illustrated math problem

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr

Dee has struggled in school since the beginning and as I have mentioned, I questioned and poked/prodded her teachers about glitches and gaps all along only to be told that “it’s normal for children her age”.

Of course, that was bullshit. Her peers didn’t struggle as mightily or as consistently as she did in certain areas. Perhaps having been a classroom teacher, it was more apparent to me than it would have been to other parents or maybe because I lived it myself as an elementary school student, the alarm bells rang louder for me. Whatever the reason, I knew from the start and her school has only just clued in and she has lost nearly four years in a battle that is going to be uphill and probably not very enjoyable.

The assessment was inclusive. The term “unusual” came up a lot because there is no real recognition of her particular learning disability. Dyslexic, autistic and the behaviorally disordered are the squeaky wheels in education. That is where the research focuses and that is where the funding flows.

Dee has dyscalculia. In layman’s terms it’s like a math based dyslexia – except it’s a bit more complicated than that. Her spatial and time sense are affected. She is hypersensitive to stimuli and has a hard time tuning extraneous noise out or filtering it for specifics. For reasons unknown, she can’t memorize formulas and committing base information to memory – like how a word is spelled, math tables, or phonic decoding skills – takes longer.

She wasn’t actually classified as having dyscalculia. Unlike the inability to read, having difficulty with math is not viewed as a big tragedy. Math is so universally loathed (because our school systems insist on teaching higher math forms to everyone despite the fact that it’s not necessary) that one is considered “normal” to be bad at math. But for Dee, it goes beyond math and one thing can’t be addressed without addressing all things.

I have dyscalculia. I discovered this inadvertently through my team teaching with special education teachers when I worked in the middle schools. Even they were only vaguely aware of the condition and didn’t have any advice for me in terms of doing something about it.

“Well,”  I was told, “you certainly managed to overcome it on your own at any rate.”


And that’s the problem. I had to “overcome” it on my own.

I came home from the studio last evening to find Dee at the dining room table working on a math table Rob had designed for her. She had a math test the next day and the teacher sent home a note asking that she study.

The test was word problems.

Word problems were the beginning of the end for me in school where math is concerned. As I watched her at the table, wiggling, sighing and in general being annoyed and annoying, I was cast back to the hours my dad had me anchored to the kitchen table with my math book and homework.

I did not act up because unlike Rob, my father had no patience and I was quite scared of him at that point in my life. Having watched he and my mother take after my younger brother physically, I had no doubt that this could happen to me too. So I sat, stone-faced and so focused on not crying that even if what he’d been trying to explain made even the slightest sense to me at all – I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

“Oh,” my mother reminisced when I told her about Dee, “your dad had no patience with you. He could do any math at all in his head and couldn’t understand why you couldn’t.”

She didn’t add that my failure to do well at math was a huge disappointment to him. And not one that I missed. Even now as I listened to Rob’s exasperation with Dee when he told me about his attempts to help her study, I could feel again the awfulness of wanting to understand and just not being able to. I remembered the nights I sat at the table instead of being able to watch television or play outside.

And I remembered the words that showed up on Dee’s assessment “she just needs to try harder” because “the knowledge is there”.

Except it isn’t.

I couldn’t tell time on analog clocks. I had to use my fingers to count once the big hand slipped off the hour – even now, I count minutes past the o’clock, the thirty or quarter to or past.

I can’t judge distance. I can only subtract and divide because I can add and multiply and I still don’t have the entire times table locked and solidly loaded. I have to think about it whenever numbers are concerned and I transpose addresses and phone numbers regularly.

Grades three and four were easily the worst years of my academic life (until 9th grade algebra*). Neither of my math teachers had the time to work with me one on one as class sizes regularly hit the mid-30’s. None of my peers could explain what I was doing wrong or how to fix it though they generously gave me answers in an effort to help me avoid the regular dressing down I received in front of them.

Mrs. S, my grade three teacher, had a wicked way with the sarcastic put-down. Where my Dee is small and sweet and cuddly, inspiring the tender side of her teachers, I had perfected an air of indifference that read like defiance – and maybe it was a little – and I would meet her eyes and take the insults without comment. I would have sooner stuck splinters under my fingernails than cry.

