Saturday, March 6, 2010

Denial: Not just a river in Egypt

Well, as expected, the honeymoon is over. Not only my terrific honeymoon, but Julio's honeymoon. Yes, Julio has officially started to lose his mind, which means that I am losing my mind as well.

Here are some things that present themselves as very big clues to me that Julio is not in the right classroom environment:

  • During a mini lesson, he got up from his seat and began conducting an invisible boxing match with an invisible opponent. He danced around the room, punching the air.
  • During a read aloud, he suddenly began grabbing his head, wrenching himself from side to side, throwing his body out of his seat. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was having a "nightmare."
  • When he is working independently and gets frustrated, he starts pounding on his desk and punching himself in the head.
  • He has started singing, humming, pounding on his desk, kicking at his desk, and grabbing his desk and shaking it aggressively, all during what is supposed to be a quiet working period.
  • The other day, he got upset, so he took everything out of his desk, hurled it to the floor, and then flopped himself on top of it and lay there.
I assigned him a "buddy" whose job is (a) to help him find things in his desk (because whenever I ask the class to take out a certain book or folder, he yells out, "I CAN'T FIND IT!" and starts taking everything out of his desk and throwing it to the floor) and (b) to remind him what he is supposed to be doing (because every time we're supposed to be working independently, he yells, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DOOOOOO!" and starts up with the punching himself in the head and shaking his desk around). And God bless her, his buddy has taken on that role and more -- whispering "Julio" and pointing to his sticker chart when he starts humming and/or singing and fidgeting, showing him what page to turn to, etc. The day that he threw everything out of his desk and then threw himself on top of the carnage, she got up without a word and began helping him return everything to his desk. That's when I realized: Carly is his para. I have a special education student sitting in my general ed class of 28 students, and he has a 7-year-old acting as his para because Mom continues to live in deep, deep denial.

So the guidance counselor and I sat down with Mom for what I can safely say was the World's Most Awkward Parent Meeting. In it I tried to talk gently but firmly about how Julio struggles and will continue to struggle in my class because it's not the right environment for him. I told Mom that Julio knows what he needs and asks for it: He asks me to turn the lights off because it will "relax" him, he asks me to take breaks for walks around the room, he asks me for much more individual attention than I can give him because there are 28 students in our class instead of 12 and only one teacher instead of two adults, which is what he would get if he were in the 12:1:1 class that his hypothetical IEP recommends for him.

Mom categorically does not want him in special education. Mom thinks he would "fall behind" in a special education class "with other kids like him." I think Mom is falling prey to the stigma that says that special education = dumb. I tried to explain to Mom that this isn't an academic issue, that Julio is very bright but isn't getting the services he needs. I said that, if he were to be in a special ed class, when he goes to third grade (the first "testing" grade), he would still take the same test as everybody else, but he would get to take it in a calmer environment with modifications that would hopefully prevent him from punching himself in the head.

Mom said that she didn't realize he hadn't been "behaving" and had just taken all his toys away from him. I told Mom that I knew she and Julio discussed good behavior at home, that it wasn't like anyone thought his behavior was a reflection on her parenting, and that she could take all his toys away from him but it wouldn't help his behavior because he can't control himself. I said that Julio tells other kids that he can't control himself, that he knows how he's expected to behave but he just can't do it. I said that his opinion of himself is starting to suffer because he feels like he's constantly letting other people down with his behavior, because he's always promising to behave but then he can't do it.

After an infinity of talking, the guidance counselor asked Mom what she thought of all this. That's when we experienced one of those long, awkward, crickets-chirping silences.

Oh, and did I mention this meeting took place after we returned from a field trip? I happen to have the most motion-sick class on the planet, and on every trip we take I have at least two pale and sweaty kids in the front of the bus leaning over barf bags while their seatmates anxiously monitor them for signs of vomit. On this particular trip, Felix, eyeing his seatmate, said to me, "If I smell throw-up, it makes me throw up." Me: "She's not going to throw up, honey. We're so close to school." Felix: "But if she throws up and I smell the throw-up, I'll throw up." Me: "Then if she throws up, you'll hold your nose."

So we were literally a block away from school and I thought we were home free when one of my parent chaperones abruptly jumped up and asked the bus driver to let him off. Initially I thought that since we were stuck in traffic so close to school, he figured he'd just let himself off. That is, until his son, whom he'd been sitting with, glumly pointed to the floor of the bus and said morosely, "He threw up."

Yup, my parent chaperone had ralphed onto the floor of the bus. And do you know what happens when you're on a bus that's lurching forward and there's liquid on the floor? That's right, it oozes forward. So the girls in the seat in front of the vomit in question began shrieking, "It's coming toward us!" Meanwhile, his son was left holding this giant water bottle that they'd brought along, and he continued, "And he was throwing up into the water and now I can't drink any more water."

An eternity later, we arrived at school. My motion-sick friends shakily let themselves off the bus. Everyone was tired, starving and -- judging by the unmistakable severity of the pee dances taking place on the sidewalk -- desperate to use the bathroom. As we wearily made our way to the door of the school, the bus driver began honking at me.

He rolled down the window. And he handed me -- can you guess? -- the giant water bottle full of my parent chaperone's upchuck.

TGIF, everyone!

43 comments:

Ann T. said...

