Friday, November 30, 2012

Well played, PBS

While I was home with sick Little L I introduced her to Daniel Tiger, PBS' newest show. A few of my students love Daniel Tiger (although they are probably too old for it they still really enjoy it) and so I thought I'd check it out. Plus, we needed a break from reading Good Night, Moon.

I couldn't help but feel a little tricked. PBS is so sneaky. Taking the familiar characters, songs, and phrases from Mr. Rogers and putting them into a new show is pretty clever. Today's current parents are the same ones who watched Mr. Roger's themselves. Even if we don't acknowledge it we're going to be drawn into Daniel Tiger by the pure familiarity of it. There was something comforting in watching the characters and hearing the same songs from my childhood. Little L and I cuddled and talked through the show and I found myself wondering if I should DVR it (until yesterday we'd never sat down to watch a show with Little L. Sick babies get special treatment sometimes).

Well played, sneaky PBS. I respect your ability to connect with both the parents and the kids. Well played.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Helicoptering the helicoptered

Over Thanksgiving break Mr. Lipstick shared some management articles and blog posts he's read recently about the problem with the Millennials in the job market. I'm paraphrasing and I didn't read the post myself, but our conversation mainly centered around the difficulty bosses are having across the country as the millennials- the first results of the helicopter parents- enter the workforce. Managers are having trouble motivating their youngest hires and instilling in the work ethic they are accustomed to seeing in the work place. 

I've read and heard articles myself about companies who are reaching out to helicopter parents in order to work with their newest workforce. I believe it is Enterprise who has bring-your-parent to work days. Other companies are becoming accustomed to parents attending interviews or chatting with HR about salary. (I wish I could find that article- this is all coming from my memory)

So what happens now that the Millennials- the products of the helicopter parents- are becoming teachers? How will they react to the helicopter parents who have high expectations of their child's teacher? How will they handle the mismatch in the teaching pay vs the workload? Or will the true products of helicopter parents not become teachers? It doesn't seem like a job that would lend itself to someone who is used to having their parent defend them in tough situations.

Will Millennials force a change in teacher work-ethic expectations, or will they create an even further gap between parents and teachers? Or will they understand where the helicopter parents are coming from and find ways to work with them as opposed to locking them out? 


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Don't look down

I can't say that I feel that I am being successful as a working mother, but lately I've been feeling like I've created a delicate balance that seems to be working. Or maybe it just felt like it was working on Monday. Doing crazy type-A chores like putting together all my clothes for the week on Sunday night and making all my lunches on Sunday night seem to help. I know the exact amount of time I need to get my lesson plans together so that the minute Little Lipstick's head hits the crib mattress for her nap I am frantically working, praying that she will sleep for a full hour and a half so that I can get it done. The poor souls who try to interrupt me at this point are usually met with total frustration or are ignored. It's not pretty, but it works.
At school I mentally schedule every minute- I have two minutes to send everything to print, two minutes to make copies, three to get together the materials. Forget making friends or having pleasant conversations- get the work done and get out- seems to be what it's about.

Delicate balance, but some days it seems to work. I just can't look down and think about exactly how high up on the tight rope I am. If I wobble or second guess my balance at all it all comes crashing down.

Little L woke up with a fever yesterday- which of course means frantic sub plans, emails to everyone involved at school, trying to make it all work out. As the day went on she got sicker and sicker. By the time we got to the doctor's office at 5 she had a ridiculously high fever. We were there for hours as they ran tests.

The careful balance I'd figured out for this week came crashing down. All those details I'd spent so long working on needed to be written into sub plans, emailed out, canceled, changed, rearranged. All I want to do is think about poor Little L and all I can do is frantically type plans and emails.

How do people do this? I wasn't giving my baby what she needed because I was focused on school. And I wasn't giving school what I needed because I was focused on my baby. Disappointing everyone I work with, my family, and myself.

I've always been overly committed to teaching. Even when I just volunteered in classrooms when I was in high school and college I always went above and beyond for the kids. It's a huge strength, and a huge flaw. I have trouble identifying when to draw the line and step back from the work.