In grade four, Sister assigned her student teacher to work with me exclusively when she grew tired of my stubborn refusal to learn.

That’s how it was viewed. I was not learning on purpose. Perhaps because I enjoyed being chapters behind and wrong every time I was called on?

He worked hard but nothing much stuck.

I had done so much copying – cheating really – the year before to survive that I was determined in grade four to do the work myself. But all that resulted in was falling further and further behind everyone else. So the day after Sister had forced me to stand by her desk, facing my classmates, as she berated me and asked me if just “enjoyed being stupid”, I sat down next to my cousin Gwen and asked to copy her work.

A week later I turned in every single assignment that was missing and I failed every single test that I hadn’t yet taken. I am not sure what went through Sister’s mind and I no longer care, but I do remember she smirked when I turned in the work and didn’t look at me when she handed back the red pocked tests.

I feel as though I should be able to better help people understand what it means to have dyscalculia, but I find I am not able and I worry for Dee.

Third grade was the year that school became an endurance race, a marathon that I plodded through without joy. It was a time-suck whose rewards were endless homework, tutoring and summer school.

Of all the things she’s inherited from me, this is by far the worst gift. Even her near perpetual habit of looking at the glass as half-empty, which she got from Will, is not nearly as poor an inheritance.

Having endured the misguided perception that hard work can overcome, I am a bit downcast at the prospect of going through this again with Dee. Hard work is unavoidable, but it will do nothing except possibly help her endure. I still have dyscalculia every day of my life. I struggle to keep PIN’s and passwords straight and to follow Rob’s reasoning when it comes to investment strategies. I hope that no one realizes that I haven’t gotten their name memorized yet or matched with the right face. I am relieved when I am not asked for directions because I can’t give them using street names or that no one thinks it’s too weird that I don’t know my own cell phone number after nearly four years. The truth is that I worked hard and got to a point where some things were easy to cover up and other things? I deal. And that is all and Dee will learn to do the same, but it won’t be fast enough to suit anyone.

A teacher writing on a blackboard.

Image via Wikipedia

Being the parent as opposed to the educator is a bit of a task for me. Balance eludes me even though Dee has been in public school for six years now when preschool is factored in, and I still find it hard to silence myself or pretend not to know what I know about the politics and practice of being on the educator side of the desk.

Last night was Parent/Student Conferences. This year conferences have been separated completely from report cards, which won’t be sent home for another month. The entire affair is student-led with the purpose being student demonstrating what they have learned.

I facilitated student led conferences in some form or other – on and off – since the late ’90’s. By and large, they are neither good nor bad practice where evaluation is concerned. Many parents despise them and with good reason. Most kids are woefully unprepared to present evidence of their own learning and progress.

There is a lot of work and preparation involved in getting kids ready to lead a conference or even perform the most minor dog and pony show for their parents. And most teachers don’t have the time to prepare kids properly with the end result being painful for child and parent alike.

Dee is  painfully shy under the spotlight. It stems from her slightly OCD tendencies and her fear of being wrong. What exactly she thinks will happen if she messes up, I don’t know. Rob and I try to reassure her that grade three is simply not – in the long-term – such a big deal that making mistakes here and there don’t matter, but it’s a fine line. After all, we don’t want her to develop an impression that elementary school isn’t an essential part of what she needs to do in order to move on from childhood to teen to adult. But honestly? It’s lower stakes than one is led to believe by raving politicians and media analysts.

But it’s not stake-less.

Basic skills like simple arithmetic, ability to write a complete sentence and eventually a paragraph or two and the ability to read gradually complex materials with understanding are huge.

It’s no secret that Dee struggles with her reading. She has since preschool – where yes, they were pushing reading already.

I have questioned – closely – every teacher Dee has ever had about my feeling that Dee perhaps had  problems that went beyond the need to work a little harder. And they all brushed me off.

