Category Archives: Daily Reflections

who is crazier

I found out this weekend that my older brother (28) is planning on picking up his life and moving to Fairbanks, Alaska.  He lives in Tucson, Arizona presently.  And, he recently finished a four year stint in the Army.

How does this have anything to do with education?  Actually, at this point in this blog entry, I don’t know.  I am hoping that, as I type this, something will hit me and tell me how to tie his whimsical drive in with my teaching.

My first thoughts are that he’s not afraid to take risks.  And I’m thinking that I wish my students could do that more.  I mean, a person really either has to be very secure with him or her self, or actually really insecure (so much to the point that they do crazy things).  To be honest, I’m not sure which one he is.  He’s always been the troubadour, taking new life experiences head-on.  So this latest development in his life shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does…

Back to the kids.  I think to truly learn about oneself and the world around, one must take risks like this.  What a learning experience he will have – learning about different ways of living (okay, it’s still the U.S., but certainly requires a different set of daily living skills than Arizona), and learning about how to start all over.  He has no relation or friends living there.  He is lured by his desire to 1) do something different, and 2) follow a dream.  He wants to be a firefighter, and they are looking for a few good service people up there.

I would love to see my students demonstrate a similar drive:

“I want to graduate high school, but I am addicted to alcohol at 15 years.  I will do what it takes to realize that dream.”

“I want to get on the A honor roll next semester.  I currently have 10 missing assignments and am not welcome back to math class until I take ownership of my behavior.  I will do what it takes to get to my goal.”

“My mom sits at home all day with her 2 high school dropouts and 4 other children.  I want to do better for myself.  I will take steps now to avoid living off the government.”

It is so frustrating to see such potential as my students have wasted.  They are at such an important time in their lives – physically, socially, and academically – yet they revert to substance abuse and rebellious activities and disengagement.

What is my role here?  I tell them the steps they need to follow to get to their dreams (if they express a dream, that is).  But I feel like I’m lecturing.

In my school, we want kids to construct their own knowledge when it comes to academic understandings.  I generalize this over to goal-setting and post-high school aspirations.  If I constantly tell kids the way to reach their goals, they see it as nagging.  They tend to do the opposite of what they are told.

Better to guide their minds to their own understandings by giving subtle clues and scaffolding the learning about their future paths.  Tricky thing to do.  I can’t say I’ve really done it yet.  But I am tired of seeing 50% of my former students drop out during high school.

why do some aspire to greatness while others settle for next to nothing?

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and then there are days

where I am running around the entire day.  There are days when I hit the schoolgrounds running.  Really, it started Thursday when, during my commute home during a 2-hour snow release, my principal calls telling me one of my students brought a knife to school.  He was showing it to kids on the bus and telling them that he was going to “cut up” a kid who had taken a Pokemon card of his and refused to return it.

Pretty serious situation.

So Friday morning, we begin the task of finding as many witnesses as we can.  Fortunately, that was not difficult since my braggart 7th grader was very public about his intentions with the knife.  I interviewed three kids – all stories lined up (makes this easier).  So in comes my student and his parents.  The high school liason officer did most of the talking – letting the kid tell all about what had happened.

I haven’t indicated yet that the student in question here has been mentioned already on this blog.  This guy is a compulsive liar.  Very difficult if not impossible to get him to tell the truth – not only when he messes up, but even when telling positive things about himself.  It’s really quite sad.  Hence the reason we had to do our homework before interrogating him.

So when the officer prompted him to tell the story about the bus ride and the knife, we made it clear that we knew the truth already based on witness accounts.   And, surprisingly, he was fairly truthful.  3 months ago, this boy would have told about 5% truth and the rest fiction.

So, though this is obviously a negative incident in this boy’s history, it does indicate some positive movement towards truth-telling.  And, up until Thursday, things were going quite swimmingly at school.

I hope this incident (and the unavoidable legal aftermath) doesn’t pull him down a path towards increased criminality.

This is the fork in the road I have seen many children reach during their time with me: some incident occurs where they may become under a court order.  This tends to either harden them (where no consequence will help guide them towards behavioral improvement), or scare the bejesus out of them (where they quickly figure out better choices for themselves).

This student has a good heart.  He’s really an innocent kid.  I will take it very personally if he chooses to harden himself and lead a life of criminal thinking…but I don’t know yet how to keep him innocent while he makes such choices.

inclusion

This year is different for me as a special education teacher.As previously mentioned, I historically was a resource or pullout special education teacher. I taught my own classes (usually 3-6 kids in each) in my own classroom.