Now that I have my own little one I desperately need to find a way to keep school in it's school box so that Little L will always come first. With the demands of the classroom, the needs of the students, and the desire to give my students the absolute best- my difficulty in letting things go- all creates a horrible storm where school is always in my mind even when I'm with Little L.
Last night I was holding her burning hot body at the doctors' office, talking and singing to her, all the while mentally making sub plans. and I hate myself for it. Moms, how do you all do this?

I love my job. When the tight rope dance works works, I appreciate that I can be a working mom. But when it doesn't? Is it OK to fail as both a teacher and a parent?

At 11 o'clock last night I was staring at my computer trying to decide if I needed to cancel my extremely important meeting for this morning. Every bone in my body told me to go to work and hold the meeting- it feels so wrong to cancel on work. But thank goodness I put Little L first- it was a rough night and she needs me here today.

How do I find the balance? How do I make it OK with myself to put school aside and focus on my family?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Around the world?

I keep getting edu-spam on my work email. Lots of happy go-lucky emails from generic names like "Sarah Jones" that sound like they could be your coworkers, asking if I've seen such and such amazing website where I can get great materials. These emails are filled with exclamation marks, smiley faces, and phrases that make you cringe- if this is how they think teachers write to one another we're in trouble.

The latest edu-spam I got offered me a trip with my class around the world.

They even had the name of my school in there so they knew I worked at an elementary school. Even if I didn't have a class with students with intellectual disabilities I would like to see a general education elementary school teacher take her entire class on a trip around the world. I think this program may need to re-think it's edu-spam strategy. High school teachers, Spanish teachers- maybe they'd jump at the chance. Kindergarten-second grade students with intellectual disabilities? Ummmmm....

I love my class, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure we're ready for world travel yet.

The mere idea has been making me giggle all weekend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

what parents want?

This article is worth the read. Beyond anything else, it is a great reminder that when we say "good school" we aren't talking about a specific, set criteria that everyone agrees on. When people are thinking about the culture where their child will spend significant hours of his or her life, test scores may not matter as much as how teachers speak to children, and how parents are treated.

The article is a fascinating look at school choice and the ins and outs of cultural norms in education.

Full of Thanks

I am thankful that no day in my job is ever boring, predictable, or easy.

I am thankful for an amazing group of children I am blessed to teach.
I am thankful for my great teammates. I love their sense of humor, their ability to see the bright side in all situations, and their flexibility.

I am thankful I've got Rock Star back. Love those dance moves and those songs.

I am thankful I've got a group of kids who loves to sing and will do so loudly, without apology.

I am thankful for Mr. Lipstick's patience with me as I spend more time working after school than I ever have before.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be teaching in a classroom for students with intellectual disabilities- I love this population and feel like it is was meant to be.

I am thankful for learning new things, stretching myself beyond my teaching comfort zone, and for the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

I am thankful for 4 consecutive days off when I can be with my family, relax, and plot my next adventures in our little classroom.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Adapting Texts

In only a few months of teaching in an Intellectual Disabilities program I've learned a lot. One thing I've learned is that traditional books aren't always enough to capture our students' attention, although our students are completely capable of enjoying stories once the stories are brought to their level. 


About a month ago I was visiting a book fair that had amazing prices on books- paper backs for 2-3 dollars each. With a generous donation from a friend I was able to buy multiple copies of books so that I'd be able to play around with ways to adapt them. Our class could have one regular copy of a book and one adapted version so that we can meet the needs of all our learners.


Max Cleans Up was already begging to be physically adapted- the pictures called out to be a touch and feel book. Using felt, foam, glitter glue, pom-poms, feathers, and other small objects I turned it into an interactive book. Since we had two copies I was able to cut one copy out and use it to match the characters. Now one of my friends can take Max off the page and another can take Ruby off the page so that they will be able to physically hold the characters. 


