A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Friday, January 31, 2014

Cold feet

Cold, cold, cold              cold feet
        Hop on three legs                 hold poop cold
               Run home        warm feet cold

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recommendation for Reappointment

Today, I met with Dr. P for my mid-year review. For a first time ever, I received a recommendation for reappointment.

By this time during my first year of teaching, in 2008, as a 3rd grade teacher in a Title 1 school, I was not considered effective and had already signed paperwork for a no fuss resignation. The Principal's son, who had made it to Broadway, was randomly murdered while in New York. Just awful!

The Reading Specialist, who had difficult task of pushing in to my class, and supporting me in developing Reading and Writing workshops, was dutifully reporting every faux pas I made to Administration. I tried following the first 30 days of Fountas and Pinell's Guided Reading, and tried to set up Reading and Writing workshop, but having rushed through a Career Switching Program, I had major growing pains. I had unfortunately not learned the art of making brief comments about student writings: not knowing the meaning of the expression, in praising a student's work, I used the expression: "slam, bam, thankyou mam." I was advised to remove that page from the student's writing journal, which I discreetly did.

That first year, one parent complained after I recommended that his son read Bud, Not Buddy, which I did not consider inappropriate. He was a Jehovah's Witness. Worse, he had never explained to his 3rd grader about racism. Bud, Not Buddy was not on the official approved list, but I had seen it on Frank Serafini's list of recommended books. What did I know? Knowing what I know now, I can see where the father was coming from.

In my first year of teaching, I was mentored by the Title I Math Specialist, who also was the school's Responsive Classroom Coach. Learning Responsive Classroom routines such as Morning Meetings and all the various greetings, as well as "discovery learning," was like learning a foreign language. I was far from fluent. Our relationship totally changed after her boss came to see her and she learned that he had been one of my references. My first long-term sub assignment was when I took over his role as Title I Math Coach for two weeks. I had lots of shortcomings, but somehow, with a lot of support, I used the knowledge that I was considered a failure to teach my heart out. My mentor from Old Dominion University recommended me for full licensure, as she had witnessed the good, not the ugly. Every student passed the state test in math, even a student who I caught licking the floor drain a week before the big test. I left with lost of things to reflect on and an expanded classroom library.

We did butterflies in Science, which led to fun writing experiences when we did our poetry unit. We also did Ancient Cultures in Social Studies, Egypt, China, and Ancient Greece, which became an excuse to extend Language Arts.

By this time during my second year of teaching, in 2010, in another Title I school, my classroom had been moved twice during construction. The father of one of my favorite students was the head of MS-13. I was supported by an ESOL specialist and a Reading Specialist. Both were amazing resources, and through their support, I learned how to manage Guided Reading Groups. I also managed to invite the scrutiny of my Principal. One day, I followed the recommendation of the Assistant Principal that I try yelling at my class -- she didn't think I would be such a rube that I would actually yell at the students out in the hall -- "you were supposed to close the door!" she told me. Yelling at students is rarely if ever effective, I have learned.

Teaching opportunities had dried up, other than long-term substitute positions. The Reading Specialist at a Title I School who coached me with Language Arts when I launched a Kindergarten class told me that no one would consider me for a position unless I earned a Master's degree. She recommended Marymount. After graduating from a 1-year Master's program from Marymount University, I suspected that my resume had been red-flagged by every HR department in the state, but never got confirmation of that until Dr. P confronted me this summer after I returned from San Francisco. When I tried to conference with the head of the PDS program (Professional Development School), she never replied. I got the feeling that maybe I had contracted leprosy. That's why I have still have never responded to any of Marymount's survey requests. After investing a year of my life and taken on so much debt, I would have appreciated at least a phone call.

After I returned from Boom Boom Tsuchitanisan's 100th birthday party in San Francisco, Dr. P looked me square in the eyes and demanded an explanation for why I had never mentioned my previous experiences with him. I replied, "you never asked." I had not realized that I was credited for a 93% pass rate -- all I was ever looking for was an opportunity, just a chance. Dr. P let me know that he had gone against HR's recommendation, and in my mind I made a promise that I would do everything I could to make him happy about his decision.