Dear Miss Brave,
I don't know what to say about Julio's mother except that I admire you very much for sticking to the good fight.

I admire you for taking care of the urp, too. There are not-so-many people who could handle this range of things with the savoir faire you seem to show.

Good results will show up,
Although, Julio's mother may take longer, and require more truth-tellers besides you. In the meantime,

I hope this week goes well.

Ann T.

photomatt7 said...

First of all, you are an exceptional writer. I really enjoy the way you phrase the struggles you experience as someone who cares so much but, given the circumstances in which we work, must often feel she can do so little.

The stories about Julio are heartwrenching. I think it's wonderful that he's able to articulate his needs and can establish what he needs to do to keep himself in a good place. Sadly, what you say about his mother is all too common. Parents are concerned about labels when they should be concerned about their child being entitled to the best possible scenario.

You're fighting a battle that we'll all experience many times in our careers. Don't give up. Even if you don't get Julio his services, his teacher next year might. Eventually, the mother might realize that if so many people are saying the same thing, SHE must be wrong about it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Brave,

I have read your posting for a while and I notice that you have sympathy for Julio, but I have not noticed similar sympathy/empathy for the other kids in the class.

"I assigned him a "buddy" whose job is (a) to help him find things in his desk (because whenever I ask the class to take out a certain book or folder, he yells out, "I CAN'T FIND IT!" and starts taking everything out of his desk and throwing it to the floor) and (b) to remind him what he is supposed to be doing"

What is the mindset that makes it ok to ask/require (you are her teacher) a seven year old child to manage another seven year old child? Does this little girl have an out if she does NOT want to be the para for Julio? When is her instruction time made up? Does she draw a paycheck? Do her parents have any idea that her school day involves being a "buddy" or in your words a para? Are they ok with this? Does she have a work permit?

What can the parents of the other kids in your class do? Can the get their kids out into a reasonable learning situtation?

I don't mean to sound harsh, but....you have a choice about coming to school every day. You know what you are walking into. You are an adult with the mental, intellectual and emotional resources to handle dealing with a child like Julio. And it wears on you, as it would wear on anyone. Little kids don't have those same resources...they are little kids. What options do the other kids in the class have?

miss brave said...

Dear Anonymous,

Julio's buddy is one of the most mature, responsible, helpful students I have. She is also the most WILLING and EAGER to help students I have. She was unofficially acting as Julio's buddy long before I asked her (because yes, I did check with her first if she would be willing) to help him out. Her parents do know about it because I wrote them a glowing letter singing her praises, which she beamed with pride when she brought it home.

As far as the other parents in my class...look, I don't have the power to remove Julio from my room, nor do I feel it would be entirely ethical of me to reach out to these parents and say, "You should complain to my adminstration about Julio." If anyone does complain, I would certainly be happy to direct them to my AP.

Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't it be ethical to inform parents that there is a situation in class that is preventing/hindering their child from recieving a full day's instruction? If an alarm randomly went off in the middle of classes several times a day, would you be confortable telling the parents:

"There is an alarm that goes off throughout the day. I can somewhat predict it, but I can't prevent the alarm from going off. Nor can I remove the alarm. When it goes off, learning/teaching is disrupted until I can shut off the alarm. Some children find this alarm frightening and have a hard time concentrating after it goes off. I will do everything I can to help your child adjust to the alarm, but there is likely going to be a detrimental affect on their education this year. If you want, the procedures for transferring your child to a class that may not have a similar alarm are XYZ."

Also, how come you don't have the power to remove Julio? In my state, teachers can remove any child they feel is dangerous. Surely his actions must at least be egregious for an in-house suspension.

miss brave said...

The thing is, though, a child is not an alarm. When William was in my class, and parents complained about William, I was honest about the fact that William was not in the right classroom environment and measures were being taken to correct the situation. But without having parents reach out to ME first, I could never envision myself telling parents, "By the way, we have this kid that I can't control who's screwing up the whole class." That feels too much like tattling, or trying to turn our classroom community against one another.

I do have the power to remove students temporarily who are causing disruption...what I meant was that I don't have the power to "expel" him from my class permanently. That means that all of us, for the time being at least, need to learn some coping skills for the situation we're in. My kids already know that rather than laughing at Julio's antics, they should say, "Calm down," or ignore it and move on.

Anonymous said...

But you do have..."this kid that I can't control who's screwing up the whole class." I don't see how it is tattling or trying to turn the classroom community against one another to let the parents know. The cold hard reality is that it is hard to learn when someone else is out of control. There are 27 kids in that class who are not getting the education they deserve because Julio can't control himself.

Maybe the other kids' parents are clueless, don't care about their kid's education, or maybe, as was my case, the parents didn't/couldn't believe that a situation that out of control could occur and no one would tell them.

It seems that the kids in your class have dealt with both Julio and William this year. I'm hard pressed to see how they will manage to get a year's education this year.

What is going to be done for them to make up for the instruction time they've lost? When will their parents learn how much the other 27 kids have had to put up with? Will there be counseling for the kids who will spend the summer telling their parents they are afraid to go back to school?

How are they going to unlearn the "coping skills" they've learned this year. It is not ok when someone is violent or disruptive. It is not something to be tolerated or coped with. What sort of remediation is planned so that they realized that violent, disruptive behavior is not something to be coped with?

photomatt7 said...