I made objects that represent each step in Max's mess so that as we read we'll be able to put the objects into Max's pocket. 

I even ordered Max and Ruby dolls so that after my friends are familiar with the story they'll be able to act it out with physical prompts. 

The difference in how my students access books is amazing. They love books- love to read, love to participate in telling stories, but how they are able to participate in them varies. It's amazing to see them reenact a story with objects when they cannot begin to orally tell me what happens first in a story.

(Shameless plug- if you want to help out our classroom I have a donors choose site that will help me build up our adapted books and retelling station!) 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Poor substitutes...

This afternoon I was walking my class back into the school after recess and I noticed the substitute aid was trying to go through different doors to get inside. I shook my head, wondering why on earth she'd ignore what we were doing as a class- why would she decide she didn't want to use the same door as us? I didn't question it and just kept going- trying to get all my kiddos inside is a challenge in itself- transitions aren't really our strength (to put it mildly).

Once we were inside she took me aside and explained. One of my kiddos- my sweet, sweet little friend in a wheelchair- had told her that he couldn't go through certain doors in our school. He apparently had her running in and out of different doors all day. He'd also told her that he'd left his coat at home (he hadn't) and that I always let him go outside without a coat (I don't.)

I had to put  my hand over my mouth so that I wouldn't giggle in front of him. I should be mad. I should be very, very angry that he would trick an adult like that.

But...
I honestly didn't know he had it in him. To tell her that he needed to go out particular doors and not other doors? The higher level thinking- the understanding that he can tell a lie and that she won't know the truth- well, that's a pretty smart place to be.

It's not OK. I mean, we can't make up stories and trick people, but, I'd rather have a child be capable of telling stories than a child who is always honest just because he doesn't understand that adults can't read his mind. The tricking- it's a good sign.

And kind of funny. OK, really funny.


curb cuts revisisted

Last week I blogged about the bouncy curb cubs and how horrid they are for one of my friends. Turns out, he's not the only one with the problem. Someone recently visited my classroom to look at ways it could be even more physically adapted to meet the needs of the kids (It is compliant with the law, but we could still go further). 
I mentioned the curb cuts and he just shook his head. "I know, I know, but there isn't anything we can do." 

He told me that people all over, especially people just like my friend have the exact same complaints about the bumpy curb cuts. 

I know there is a reason behind why they are like that, but it would be nice if we could find a way to make curb cuts safe and comfortable for everyone. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can I get an Amen?

Somehow John Chubb's article on the Best Teachers in the World manages to insult me and vindicate me all in one swoop. If you don't have time to read the whole thing Joanne Jacobs does an excellent job of summarizing it.

Chubb begins by discussing Peabody College, the education college at Vanderbilt University and the intellectual demands it places on its teaching candidates (which happens to be where one of my amazing former co-workers went). Peabody is exactly what we need all over the country to prepare teachers- an academically challenging and competitive college that attracts candidates who could also compete in other top rank schools in other fields. There teaching is not seen as the easy path, or the "I can't be a doctor or a lawyer so I guess I'll be a teacher" major. 

Chubb goes on to write, "Teaching is not an art, to which some are born and others are not. It is an intellectually demanding endeavor that can and should be guided by research-based practice. Teachers should be trained, both before they take charge of a classroom and thereafter. They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that predominate today." 

Jacob sites- "The US needs to recruit high achievers to teaching and give them 'work that is less menial and more expert, less prescribed and more responsible,' Chubb writes."

It makes me want to cry.

Yes, yes, yes.

Raise the standards of my profession. Raise the expected SATs to get into teacher prep programs. Make it difficult to graduate from a teaching college. Raise our expectations of what we do in the classroom- NOT through giving us prescribed curriculum designed to be "idiot proof" but by using the intellect of the teachers in the room to design instruction to meet the needs of their students. Make teaching an intellectual profession. Please.

Chubb's argument is one I've been making for years. Seeing it in print validates my beliefs but also makes me want to cry- because right there in black and white it paints a brush of our profession as being fairly, well, dumb. 