In grade one, the brush off at the fall conference was followed by a later admission that maybe Dee did need a bit of intensive one on one. She was put into a program designed to catch up kids who were lagging but not special needs and she did indeed make strides. But reading was still not easy and it seemed to exhaust her.

Grade two, I had to go in and arrange a meeting with the teacher mid-year to insist on Dee receiving some additional assistance. This also seemed to help but didn’t solve the problem. Dee simply can’t sound out words. She can sight-read. Once she knows a word, which can take repeated exposure, she remembers it, but it can be an exhausting process.

This year, I voiced my concerns early and was again told that Dee’s issues fell within the realm of developmentally accepted parameters.

I accepted this – only after checking with my friend, Sis, who is a Title One teacher back in my former school district. I had her run Dee’s “symptoms” by her supervisor and a few other reading teachers we know and they agreed that it could be the case.

Not long ago, however, I’d had enough and insisted on Dee being tested. Frankly, I wanted her tested in grade one and was told no.

We’ll have the results soon. I am pretty certain I will be vindicated but not pleased with the fact that too much time has elapsed since I first voiced my concerns.

Dee was able to cut losses the last two years because her teachers had time to work with her one on one. Alberta sets class sizes for grade two and lower that are small by US standards. They also allow for more remedial and special education for the youngest children, but not the older ones. She is now, unfortunately, not likely to get much help because most special education funding is eaten up by physically and behaviorally disabled kids.

There is an autistic boy in the grade behind Dee who has an aide all to himself who – according to Dee – “plays with him in the hallway all day”.  I’ve observed this little guy up close on a few occasions and my guess is that in terms of being educable – he isn’t. Not that this should condemn him, but I question a system that spends a lot of money to babysit a kid in a school setting that he will not benefit from while kids like Dee, who could be helped greatly with just a tenth of the attention, are left begging.

The biggest issue this year is my own fault.

On the first day of school, I read the names of the other kids in her room and realized she was once again a buffer kid.

I know buffers. I rearranged class lists and seating charts with them.

A “buffer” is the quiet, obedient student you use to put space between the pains in the arses in your classroom.

Dee’s teacher refers to these kids as “characters”, which is the politically correct way of referring to the “time sucks” that every teacher has and sometimes in overabundance.

And yes, these charged up characters deserve their education and the time and attention they receive, but the truth is that they get it at the expense of kids who are quiet and sweet and sometimes in more academic need than they are.

Dee has spent the last three school years as a buffer kid. I should have gone straight to the office and planted myself there until she was moved to the other class. But Rob and I didn’t want her to get the idea that she could simply rearrange life when it wasn’t to her liking.*

So we told her to “suck it up, Buttercup”. And, being our daughter, she did.

But the cost has been heavier than just her social life.

Dee, for personality and learning need reasons, requires a calm learning environment. From the first, loud look-at-me kids have repelled her. Part of it is just who she is. Confrontation seekers or kids seeking to dominate her are not welcome in her sphere. She is not a leader herself but she is no mindless follower. If she follows, it’s out of genuine attraction to people. Anyone seeking to make her a pack member had better parse their invitation with care. Additionally, when she is engaged in activities that take quite a bit of effort – like reading – any distraction will derail her. Once off-track, she frets and worry leads to inertia in a hurry with her.

Her teacher assigns seats, changes them frequently and doesn’t allow the children to choose their work groups. None of this is out of line, but because the boys really outnumber the girls, Dee sits and works with rough, tumbly “characters” a lot more often than is good for her learning style**.

The only break we’ve caught all year is the fact that she doesn’t share a cubby, but otherwise, her poor little psyche is under assault for hours a day and as a result her progress has ground slowly to a halt from which I don’t see an easy jump-start. At this point there is no way we could hope to get her moved to the other class because of the numbers. Grade three is huge. But, next year we will not be gracious at all if Dee ends up with the Loud Boys again.

My final observation is one of irony. Back in my old Iowa school district, the province of Alberta is looked upon as a model of education practices. From what I have observed, the schools here face the same short-ball mentality that plagues the US, so the government continually bleeds the system with cuts that pretty much mean the Canadian version of special education is teacher assistants in the classroom and individual education plans that may or may not be implemented if the budget is short that year.

