Friday, January 14, 2011

Divergent Thinking

One of the biggest frustrations I have in educating children is the insistence of doing it the same way and expecting different results.  Or, the rigidity that there is only one way to arrive at the answer to a problem.  The following video is fascinating and strikes at the nerve, in part, of the problems we see in public school education today.

We need to move away from the "one size, fits all" mentality in educating our children with learning challenges.  In part, this is the mindset in the inclusion classroom.  Change can only begin with us as we push for postive adjustments in our school system.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Stock Answer

"Life's most urgent question is: What are you doing for others"  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~

I hate stock answers. In fact, I find them to be insulting. It is usually an answer given that is self serving and mostly, in the education system, to "cover one's tracks". Or, perhaps it's said to placate a parents concerns and in effect diminish or discount it.

My son is in the 3rd grade chorus. Recently, I sent an email to my son's music teacher regarding sheet music Aren brought home from school. Aren cannot practice his recorder effectively let alone read sheet music. Naturally, I felt concerned so I fired off an email asking what assistance (if any) my son is receiving in the music class. It's a reasonable inquiry. I only want to know who is helping my son stay on task. I wasn't sure if the teacher knew that my son has an IEP so I asked him if he had read it. I want to be sure (because we often assume) the teacher is aware of the IEP. I recently learned that we as parents must not take it for granted that every person who interfaces with out child is aware of an IEP.

At the recent Winter Concert back in December, my husband and I were among the many parents in the audience watching with pride our children perform. My son is tall for his age so he was in the top, back row. We had a very clear view of him. As the children were performing, Aren was completely unfocused and very distracted. He was looking around at the other kids singing and I can see plainly that only intermittently was he participating as the other 3rd graders. Most, if not all of the other 3rd graders were focused and singing their little hearts out but not my son. I have legitimate concerns when my child arrives home with sheet music in hand.

Part of the response I received from the teacher was this:
"music instruction is always differentiated to meet the needs of students with various abilities and styles of learning. As far as musical goals in Chorus are concerned, Aren's ability is on par with his peers in third grade."

I'm sorry, Mr. Teacher but my son's ability is not "on par" with the other students. If my son was on par, he would be focused, demonstrate the same level of ability as his classmates and I wouldn't feel concerned.  I want nothing more than for my son to have the look and attentiveness as the other children. To have the ability of giving his full attention to the chorus experience. Unfortunately, due to my son having a specturm disorder and ADHD, it is a challenge for him.

Stock answers do not serve the students and it doesn't put parental concerns at ease. I would've preferred the teacher to acknowledge my concern.  It would've demonstrated more transparency on the teacher's part had he minimally acknowledged on some level, Aren tends not to focus as well as the other students. Stating my son is on par is dismissive.  Of course, if the teacher pointed out the obvious, more would be required of him and/or the school district so that my son would, in fact, be on par with his peers.

What does it say about teachers in our public school system who continue to disregard the concerns of parents?  As parents of children with special needs, we do not have to accept stock answers.  If something doesn't sit right with us, we need to advocate for adjustments to be made.  In my situation,  it's an uphill climb.  First the teachers need to acknowledge the obvious before something could be done about it.  And, as many parents know, it is not as simple as said.

What do we do when teachers and administrators try to sidestep the real issues at hand?  Although we put it in writing and have a file full of documentation, outside of going to due processing, how do you work with teachers who refuse to first acknowledge issues?  Who continue to treat parental concerns as some type of hysteria.  How can a teacher state a child is on par when you as a parent see and know otherwise?  What do you do with that?

That is why I started this blog.  I needed a place to share my experiences working out a special education program for my child.  To discuss candidly the real challenges many parents face in the pursuit of a FAPE.  Gaining a FAPE for our children can be elusive and slippery.  It shouldn't be but often it is.  It is almost in our grasp but not quite there.  We have to beg, barter and trade off services and academics because often our children need more than non-disabled peers.

You can share your thoughts and tips here.  I would like to hear from parents and teachers about partnering for student success.  There are always parents and teachers out there who can benefit by the shared experiences of others.  I know that I often do.

A Powerful Message on Bullying

The video was sent by Kathy Silgailis of P.U.L.S.E.S - Parents United Learning the Special Education System located in Orange County, NY

I forwarded the video on to the administrators in my school district in the hope that not only will they view it but also show it at the next staff meeting. And, consider inviting Jesse Saperstein to make the presentation to the students in this district.

One of the most powerful tools for combating bullying is through ongoing advocacy for change. Whether or not you reside in the mid-hudson valley region of New York State, think about passing this video on to the administrators in your child's district.