The answer to much of this, I feel, sadly is money. 

 Not because I want more money, but because something has got to change in our profession. We are spending time, resources, money and messing around with our children's education and future all to try to micro-manage a profession that could be fixed in one way-

Pay teachers more.

Paying teachers more will validate the career path.
Paying teachers more will encourage the best and the brightest students to become teachers.
Paying teachers more will allow quality teachers to stay in the profession.
Paying teachers more will make it a more competitive field where it will become easier to weed out poorly performing teachers, or not hire them at all.
Paying teachers more will initiate a national change in mind-set where as a culture we begin to respect the profession, which in turn will attract smarter candidates.

Sadly it's a chicken or the egg question. No one will agree to pay teachers more while we don't respect the work teachers do. When teaching is still seen as the "well, you can't do anything else but at least you can teach" option no one wants to pay teachers more. And until they pay teachers more they are not going to attract higher achieving candidates. And until we attract higher achieving candidates we're not going to change the nation's mindset of the teaching profession. And until we change the nation's mindset of the teaching profession we're not going to pay teachers more.

Now I'm depressed. Why didn't I go to law school when it was still possible to get a job when you got out of law school?


*I have other thoughts on what the article says about Teach for America but I'll share those for another time. That would make this post much, much longer...

We've Got Rock Star!

This week I feel like just bouncing around singing the song from the Annie music- "We've Got Annie". Remember how happy and overjoyed they were that they had Annie back?

That's how I feel.

Last year when I was trying to decide whether or not to leave the Think Tank and venture off into a brand new school I kept going back to Rock Star. How could I leave her? It had been a wonderful year and she'd made so much progress. I felt like I was abandoning her. I knew I couldn't stay for her so sadly I said goodbye to her. As I watched her car drive out of the parking lot on that last day I cried harder than I've ever cried on a last day.

And now...

She's back!  She's joined me in my class. She's the perfect fit, and she's been smiling and laughing with everyone else. It's like my world is complete again- seeing her smiling face and watching her raise her hand to answer a question I ask, or seeing her dance while we sing.

Love that girl!

Now if we can only get Brown Bear, Magical, and the other friends...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Can you help me please?"

I spend most of my day prompting my students to ask for help. So many times they come up to me (when I'm working with other students or busy with something else) and just push whatever they need help with in my face. Or worse yet, they sit silently and wait for someone to come along and help them. Self advocacy is something we spend a lot of time working on, and the phrase "help, please" is one I work to get all of my students to say.

Today was one of those days that makes you question why on earth you ever thought that teaching was a good idea. The kind of days when your headache starts early in the morning and only gets increasingly worse- the kind of day where you know the kids are only acting out because you're not on your A game, making you irritated at the kids but really frustrated at yourself.

One of THOSE days.

And then, as I was trying to encourage one of my friends to pack up (and he really, really didn't want to) I overheard a conversation happening by the coat rack.

"Help me with this, please," I heard one of my little guys ask. He's in a wheelchair so it's not possible for him to reach out and get his back pack from the hook where it hangs. He needed someone to get his backpack and hold it for him while he put his folder in it. Since I was obviously not going to be available anytime soon he'd chosen a peer, a sweet little girl with her own struggles. 

I watched her struggle confidentially trying to wrangle his folder into his book bag.When was the last time anyone asked her to genuinely help with anything? So many of our kids need help from other people and have so few opportunities to offer help themselves. And it is equally rare that anyone asks them for help- usually they are the ones who need to rely on their general education peers to make it through the day.

She eventually got the folder in to the best of her ability and then turned to get her coat. As she then tried to put it on the first little boy said, "Now let me help you."

And with patience and persistence he tried his hardest to line up her zipper to zip up her coat.

There were no adults anywhere around them. No one to prompt them to use their words to ask for help, no one to tell them how to interact appropriately. For a totally spontaneous and pure moment they helped one another out in their end of day tasks in the most natural manner possible.

