Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Talk

The Talk

You know the talk.  The one parents have with their kids about the time of  pre-adolescence.  The one about sex.  But there is another talk that parents of African American kids have that has little to do with responsibility and pleasure.   This talk has to do with self-protection and how to deal with those who have sworn to defend and protect us.
Parents of African American kids, particularly parents of boys, need to teach their children how to respond when approached, either rightly or wrongly, by a police officer.   Police officers are sworn to their duties, regardless of color, creed or national origin.  They are sworn to treat each of us with justice and fairness and to serve the public good.  Most do, but some do not.  Hence families of dark skinned children have “the talk”.  Parents try to teach their kids to be safe when confronted by those whose sworn duty it is to keep THEM safe.
But what about the rest of America’s families?   What kind of talk should they be having with their kids?  Are they off the hook because their children are not at risk from police officers?  Each of us has a duty to do something about the racism in our country.   That is not only the job of police, teachers, or clergy.  Each of us has a duty to perform.  It is not enough just to do no harm.   We need to actively teach our children that those who stand by and see or hear injustice and do nothing are helping to foster and create more injustice.
We need to actively teach all children, but particularly majority kids, to be empathic to the lives of others.   We need to actively call our children’s attention to instances when others are not be treated appropriately.   And what did you do when another child was being bullied?  What did you do when another student was mocked?  What did you do when a joke was made at the expense of someone else?  What did you do when a racist statement was made?   Did you do anything or was your contribution just to not add to the injustice?  Dante has said that the hottest circle of hell is reserved for those who are neutral.
To stand and do nothing is not enough.  Evil needs nothing more than for good people to do nothing.  Evil is like the weeds in our spring lawn.  It will spread until we actively apply the weed killer.
Every family in our country has a role to play.  Every family in our country needs to have the “talk” with the kids.  Families of African American children may talk about self-protection.  Families of ALL children need to talk about actively feeling harmed when injustice is laid on others.  We must be one nation united for everyone.   We all need to have The Talk!  And ACT

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Unions have a need to complain

 Unions always find something to complain about

In this time of distance learning, school systems are developing memoranda of understanding (MOU) to state the expectations for instructional staff in terms of time and commitment to the job.   
Teacher contracts specify the number of hours and minutes a teacher is expected to work. Yes, really, down to the minute.  This time includes time for preparation, meetings and required professional development. The memoranda are requiring many fewer hours of instruction than the contracts, some as few as 15 hours per week.   Yet the unions are not accepting of the change because the changes were not negotiated.  Translation, they didn't have to be involved.
The MOU are also delineating the required time for meetings.   Some meetings will be held online while others are being suspended altogether.  Staff meetings, department meetings and professional development meetings are generally restricted to an hour or less per week.  Unions are complaining that these meeting times are being unilaterally imposed without negotiation with the union.  They also believe they are unnecessary and should be handled through an email even though the meetings are all virtual.
Distance learning is also an issue.  Many districts do not require any live teaching with students.  Others are requiring at least 1 hour per week of live instruction.  Unions believe that these details cannot be imposed by the school district but need to be bargained with the union.
Teachers are also concerned about the use of their personal devices.  No school district requires teachers to use personal phones.   There are means to make phone calls through a Google app that preserves the privacy of the teacher’s phone.   However, some teachers are also complaining that the contract does not require that they use their own laptops or desktops for distance learning, yet they are required to do so because the school district does not provide them with technology for use at home.
Attendance taking is usually the responsibility of the teacher.   Teachers are saying they cannot take daily attendance because they do not log in with students on a daily basis. Some school districts are requiring students to log into a school system portal on a daily basis.
Contracts include VERY specific ways in which a teacher is evaluated on the quality of the teaching.   The contracts include timelines and procedures for evaluation.  Most districts have suspended teacher evaluations during the period of distance learning.  Many districts are not even evaluating teachers for disciplinary reasons.  
Teachers are demanding PD before being expected to use a specific delivery platform.  A very reasonable request, yet they are also insisting that the amount of time for professional development be severely limited.   Which is it?
Teachers are receiving full compensation and benefits during distance learning.  It would be very hard to argue that they are spending more time at their jobs than they did when they were required to be physically present in a building.  Yet unions are complaining that these memoranda of understanding were imposed without bargaining.  Given the length of time it takes for a union and a school district to hammer out an agreement, the pandemic would probably be over.   Maybe unions just need to disagree to prove why teachers need them

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

What's the rush?

What’s the Rush?