Anonymous, I take issue with some of what you're saying. Not that I disagree with your assessment that Julio is disruptive and potentially injurious to the class as a whole, but you are wrong to devalue him as a student and a person.

Does he require exceptional levels of attention and assistance? Seems so, for sure. So, what does that mean, then? We write him off, send him on his way, and wait for another teacher to do the same? The poor child is a victim of so many circumstances, surely NONE of which are under his control. His mother doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that he requires a different setting, and quite possibly, therapy and medication. Therefore, he can't receive the services that would probably help him adjust.

You're talking about a 7-year old child who, forgetting about the others in the class for a moment, is also being victimized by his actions. He's a helpless youngster caught in the web of idiocy that captures so many children who require major differentiation of attitudes and teaching styles, yet whose parents won't allow it to happen because they're afraid of their child being labeled.

I think for you to suggest to Miss Brave that she stoke the fire of parental involvement and - no matter how subtly - urge parents to wage a war against this boy is totally unfair. No parent would want that for their own child. The issue is not with the 27 other families. The issue is with Julio's. His mother is holding him back from his potential by refusing to acknowledge his unique circumstances. Believe me, I'm sure Julio would love nothing more than to be in a situation where he can flourish. And his peer buddy who helps him stay on task is the first step.

Miss Brave is dealing with an infuriating, exhausting, neglectful situation, with her best intentions for Julio guiding her actions. I think she should be commended, and, Miss Brave, I hope you'll continue to fight for Julio - not against him.

Anonymous said...

Julio is in an awful situation. But there are 27 other kids who are also in an awful situation. Why is it ok to ignore them? I am not suggesting waging war against a seven year old. Yes, his mother is an idiot who is not fulfilling her responsibilities as a parent.

But there are twenty seven children who deserve a safe classroom, who deserve to be able to learn at school. This fact does not devalue Julio as a person. The unspoken implication here seems to be that the other 27 children's value is as tools. The other little girl can be used as a peer buddy. But no where in the blog or in the comments have I seen any concern about the 27 other kids in the classroom.

They exist and they have value and they deserve to learn in a safe environment. My questions remain unanswered. What is being done to make sure that they have a safe place to learn everyday?

photomatt7 said...

Ask Miss Brave's principal.

I know you're not in NYC, but are you a teacher? You are posting anonymously and don't indicate either way whether you are. But, if you are, please consider this:

I've taught in classrooms where one student threatened to sabotage every other (not in terms like Julio, but certainly in terms of maturity and propriety). It is a constant balancing act to serve the individual needs of that child as well as the collective needs of the group.

But to suggest that a child be removed, whether at the teacher's behest or the mother's, simply to salvage the rest of the room, is wrong. That sends the child a message that no child should EVER hear: You're not wanted.

In my class, we consider each other family. We stick up for each other, we support each other, and we deal with each other's warts. It's not an ideal situation, but if anything, the other students in the class are learning to accept others respectfully.

You seem very insistent that learning is not happening in Miss Brave's room. Her management of the situation is probably allowing more learning than previously expected to occur.

miss brave said...

Anonymous wrote: "no where in the blog or in the comments have I seen any concern about the 27 other kids in the classroom."

It is important to remember that this blog is often an imperfect and incomplete picture of my classroom. I tend to post about the things that are causing me the most stress or anxiety -- kind of like when you have a bad day, you want to vent. It's rare for me to post, like, "Today, in spite of Julio's repeated attempts to smuggle his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books back from my desk, my class successfully explored the properties of sand and clay." (Which, by the way, happened today!)

There are six classes in the second grade, with an average of 25+ students per class. Which class has the highest reading levels in the grade? Mine. Which class is making the most progress in the science curriculum? Mine. Which class consistently impresses other teachers in the school with their level of vocabulary and sophisticated conversational skills? Mine.

Yesterday, I was out of school at a workshop, and apparently my sub injured herself on her way to school and was a bit of a wreck all day, and yet my AIS provider reported that my kids were "very respectful." Why? Because my kids have learned how to be respectful in difficult situations. Because in my class, we celebrate each other's differences, and we emphasize that all of us learn differently and have different learning needs.

Perhaps my blog is giving you the impression that Julio is causing massive disruptions all day, every day and perpetuating a total lockdown on learning in my classroom. But let me assure you, that is not the case. You asked whether there would be "counseling for the kids who will spend the summer telling their parents they are afraid to go back to school." At the end of the day today, when I announced that it was time to get our stuff and head out, I heard groans of dismay. Because, on the whole, my kids love school, they love our class, and they love me.

photomatt, thank you for urging me to continue to "fight for Julio." This morning I received word for the guidance counselor that his mother wants to go through with the special ed placement -- and the guidance counselor complimented me on the way I spoke to Julio's mother during our loooong meeting.

Ann T. said...

Dear Miss Brave,
I'm thrilled to hear that your words have had an effect on Julio's mom. As far as I could tell, the praise you received from the counselor was well deserved--I thought so even before the numerous comments you received.

As for anonymous, I am glad she was interested in your situation. I think the responses here taught me very much. However, I don't agree with anonymous.

I don't believe that learning, whether in elementary school, at home, or a playground, (anywhere) is separate from a humanistic message. That message is, in almost all literature, that we must resolve our inner conflicts and deal with our fellow humans/environment. This is not modeled in perfect classrooms, but imperfect ones.