Today, Dr. P asked me about two things that I thought I was doing well and two areas where I felt I needed to grow. When I mentioned that I had developed positive relationships with parents, he mentioned that everyone had noticed how I had developed positive relationships with my students, and concluded: "that's 80% of the battle." The other thing I felt was going well was that I was doing a good job finding the right resources to teach. He agreed.

In discussing two areas of need, I had prepared an idea I had for retooling my remediation procedures. That proved to be a smart decision. In his classroom observations, Dr. P had noticed that in my current setting, with a different population, I was reaching some of my students but not reaching all of my students. I mentioned that my students were unable to do the weekly Warm-ups, and I was planning to use them in lieu of Top Score, a product recommended to me by the school's Instructional Coach.

Dr. P then described how he would use these "placemats" during the first 15 minutes of class as a daily routine: teach 2 squares a day, with students using white boards; quick assess for readiness, and have students who get it work problems on paper; reteach with students who were not getting it, then assess on paper after they get it. Over the course of the week, students would complete warm-ups and I would have an assessment for each standard being remediated. I mentioned to him that I needed to process what he had said, and would like to write up the plan had given me for his review. He offered to come observe when I set up the program, and concluded, "the beginning of the Second Semester is a perfect time to make such changes. He also let me know about his pet peeve, which goes back to Classroom Management 101, when students waste instructional time getting up to sharpen pencils. I hate these kinds of disruptions too, which is why I keep a supply of erasers and pencils on hand. With the opportunity to live and fight another day, I will do everything I can to tighten up my procedures so that I can be rated Effective on all seven Standards, not just Five.

Today, I managed to get all of my grades in on time, and do all of my IEP progress reports. No time to rest on my laurels. Still haven't got a translator to line up an IEP meeting on Tuesday. On Monday, I will run my first IEP. Tomorrow, I will support my Social Studies lead at an in-service to teach other teachers how to run Town Hall Meetings, which is by far the most effective practice I have ever seen in a Social Studies Class. The tool is so powerful, I've been asking him to consider doing podcasts for a brilliant student who happens to have a degenerative nerve disorder.

A little validation goes a long way.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Welcome Pause

Oh blanket of snow,
Cover me, allow me my rest,
Prepare me for Spring.

Nobody was praying for snow as hard as I was. With grades and mid-year evaluations due, with a full calendar of annual IEP Meetings (Individualized Education Program Meetings), not to mention full throttle curriculum pacing, I felt as if I was driving my machine into the ground. Executive function was being short-circuited by sheer mental exhaustion. Slowly, I am catching my breath. Careful planning makes high level execution possible, and slowly I am regaining control over my calendar. Not out of the woods yet, but I sure needed that snow.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Overcoming an Unresourceful State

Bryan is a 12 year old who has taken a few emotional hits over the past few weeks. Because I have had so many of my own problems, because I tend not to dwell on other people's problems, and because my focus during the school year is so narrowly focused on the prize, academic success, Bryan's emotional problems over the past few weeks have registered in my brain as chatter. I have, quite frankly, tuned them out.

Oddly enough, my room seems to have become a haven for students seeking shelter from the emotional storm. Perhaps students come to my room because I am so non-judgmental and I don't ask too many questions. Who knows?

Yesterday, during the 7th period Colonial America Test, Bryan had a panic attack. Since Bryan had been coming to my room to borrow my computer every day during lunch for the past week to borrow my computer to study for the big test, and since he had performed so well throughout the year on every other US History tests, Bryan's test-taking brain freeze came as a total surprise. When the bell rung at the end of 7th period, Bryan was only about a quarter done, had that deer in the headlights look, was mumbling about Quakers and Georgia, and his face had turned white as a sheet. For a 12 year old who was normally so resourceful, it surprised me to observe him in such an unresourceful state. I dipped into my neurolinguistic programming (NLP) toolbox, acquired from Tony Robbins' Lessons in Mastery. Tony's voice spoke to me, in a slow, deep, breathy tone, "You've got to chunk it down."

I joked, "Normally on a Friday, nobody stands between me and my dog Mabel, but you have built up enough equity with me. For you, I will make an exception. Call your mom and ask if she will let you stay and finish the test and see if she can pick you up when you are done." She agreed to let him stay.

We walked to the teacher's lounge and I bought him a Dr. Pepper. When Bryan opened his soda, his soda spilled over in the hall. Dr. P walked by with a teacher. I warned them to avoid the spill as I wiped up the spill.