I. love. my. job.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Whose Looking At Me?

Does anyone else read Brown Bear, Brown Bear and just imaging a massive staring match between all these animals?

"Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?
I see a purple cat looking at me.
Purple cat, purple cat, what do you see?
I see a yellow duck looking at me." *

A version of Purple Cat
I'm seeing a bunch of animals holding a stand-off in a circle, all eyes darting from one animal to the other, in a frantic, paranoid determination to know exactly who is looking at them. Actually I've taught kids like this- the ones who suddenly shout in the middle of a lesson- "He's LOOKING at me!" as though they are about to be knifed in the back by their very sweet and oblivious peer.

I don't think I actually want to live in the Brown Bear world where everyone has to worry about who is looking at who.

And why is the cat purple? Bruises from past fights? Or is he just having a really rough fashion day?

Then suddenly a teacher comes along? Out of nowhere? With her class? They happen to be walking in the woods and stumble upon all these paranoid animals staring at each other? You know the part that didn't get written was what happened next- which either is violent or boring depending on how you want to read it.

*I can't remember the exact order, it's not one of Little Lipstick's favorites and I'm avoiding reading it to my class this year because I am still in recovery from last year's marathon Brown Bear experience.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

*Face Palm* Value Added Common Sense

This was a study? Really? Isn't this common sense? I guess I should be happy that someone went out to prove an argument that we've been trying to point out since value added measures first began to be discussed...

The abstract of the study says:
 We find that failing to account for tracks leads to large biases in teacher value-added estimates.  A teacher of all lower track courses whose measured value-added is at the 50th percentile could increase her measured value-added to the 99th percentile simply by switching to all upper-track courses.  We estimate that 75-95 percent of the bias is due to student sorting and the remainder due to test misalignment. We also decompose the remaining bias into two parts, metric and multidimensionality misalignment, which work in opposite directions.  Even after accounting for explicit tracking, the standard method for estimating teacher value-added may yield biased estimates.

From: 

Panel Paper: Bias of Public Sector Worker Performance Monitoring: Theory and Empirical Evidence From Middle School Teachers

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A bit of job love

My last post was a bit negative.

OK, more than a bit. Writing it made me feel like maybe I should walk in and quit my job today because the situation is hopeless.

The thing is- although I am working harder this year than I have in ten years of teaching- although I feel like the system is actively against my program- although I feel like a bad mother AND a bad teacher- I do love my job.

I adore teaching these kids. I love reading books with them. I love their smiles when they come in every morning. I love when one got off the bus and said, "Good Morning Mrs. Lipstick!" for the first time ever. I love when I hear them speak spontaneously after going for so long being prompted to speak.

I love the small successes. When one shakes another child's hand spontaneously for the first time. When one recognizes the word 'we' in a book. When one of my kids writes her name all over her desk because 9 weeks ago she couldn't even write the first letter in her name.

I love the challenges. I love wondering how on earth I'm going to get them to learn to write their names. I love being frustrated with their behavior and looking for ways to make it better. I love looking at what's not working and trying to figure out other ways to teach it.

I'm not sure it's a good job for me as a mother. It involves so much of me that I don't have time to give. But I do know that I love it. I love the kids, I love the challenge, and I love how much I've learned in only 9 weeks.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Holding us accountable

On Friday afternoon one of my teammates and I sat down to attempt to plan our Thanksgiving unit. We were looking at all of the teaching objectives we need to hit- the students' IEP goals, the state testing standards, the county report card standards, the county grade level curriculum, and the boxed programs we are suppose to teach (which do not correspond with state standards or the county curriculum) for each of our grade levels (between us we have to cover grades K-5).  Not wanting to be a pessimist I was determined that we could pull this off. I mean, if someone tells me it's possible then I'm going to make it happen.

I'm new to this position. I'm still learning that the people who tell us what's possible have no idea. They are hoping naive teachers like me will make it possible. 