Julio needs the adjustment. The rest of the students learn how adjustments are made. They learn it from Miss Brave. They learn that tolerance is a Good Thing and that valuable enjoyable experiences do not require perfection.

Anyway, for Julio I wish the very best. And I will say again: Miss Brave, I find your writing to be very charming, your savoir faire remarkable, your principles sound. I remain

Your admirer,
Ann T. Hathaway.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm back....and there are so many things to respond to:

Photomatt7: I'm not a teacher. I'm not in NYC or even on the east coast. FWIW, I'm further enough west that everything on the other side of the Mississippi is the east coast. I am a parent whose child has been in a classroom with a Julio like child. It was a nightmare. My child was terrorized. Her reading scores fell throughout the school year. She was afraid to go to school and did not want to go back to school after that year. Three years later, we are still dealing with the fallout. The classroom is not a family. It is a collection of individuals who have an obligation to act politely and respectfully. The individuals also have an obligation not to interfere with the people's chance to learn.

If this situation in Ms. Brave's classroom is acceptable, then I see no issue with informing the other parents of what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Ann T. Hathaway:

"I don't believe that learning, whether in elementary school, at home, or a playground, (anywhere) is separate from a humanistic message. That message is, in almost all literature, that we must resolve our inner conflicts and deal with our fellow humans/environment. This is not modeled in perfect classrooms, but imperfect ones. "

This is a free country, you are free to have any set of believes you want. However, not everyone shares your believes, which is also acceptible in a free country.

I believe that school should be an orderly safe environment where are behaviors are NOT tolerated. Nor do I believe that seven year olds should be expected to "resolve our inner conflicts and deal with our fellow humans/environment" to learn math and science.

However, if you believe that Ms. Brave's classroom is a good experience, are you in favor of telling the other parents what is going on there?

Anonymous said...

One more thing....how am I devaluing Julio as a person?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2 here. I am a parent with a child in 2nd grade in NYC. I sympathize with the situation in Miss Brave's classroom. I've read the above comments and thought I would add my 2 cents.

My child is a very well behaved student and also does well academically. I've had the exact same issues as Anonymous #1, because in my child's school, the Principal is the one who assigns children to the various classrooms and teachers, and back then, this Principal placed my child in the Pre-K and K classes with the least desired teachers (read most incompetent). I've had to afterschool my child in order to keep up the academic standard I expect.

In K, my child was always placed next to students who could not read well, and the teacher herself told me she thought my child could help the other child out in reading. When I was informed about this situation at a P-T conference, I thought why was I not consulted about this, and yes, I also humorously thought my child should draw some compensation for her labor.

To add insult to injury, there was a boy in the class who would only want to hold my child's hand, caress and kiss my child on the face and when I requested my child to be moved to another K class, the Vice Principal coolly informed me that she only moves children to other classes for safety reasons.

As I perceived the school administration did not give a damn about me, I ended up volunteering to supervise recess because I wanted to make sure this boy did not harass my child during lunch time. This was after the Vice Principal suggested that if I was not satisfied that the school aides would prevent this boy from having any interactions with my child in the school yard, I was more than welcome to take my child home for lunch.

Things have cooled down since (despite the Principal's unhelpful attitude), as my child is in a 2nd G&T class, while that boy in question remained in Gen Ed. Pretty much, my child got out of a bad situation by scoring high enough to get into a G&T class, and now my child can learn among children who are a better fit, and my child is happier there.

Anonymous #1 made a good point -- well behaved children who come to school to learn have their rights too, and it is unfair when they have to put up with disruptions and less than 100 % of the teacher's attentions on a daily basis. Miss Brave is in a tricky situation, and I blame the school system.

Anonymous said...

Anon #1 back...

Part of the problem that Anon #2 and I seem to have had is a mismatch between our children's academic needs and the classroom content. I wonder if Julio might also be dealing with the same mismatch. Ms. Brave mentions that "Today, in spite of Julio's repeated attempts to smuggle his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books back from my desk, my class successfully explored the properties of sand and clay." (Which, by the way, happened today!)"

If he is reading Wimpy Kid in second grade, how appropriate is the rest of class level material to his skill level? Wimpy Kids books are 3rd, 4th, 5th grade level? Maybe part of his behavior is an inability to cope with the stress of sitting in a class for days on end without much chance to learn?

My middle one is a smart child with ADHD. She could hold herself together for most school days, but she not always. When she has appropriate academics, she is much better off.

photomatt7 said...

All I can say as a teacher is, don't judge until you've done it yourself. Teachers don't walk in on the first day of the school year looking for children to single out for admonishment and relegation to the outer reaches of the classroom. We come in looking to enthuse, motivate, help, and mold the entire class.

Anon. 1: You feel the classroom isn't a family? My kids clap for eachother when another one breaks out of a slump (you can read my blog if you're interested for a prime example). They help each other when they need help. They kid eachother and listen to eachother. That's not a family? What is, then?

I feel badly that your own daughter experienced something that was so difficult for her and your family. But tell me, is the onus on the 7-year olds to teach themselves the proper way to behave and treat eachother, or does that fall to the teacher?

Sorry to tell you, but teachers don't just give up on students who are labeled as troublemakers. In my room, we work toward the benefits of community, not the isolation of the individual. It's one of the reasons my classes are known throughout the school for their respect and cohesion.