Bryan and I went to the gym and grabbed a basketball from the supply closet. The group of teachers who play basketball were gathering. I never join them. Bryan and I went outside to shoot some hoops. I knew Bryan loves to play football, but I didn't know he was playing for his local basketball team and has a big game coming up. I kept feeding him the ball, reminded him to not drop his hands, but just shoot in rhythm. /We worked on keeping his elbow square, using his fingers to get a little backspin on the ball, and remembering to use his legs.

I knew that Bryan's grandma had recently passed away and had bequeathed her shotgun to him so that he could one day go out onto her farm and shoot squirrels, skin them, and make squirrel stew, but I had no idea that Bryan's dad had recently been sent to jail. Since Bryan is always wearing fatigues, and because of his ebullient outdoorsy personality, and since his voice dropped to a whisper whenever he mentioned something about his dad, and largely because Bryan's insights in class were quite often brilliant, I had envisioning his dad, Walter Mitty style, as some sort of CIA operative. Maybe I was also doing a little racial profiling, since Bryan is white, and since our school population is so diverse, because it never occurred to me that white kids have problems too.

As we were shooting buckets, Bryan kept wanting me to answer whether the Quakers were from Georgia, so I asked him to review with me the order in which the first 6 colonies had settled. Who settled these colonies, and what was their motivation. What was first? First was Roanoke Island. Who settled it? English settlers settled for economic reasons. Who was second? Jamestown. Who settled it? The Virginia Company of Londan. Why? Economic Reasons. Why did Jamestown become the first permanent English settlement? Tobacco. What was third? Plymouth. Who settled? The Pilgrims. Why did they settle? Religious persecution. They were Separatists. Forth? Massachusetts Bay. Who settled it? The Puritans. Why? Also religious persecution. Fifth? Pennsylvania. Who? Oh, the Quakers? Why? Religious freedom. Lastly? Georgia. Who? Quakers. Nope!

He could not remember the name of the people who settle Georgia, so I reminded him to think about the three regions. Why was New England settled? Religion. The South? Economic reasons. Middle Atlantic? a little of both. And where is Georgia? The South, so it must be economic reasons.

Bryan still could not remember. With his shoulders no longer slumped and his tension subsided, we went back to finish the test. Before I realized it, Bryan had pulled up the Power Point to find the answer about who settled Georgia. "Oh, debtors!" His mental constipation passed. I looked the other way, held my nose, and gave him a fresh start.

Bryan finished his online about 20 minutes, during which, I read aloud to him, an accommodation that is available to him, along with the screen reader he has available to him as a student with a Learning Disability. As we progressed, I asked him to read to me, and discovered that he reverses initial blended consonants, adds suffixes that are not there, and does not seem to break what he is reading into syllables. Are you dyslexic, I asked him? "Yes, he replied." I hadn't known.

I told Bryan about Dr. Roger Slakey, one of my most brilliant professors at Georgetown University. Dr. Slakey was rumored to have had dyslexia too. Nobody could break down exactly what the author was doing in a short-story or a poem, from the standpoint of style, i.e., grammar, logical sequence, imagery, and word choice, better than Dr. Slakey. Dr. Slakey had me analyze two different versions of Wordsworth's Prelude, the original, written as a young man, and a later more edited version, written after he had become an elder statesman of the Romantic Movement. Dr. Slakey once said, "Sloppy writing is a reflection of sloppy thinking."

Too many students ask for the answer rather than asking themselves, "what makes sense." What I'm noticing, particularly in math, but in this case in US History, is that when students focus on getting the right answer, they want to copy the work of other students, copy what the teacher is writing, and they become so worried about copying the right answer that they forget how to think for themselves. I learned that somehow, Bryan had written incorrectly on his study guide that Georgia was founded by Quakers.

A single misconception shut down one of the most resource students I have ever come across. As Dale Carnegie famously wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence Them, "The tiniest beetles can fell the mightiest oak. Don't let the beetles get you down."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Well Stated

Thought I'd share one of my dad's more brilliant emails to a new neighbor is affiliated with a staunchly conservative organization and emailed my mom ... I am reminded of the many drop-ins by 7th Day Adventists over the years when I lived at home. Dad would always listen patiently, then counter proselytize. 


