Friday, December 14, 2007

When first graders attack

I've written about Marco before, in passing. He's a first grader whose IEP (that's Individualized Education Program, for special education students) says he belongs in a 12:1:1 self-contained classroom, except that right now he is in a general ed classroom with 22 other students and no para because of some mix-up with paperwork and the excuse that there's not enough space (:::coughillegalcough:::).

Today Marco's class had a substitute teacher, so they were already primed to be a little off. After my mini lesson, another teacher pulled Marco and a few other students out of the room for a strategy lesson. Everything was going remarkably smoothly -- the class was less than five minutes away from a green day and stickers -- when Marco came back into the room and decided that Elliot (who, by the way, is an enormous pain in the behind) had stolen his pencil, the one he had been given by his teacher Ms. S. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that it had a green eraser, the pencil was nothing special, and it was impossible for me to determine who the pencil actually "belonged" to. On the one hand, I wouldn't put it past Elliot to snatch a pencil off another child's desk. On the other hand, a bunch of other kids stuck up for Elliot (which is rare), and pencils are usually considered communal property.

Marco started to throw a tantrum, which is nothing new. He stood there with his hands screwed up into fists at his sides, opened his mouth, and bawled. "I want my pencil back! Ms. S gave it to me! I want that pencil! I want that pencil!"

The other kids were surprisingly kind about it. "Here's another pencil, take this one." "Look! You can have this green eraser!" "Marco, I'll sharpen it for you." But Marco was insistent: Elliot had his pencil, and he was going to get it back.

That's when he attacked. Full-on ATTACKED; he launched himself at Elliot and started to wrestle him with his whole body. I had to pull him off and restrain his arms while I sent Elliot to the other side of the room. Tears and snot were streaming down his face. "I want that pencil! Ms. S gave me that pencil, it's mine, it's mine, I want it!"

I loosened my hold on his arms and started rubbing them. "You have to calm down," I said. "You need to take a breath. Take another breath. I'm going to help you, but I can't help you unless you can calm down."

Later on I wondered: Should I have called for the guidance counselor? Should I have opened the classroom door and called for help from the teachers I knew were sitting out in the hallway? And then I thought: THIS IS THE WRONG CLASS FOR MARCO. In my special ed kindergarten, there are twelve students, one teacher, and three paras. In my CTT kindergarten, there are 21 students, two teachers, and one para. Not only is Marco not in a self-contained class like he should be, not only is he not even in a CTT class, not only is he in a general ed class with a para, but his teacher doesn't even have special education training or experience.

I need to think about what I could have done differently, and what I should do differently next time it happens. Because as long as Marco continues to be denied the services he needs, it will happen again.

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