I am enjoying our dialogue, but I can tell you, you'll never convince me to blame a 2nd grader for issues out of his control (be they developmental or brought on my inept parenting).

miss brave said...

Anonymous #2 wrote: "In K, my child was always placed next to students who could not read well, and the teacher herself told me she thought my child could help the other child out in reading. When I was informed about this situation at a P-T conference, I thought why was I not consulted about this, and yes, I also humorously thought my child should draw some compensation for her labor."

Well, I always tell all my students that their job is to help each other become better readers (and writers, and mathematicians, etc). I don't think there's anything wrong with pairing up struggling students with students who excel -- as long as it doesn't take away from anyone's instructional time, of course. I've made it very clear to both Julio and Julio's buddy that her priority is her own learning and her own work.

Anonymous #1, you asked about Julio and his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books -- he loves them, but they are definitely above his reading level. He's reading K books, which is just slightly below grade level for this point in the school year. About the level of a Frog and Toad book, for example.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Brave wrote, "Well, I always tell all my students that their job is to help each other become better readers (and writers, and mathematicians, etc). I don't think there's anything wrong with pairing up struggling students with students who excel -- as long as it doesn't take away from anyone's instructional time, of course. "

I have to disagree with you there. The TEACHER'S job is to help the students become better reader. The student's job is to work on becoming a better reader. Teachers are adults, have training and expertise, and draw a paycheck. Second graders do not have any of these things.


It is not physically possible for to pair up an advanced kid with a struggling one, expect the advanced kid to help the struggling one that "doesn't take away from anyone's instructional time". The advanced kid isn't getting instructional time when they are helping the struggling one. Does the advanced kid has additional instructional time somewhere other than in the school day.

There are numerous issues with pairing a struggling student with one who excels. www.hoagiesgifted.org is an excellent source to get an idea about the issues facing gifted students. I understand that education schools typically do not address the needs of gifted students, but they do exist and deserve a chance to learn everyday as much as other kids.

You seem like a teacher who cares about the kids, but all kids deserve to learn, even the smart, well behaved ones.

miss brave said...

Please don't misunderstand: I never, ever pair up excelling students (I'm not going to use the word "gifted" because I don't believe that any of my students, even the bright ones, are truly "gifted") with struggling ones and expect them to "teach." But in our curriculum, we do a LOT of partner work: "Turn and tell your partner one thing you just learned." When two struggling students are paired together, they tend to stare at each other blankly. When a struggler is paired with a bright kid, they get a little more out of the experience.

When I tell my students that their job is to help each other be better students, what I mean is this: Use your partner time wisely to discuss the topic at hand; don't just chatter away or stare at the wall. Don't distract other students during independent time, but concentrate on your own work. Basically, help each other be better students by setting a positive example for each other.

But truthfully, bright students NATURALLY tend to help out strugglers. Recently in writing, Student #1 raised her hand and said, "I can't think of anything else to add to my [topic] web." Before I could even open my mouth, Student #2 jumped in and said, "Did you write about what bats eat? Well, then you could add that!" It didn't in any way detract from Student #2's instructional time, and -- before you ask -- I didn't feel obliged to compensate him monetarily for his efforts.

I honestly believe that all of my students have something to teach each other. That's why our current unit in writing asks students to become teachers about a topic they're "experts" in. I want my students to feel like they have something to offer each other, and that they have a responsibility to each other as well as to me and to themselves and their families.

photomatt7 said...

Anon. 1: You don't appear to be familiar with the concept and researched value of collaborative, communal learning. I don't think it's the be all, end all, by any stretch. In many cases, however, my math partners work beautifully together to help one another succeed. And yes, the partnerships include a higher achieving math student and a struggler. And yes, I do find ways to differentiate even for my best math students. Should the better math student be a math teacher for the struggler? Perhaps not, but I would argue that being in that position fosters social skills, reasoning, patience, and pride.

I don't understand why you seem to desire school to be an impersonal experience for students outside of having a teacher. School is a child's workplace. Don't you socialize with others at work? Don't you collaborate? Don't you sometimes require assistance from a more experienced colleague? And don't you find yourself having to work with people you don't like?

We are teaching so much more than math in these situations. Please realize that.

photomatt7 said...

Anon. 1: You don't appear to be familiar with the concept and researched value of collaborative, communal learning. I don't think it's the be all, end all, by any stretch. In many cases, however, my math partners work beautifully together to help one another succeed. And yes, the partnerships include a higher achieving math student and a struggler. And yes, I do find ways to differentiate even for my best math students. Should the better math student be a math teacher for the struggler? Perhaps not, but I would argue that being in that position fosters social skills, reasoning, patience, and pride.

I don't understand why you seem to desire school to be an impersonal experience for students outside of having a teacher. School is a child's workplace. Don't you socialize with others at work? Don't you collaborate? Don't you sometimes require assistance from a more experienced colleague? And don't you find yourself having to work with people you don't like?

We are teaching so much more than math in these situations. Please realize that.

Ann T. said...

Dear Miss Brave,
Wow, I checked back several times and there were no more comments. Now there are twice as many. So I hope you will let me reply to Anonymous Number 1.

Dear Anonymous No. 1,
I am glad you feel safe to believe what you choose. I never attacked that. Furthermore, I never wrote that you devalued Julio as a person. I wasn't thinking about that at all.

