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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Intervention: the New Buzz Word

Response to Intervention (RTI), a major point of discussion while I was in Marymount University's graduate program, has become institutionalized. Teachers are being required to leave a document trail of "lower-tier interventions" before a student can be disciplined, reported as failing, or routed through Special Education. Nothing new! What's different with a new Superintendent is the level of school-wide focus, and the roles of administrators who are focusing on discipline, and how these new roles are affecting what I do for classroom management to ensure that I am doing everything I can to ensure academic success, and the level of scrutiny we all face as teachers to ensure that are being dutiful in following procedures. In response, I am becoming the King of Intervention.

Back at Allied Plywood, throughout the organization one of our mantras was "CYA," the main proponent of which was Gene Scales, who taught me well as a young apprentice. I would characterize "Intervention" as glorified "CYA." As a Special Education teacher, governed by a procedural compliance framework, procedural compliance is the fishbowl in which I swim.

Students I serve this year range from the self-motivated, vivacious Angelica, who has a 95% average in Mr. Lee's team-taught class, whose Math About Me poster I will save as an exemplar, because it is truly for the ages, to the diabolical Johnny who with his death stare reminds me of Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining, an 11 year-old child whom I hope does not have access to a cache of weapons -- he has a below 40% average, has never turned his poster in or most of his other homework assignments, has still never adjusted to the routines of the class, and has already been removed once for giving another child the middle finger, and once, just Thursday, while I was introducing Ratios, for punching another student in the side while getting up to get materials.

During the first week of school, Dontae was ready to "drop" Johnny, and started toward Johnny in a menacing fashion, with Johnny smiling like a chesire cat, before I redirected Dontae outside for a cool down conversation. Big Al, as students were leaving the classroom asked, "May I tell you something?" after I asked Dontae to stay after class for a short while to continue our conversation, a pause that allowed Johnny to leave the classroom unmolested.

I responded, "Is it urgent?" Big Al responded by describing how Johnny had been threatening other students in the hallways.

When I called and spoke to both Johnny's and Dontae's mothers later that afternoon, I received two entirely different impressions. Before calling, I glanced at the Student Information forms that both students had returned. My call to Johnny's mom raised my heebee-jeebies. Immediately after Johnny's mom responded to my report of an incident by telling me that she had received a text that, after Johnny left my room, that "he had the crap knocked out of him" and that his foot had been seriously injured, and that she had to take Johnny to the emergency room, we had a sudden power outage, the phones died, and I was unable to reply that Johnny could not possibly have been hurt by Dontae after leaving my classroom. I had kept Dontae after class because I could see he was still boiling. Later, I had seen Dontae outside in the hall cooling off with big Mr. McDuff. Immediately after the mysterious power outage, I went to the office to discuss my predicament, and was advised by the Mr. D, the Counselor, to email the mother back and copy Mr. Farmer, himself, and our 6th grade disciplinarian, the multi-talented, kind-of-scary, soft-spoken procedural expert, Ms. Smith, who speaks softly but is the de facto authoritarian for the 6th grade. The next morning, the burly ex-marine, Mr. Farmer, Ms. Smith's boss, greeted me at the door, hands on hips. He was wondering why I had gone directly to him, and why Johnny's mom had left messages on his answering machine that she had taken Johnny to the emergency room. I reiterated the facts, which seemed to assuage his concerns, somewhat, but not entirely.

My call to Dontae's mom left an entirely different taste in my mouth. I called Dontae's mom immediately after school. When I looked at the handwriting on the form and the description of her child, I was impressed by her penmanship and her description of a funny, happy child. My point was that Dontae would not be able to access the curriculum if he continued to hold onto his anger during my class. Dontae returned the next morning wearing a warm smile, and has been an engaged learner ever since.

Yesterday, on a Friday, Dontae asked if he could stay after school for help. For Dontae, I made an exception to my Friday rule since he had missed the lesson on Ratios, since I did not want to lose the momentum he was gaining, and since he is not currently passing my class, and gave him a private lesson on how to read and write ratios, and how to use ratios to solve problems. I handed him a multiplication chart while teaching him factoring procedures, as writing ratios in simplest form is part of the standard, and he seemed to benefit from that accommodation. Dontae shared with me how he enjoys working with his mom in the kitchen, which made the exercise of using ratios meaningful to him.

Johnny's pattern of disrupting my classroom, as well as some difficult but less severe cases have been accompanied by an increased level of scrutiny of my classroom management. as Ms. Smith and Mr. D have been in my room on a number of occasions to observe students with behavioral concerns, and Ms. Glenn, the Chair of the Special Education Department. mentioned, "I heard from Ms. Smith that you were having "behavior problems," since I had a relatively high level of referrals during the first two weeks.

"No, I am just being quicker to document my interventions this year," I replied, which seemed to satisfy her. Having been in an out of my room observing all year, Ms. Smith has given me considerable feedback about things I can improve. Wisely, I have been listening. When Ms. Smith speaks, I listen. It's grad school all over again.

Ms. Smith has provided me considerable guidance in redesigning of my classroom. In response my room has become uncluttered up front, all of my vocabulary resources have been shifted to the back wall, and my classroom procedures have been shifted to a bulletin board. The spaces for hanging student work created by Sianan, who had occupied my room previously, have all been taken down. Yesterday, I set up a special cool down desk in the back corner, just for Johnny. Ms. Smith's latest suggestion, a card system, a common elementary school procedure, which is being employed by Ms. Santiago in the room next door, is one I am struggling with, as it originates from the behaviorist approach to learning, and I frankly hate it. I think I will simply leave this suggested unimplemented, as it was just a suggestion, not a directive.

On Thursday evening, after Johnny surreptitiously punched Arman in the side while walking to get materials, I attempted to call every student in my two self-contained classes. Amazingly, I reached most of my parents from my self-contained classes. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I was able to beg parents to speak in English -- I would say, "Su ingles es mejor que mi Espanol. In one case, little Jose, who has done little of the homework in my class, served as a translator for his mother. Yesterday, Jose completed the classwork, mostly correctly.

Yesterday, Ms. Smith helped me clarify the distinction between "Lunch Bunch," and "Lunch Detention," since Carlos, who was in my room for Lunch Detention, was not making the connection that being in my room was a punishment, and had visited the snack machine, and was all smiles. My difficulty was that I had 5 students from Mr. Lee's class, some who were there by choice, and some who were there not by choice, but all were there working diligently. My other students, about 5 from my self contained classes were there not by choice because they had not been doing their homework. The difficulty I was having was that my focus tends to be on helping students who want to be helped. My room is set up so I can move my rolling chair freely around the classroom. I use multiple white boards when I work alongside students. I don't think about the punishment aspect at all.

In order to punish Carlos, a lower-tier behavioral intervention that I am using as part of the chain of documentation Ms. Smith and I will use in the beginning of October, before we let Carlos's parents know in October that nothing we tried during September is working, Ms. Smith suggested, I will need to punish Carlos 1:1, which in the short-term will punish me and all the other students since I won't be able to have others in the room to work with them. The next time Carlos requires me to punish him, which will be Monday, since he was breaking pencils yesterday, I think I will schedule his punishment for next Thursday after school, since my office hours are Monday and Wednesday.

I get this Intervention thing. I know what to do. CYA.