Dee was to be subjected to the Alberta version of standardized tests., PAT’s. If not for that, I wonder if her teacher would have broached her concerns about Dee’s reading at all. From the look on her face when Rob announced that Dee wouldn’t even be in school the week of the tests, I get the feeling that she or the school or both are evaluated based on the tests outcome.

My personal opinion of standardized testing is based on 20 years of having to give them and on my own experience writing them – they are slippy tools.

One can make a test sing and dance to just about any tune one likes and because of this, they are mostly valueless.

It would be easier, I think, to send my child to public school if I’d never taught in one, but having no alternative save home-schooling – which I am not ruling out – I work on my balance.

And my balance is being sorely tested.

*In addition to her classroom being “bad boy” heavy, none of her friends were in that class. She gets along with everyone, but she has no one in the class with whom she is close. She often talks about how no one shares notes with her or talks to her at lunch or asks her to join in games when weather forces them to remain indoors for recess. She is such a social creature and craves being included that I am amazed she doesn’t complain more than infrequently.

**Although I am guilty of using students as buffers, I avoided placing struggling learners with tumbly characters regardless of how mild-mannered they were. Ultimately, a child’s learning was more important than the control factor level of the room.

If only this were a movie …

… because this was the suckiest game ever. I trace my lifelong disinterest in video games to The Oregon Trail, the “original” educational computer game.

The Catholic grade school I attended did not have a wealthy parish on which to foist its expense tab. We had no gym and therefore no real P.E. class. While most of the other Catholic schools bused their junior high kids to the public schools for extras like Home Ec, Art, Industrial Tech and Music, we had skills units where we learned macrame or the fine art of tye-dye. We made a lot of friendship bracelets. It’s seriously a wonder I graduated from high school let alone university given the paltry education I received in junior high especially.*

So the fact that we actually had a computer in 1978 is beyond comprehension looking back. The parish priest was a penny-pinching curmudgeon who absolutely would have been okay with burqa’s. The man loathed females. I imagine when the computer arrived, it was only with the provision that girls be kept off of it as I can’t remember any of my friends or I ever getting to do much more than watch the boys play Oregon Trail.

It was an Apple II. To give you some perspective on technology in schools, when I was student teaching in 1986, the junior high I was at had a computer lab full of these same computers. The first middle school I was assigned to in 1988 was stocked with Apple IIe’s. Progress at the speed of walking.

The Oregon Trail was a way for our social studies teacher to lighten his load. As the computer was located in a small room off the main office, he would send us there in groups of 6. If that seems too big and a really stupid thing to do – it was.  Six teenagers in a small, unsupervised room was a grave tactical error.** But with in excess of 30 students per class, I can’t fault the guy for his desperation though his method of divide and conquer did little more than irritate the school secretary.

Playing Oregon Trail was boring enough but as a group activity, it totally bit. I usually brought a novel along and read as the others tried to navigate an obstacle course of dysentery, venomous snakes and unfordable rivers.

Bullets were key. Caulk was crucial. And tombstones abounded.

Apparently one can still purchase this game on Amazon … for six dollars. Sounds about right.

*I did nothing for two years. The school was a zone. Why none of our teachers just cracked and showed up with a shotgun one day, I don’t know. We often thought the Social Studies teacher was capable of a break with reality as he was often reminding us of his tour in ‘Nam. If it weren’t for the fact that I wrote or read near constantly to keep boredom at bay, I’d be a shift supervisor at a fast food joint today.

**I was often guided in my own teaching career by memories of the idiotic things my junior high teachers did.

How Yoga Teachers Hang Out

Image by sarahfelicity via Flickr

I resigned from my teaching position of twenty years in the spring of 2007. At the time, I had vague notions of rolling over my teaching certificate and working as a classroom teacher in Alberta. I still think about the license – need to get on that really – but the idea of teaching high school again doesn’t warm my insides.

So I semi-officially retired from teaching. I still read about the horror known as “reform” down in the states and I write about it (none too flatteringly which would make it hard to secure a teaching position down there again, methinks), but I don’t harbor any notions of returning.