After reading subsequent comments, I certainly understand why this is a touchstone issue for you. But why would you be so angry with Miss Brave? She's tried to slay this dragon over and over. Since she hadn't had great success with the people who really make the decisions, she pursued an acceptable line of compromise--while continuing to fight for Julio, her classroom, and her sanity. That compromise has, under her constructive approach, had some benefit. I don't see a reason for anything but applause to her for fighting the good fight.

Best wishes to you with your child's continuing education,

Sincerely,
Ann T.

Miss Brave, I wrote about you in my own blog a few days ago--big bouquet of tulips for you--and my readers think you're the ace, ma'am. Now may I please go to the restroom? I promise not to fight in class any more.

Ann T.

Anonymous said...

Anon #1 back...so many things to comment on...

"When two struggling students are paired together, they tend to stare at each other blankly. When a struggler is paired with a bright kid, they get a little more out of the experience." The struggler may get something out of it. Does the bright kid? Or rather, does the bright kid get anything productive? Or do they learn: The teacher is using me again. There is little to nothing to learn in school. My classmates are pretty dumb.

"But truthfully, bright students NATURALLY tend to help out strugglers" Um, NO!! Some bright might NATUALLY help the strugglers. Some might do because they have been trained to believe that is their role in the classroom. Some might shut down because they hate it so much. Bright kids are surprisingly like other people in that they have varied personality traits. I hope that you don't decide some kid isn't necessarily all that bright because he/she doesn't want to act as assistant teacher.

"When I tell my students that their job is to help each other be better students, what I mean is this: Use your partner time wisely to discuss the topic at hand; don't just chatter away or stare at the wall. Don't distract other students during independent time, but concentrate on your own work. Basically, help each other be better students by setting a positive example for each other."
You may find this hard to believe, but I am in agreement and grateful for this approach.

"(I'm not going to use the word "gifted" because I don't believe that any of my students, even the bright ones, are truly "gifted")"

Gifted is a technical term referred to people whose IQ scores at at or above the 95 to 97th percentile. You may or may not have any gifted kids in your class this year, but gifted kids exist. Saying you don't believe in them is like saying you don't believe in spiders.

From your subsequent post, it seems like you work in a bit of a loony bin...lock the doors and throw the teachers out? Hope next week is better for you.

Anonymous said...

@photomatt:

I think our basic disagreement are on appropriate roles for teachers and parents. As a parent, it is my role to foster. social skills, reasoning, patience, and pride. There are many avenues after the school day for this. The teacher's role is to teach academic content.

The school/classroom is not a family.

School is a child's workplace. Don't you socialize with others at work?

For the most part no. I am cordial with them, but I don't socialize afterwork. While it is nice to be with pleasant people, one of the reasons they call it work and pay me is that I spend my time at work getting things done.

Don't you collaborate? I do, all the time. But my collaboration bears little resemblance to teaching someone my skill set. I am a member of a team because I have a skill set that the other members of the team generally don't have. That is one reason I can make a contribution. I am not their to teach someone else, I am there to solve problems. The other members of my team have their own specific tasks. I couldn't do their part and they can't do mine. I certainly don't spend work time trying to teach them.

Don't you sometimes require assistance from a more experienced colleague? I am expected to have the knowledge, skills and ability to do my job. I do sometimes ask assistant, but that is a small amount of time (less than once a week). I have a job because I have expertise.

And don't you find yourself having to work with people you don't like? I do, but I am not required to teach them anything.

miss brave said...

Goodness gracious. Of COURSE I believe that gifted students exist.
Believe it or not, I was a gifted student myself. I said that I
didn't believe any of MY students are gifted.

And, I'd just like to point out, AGAIN, that I do NOT "use" my
students as assistant teachers. But I think we will have to agree to
disagree on the role of teachers and students, because in my view, WE
ARE ALL TEACHERS. My 7-year-old students can teach me how to do magic
tricks, how to play video games, how to sing all the words to a Hannah
Montana song. And if one of my students can teach another student
something that I can't? I don't consider that using them, I consider
that a valuable lesson in interpersonal responsibility.

Oh, and by the way, my students in reading are ALWAYS grouped by
reading level. So my N and O readers are partners and have beautiful,
sophisticated, verbose conversations about their books, and guess
what? I have never once asked them to teach or assist or read with
kids whose levels are lower! Maybe they're getting something out of
their day after all!

Sheesh.

mcaitlin said...

I haven't joined in thus far because I think MissBrave has handled all the comments spectacularly, and didn't need my help. But from a college teacher's prospective, what she is teaching these kids by having them work together, value each other's strengths, accept each other's weaknesses, is invaluable, especially at their age.

One of the BEST ways to learn something well is to teach it, to help someone else understand it as you do, at age 7, 18, or whenever. It serves two purposes, it reinforces the knowledge, and by explaining a concept to someone else, you find the gaps in your own knowledge more easily. In fields like mine, biology, this is particularly important as science research depends on peer review and people bouncing ideas, knowledge, etc. off each other.

I always tell my students, who range in age from 17-50s to study together in small groups and teach each other material other members of their study group don't understand. When students explain things to each other, at whatever age, they use "student speak" - they use metaphors and examples that are relevant to them and their peers. Even the best teachers can't do this as well as the students themselves can.