We oppose the big government agenda of many members of the Democratic Party.  And we support (1) limiting the economic power of the State, (2) restoring the free and competitive market system for determining just prices, just wages and just profits, and (3) restoring the original principles of private property, especially in corporate equity.  However, we are disappointed in the total failure of most of today's conservatives to promote the goal of (4) equal opportunity for every citizen to become a capital owner.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason and adopted on June 29, 1776, reads: 

"All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Americans for Prosperity should be sensitive to the systemic barriers in today's tax laws, Federal Reserve policies and Wall Street financing practices that have enabled the 400 most wealthy Americans to have acquired more ownership of productive capital than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.  The ownership gap between the tope 1% and the bottom 90% continues to widen each year.  Is it any wonder that a growing number of propertyless voters vote for those advocating a redistributive welfare state?

There is a market-based alternative system that is becoming known as The Just Third Way . . . and we emphasize the word "Just."  It advocates a "solution" called "The Capital Homestead Act", a 21st century updating of Lincoln's land-based Homestead Act of 1862.  We suggest you carefully study these reforms, none of which violate the property rights of today's owners.

Here is a "Quotes Collection", including Ronald Reagan's call for an "Industrial Homestead Act", plus planks in the Republican Party platforms of 1936, 1976 and 1980 supporting broad based capital ownership.  You'll should also see supporting quotes from Hubert Humphrey, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, John Adams, Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, John Paul II, Francis, Walter Reuther, and many other prominent people throughout history.  Here's a short video speech by Ronald Reagan in 1987 expressing his support for these ideas.

We hope, Sean, that you contact us when you move to Virginia as the new state director of Americans for Prosperity-Virginia.  We support and have dedicated our lives to the goal of Prosperity, but for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

For Peace, Prosperity and Freedom, only through Justice for all,
Norm and Marie Kurland

Norman G. Kurland, J.D.
Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ)
P.O. Box 40711, Washington, DC 20016
(O) 703-243-5155, (F) 703-243-5935
(E) thirdway@cesj.org
(Web) http://www.cesj.org

"Own or be owned."

Alternative Hypothesis

Bad moon, drawing nigh!
Beasts roar wild discordant cries.
Run, run for the hills!

I don't know if there has been a study about a correlation between a full moon and bad behavior, but I have heard administrators reference this vexing observance on numerous occasions over the years. Kendall has drawn a full organizational response. All of the adults are now fully on his case. My behavior tracking behavioral approach has gone viral. He has all of the adults' full attention, just like he wanted, although perhaps not in the form he may have wanted. His mentor, Coach Lyons, Defensive Coordinator for an undefeated State Champion high school football team, is now promising pizza and talk about matching up against future NFL stars in college.

With a bad moon rising, Kendall was difficult during the first half of 4th period, then began exhibiting increasingly positive behavior after lunch, and even asked if he and his mom could meet up with me over the weekend at McDonald's for help. I replied that if he asked his mom to email me, I would come.

Then, during remediation time, Kendall, showed up late, never stopped wandering, never refrained from putting his hands on everything, including my documentation pen which I was trying to write with, never kept instigating, and shape-shifted into the form of a fire-starting monster. Kendell kept verbally assaulting the Ulysses in my story, who remained totally focused on not descending down the path of juvenile delinquency again, not being sent back to an alternative school, and never stopped attempting to learn despite the chaos. I thanked Ulysses repeatedly for holding his fire. Kendall was unable refrain from starting metaphorical fires throughout the classroom. After the verbal assaults and in your face proximity became unbearable, sensing a counter attack was imminent, I called Ms. English for administrative help. Then, I told Kendell, when I was his age, if he had continued pushing my buttons as he had been doing, I might have jumped over 5 desk and started pounding on him, then thanked Ulysses again for maintaining his composure. Thankfully, Ms. English walked with Kendall and restored balance in the universe.

Thankfully, my first IEP meeting with Justin Chan's father received full agreement, after I dropped off the draft last night at 9:30 pm last night and his mom was able to review it. Last Sunday's conference at the Chan's house paid immediate dividends. 15 minutes. Slam dunk!