When I left the building, I didn’t look back.

Okay, I still love office supplies, but that aside, I don’t miss the job of it. And it was a job. A thankless and mostly mind-numbing job as the years ground on.

I blogged. I wife’d the house, mothered the child and poured myself into myself and my husband. And life was very good.

But somewhere along the line, yoga arrived and then the urge to teach it followed, and now I am not exactly retired anymore. In fact, I am working – more and more.

What started with filling in at the studio here and there became an employment opportunity when I was offered one then two and now three classes of my own. Quickly on the heels of this came an offer to teach two nights a week at the community hall across the street. Add to this the fact that I’d already agreed to take every third Friday teaching a class for figure skaters in the next town over.

Between this and the Care2 gig – I am working again.

Not that I could pay the mortgage – which isn’t an issue because we don’t have one anyway – but it’s an exchange of skills for money. I haven’t done this in a while and it’s … interesting.

I had to shop. My yoga attire is not exactly Lululemon. I gave her up a while ago because the pants are too low-cut and the fabric doesn’t breathe enough for my comfort level. I am a capri’s and leggings type with long t’s and sweaters. Layers is the middle-aged woman’s best friend.

I have a lesson book. I write out sequence plans. It’s like the old days only everyone who shows up wants to be there and pays attention.

Not that many are showing up. It’s not my studio. People who come expect Jade. And why not? She’s good. So my classes have a couple of folks here and there. It’s a bit disappointing in the first few minutes but once I start to teach, I lose myself in the instruction and forget about the numbers.

The community hall class will be bigger. Nine registered officially and a few more who’ve verbally committed. Perhaps I can lure a few into the studio? It’s a goal; I won’t deny it.

Someday I will have a studio. Somewhere. I don’t think it will be soon or here, but the future – as Yoda pointed out to Luke – is a difficult thing to pin down for prediction purposes.

For now, I am a working girl again. That’s all I need to know.

Entrance of the James Bond exhibition, Science...

Image by Craig Grobler via Flickr

… but I got a better invite as the husband lured me with snuggling and a movie. That it happens to be a movie we tried to watch once upon a time and he pulled the veto plug on it thirty minutes in doesn’t matter.


Well, he insists that didn’t happen and I will snuggle through the worst movie – almost.

So it’s Bond – one of the newer James Bonds – and quality time goodness.

I’ll blog in the morning. Really. Promise. I am so behind on my education pieces at Care2 that I am literally chaining myself to the keyboard until I write. And I have yoga writing and a guru wanna-be to tweak a bit.

‘Til morning then?

NOTE:  This post was originally published on the now defunct version of “Moms Speak Up” on May 30, 2008.  All posts were lost when the domain name expired.  This post was retrieved via a nifty internet archive tool called the “Wayback Machine”. Archived post url.

When I was teaching middle school back in central Iowa, I was expected to ensure the learning and safety of every child assigned to me regardless of how cooperative, charming or innately intelligent that child was, and I took that very seriously. I cannot honestly say I enjoyed every little soul I crossed paths with but I can say that there were only a handful of them that I couldn’t manage or that I didn’t coerce into learning.

The recent incident in a Florida elementary school, where a kindergarten teacher had her students vote to remove a disruptive classmate after allowing them the opportunity to tell the boy what they didn’t like about him, got me thinking about some of the reasons I left the classroom and will probably never return.

There is an old joke that is often repeated during faculty meetings or in the teachers’ lunchroom,

“Teaching would be the perfect job if not for the students.”

For most of us, it was just a joke born out of the knowledge that getting a room full of children to do anything simultaneously, and quietly, requires Herculean effort even on a really good day. Throw in an extra body or ten, a couple of whom have “special needs” and maybe an impending full moon, just for fun, and even Michelle Pfeiffer would turn and run.

The five year old boy who was booted by his classmates was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism. He had been sent from the room for disciplinary reasons twice that day before the “voting” incident. When he returned the second time, the teacher and other students reportedly “weren’t ready for him to return”. And I can understand that because I have been there many times.