Just today in class, my students used clips from Finding Nemo, Transformers, and Terminator to illustrate a sophisticated biological concept for the rest of the class. It was perfect.

What MissBrave encourages in her classroom is an INTEGRAL part of learning, and one that more teachers should recognize and strive towards so that by the time I see these kids in my classes, they are competent young adults who know how encourage each other to do their best.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2 here.

I think the point Anon #1 was making in her comments is that it is unfair to the bright child who has to help out a far academically weaker classmate he/she is *partnered with on a daily basis*. I did not get the impression that Anon#1 is anti-social or against collaboration in the classroom.

In the collaborative learning groups described by mcaitlin and photomatt7, each student brings a different knowledge set to the group, and at the end of the learning session, every student comes away with a greater understanding and knowledge set. Anon#1 is not against that. Anon#1 has issues where the bright student has little opportunities to advance his/her knowledge as much as possible, quantity-wise and time-wise. Hence her reference to gifted students' needs not often met in schools.

From Miss Brave's description of Julio's behavior, it is unlikely that Carly will learn anything academic from Julio. Carly will learn instead social skills such being calm and patient. Is that important? Sure it is, but not to the exclusion of Carly being prevented from concentrating on her work when she has to do her classwork Writing on Demand or Math chapter post-tests.

From what I've read, I think Miss Brave is a competent, hard-working, reasonable and caring teacher, and I don't think she is going to let Carly waste her time completely in her classroom, and she also is going to try her hardest to not let Julio slip through the cracks either.

miss brave said...

Just another quick point that I want to toss out there: This discussion has evolved into a broader argument about gifted students vs. academically weaker students, which is fine. But it started out as a discussion about Julio and his buddy. Julio clearly belongs in a 12:1:1 classroom, but not because of his academics. In fact, Julio and his buddy are on the same level academically. So the characterization that I am "using" her to be a second teacher to him is unfair.

I completely agree with everything mcaitlin said about collaboration. And believe it or not, I also agree that it would be unfair to use bright students as teachers instead of advancing their own knowledge. In my defense, I don't think that's what I'm doing.

An anecdote: Yesterday we were doing a social studies activity in which the students were supposed to find and circle ten things in a very busy picture. I did not give specific directions to "work independently" or "work with a partner." Bright students who want to help out other students often can't figure out a way to do it gracefully; they just end up giving away the answers. As I was circulating, Neal raised his hand. "Miss Brave," he said, "I helped Shania by HINTS!" He continued, "I said, 'Look at the top,' and she saw the computer and she circled it!"

It's hard for me to believe that anyone could find anything wrong with that interaction.

Cheryl said...

Wow, a lot of comments here. I believe the first line of conversation was regarding whether Miss Brave should encourage parents to complain. I'm not sure about NY, but in my state, we have laws regarding confidentiality. Going around inciting parents to try to get a child kicked out of a classroom would require violation of those laws, not to mention the fact that it's just flat unethical to tell everyone this child's business.

And by the way? I work in a nice, suburban district with nice, high test scores. There's a Julio in almost every classroom in my school. This is just what we do. Mainstreaming is not a good thing for many students. If parents want to change thing, they need to change the laws, not pick on a particular kid who's victimized by a lousy system.

Anonymous said...

Anon #1 back. I believe I have said nothing about kicking Julio out of the classroom. I have been suggesting that Miss Brave tell the parents of the other kids so that those parents can get THEIR kids out of the classroom.

Cal said...

Count me in with Anon #1. I find it reprehensible that you would saddle a child--or, even if you alternated the babysitting, children--with a student who needs an aide. As a parent, I would demand my child was removed from your class. ("God bless her", indeed. I think I found that more troublesome than anything else. Lucky you, to be able to designate a martyr).

As a teacher, I understand that you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, but as has been observed, you owe all of your students, not just one. I would send Julio to the principal's office every.single.time he is disruptive. As long as you allow him to continue, you perpetuate the problem and pass him on to other teachers.

miss brave said...

Cal: I find your comment overly harsh. As I explained above (repeatedly, natch), I have never "saddled" Julio with any other child. He, his schoolwork and his problems are not, never have been and never will be any other student's responsibility. You are taking a small incident that I happened to post about and extending it to assume that I ordered some defenseless 7-year-old in my class to act as a babysitter for another, which is untrue. My exact words to both Julio and Carly were: "You can ask her if you forget what we're doing, or to help you find something in your desk if you can't find the right book." I'm sorry if you find that offensive, but all of us -- me, Julio, Carly and all the students in my class -- are very clear on what their roles are supposed to be.

And please do not accuse me of "allowing the problem to continue." Sending a student to the principal's office is something that is not permitted at my school as part of our disciplinary procedure (and even if it was, I'm sure Julio would refuse to go), but I have in fact exercised the option of student removal and called to have him removed from the class, and I will continue to do so as long as he continues to be disruptive.

Monica said...

I just read the whole darn thing, the original blog posts and all the comments. Cal needs to get a life, and Miss Brave rocks...

Yes I teach... first grade in California, and as Cheryl says above, there's a Julio in nearly every class these days, even out here in the 'burbs. Some years, you might have a few Julios. I know I have, and when that's happened, it's hang on tight until June. My district goes to great lengths to avoid providing services to Julios... because it's so expensive, and we don't offer a lot in the way of behavioral & emotional intervention. However, it's because of that lack of intervention that parents like Anon #1 are so frustrated, and understandably so.