Sheen Estevez's mother, on the other hand, never responded when I replied that her slot had been taken when she had said she was unable to attend. She stormed out of the main office when I greeted Justin's dad. When I told her that I had rescheduled for Friday because she had originally told me she was unable to attend today, she became totally exasperated and stormed out of there.

I didn't have the energy to work with students after school today -- I was totally fried.

I got Mabel.

While dog walking in Accotinck without a recorded book, my mind spun this:

Tick, ticking time-bomb.
I am about to explode.
To the woods I go.

Mabel made me smile. She always does. Love that dog!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dogwalk in morning fog

Thank you for the fog.
The glow of streetlights bathes us.
Droplets catch the light.

For a brief moment, as Mabel happily sniffed for canine messages, I was able to drift from the press of obligations and meditate about everything that I can be thankful for, and be non-judgmental about behavior problems that come with the territory. This morning, no audiobooks -- only whir of stirred up memories, snippets about Napolean Hill's exhortations to develop the habit of "definiteness of purpose," from Think and Grow Rich, the "thank walk" episodes from Rhonda Byrn's The Secret, the jingle of Mabel's collar, and lovely visuals. Totally unfocused, and loving it!

Today, when Joe woke on his own for his first 6am baseball workout -- a miracle -- I was reminded of Tony Robbin's conclusion from Lessons in Mastery how we make major life changes in the blink of an eye, changes from Saul to Paul, where scales fall off our eyes. We will see. Consistency is the key. The kid has talent. Maybe the words of his coach and the promise of playing time spoke to him. We will see.

Hopefully, my 3:30 am wake up does not lead to afternoon fog. Can't afford it. Was cutting up manipulatives for today's discovery lesson about mathematical properties.  Was allowing my IEP goals for Justin to percolate, was worried about all that I don't know about the IEP process. 2 IEP meetings this week. Have never done this before. Major test in US History Friday. 2 major math tests next week. End of the 2nd quarter. IEP Progress Reports due. I am thankful to have a job, thankful that I can pay the bills, thankful that nothing major has slipped, thankful a childhood friend wants to renew an old friendship. Lots to be thankful for.

Friday, January 10, 2014

They came

It was an odd week. During 3rd period Social Studies, Rex, a student who I support in Mr. Li's math class, asked if I would help him on his math project after school. Normally, I don't accept students on Fridays after school, but with the 2nd Quarter Project due for 6th grade next week, I relented.

Apparently, the word went out. After school on a Friday, my room was filled with students from Mr. Li's classes, who came for help with their algebra modeling project, hoping to avoid the wrath of Kahn. A group of students from my self-contained classes also came in response to my expression of extreme disappointment that not a single student from my first period had turned in their project, except for Mohammed, and promise that I would be making calls after school today, something that did not happen because I was working with students on their projects. Even Kelvin, a student from my difficult 4th period class, upon whom I hope to one day model a Cyclops character, hung around. Although Kelvin did not work on his project, he stayed to impress all the girls and his friends who were there, despite my having contacted his mother last night via email to report to her that I had logged over 10 incidents where he had disrupted my 4th period class yesterday, including inappropriate language, and other negative attention seeking behavior, despite my having smiled like a Chesire cat as I informed him that we would be working on skills at his apartment tomorrow, and winked to other students and said, "just kidding," although Kelvin and I both knew I wasn't kidding.

With several annual IEP's coming due this week, this week I focused on reserving time and space in the Conference Room, notifying parents, sending out invitations to attendees via Outlook, asking Ms. Jones to draft writing Language Arts goals, and asking for procedural clarifications throughout the week. Last night, I came back to school around 6:45pm, and worked until about 9:30 on setting up IEP's. Then, I shifted gears to prepare for launching a new unit on the Properties of Operations by printing materials and doing a quick read of the Day 1 presentation.

Of course, when I felt the least prepared, Dr. P dropped in to observe my 1st period class. Since Dr. P did not wince, and since when I asked for a thumbs to the side or thumbs up when I came across him in the hall, the observation apparently went okay. Although I was rather embarrassed about my lack of preparation for today's lesson, having accepted the advice of the school's instructional coach, my board listed the correct standard of learning, the room was neat, my vocabulary was posted, the objective and teaching method were all listed. At least I did not embarrass myself in front of Dr. P, as my first period class cooperated, and evidently remained sufficiently engaged. Sometimes, good enough is good enough.

