Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the two answers: legal and realistic

when the alarm went off yesterday the radio station was actually in the process of announcing that my school district was still having it's teacher workday, despite the snow beginning to blanket the entire area. (yes, i know those of you who aren't teachers are use to going to work while the snow steadily falls, but for teachers it just seems wrong.)

i was slightly ok with this decision however because i'd signed up for a workshop on psychological disorders in elementary school, which is something i feel i can always use more strategies for. i've taken an emotional disabilities class in grad school but with these kids who are always so different i still am desperate for more strategies.

so, me, and everyone else in the session braved the snowy interstate and the crazy drivers. parts of the session were extremely interesting and useful. and then there were the other parts. i've learned that there are always two answers to any special education question. the legal answer, which basically tells you to do nothing without consulting an administrator, reminding you that, as just a teacher, you are powerless yet are always one breath away from getting the entire school system sued. (sometimes it's amazing they let us actually work with the children at all). and then there is the realistic, helpful answer. this workshop only gave us the legal answer.

the actually prepared slides were great, but when it came time to the question and answer session (which, i hate to admit i walked out of in frustration by the end- hey, it was snowing like crazy and i needed to pick up things from school before they locked the doors) was nothing but "ask your administrator" "never do that without talking to an administrator" "defer to your mental health team".

at one point i'd asked how you know a hallucination is real (we were told that is the one guaranteed mark of a psychological disorder). i had a child a few years ago who'd tell me about the men in his head telling him to do bad things. he was desperate for them to go away and was asking for help. anyone i talked to about this told me he was making it up, so, i figured, right, they probably know better than me. i dropped it.
later he burned down his apartment and a few months after that he tried to poison me. inbetween these incidents were frequent random acts of violence against his peers. was he making the men in his head up? i don't know, but if he was it was still an incredible cry for help if he went on to have such a destructive first grade year. the answer i was given in yesterday's session was, "talk to your school psychologist". someone in the crowd laughed at this, hard. i said nothing to this response, not pointing out that in order to bring a child to the school psych as a classroom teacher you first have to go through child study, which is where i was told he was making it up. at that point i had no right to take it further. at the break the man who laughed came up to me. "i had the same case you did, and the guidance counselor told me my child was making it up. i've been there. that's the worst answer they could give you. useless."
i agreed.
at one point someone asked a question about managing violence in the classroom and was told, "what you are discussing is few and far between". thank goodness a woman spoke up, "look around the table. we're all nodding at that question. that kind of violence is NOT few and far between. we need help". yet we were still given the answer, talk to your school psych.
i love my school psych, and when i do talk to her i usually get great ideas. but the violent kindergartner i had in the beginning of the year stumped us all. he ended up leaving, but i hate that while he was in the classroom i couldn't protect the other children. what should i have done to keep him from hurting those other children? tell me more than 'talk to an administrator'. trust me, they were just as stumped as i was.

the workshop left me feeling more powerless than i have felt in awhile. it was a reminder of my place in the school system. they are scared of me, of my mistakes, because of law suites. they are scared of telling me something and having me follow it, and then having the school system get sued. they are scared of all of us, yet know they need us. it was my first experience realizing that as special ed teachers we really are thought of as the bottom of the totem pole.

someone asked for a recommendation of good books. "is this list of references a good place to start" he asked. "no! these are entirely inappropriate to be used in the school setting." ok... well, then tell us what is appropriate. we're all sitting here, on a snowy day, asking for more. give it to us.

so what do we do? we run to get the school psych every time a child is violent? the school psych who is only in our building twice a week, who is busy every moment of that time? who i've already talked to and we're already putting our heads together and still coming up with nothing?

i'm not looking for answers, i know those take time to discover. i'm looking for ideas. i'm looking for strategies, theories, for 'what ifs'.

it was a reminder that i cannot look to the school system for answers beyond procedure. i need to do my own reading, go to my grad school professors, look for places where i'm not seen as a walking law suite and instead as a capable individual.

1 comment:

Angela said...

I saw your comment yesterday on Twitter about this issue. Very profound. There ARE two answers to every question, and the first (useless) one is usually the one given. I thought your reflection on how school districts are terrified of teachers and our potential mistakes was apt. And deeply troubling.