Miss Brave: Keep up your thoughtful, reflective, and very hard work. If I were a 2nd grader, I'd want to be in your class, even with Julio in it...

Kate Coe said...

You're too nice. Julio's mother doesn't need tact, she needs flashing neon lights and someone shouting at her with a bullhorn. Sorry to be so harsh, but he needs more help than you can give him, and her carrot and stick approach isn't working. She's counting on your good manners and affection for him and your other students to let him slide through. And then, he's 17 and can't function in the real world.

Cal said...

He, his schoolwork and his problems are not, never have been and never will be any other student's responsibility.

And yet, look at your post, where you say:

Carly is his para

I--and everyone else--understood that you did not mean she was literally responsible for Julio, but rather that you were offloading the work that would otherwise be assigned to a para to a 7 year old.

You might disagree with this,but that view is by no means unusual, and it's certainly justified by both your original post and your followups. You're doing your best to a) walk it back and b) say that the walked back responsibilities are "normal", but you're stuck with your own words "Carly is his para".

Check out the title of Joanne Jacob's post linking here, in case you missed it.

and even if it was, I'm sure Julio would refuse to go

Oh, well then. You run a class in which students can openly defy the teacher. Good for you.

If you call every day for him to be removed, then the problem will go away.

And blame yourself if you feel misunderstood. I read every post you've written on Julio. Never once did you mention that you'd had him removed, despite behavior that should have justified it. So if you've been constantly having him removed from class--which is certainly what is warranted--then you should have mentioned it.

But of course, if you were always removing him from class, then you wouldn't have much to complain about and Carly wouldn't have to be his para.

She's counting on your good manners and affection for him and your other students to let him slide through.

Exactly. Which is what others have been saying--she owes all her kids a calm and peaceful classroom, something that her own posts suggest isn't happening when Julio's around.

If I were a 2nd grader, I'd want to be in your class, even with Julio in it...

Yeah, right. Why do people say such silly things?

miss brave said...

:::deep breath:::

1. Yes, I am guilty of exaggeration. Because there was a day when I looked at Carly and Julio and had the thought that "Carly is his para." And because Carly is 7 years old and a student in my class, that wasn't acceptable. Since that day, Julio's seat has been changed, he's no longer sitting near Carly, and they've had much less interaction with each other.

2. Believe it or not, I am trying to take what advice I'm being given on this blog -- even though some of it is delivered rather harshly -- and use it effectively in my classroom. So SINCE MY ORIGINAL POST (notice the emphasis), I am exercising the student removal option.

3. I understand that you feel entitled to pass a whole lot of judgement. But to say that if I were "always removing him from class, then [I} wouldn't have much to complain about," is, quite frankly, BS.

miss brave said...

Oh, and one more thing. This? "Oh, well then. You run a class in which students can openly defy the teacher. Good for you."

Yup, that must be the problem. I run my classroom with zero authority or expectations whatsoever, and all of my students consistently run amok and refuse to do what they're instructed to do. There are never any consequences for defiant behavior, and I just offload my teaching responsibilities onto my students. That must be how their reading levels got so high. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

Crimson Wife said...

Miss Brave wrote: "But truthfully, bright students NATURALLY tend to help out strugglers."

There is a BIG difference between a bright kid voluntarily offering suggestions to classmates and the teacher requiring him/her to assist them. While he/she may put up with it uncomplainingly to please the teacher, inside it's quite likely he/she feels resentment.

I loathed group projects where I was assigned partners by the teacher. I always ended up doing the bulk of the work myself because I didn't want my grade in the class to suffer. Being required to work with slower classmates caused me to have more negative feelings towards them than I otherwise would have.

I'm not alone in feeling this way as I've heard similar complaints from many of my college friends.

Monica said...

All of Cal's comments are silly... and might I add, arrogant, self-satisfied, nasty and completely without levity. If he gets to call Miss Brave incompetent (over on joannejacobs), then I get to call him a jerk.

Go Miss Brave!!!

Monica said...

Wow Miss Brave... I'm at my desk taking an after-school breather... and got caught up on your saga over at joannejacobs. I'm no longer visualizing Cal as a stooped-over, bald-headed, over-the-hill man who has bad breath. That's because as it turns out, he's a she!!
Just thought you'd like to know...

kiri8 said...

Wow. What a fascinating thread. Miss Brave, I love what you have written about Julio, and it is so obvious that you are -- in addition to being a very good writer -- a teacher of the highest caliber. I UNDERSTOOD everything you said. Grumpy people who are not teachers clearly cannot understand.

I had my own run-in with Cal over at Joanne Jacobs. He/she is clueless.

As for anonymous, it is sad what happened to her daughter. But Miss Brave's classroom is nothing like that classroom three years ago the anon's daughter was in. There are classrooms where children with behavior problems are allowed to sabotage the class's learning, but Miss Brave's is obviously not one of them.

And in my district it would be unethical (and against the rules) to talk to parents and tell them about the struggles and problems of a child who is not their own. I wouldn't do it in a million years. Other kids' problems are not their business. If they have a concern, they can come to me and bring it up, and I will bend over backward to address it. OBVIOUSLY (notice how I used that word three times?), Miss Brave would, too.