The district I taught in was intent on mainstreaming its special education students and that often meant that, not only would a class contain children with various levels of learning disabilities, but children with behavior and emotional disorders as well. Most of the time the level of accommodations that needed to be made were not particularly difficult to implement and make work. Some children though are more work than others and not all teachers are cut out to work with the special needs. Usually the regular education classroom teacher is not trained to deal with things that come up when behavior disorders especially are involved. Administrators are not quick to address issues when they arise. Parents are quick to point fingers and not so quick to help come up with advance plans to head problems off at the pass. After all, who knows a child better? The school or the parents?

Still, knowing all I know about the difficulties, I was appalled by both the teacher’s lack of sense and insensitivity even though I don’t know a thing about her. Was she a newer teacher? Did she having training dealing with specials needs children. Did she know the boy was being evaluated for autism? (In most school districts you are notified by the school nurse and the special education team when a child is being tested because they need your input for the process). This child’s behavior was her responsibility to deal with, not the other students. She was wrong to involve them. She was wrong to assume that a five year old could have possibly understood what she thought she was doing. And what was that?

The teacher asked the other children to tell the boy what he did during class that they didn’t like (presumably found disruptive). This is a lesson I wouldn’t have attempted with high school students and she had five year olds. Children so concrete in their thinking that all they could do was focus on random actions that may or may not have been why the boy was distracting and disruptive.

She shirked her duty in my opinion. Did she call the boy’s mother? Did she tell the administrator who returned the boy to the class that she didn’t have the rest of the children settled enough for him to return at that moment? She could have been honest and just admitted that it would be better if the boy didn’t return at all until they could sit down with his parents and come up with a strategy for dealing with the issues that were causing the trouble. Did she do that?

When I hear teachers discussing trouble with one or more children in a classroom, I immediately wonder what the teacher hasn’t done. This is not relieving the students of their own responsibility for their own behavior, but I taught for twenty years, mostly middle school, and I know when teaching – a good defense is the best offense. I always assessed my lesson plans for a standpoint of what could go wrong and where or who it could go wrong with.

I had a student with Aspergers when I was teaching seventh grade language arts. This child was extremely smart and had no trouble with the work but possessed zero social skills, unnerving other students and teachers alike with the manner he/she conducted a conversation and asked questions. I never really had any trouble with the student, and when I was asked why I said,

“X is a middle schooler. They are all odd at this age.”

And they are, but the reason I didn’t have a problem with him/her was that I did my homework in advance. I talked with his/her special education teacher, the school nurse and the counselor. I tried to figure out what a worst case scenario might look like and what the best response would be if it did.

On the first day of class, I was ready and I began by treating this child just like every other child in my care but with all I had learned in mind. Everything was fine.

It’s no secret that teachers are not given the training or support they need to deal the increasingly diverse needs of students today. However, we are given enough training to know when we are in over our heads and should ask for help. The Florida teacher did not do this as far as anything I have read indicates and you can’t be a teacher, a good one, alone. It takes a village to educate a child.

I feel sorry for the boy. No child should have to be humiliated in front of his peers whatever the reason. I feel sorry for the other students who were asked to do something that was wrong.

And I feel sorry for that teacher. She made a terrible error in judgement and I imagine that she knew it. When you mess up big, you know it almost as soon as it’s done. I have been there a couple of times too. Perhaps she will have a chance to learn from this and become a better teacher for it, and I know that will not be what most people think should happen. We are a retribution oriented society not a rehabilitative one.

We hold teachers to impossible standards of interaction, forgetting that they are human and not machines in much the same vein as teachers hold students to impossible standards of obedient angelicness. Anyone who has ever had a child will tell you the latter is fantasy.

I had a supervisor who would remind us at the beginning of every school year that our parents were sending us the best children they had and not hiding the really good kids at home in the closet.

Some of these children were easier to teach, and to like, than others, but that was my job. It was what I was paid to do and what I was entrusted to do. Teach. Everyone. Regardless.

Life, like school, is not an island. Voting people off is not an option.

Comments on the original post:

Julie Pippert said:

This is an excellent—and generous and sober and calm—post on this issue.

