi-severely handicapped kids in one of our local school districts.

    Although she is classified as a teacher's assistant she runs the swim program and holds certificates in water safety and swim instruction.

    Here biggest gripe is all the back-stabbing and game playing that goes on amongst her fellow employees.

    Last fall she was forced to file a grievance against several of the teachers and their aids.

    It is the duty of those teachers and aids to bring the students already prepared for the pool and to dress them after the pool session. They were instead relying on my wife and her assistant to do it which was cutting the class time down to 10 - 15 minutes in the pool instead of the 45 minutes they are supposed to have. (These are all kids who must be undressed, suited up and then re-dressed. 5 - 8 per session.)

    She then became the object of much derision and ridicule, even though the job descriptions for those teachers and aids clearly defines that the students are to be dressed by them - not the pool personnel.

    She too has entertained the idea of looking elsewhere for employment. The kids are the only reason she remains - they are very dear to her.

  4. Sherry: Yes. My point in writing about that incident with the specialist was that children are not all about their disability. And sometimes, disablity or not, they just need to be allowed to be kids. Thank you for your support, Sherry.

    Betmo: I don't mind. Thank you. It's been a while since I've been by your blog as I've cut back my time on the computer. Thanks for your comment.

    Bluebear: Thank you so much for sharing your wife's experiences. I'm sorry she's going through that unecesarry bullshit but hearing about it made me feel a litte less alone. There is SO much backstabbing and gossip at my school. It's one of the more disheartening features of the job.
    And I hate to sound paranoid but I believe that my politics are looked down upon - my peace sign bumper sticker stands out among a bunch of star-spangled ribbons. I can't get started on that...

  5. it's ok- i have 2 blogs though- and i linked to your post here:

    the other blog is my resting place :) thank you for the link. you are in my google reader already :)

  6. I hope you stay where you are and make a difference. I know of so many good teachers who leave the profession for the corporate world; either for more money, or because they can't stand the politics. It's a real shame.

  7. So. Work. I feel a little silly for asking you to send good wishes and prayers my way about my work situation, as I am not in danger of losing my job nor do I face any real threats there otherwise. I think you should save the energy of prayers (which I do believe in somehow) for those who really need them - people with serious illness and strife in their lives. My situation is more like one of frustration and few options for anything better. You know the old saying: The devil you know is better than the one you don't know.

    I wish you luck. I don't "pray" yet the wish is as powerful. I've seen more "miracles" through the buterfly effect, or the joining of spirited desire than I've ever witnessed through "prayer". I suppose prayer is the plea, the wish, the collective yearning for peace, etc...

    So I wish you much good fortune and will continue to do so for as long as I've a breath in my body. Even if your good fortune is answered I will continue to wish that it stay with you.

    By the way...speaking of children with special needs, my neice, Amelia, is graduating from high school this May. It is an incredible feat for a girl who was not expected to live past two. She has O.I., Brittle Bones, and is the utmost joy of our family! Her spirit is the strongest I've ever witnessed. She is wheelchair mobile and even though she is severly brittle and oftentimes has to use a trachiotomy tube to maintain her breathing she makes us all or our energies pale by comparison.

    I will be creating a video of her life 0 to 18 and there will be an all day and night party at my sister's house on graduation day! If you're in the neighborhood stop by and raise a glass to this angel on wheels...


  8. I should read over my comments before I publish them! Sheesh... Spell check and editing are usually my fortes...unless I'm commenting. :>0... Shame on me for abusing your blog! :>)

  9. Yes, it sounds as if you are ready for summer break. Enjoy it...

    While your situation and your school sound impossible, it is the same story I hear from friends who teach, whether in public or private systems, and special needs or not. The more I hear, the less confidence I have about our future.

    A friend just returned from two weeks in China. Their educational systems and goals and progress have already far surpassed where we are. Sad...

  10. It makes me so sad to hear about good teachers, such as yourself, having to deal with situations like this. And it happens everywhere. My daughter started as an ESL teacher. She and several others who graduated with her were chatting one day and someone asked what each would be doing ten years hence. Every one of them said, "Well, certainly not teaching!" All had encountered similar problems with administrators and/or colleagues. It's so important for the children to have a teacher who really cares.

    You're always in my prayers. I do hope you find a way to resolve your problem.

  11. Kenju: I guess one small ripple of difference is better than none. Thank you for your support!

    PMan: Thanks for keeping me in your thoughts. I really do appreciate it. Regarding Amelia (love that name): how happy and proud you must all be. What an accomplishment for her! And leave it to you to give her the gift of that slideshow. Where's the neighborhood? :-)

    Winston & Bobbie: I know. Same ol' song and dance. And it's the good people who burn out and leave.I've hung on but I'm beginning to fade...

    Love you all,

  12. There's nothing more frustrating than to be passionate about your work in an atmosphere that doesn't appreciate your experience or your ideas. I hope you find a place that will take advantage of your passion and your knowledge.

  13. Sphinx, my son's 26 now, and was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at 14. On the one hand, so much of his schooling could have been, perhaps, enjoyable, if he'd been diagnosed earlier. On the other -- he's a fine young man and a joy to be with, and he has learned some coping strategies himself.

    You don't not get prayer because you're not in enough trouble. You get prayer anyway. God cares, and so do the rest of us. And sometimes, you do just have to leave a work situation, for your own sake. You ARE good for the children you encounter; and you won't be if you wear yourself out.

  14. Kate - I believe in early diagnosis of any condition, developmental delay or nuerological problem. It's so important. But what happens to that child beyond the diagnosis is not always in the child's best interest. Parents, who know their child best, are the ones who should be stepping up to the plate and shopping around for what they consider the best options for their child. Unfortunately, a lot of parents don't consider themselves informed enough compared to the "professionals" and leave everything up to the school.

    There are very few parents at my school who are advocating for their child's needs. It's not rocket science. If a parent learns all there is to know about their child's disability, they will be armed with the same information as the pros. When a parent knows their child well, AND understands the disability and options, they are much more affective in knowing what is right for that child.

    Thank you for your thoughtful, supportive comments. So far, I am still very good for the kids. They are my light and my joy. Really. I think that after a long summer break, I may very well feel well enough to go back in the fall - for them.

    Betmo: I tried the link but it failed. Will try again and contact you if it still doesn't work.

    P.S. Poetryman asked me if I wanted a slot on The Peace Tree. After asking a few more questions, I may very well take him up on it!

    Peace to you all,


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