Two days before, Ms. English had dropped in after school to inquire about a student in Mr. Li's class who had complained to her about Mr. Li. Ms. English mentioned that she would be dropping in to observe Mr. Li, and wanted to hear my views on the matter. Later that night, I expressed my misgivings to John Park, who keeps his desk in my room, and explained my reluctance to say anything negative about a colleague, especially one who does so many great things from an instructional standpoint, who often helps me, and whom I like, despite his routine use of public humiliation, a practice which makes me uncomfortable, and which I try not to do. That morning, Mr. Li asked me to lead the review of graphing and translating inequalities while he made copies for the new unit. Ms. English, our 6th Grade Administrator dropped in as students were answering inequality graphing and translating questions on the Smart Board, and she got to observe my special ability to make a student feel comfortable about making an error, while I helped the student discover her own error without embarrassing her. Mr. Li returned, retook the lead, and I went back to my normal support role in his class.

In my Special Education Teacher training in Marymount University's graduate school program, I had to take an entire course on collaboration and co-teaching, a course many considered a "fluff" course, but here I was prepared for handling a situation that otherwise I never would have considered. The course revolved around modeling the process of how to navigate shifting roles, how to evaluate situations from all sides, how to clarify and define my roles and responsibilities as a Special Education Teacher, and how to utilize common procedures within a team setting, in order to come up with a plan of action for a particular student. In this case, the student, Sophia De' Chardin, was not even a student on my caseload, but somewhere along the line I had learned as a co-teacher to view the students in the room as my students.

Somebody once said that a Special Education Teacher needs to have a strong identity, must be able to be a counterpoint to the General Education Teacher, which helps to explain why my presence tends to make Mr. Li slightly uncomfortable. As a Special Education Teacher, I have no problem taking on the role of the "Un-Cola." When Mr. Li went on a 10 minute rant about students who were unable to fold a paper in thirds, strongly inferring that any 6th grader who could not fold a paper in thirds was stupid after Rex came to me for help in folding his paper, I sensed that there would be unforseen consequences.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I'm going to be a guinea pig: Probiotics in my Neti Pot to cure sinusitis

Heal Sinus Infections with No Antibiotics (Really)

I'm a tad impulsive. After opening up e-mail from from some health-site -- I'm on a few distribution lists, probably because I checked a box for diabetes -- I listened to one of those advertisements where the artist draws visuals that accompany the presentation, and based on the symptoms they described, I came away with the fear that I have an overgrowth of a parasitic fungus called Candida. Yes, Mom, self-diagnosing, self-treating, exactly what you always tell me not to do. Their explanation made perfect sense. And, Dr. Oz did in fact address this topic.

According to the presentation that hooked me, and persuaded me to open up my wallet to buy their Keybiotics probiotic supplement, Candida overwhelms other microbes inside the body as a consequence of high blood sugar, and even sends chemical messages to the brain to "feed me" -- a direct allusion to some B-Movie I recall from my childhood but cannot name. To fully eradicate this "American Parasite," people need to change their diets, away from processed foods, away from food products produced by agribusinesses such as wheat, even dairy fed on grains, and go "paleo," plus reseed their guts with good bacteria.

According to the article featured above, this might hurt a little, but it's worth a try. I need my energy, since the 2nd half of school begins tomorrow, and I need to do whatever I can to overcome feelings of overwhelm, mind fog, etc., and become more organized than I ever have been before.

My school computer has a crashed hard drive, which, fortunately, I discovered immediately after my holidays started. I can't imagine how deflating it would be to show up at school, only to discover that my computer was not working. Talk about a miserable Monday.

I wasn't able to do reports I need to prepare for my mid-term evaluation. I wasn't able to pull up IEP's and reports I use, stored on the server, that help me manage my caseload. Since I had arranged with Dr. P to get in on December 26th, I did, however, make all my copies and was able to downloaded materials I need to teach and store it on my Skydrive. Disaster averted.

Tony Robbins reminds that fear can be a very useful tool, if one heeds the message: "get prepared." The message of Candida is there are no quick fixes, and that a cure for chronic fatigue, mind fog, sinusitis, itchy skin, etc., depends on wholesale lifestyle changes.