Sometimes there is a headlong rush to get out of high school.  I don’t get it.  What is the big rush?
First of all, students with disabilities have an entitlement to attend school for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) until they are 21.  In Maryland that entitlement has been extended through the school year in which a student turns 21.  So if a child has a July birthday and his/her school year starts in July or August, that student has almost another full year of entitlement.   The wonderful thing about entitlement is that a school system cannot blame lack of funding as the reason for not providing the program.
Once a student graduates with a diploma or a certificate that entitlement is done, no matter the student’s age.  The key is the document.  If a student quits school at 17 but decides that was a dumb idea and wants to return to school, she/he can do that up until 21.   So why are some families pushing the schools to give their child a diploma or certificate.   Some really dumb reasons have been advanced, such as “he is done with school”, “her cousins are graduating and they are the same age”, “he is older than his siblings, so he should graduate first.”.   These are really very short sighted reasons.  The other thing families should know is that graduation represents a change in placement.  So if a family feels it is being shoved out by the school system, a family does not need to accept that change in placement.  The law recognizes that the child will be losing services.  Appeal!
Yes there are adult services agencies out there once a student has finished high school.   Students with disabilities may be eligible for these services.  Some of the services are not available until the student is 21.  Other agencies do serve younger kids.  BUT, only as long as the money lasts.  That is the thing about eligible, there are no promises.  No promises for money and no promises that the criteria that make you eligible for the services are not going to change whereby you will no longer be eligible.  These services are usually funded by a combination of federal and state funds.  The federal fiscal year opens on October 1. It is not unusual for the money for new applicants for these services to be gone by the end of the month.   Serving continuing needs comes first.
People with disabilities are significantly underemployed and unemployed.  The world of competitive employment is not welcoming people with disabilities and that is particularly so with today’s job market.
So what is the rush to get out of school?   Being in school gives students the opportunity to learn more and garner new skills.  Always a good plan.   Living on the edge can be a good thing, but not in this case.  What’s the rush to step off the edge? Beats me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

People do not live in silos

People do not live in silos

People do not live in silos.   Schools do.  If this prolonged school closure has taught us anything, it is that schools need to recognize the expanded role they have in our society.
When schools first closed two months ago now, one of the first concerns was how are the children who receive 1-2 meals a day from school going to be fed.   Distribution sites were set up.   Food service staff were called in to work as essential staff which indeed they are.  It took a while for the logistics to get worked out.   Who could pick up the meals?  Did it need to be the student?  What kind of ID would be needed for an adult to pick up the food?   School districts in Maryland have now delivered thousands and thousands of meals for students.  One district has switched from breakfast, lunch and a snack to no snack but breakfast, lunch and dinner.   The expanding rate of unemployment leads one to believe that these meals are being shared with others in the house.
Food is not the only thing schools provide.  We need to realize that whether we want to admit it or not, schools are more and more becoming community centers.   Particularly in low socio-economic areas, schools need to more aggressively become community centers.   Not only can schools dispense food, they also need to be physical and mental health centers as well.  Health centers in schools can provide vaccinations, well-student check-ups, birth control information, birth control meds, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction (yes there are kids in our schools who are both using and peddling drugs) and mental health support.   There are people who will tell you these are not the roles of a school.   And they would be correct.   I remember when many people thought that sex education was not the role of a school.  But families weren’t doing it and the kids needed the information.
We have learned from the school closures that our families aren’t doing a lot of things that need doing.  Whether it is because they do not have the resources, are over-whelmed just keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads or because they really are not interested.   Do the reasons really matter?   Society is seeing huge fall out from failing families.   Next up is the question of just who is going to pay for all this.  Well in many ways we are already paying for these services in a very splintered and bureaucratic manner through the health departments, mental hygiene departments and departments of juvenile services.   We provide the services in silos, but we don’t live our lives that way.  Let’s put our money and personnel into tearing down the silos, reducing the number of bureaucrats populating all the silos, and put the service and the money into our schools that are already community centers in realty, it is time we make them community centers as an organized function.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What did you learn in school today?

What did you learn in school today?