I am now 75% inclusion. I have 2 classes that are pullout, and the rest of my day is spent “roaming.” I go to the classes that my kids are in and try to subtly keep them on track. I respond to teacher concerns about homework, behavior, social skills, hygiene, and whatever else.

I’ve been a bit insecure lately in that I’m wondering if I’m doing all I can to be as best a support for my kids as possible. When I was directly working with them, it was easy because I was teaching them. Now that I’m an indirect support, it is more difficult to gauge whether my interventions are helpful or not.

My kids this year are pretty decent – that is, their behaviors are quite manageable. Therefore, I’m not spending much of my day babysitting kids in in-school-suspension or time-out or whatever you want to call it. I go to classes and the kids are pretty much doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Sometimes one or two redirections is all that is needed to keep them going.

So I feel kind of useless at times.

There are days when I don’t sit still for 2 seconds – these days remind me of the good old days of pullout…

But most days are rather uneventful. It is these days where I question myself and my role in my students’ education. It was my goal at the beginning of the year to be more collaborative with my students’ teachers. I know I’m doing it more than ever, but am I doing it enough? How do I know? Who do I compare myself to? What does good collaboration in inclusion look like?

Part of the problem with this is my philosophy that students are pretty much responsible for themselves at this age (13-15 years), and I will not nag them to get things done. I will make sure the expectation is clear, then allow the student the choice to get it right or mess up. If they get it right, all is well. If they mess up, negative consequences ensue. I sometimes wonder if this philosophy is too “hands-off.” Should I be giving kids more chances? Am I being too passive-aggressive?

I’ve never really seen “good” inclusion in any other schools (student-teaching or wherever), so this is why I don’t have a model to go by. I know there are seminars out there that teach about inclusion strategies, but I’ve had such poor luck with seminars lately that I’m not willing to try one out for this purpose. I look to the experts of the world who can offer some ideas and/or guidelines for what good inclusion support looks like for EBD students who typically fare pretty well. Lay ‘em on me.

Trying to give it Three Weeks

I guess there’s something out there that says behavioral intervention should be revisited after being in place for about 6 weeks.  Maybe I’m a little off with that, but I guess it makes sense.  It takes time for a kid (or anyone, really) to internalize or automate responses to daily events/stimuli.

I had a discussion today with Mr. Okay.

He’s not been improving on his understanding of Locus of Control…(also previously blogged about).

Today, his English teacher was subbing for him in social studies class.  Unusual situation, but it actually occurs every Wednesday afternoon.  So Mr. Okay should be accustomed to this by now.  Well, today he had a generally rough time.  Nothing way out of control, just your typical distracting, off-task, attention-seeking behaviors that can sap the energy from the teacher (and prevent the rest of the class from getting on with the work).

She chose to not remove him (her judgment call), but escorted him down to my room after class.  She was hoping to get some information from him.  He was very stern faced (very animated kid), and wouldn’t talk at first.  I told him to head to the ISS room and I’ll meet him there in 5 minutes.  At that point, he decides to open up.  Well, too late in my book (kids love to do that – as soon as they hear the consequence, that’s when they decide to do what you’ve asked).  So I sent him and said I’d talk in a few.  This didn’t help matters, because now it was my fault that he was missing class…

   “I wanted to talk, but you had to make me wait 5 minutes…”  “It’s your fault I can’t go to 7th hour…”

Of course, he neglects to recognize that the reason I wasn’t going to talk to him was because my first attempts to get some information were met with no response.

Anyway, I did eventually get down to talk with him.

The conversation did not go well.

    As a side note, I sometimes avoid these “heart-to-heart” conversations because kids see them as “lectures” rather than opportunities to learn from mistakes.  I was hoping today we could have a positive talk about understanding our role when we get into trouble.  As you will see, that did not pan out so well.

The general gist of the conversation was this:

Do you know why you were brought down by the teacher after class?

No.

Do you think you were a problem in the classroom?

Not that bad.

Why would the teacher have brought you down if you were following rules?

Why do you have to blow this up into a big problem.  I might have been a little more hyper than typical, but it wasn’t so bad I should be in trouble for it.

Why would the teacher have brought you down if it wasn’t that bad?

Oh my God! … (ranting about how I’m overly tough on him and I have major problems and Grandma and Grandpa are going to come in and have a meeting..)

I gave him a lot of short one-liners to ponder – brought up the phrase “victim mentality” and “locus of control,” neither one he could define (and refused to look up).  Nonetheless, he perseverated on the  notion that I put him in an eternally bad mood and that’s why he gets into trouble.

I just don’t know how to get this boy to take a look in the mirror and see his faults.  He’s an awesome kid – he smiles a ton, participates well, and generally does fine.  But when something doesn’t go his way, he will blame everyone under the sun.