I do want to extend understanding to the teacher. I’m not quite there yet. I’m much more parent than teacher-minded, despite being the daughter of and sister to teachers.

And as a parent, this story really affected me.

See…we have a similar kid in the class and his mother has been so frustrated with the school’s inability to manage that she has stretched her budget and decided to move and do what she must to get him into a private school with better resources.

That, to me, is both good and bad. I’m glad she’s able to make that happen. Glad she cares enough about her son to ensure he gets a good school experience. But it’s tragic that she’s going to have to sacrifice and do this and change because the public school can’t manage.

I’ve been frustrated as a parent because this kid disrupts the class and also troubles my daughter. I’ve had to keep the big picture in mind, teach her skills to deal (including, for good or bad, to step on his foot and run if he twists her arm and won’t let go after she tells him to 3 times and if a teacher won’t come help) (because he grabs and twists her arm weekly); and extend a lot of generosity, and understanding to the situation and also trust to the teacher.

All in all I think our teacher is handling the entire situation as best as she can; she has an unfair situation all the way around and that she’s kept a solid head through it is pretty impressive.

You see, she’s the “pregnant teacher who took leave midway into the first semester then came back with a newborn” and her class is the “revolving door” class and the “assigned BD/SD” class.”

I have my anger about how we ended up in this class but that’s another story.

Anyway, in the Port St. Lucia case…

I can understand a teacher who might get frustrated with a never solved problem that involves a disruptive child.

But NOT ONCE did it EVER occur to me to think that those kids did not have a right to be there.

And that’s what that teacher’s actions reveal: the belief that if someone can’t conform they don’t deserve to be included and belong.

That’s what she taught those kids.

I wouldn’t have to be Alex Barton’s parents to be livid. I’d be livid from any angle. That’s a despicable lesson. Despicable treatment of that kid.

I imagine there is a year long back story here.

Clearly there is shared responsibility and culpability here; I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the school and district let down this teacher; I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the parents weren’t adequately handling things.

It’s probably been a challenging year for everyone, and the problem with super disruptive kids is that they cheat the other kids from a learning experience.

Still, to have him voted out and told why they don’t like him?


That simple.

She was wrong. Nothing makes what she did understandable, not even a year long challenge, not even systemic failure.

We don’t always get an undisrupted life, and sometimes the best lesson in a school year can be how to deal with difficult people and challenging situations.

The biggest cheat here is those poor kids didn’t learn that, and they got taught the absolutely wrong thing.

Kris said:

I can’t believe this. That’s all I can say at this point. Can’t believe it.

Annie said:

Julie, I wanted to rant. If I had known for certain this teacher was a veteran, I would have. Probably.

Trouble is that even with all my years, I actively sought out or took on when asked, kids that other teachers wouldn’t touch because I believe that everyone deserves a clean slate and a chance to be “like all the other kids”. I won more than I lost, but I did have years when a couple of kids dominated and the majority didn’t get all they were entitled to. That is the downside of public education. And I do believe that there are cases when the majorities needs outweigh the disabled child’s right to integrate.

My guess is that there was a lot of buck passing on every adult’s part in this story and in the end all children lost.

Kris, unfortunately I had no trouble believing this. I was a public school teacher for too long not to.

TigereyeSal said:

Coherent, cogent post, Annie- thanks!


Izzy said:

My problem with this whole horrible incident is that while the child may be difficult, she’s an adult and should be expected, as a teacher of small children, to exercise better judgment.

If a child is that continuously problematic, it should have been dealt with BEFORE she snapped and acted so unprofessionally.

I’d love to be more compassionate towards her issues, whatever they may be, but I can’t. That boy’s mother entrusted her child to that teacher, never dreaming he’d be treated so abusively. Where was the teacher’s compassion for the boy’s issues?

Would she treat an annoying co-worker that way? Of course not…because she knows better.

I’ve worked as a teacher of children far more troubled than the child in this story, insofar as I can tell, and I’ve also taught at the college level so it’s not as though I have no understanding of what it’s like to be in a classroom and if I ever treated a student that way, I’d expect to be called on it. There is no excuse that would make such willful and intentionally abusive behavior acceptable, in my opinion.