Meanwhile, bring on the Neti Pot.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Payoff

In class, Pablo has been both the poster-child for learned helplessness and a source of daily annoyances. Pablo's body language has both infuriated and saddened me as other children have cheered on occasions when I have had him removed from the class so that others can learn. I have moved him away from students so that they cannot hear his steady stream of insults, away from walls so that he cannot lean his chair back against it, faced him away from other students so that his poisonous attitude does not infect the entire class. In The Teacher's Concise Guide to Functional Behavioral Assessment, Waller explains:
"Research has shown that only a few things serve as the function for the majority of misbehavior at school: attention, escape, tangible items, and sensory input issues (sometimes called automatic reinforcement)" (Waller, 2009).
After describing four primary drivers of misbehavior, Waller adds a special discussion of how "skills deficits synergistically impact any of the four functions of a target behavior and worsen that target behavior." (Waller, 2009). In the case of Peter, Pablo, and Kendall, direct-instruction seemed to trigger most episodes of cross-classroom insults, outbursts, and negative attention seeking behavior. I reflected that I needed a better system for remediating skills deficits, since my full-court press at lunch or after school efforts to help students learn simple fraction-decimal operations with students were not reaching students who either were not able to attend, or when they attended disrupted sessions, which had been the case with another leg of the three-legged stool, Peter, a special case with "sensory input issues."

When the counselor, Peggy DeForrest, as part of an On Time Graduation Initiative, asked why his Interim report card showed that he had earned an F for the 2nd quarter, my response was that Pablo had done nothing in my class all year, that I had conferenced face-to-face and started regular e-mail discussions with Pablo's father, Salvador about how we might begin more aggressive interventions. Peggy's query prompted me to reflect deeper about the effectiveness of my practices. Dr. P expects us to send home progress reports every few weeks, which I had been doing -- it turns out, Pablo, Peter, and Kendall had been hiding their interim reports from their parents. My good friend Tim, who was directly responsible for bringing how I teach to Dr. P's attention, watched Peter throw his Interim Report Card on the floor. I hand-delivered the report to Peter's house just before the holidays, and used the incident to help frame my Christmas Eve intervention with Peter. I had to be honest with myself -- I had not been doing a good enough job making sure that these reports were coming back signed. By making friendly calls or emails to virtually every student before the holidays, I was able to determine who had and had not been seeing these reports. I know I need to tighten up with the use of checklists.

Pablo fit most criteria for being included in On Time Graduation Initiative at-risk reports, having been transferred from an Alternative School, excluded from his base school, and failed most State Testing. Just about all of my students fit the at-risk category, with poverty, learning disabilities, and major skills deficits as givens in the classroom landscape, and many of my students have either an Academic Coach or are involved in a mentorship ship program.

The holidays have given me breathing room to reflect on my procedures. Reshuffling seating arrangements to test how various combinations of students worked together and quarantining the most extreme behavior problems had made significant differences and had contributed to making the learning environment more compatible for learning, but the gap between the standards and prerequisite capabilities put a limit on the effectiveness of that kind of intervention. My outreach efforts have been broad, and I have been able to reel in students who are motivated to learn, but Pablo who has mastered the art of work avoidance, mocked my requests with his ineligibility to take a late bus home.

The smugness with which Pablo smiled as he repeated his inability to take the late bus home, and his purposeful disruptiveness during lunchroom interventions led me to the conclusion that either I needed to take formal action to protect the learning environment, or I needed to find a more creative way to reach him. Pablo cried crocodile tears when I first showed up at his Tower Apartment, and Salvador and I scheduled a series of private sessions over the holidays, but we replied, "If you had used your class time to learn the material, we wouldn't have to use your time over the holidays."

After four two-on-one interventions, of between two and four hours in duration, while Pablo continues to have skill deficits, he now knows that, in math, there is no fooling, because the numbers do not lie. He knows that we have "Playbook" which shows step-by-step procedures for every math procedure in 6th grade, he knows how to access every note, every Power Point, every vocabulary poster, every chart, and how to access the National Library for Virtual Manipulatives. I have shown him several different strategies for doing multi-digit multiplication, how to do long division, how to read decimals with place-value language, and perhaps most importantly, the importance of showing every step in recording his math thinking. I have Salvador's cellphone, and he has mine.