As I was reflecting tonight, I realized he’s got a nasty combination of issues at play here:

  1. He often doesn’t recognize the problems with his behavior.  When pointed out that his behavior is disruptive, he immediately
  2. Blames those around him or adults in charge for causing him to be hyper, talk back, or shut down.

The two issues really play off each other horribly – like a nasty cycle of errors in thinking.

He is one of my top projects this year – I am trying to learn more about how to continue to make consequences fit the misbehavior to avoid the “Unfair” response – but it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t even realize that he’s done something wrong.

Ideas?

Teach them to Tell the Truth

This post is an update to “Teach them to Lie Better.”

For the past month, I have been working with one of my project students to decrease lying and other untruthful behaviors.

One of the simplest interventions I have put in place is the fact that I don’t ask him his side of the story until I know the real scoop.  Knowing that he thrives from getting individual adult attention, he only gets it when he’s being truthful.  I have found this to be extremely effective with this child.  His stealing has diminished and his tall tales about daily events have all but ceased.

It is really refreshing to work with this boy now because I can be more confident he is telling the truth.

I would love to share details about his program if there is interest.  I know others out there are struggling with kids who lie compulsively – love to hear your stories of success or trials!

Okay.

I had a lengthy discussion today with one student.  This student has been the focus of this blog once before.

I have learned from my principal that it can be very effective with students at this junior high age to be completely honest.  That is, instead of beating around the bush and offering advice in a roundabout way, come right out and point out the root of the issue as adults see it.  This can definitely backfire with certain students or if done at the wrong time.

Today, I felt it was the right time to lay it out there for this guy:

Can I say something that is a little bit pointed – even if it might come across as insulting?

    (student agrees)

I think your perception of reality is often skewed.  This causes you to feel like the victim  a lot, and when you fire back at the adult, things only get worse.

    (student thinks for a moment, then thoughtfully), I think at life a lot differently than most kids.

(I visibly agree with him)

Can we try something?  You know that, in the past, when you get called out by a teacher for something and you argue, nothing good comes of it.  Right?

(student agrees)

Let’s try an experiment.  Next time a teacher comes after you for something even if you didn’t really do it (from your point of view),  I want you to say, “Okay.”

(student ponders)

(teacher waits)

(student ponders more)

That’s going to be hard.

Absolutely.

(silence)

I knew I could count on you to try it.

We ended the conversation on very positive terms.  It will be hard for him to put aside his pride and just say, “okay,” but I hope he tries it.

I am not sure yet if I want to give his teachers a heads-up on that, though.  To really have this experiment most authentic, I shouldn’t say anything to them.  But to give this guy the best chance of experiencing positives when he takes ownership for bad situations, teachers need to understand the internal workings of this experience for this child.

We’ll see how this works out.  The key with this intervention is that it is simple and easy to remember.  The tricky thing with this boy is that, no matter what, he seems to feel singled out and treated unfairly.  It’s been a year and a half now that I’ve worked with him very closely, and I’m hoping we can start to take more ownership with this little intervention.

Locus of Control aka Victim Mentality

I have a 8th grade (13-year old) student who seems to always feel like the adults in his life are out to get him.

His behaviors are very blatant and often obnoxious, yet when a teacher calls him on it, he feels like the teacher is picking on him.

For example, this morning he kicked another student while working together at a table.  It wasn’t the end of the world since the students were decent acquaintances, but it still was a distraction to both their learning.  So we had him move to another desk.  Once there, he proceeded to make random utterances, thus disrupting the class again.

As a side note, this is a student who is perfectly capable of devoting quiet attention to a task for hours on end – I have seen it.  So we are not asking of him things he is not capable of doing.

So we needed him to leave the classroom and go to another one just down the hall.  This was in his eyes a major offense on our part.

No matter how an adult tries to reason with him, we are met with a response like “I don’t understand why you guys always have to pick on me…”  As if he wasn’t doing something worthy of being removed.  We have tried to reason with him (both in the heat of the moment and when he’s calm), but he maintains the fact that we are singling him out as a “bad kid” when he’s doing nothing different than the rest in the class.

Watching a video of himself in such situations yields no better results.  He still perceives that adults are out to get him.

I am crying out in desperation here for some intervention techniques for this boy.  He is in a social skills class, so we have the opportunity to role play scenarios and such.
I am just at a loss for how to retrain him to understand that HE is in control of his life.  When he messes up, something bad can happen (and at school, we do our best to ensure there is a consequence).

Does anyone have any strategies for dealing with this victim mentality – or some insight as to his mis-perceptions?  We love this boy and want him to take ownership for his mistakes.