I don't have anyone in a testing grade, but she does. Our kiddos are not going to take the standardized state test but instead, because as teachers we still need to be held accountable, we must create binders for each child showing that we taught the specific testing requirements and that the children completed the tasks and know the information. We poured over past binders looking at exactly all the work that would need to be done in order to show what had been taught. Still wanting to be positive I took a deep breath and explained a plan to achieve what needed to be taught in a meaningful way. If we are deliberate about it up front then we can still have good teaching- right?

She looked at me sadly, the way you look at a child who asks to go trick or treating the day after Halloween. Oh honey, that's cute, and so, so, not going to happen.

This has to be done by the end of January, she pointed out. And went on to explain the timeline that needed to happen in order for this massive binder to be produced and submitted for grading by the end of the year.

And it was at that moment I lost any positive outlook I had left about this job. 

This. is. crap.

I was OK with teaching standards that didn't really matter to kids who truly need to know life skills. I was OK with putting kids through tasks and worksheets as long as I could at least attempt to make them meaningful. I actually enjoy looking at all the standards and goals and creating units that will meet all of them. I love finding ways to teach all of these objectives organically and in meaningful ways. I love linking it all together. 

But to tell me that it all has to be done by January- that I'm not actually suppose to make these things meaningful to the kids- I'm not suppose to be a good teacher. I'm suppose to give a child a meaningless worksheet, briefly teach the subject and then re-teach it over and over again until the child can perform it for that worksheet only. Then I put the worksheet into a plastic sleeved binder along with all the other worksheets that have been a complete waste of time and I submit it for a grade. A meaningless grade because the child isn't actually expected to know the information because I wasn't expected to actually teach the information. It is a binder just for show.

I know, I know. Many of you are shaking your heads. How could I be naive after ten years of teaching? 

I really lived in my happy, naive place where I believed that if I deliberately planned out instruction and made it meaningful then I could teach the standards AND life skills and that the combination would be better for my kids. High expectations along with realistic, important expectations.

The thing is, I'd like to meet a parent of a child with an intellectual disability who WANTS their child to go through this mess. I can't imagine one of my parents saying, "Oh yes, I want to know that my child can identify the Powhatan Indians on a worksheet. Please spend valuable time making sure that my child can identify the Powhatan Indians vs other American Indian tribes on a worksheet. That's more important than knowing how to safely cross the street, identifying the letters, telling me that they love me, or counting to 10. And make sure it is on a worksheet. Not a fun hands-on activity that can help my child distinguish between American Indians and settlers, but a worksheet. Yes, as a parent, please give me that data. I need to know that my child's teacher is being held accountable just like all the other teachers."

I've heard numerous parents complain about this process. So why are we doing it? Why are we taking away from quality instruction? To tell politicians and the public that special education teachers are also being held accountable? 

It's an amazing waste of time and resources. No one is benefiting from this. Not the kids, not the parents, not the schools or the teachers. We're jumping through a hoop because someone told us to, and no one can tell us why other than saying, "Because you must be held accountable."

I'm not sure how long I can participate in this.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Play?

The first day back after our hurricane break I was losing my mind. The careful rhythm I'd found myself in the weeks before had somehow disappeared along with the 70 degree weather and I could barely remember what came next. Finally at the end of the day I lost it. Deciding that we'd play a game for math instead of trying to work on our individual math tasks I pulled out Hi Ho Cheerios. (For my kiddos this game is brilliant- as far as math goes they have to count a set amount of fruit on the spinner, then they have to select the same amount of fruit. We're hitting counting, recognizing numerals, AND selecting the same amount- all of which are tough skills to do. Not to mention that we're reinforcing turn taking.)

One of our friends had earned his break time and was happily playing with his play dough. Typically he doesn't really pay attention to what the other children in the class are doing and doesn't usually tolerate waiting his turn. Plus, he already can count, select, and recognize numbers so the game wasn't going to hit any of his math skills. I planned on getting the game started then going back to work on math with him when his break-time was over.

As I set the kids up and began explaining how we would play my friend came up to us. He looked at my aid and said "play".