The word is that it is an ill-wind that doesn’t blow some good.   That is true about this pandemic and its required shelter-in-place orders by various governors.   Maryland schools have been closed now since March 16 and will definitely be closed through May 15 and possibly longer.   Students are being taught online with something euphemistically called distance learning.  Not sure how much academic learning is going on but there is certainly a lot of other kinds of learning.
Teaching  special education is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling professions.  Truly, there is nothing to compare to the challenges and feelings of achievement when a kid “gets it”.  And like everything else, there are downsides.   One of the issues that sometimes arises is the difference in aspirations between parents and teachers.   Parents have great dreams for their children.  They do not want to let those dreams go.  Who could blame them?   
Teachers have dreams too.   They want to take the kids as far as the child’s ability will allow.  Not every child, with or without disabilities, has the interest or talent to attend college.  That is not a bad thing in spite of the current culture that everyone needs to go to college.  Sometimes there is conflict between what teachers see the best career path for a child and what parents’ aspirations are.  
Parents will sometimes insist that their children should be doing grade level work or should be doing more advanced math.  Teachers see kids struggling to make change, write a five sentence paragraph or understand inferred meaning in something that was read.
During this period of online learning, that is seeming to last forever, parents have been recruited, willingly or not, to act as assistant teachers.  They have participated in their child’s struggle to learn.   They have seen how difficult it is for some kids to continue to attend.  And they have also learned a lot about technology from their children who were born to this stuff.  As a result of this new immersion into their children’s learning much has been learned by the parents.  
Each day we are one day closer to our children being schooled in school.   When we are all together again, teachers and students inside a school building, there will be a new appreciation of what teachers do and how students learn.  When we ask the question, “What did you learn in school today?”, it may be the parents who are the ones answering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

IEP Light

IEP Light

The majority of school systems across the country are closed and students are enjoying the struggles of online learning.  That experience includes children with disabilities who have an IEP.  An IEP (Individual Learning Plan) is a contract for service between the school system and the child with disabilities.  Its purpose is to ensure that the child will receive a free, appropriate education which has been defined by the Supreme Court as allowing a child to move from grade to grade to the best of his/her ability.    We have learned lots about online learning.  One of the main things is that teachers and students miss each other and don’t learn as well long-distance.
We have also learned that children with disabilities learn even less online and that school systems are not doing very well at differentiating instruction to meet the needs of these kids.   Oh, and the IEP is just floating out there in the wind.   No one is even pretending schools are meeting the contractual agreement.
What to do about that?  Enter the distance learning plan, or in Maryland, the ICLIP, the Individual Continuity of Learning Plan.  The ICLP is presented as a temporary amendment to the IEP.   It will disappear and the IEP will return as soon as schools reopen.   Parents need to agree to the plan. They may do that through email or a phone call.   If they do not agree, then a virtual meeting is called to review the IEP so the student gets some education during the period of closed schools.
Obviously, an ICLP cannot cover everything that is in the IEP or it wouldn’t be needed.   Most school systems are requesting that teachers pick a couple of goals and one-two objectives for each goal.   Some areas are tricky, particularly related services such as OT or speech.  Also exactly how does a student learn to handle a table saw, landscape a yard or wire an outlet without touching any of those things?  
There was a time when people thought that online learning might be a great replacement for rural areas or to supplement teacher shortages.  We have learned that it is not.  We have also learned that parents, regardless of whatever professional training they may have, are not great teachers of their own kids.  And they don’t want to be.   One of the good things that may come out of this experience is that teachers will be more highly appreciated which is a very good thing.
The ICLP is the IEP Light, but at least it is a step to keep moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

No you won't get it right

No you won’t get it right

You probably never trained to be a teacher and if you did it wasn’t to teach your own children.   Now here you are, stuck at home with your children who should be at school, your significant other who should be at work, and those little furry children who are thrilled beyond compare because you are home.
There is lots and lots of stress to go around.   You should be grateful because you have a job and lots of people are not receiving a salary.  You are not all that used to working from home and that creates stress.  It was easier to just reach out and ask  question or walk around the corner when you needed a co-worker's help.  Now it is all virtual and sometimes the answers take longer to get back to you.  It is hard enough to work from home without being expected to be your child’s substitute teacher.  This is not what you want to do nor what you signed up for.
Or maybe, you are one of the unlucky people who would just love the stress of working from home if only you had a job to do that would bring in the money you need to live.  You are really worrying when the unemployment will kick in and will it be enough to get you by.   It is really hard for you to concentrate on your student’s distance learning when your mind is on next month’s rent or mortgage.   Yet the teachers expect that you do a lot of assistant teaching.   If your child is in high school, you may not even be familiar with the new content.  Your child keeps insisting that is not the way the teacher explains it.  If your child has special learning needs, the task just got harder.
People think they have complimented you by calling you an essential worker.  Sounds nice but no one told you that meant possibly putting your family at risk because of your contact with the outside world.   You know you need to work to keep your family solvent, but does that mean putting those same people at risk.  Wait a minute tell me again what today’s online learning objective is?   What is it you expect me to do for this lesson?  Sorry my mind wasn’t on it.
You are trying so hard to get it all right so you and your family can get through this pandemic together and your kids not fall too far behind in school.  There just seem to be so many balls in the air.  Why do you feel so guilty, like you are not quite measuring up no matter how hard you try?   Relax, you won’t get it right- just won’t happen way too much to juggle.  Kick the guilt to the curb- move on.