That said, I believe the teacher’s behavior requires disciplinary action of some kind.

Annie said:

Izzy, I agree she should be disciplined. No doubt. I just know, as you do, that there are schools where the admin are not supportive and the climate is one of “take care of it yourself”.

But it is hard to know the circumstances and as they will likely not be made known, all we have to go by is the media hype.

Sally, thanks for coming over and commenting:)

Brenda said:

Well, let’s give the teacher the benefit of a doubt. I work in a school system that lets the special education teachers do whatever they want. The regular ed. teacher (who, at the most, had 2 special education classes in college) has to deal with ALL of the special education students and the regular ed. students at the same time, in the same classroom. There is no help from the special education teachers and the regular ed. teachers are very frustrated. I think the parents of special education students are the only ones that can force a change!

If I had it all to do over again, I would be a special education teacher so I could do nothing all day and get paid just like the regular ed. teachers!!!

Izzy said:

@ Annie

Because of the nature of the teacher’s abusive behavior, which was deliberate and intentionally cruel, I have to say that there are no circumstances in which her behavior could be excusable, IMO.

If she flew off the handle and started yelling and screaming for a minute, I might be more inclined to be understanding and give her the benefit of the doubt — but this was a systematic process of abuse where she asked every student in the class to vote a boy out and say why they didn’t like him.

Her behavior was disturbingly sadistic and I can’t help but feel that someone like that should not be working with children.

TGLB said:

The teacher sounds either like a noob, or just poor. There is no excuse for humiliating a child like that. However, I do believe that removal from the classroom in a quick and professional way is a very good strategy for disruptive behavior. 9 times out of 10, the kid is just attention-seeking (and the kid in this instance may have been #10–obviously there’s other issues to consider with a kid with Aspergers), and attention-seekers who lose their audience settle down when they’re sitting on a bench outside the classroom with their book and no one to talk to, or at. It’s a strategy I’ve used from grades 3-high school, and it doesn’t harm them any, provided they stick to sitting outside the classroom. Sometimes, everyone just needs a breather, and then once the other kids are doing their thing, you go out and talk to the kid you’ve asked to excuse himself. That’s how it’s done, not by group bullying of a kindergartener.

Annie said:

Thing is that I don’t think the teacher was trying to be cruel and again, hard to know because we don’t have all the facts. As teachers, we are taught to go for the “teaching moment”, those things that come up in the course of a day that we didn’t expect (or hoped wouldn’t happen) and can be used to bring some lesson or other home to the kids in a concrete way.

Would I have had my kids let another student know how his/her behavior was effecting them? Not like that. I have taught too long to think I could control a situation or what comes out of the mouths of babes. But a younger teacher?

My daughter’s kindergarten teacher has children in conflict talk to each other (we had a conflict management program run by our students at one of the middle schools I taught – it was very successful, even with the special ed kids). Her teacher also urges the children to speak up when they feel another child is being disrespectful or is doing something they don’t want done. Example: Please don’t push me, I don’t like that. or Don’t call me that because it is not my name. Basic standing up for oneself kind of things. I can see where a teacher might take that the next step from individual child to group. My opinion? Dumb. Abusive?

Only if she was in the habit of doing things like this and we really don’t know what was going on prior to this incident.

Not every teacher goes berserk and yells and screams when they have hit their limit.

When I had my fill of a particularly obnoxious group of 8th graders one year, they walked in one morning to find that I had turned all the desks around so that they faced the back of the room with my desk still in the front only now they couldn’t see me.

The assignment was written on the board and when anyone tried to question me about what I had done, I simply pointed to the board. They did quiet seat work for over a week before they got the point. But I didn’t have any more problems with them.

It is not easy to discipline children who are not your own and disciplining children who are yours isn’t a picnic either. We are not going to get it right every single time. Some of us will make little mistakes and some will discover they are not cut out for teaching.

People expect far too much out of teachers these days. The system was not designed to be all things to all kids.