Pablo knows that I plan to recommend him for summer school, but he didn't cry when I reminded him of that virtual inevitability. He knows that, if he does not practice at least an hour a day, he will likely be repeating 6th grade math with the rising 5th graders. I concluded, "I doesn't bother me if you fail the state testing, as long as you fail the right way.

Waller, R. (2009). The teacher's concise guide to functional behavioral assessment. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What are we preparing students to be able to do?

What I like most about recorded books is how audio books enable me to meet my built-in predilection for always being on the move, while satisfying my insatiable appetite for distinctions, connections, and strategies, i.e., tools, which I use to make fast-paced decisions of long-term consequence. One of my most recent four books that I have "ripped" from CD's borrowed from the library is Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin.

When I consider the work avoidance strategies of students like Pablo, Peter, and Kendall, in my minds eye I can envision an awkward little fish, clawing its way out of water to escape bigger fish with bigger teeth in a scary, fish eat fish Devonian landscape. To students with learning disabilities, tasked with the learning the same curriculum at the same pace as typical students, who enter my classroom lacking essential understandings, performing step-by-step, recursive Mathematical procedures must feel like being chased by a host of toothy Devonian predators. 12 year-old boys don't automatically see potential STEM job opportunities in science, i.e., job opportunities in technology, engineering, and manufacturing. According to certain prognosticators, these oft-heralded promises are, likely, mirages, since exponential advances in cognitive computing are increasingly making such job opportunities obsolete.

Motivational speaker Brian Tracy describes recorded books as a source for "rich, mental protein," and in 2014, one of my continuing goals is to become increasingly mentally fit. Thus, I will continue my habit of listening to recorded books as I remain always on the go.

While spewing out this blog post, a supreme effort, because while writing it I am forced to remain in a sedentary position, in the background, my mind is chewing the cud, digesting the implications of how humans have been designed in response to our evolutionary past, particularly at critical phase shifts such as the transition from life as a fish in water, to life as a fish out of water, as evidenced both in the fossil record, explained through Paleontology, and in our DNA, as explained through Embryology. The origins of adaptations such as the hand, the inner ear, our eyes, noses, throats, teeth, bi-pedal gait, and even the very existence of our bodies have been traced to moments when our lineage diverged. The realization that we are all descendants of pond scum is both humbling, and humorous on so many levels.

Shubin explains the what, the how, and more importantly the why morphological changes that led to the capabilities needed to type these words, broadcast them, and read them occurred. Shubin describes the awe of discovering in the fossil record of the Devonian Period a fish that lived in stream beds with precise bone-to-bone analogs of how our arm bones connect to our shoulders with quasi-religious fervor, which explains why I am drawn like a moth to the light to well written adventures about the history of science. From the misty Devonian past was left an imprint by our first ancestor fortunate enough to have a fin with a bone structure which allowed it to climb out of the water.

Zig Zeigler presents the importance of controlling what information we allow into your brains hilariously: "You wouldn't allow somebody to come into your living room and dump a load of garbage on the floor!" We need to protect our minds, control what we allow in, in order to make fast-paced decisions of long-term consequence. The academic viability of students depends on how well we prepare them. My focus over the holidays has to prepare myself so that I prepare my students.

By leveraging the power of recorded books, I've been able to feast on The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, On Truth, by Harry G. Frankfurt, a follow up to his award-winning book, On Bullshit!, and The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff, all while driving to fraction, decimal, and percent interventions with Pablo and Salvador, plus Aung, a child with Asberger's, and his sister Chit, who has come home from UVA to help her brother with mathematics over the holidays, while driving to Culpeper on my adventure to Taste Oil Vinegar Spice,  while restarting my workouts at the gym, while enjoying dog walks with Mabel, and getting myself prepared for IEP meetings, and business of teaching.

Listening to recorded books has been a welcome reprieve from the toxicity coming out of Ashburn, described succinctly by Thomas Boswell in his editorial which was the lead story of yesterday's Washington Post. Listening to The Last Lecture, in stark contrast to the tragedy in Ashburn, has led me to chew on what I should be doing to prepare my students, my wife, my boy to a world entering phase transitions as dramatic as the change from water to ice, and water to land, which will require a new level of resourcefulness. Considering the scope of change heading our way like a bullet train, the firing of Coach Shanahan at the tail end of 2013 doesn't seem all that important.