There was silence. The aid and I looked at each other in shock. He used spontaneous language to ask to play with other kids? Spontaneous language? Asking to participate in a game with other students? Even the other kids were slightly stunned.

Of course! We said, and got him situated. Taking turns wasn't easy for him, but he certainly enjoyed the game and he let us coach him through the turn taking process. He followed the rules, selected the right amount of fruit and put it on his tree.

For a day when I was losing my mind, fighting back frustration at everything I was doing wrong as a teacher- desperately trying to remember what was coming next- my little friend's actions immediately made it all better.

All the stress I was putting on myself vanished as I watched my friend ask to play. I can feel like the earth is falling apart, yet there are successes. Small successes. Baby steps. I can't forget to watch the kids and celebrate their progress. It's not about perfect lessons- it's about the progress the kiddos are making.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Curb Cuts

Until this year I've never seen curb cuts as anything but a good, adapted measure to make our communities accessible for all people.  A design that allows people in wheelchairs to safely and easily access the sidewalk. I've never seen them as anything more or less than that.

Until now.



Now I see them as a brief yet necessary torture device for one of my friends.

One of my little friends is in a wheelchair and in order to access his bus everyday he must drive his wheelchair across the sidewalk, down a bumpy curb cut and to the bus. That's what the curb cut was designed to do, right- make it possible for him to be able to access his bus?

One day earlier in the year we were walking to the bus, chatting away and my friend drove his wheelchair around the curb cut. Instead of safety and gradually rolling down the sidewalk he fell right over the edge. I panicked, of course, imagining my friend catapulting out of his chair, or even worse, having his chair fall on top of him (it didn't, of course, but the possibility was there). Stupid me, I thought- my friend needs to be taught to use the curb cut. If I don't teach him this skill he has no idea to look for the gradual incline.

So the next few afternoons I made it my business to teach him how to look for the ramp. He continued to tried to avoid it, and I just chalked that up to him not being able to see. The motor planning it takes to project your chair in the right direction is actually pretty tough. When he's in the chair his visibility is limited and he can't see what's right under neath him. So he has to look ahead and plan where he'll aim his chair for when he gets there. Think of how this was difficult to learn to drive when we were 15- remember our parents yelling at us about appreciating the size of the car and planning ahead so that we wouldn't roll over the sidewalk? Yeah- he's 6 and he has an intellectual disability. Aiming his chair down a ramp is actually hard work and involves a lot of executive functioning.

But after watching my friend for a few weeks I realized his aiming his wheelchair around the ramp has nothing to do with his executive functioning. He hates the curb cut. He drives his chair up to it, stops, takes a breath, says "Here we go" and then, holding his breath drives down it.

The curb cut is bumpy, as all new curb cuts are, which I am sure is an ADA regulation  But for my tiny friend in his big wheelchair these bumps are killer. He bounces around like a rock in the back of a pick up truck. When he gets to the bottom he stops his chair, wipes his brow, takes another deep breath, and moves on.

It's a few seconds every afternoon, but my heart goes out to him (and he still needs to be watched closely because otherwise he'll choose to drive his chair straight down the sidewalk- one big bump is preferable to him than the many little ones).

There really isn't anything we can do. It's how he gets to the bus. It's so sad to me that what we've put in place to make our environment safer for him is actually working against him. Until watching his little face go down the bumps I never would have looked at the curb cut and thought anything but, "Oh good, I'm glad that's there." Now all I see is what he must see- a momentary torture device he must conquer every afternoon before he can finally go home.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sad Friday Night

Husband:  Are you doing work? It's Friday night!

Me: Ummm....  (nodding head, not taking time to look away from computer to answer).

Husband: You work a lot. I'm beginning to suspect you work more than me. You must be in a really high powered job and get paid a lot of money for the amount of work you do.

*books thrown across room in anger*

Now I'm stressed by the amount of work I have to do AND disgruntled at the reminder that I am working far more than I'm getting paid.

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree