Moms Speak Up

If you have a moment readers, check out Todays Mama where Moms Speak Up (another blog I contribute to) is the featured blog.

I also have a new piece up over there as well on daycare providers who terminate service to parents who run errands or go to appointments when they “should be working”. Let the judgmental attitudes toward working mothers continue, eh?

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.

I am far behind on my blog reading, so if you haven’t seen a comment from me this week I am reading and trying to catch up. 

Amazing how things accumulate in the “To Do” box even on short holidays. More amazing when one considers that as a writer who only really answers to herself (after husband and child’s care and feeding is seen to), I don’t really have to do anything, but I set myself tasks and feel sloth-like when they remain unaccomplished (or even begun) after a certain amount of time has passed.

First thing is that you may have noticed I didn’t post last weekend. Unless armageddon shows its four ugly faces (and I have it on good authority that won’t be until 2012) or Rob and I win the lottery (we don’t buy tickets, so this one is a long, long shot) or a woman is elected president of the United States (when hell freezes over folks), I will not be posting blog pieces on the weekend anymore. My blog stats tell me that the majority of you have lives and don’t stop by anyway, and it was just getting to be a bit more than I could handle. 

Next item is that I will be messing with the blogrolls yet again. Adding and deleting. I think it is time to review sites again too, so if I haven’t reviewed you or you aren’t on the roll. Let me know soon.

Moving on to personal writing issues, I began my memoir over the holiday. In longhand no less. At the suggestion of another writer, I have reconsidered fictionalizing my life. After all, most of it is barely believable biographically and going the fiction route was proving to be more biography than imagination anyway. 

One of the problems I have with long writing pieces is just keeping it up. I have dozens of stories in various stages of completion. I am such a scatterbrain that I get a great start and then another idea pops up and before you know it, there are too many of the little buggers screaming at me from the Word files for attention. My summer project is to finish off the more promising, but I will also be writing the memoir.

To keep me honest, I am toying with the idea of publishing a sort excerpt from the memoir the last Friday of every month. That way I can get feedback and instant gratification to keep me moving forward, and you can…….read it or not, I guess. What do you think?

At present I am shooting for a mere 300 words a day though I have gone over every time I set down to write. I am just writing, seeing where it will take me. 300 words a day is a novel in a year. I read that in Oprah, so it must be true.

In the meantime, I have another piece up over at Moms Speak Up. I am incensed about the whole media downplay of gender issues and sexism in America. I am sure that hasn’t escaped any of my regulars attention. I am also bit tired of being told that it’s not a big deal. Just because we are shielded by our middle-class existences from its full force is not a good enough reason to dismiss it completely.

Because I am also a bit behind in blog topics, I will be posting again before the day is over.

Thanks to all of you who check in and read, here or over at MSU and a Happy Memorial Day Weekend to all of you down in the lower 48.

NOTE: This post was originally published on the now defunct version of “Moms Speak Up” on May 7, 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.

Up to his elbows in soapy water and surrounded by pieces of the broken dishwasher, my husband Rob made a startling announcement.

“I’m giving up recycling.”

To understand my shock better it needs to be said that Rob is a greenie, a veritable Kermit the Frog shouting out the virtues of environmental responsibility in the urban jungle since a time before most people found greenness a virtue or recycling at all necessary.

What caused Rob, a die-hard Greenie, to consider giving up recycling? And how did this family solve the problem?

Two favorite Bibby family stories best illustrate the seamless integration of recycling as a value. The first involves my husband Rob’s late wife Shelley. For a time they lived in the United States while Rob worked at an oil refinery in Kansas. Already diehard recyclers, Shelley had discovered that the polystyrene trays in which portions of meat are packed at the grocery weren’t considered recyclable in the area where they were living. So she washed them and stacked them out in their shed, planning to one day to find a recycling center that would accept them. As it turned out, Rob took a job back in Canada before that day arrived, and that is how three years worth of yellow, pink and white number 6 plastic meat trays found their way to the Fort Saskatchewan Transfer Station after a journey of 1700 miles (minus the side trip to Cleveland). At her funeral, Shelley’s Auntie Dianne told the story of how Shelley filled three large packing boxes with these plastic trays and that the two gentlemen from the moving company never did know why such big boxes were as light as air.

The second story involves lunch and wax paper. I can remember my mother packing the sandwiches for my lunch in wax paper when I started school back in 1970. I don’t remember when she switched to Baggies, but with four children, I imagine it was as soon as possible. Rob’s late wife never did give in to the convenient temptation. She sent him to work with sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. I doubt that he even gave it a second thought the day he unwrapped his peanut butter and honey on sprouted grain in the cafeteria as he ate with his co-workers and boss early on in his employment at the chlorvinyl plant.

“You work for a plastics company but you wrap your sandwiches in wax paper? Way to be supportive.”

When Rob met me, the extent of my recycling was putting newspapers, cardboard and plastic milk jugs in the green Curb-It container for city waste pick up once a week. A crash course in recycling ensued because there is no curbside recycling when you live out of the city as we do now:

  • We wash glass or plastic containers and denude them of gummy labels.
  • Next, we sort them into bins. Our recycling bins are clearly labeled to prevent the different types of plastics from being mixed together.
  • Then we store the groups of plastics until their number makes the drive to the transfer station worthwhile.

Mixing plastics or failure to remove labels will contaminate the bins. When that happens, everything become trash and is simply dumped in the landfill, rendering all effort for naught.

Within the last year polystyrene, which is labeled with a 6, hasn’t been collected for recycling. It’s a plastic that has lost its luster and is slowly being phased out. Because of this recycling centers no longer take it. Bins at the area’s recycling centers are clearly marked to remind people to not toss number six plastics in with the rest of the recyclables.

The city recycling program doesn’t require people to sort the plastics. Citizens throw all their recycling into a blue bag that is collected and taken to Clover Leaf Waste Management and sorted by employees there. This way number six plastic cannot contaminate the recyclable plastics.

However, we don’t have access to this service; at transfer stations the onus is on the consumer to sort. If a bin contains number six it is tossed into the landfill in its entirety. But every time we make a run to the transfer station in Fort Saskatchewan, the bins are full of number 6, which means everything in those bins goes straight to the landfill.

And that is the reason my green-cored chemical engineer husband is ready to toss in the towel on recycling.

After blogging his frustration and meeting with sympathetic responses from fellow greenies who face the same maddening dilemma, Rob has decided that we will continue to recycle glass and paper and just try to avoid purchasing products that come in plastic containers whenever we can. Just one more compromise in a world struggling to maintain its green spaces.

Comments on the original post:

Blogversary said:

So true. Sometimes it is like fighting an uphill battle.

TGLB said:

That frustrates me, too, but what really amazes me is the people who won’t even try to recycle. We have the one-bin option from our city, too; we don’t have to sort, other than to keep the banned stuff out. Or at least it’s advised that we do so. But some folks can’t even do that. We’ve got 2 bins at work, one for pop cans, one for glass and approved plastic. There’s a gal there who won’t put her pop can into the recycle bin, despite it being inches from the trash can, because she “won’t be told what to do.” Wow–what a rebel.

I think recycling is one of those environmental things that everyone can do, and to not do so is unconscionable when it’s so easy, as it is here. You don’t have to chain yourself to a tree to help the environment; just put your damn Coke can in the right bin. How hard is it?

Silverstar said:

I lived in transitional housing for six months. We recycled aluminum cans, and that paid for the resident’s parties and stuff. Likewise, the can was inches from the trash. Likewise, you couldn’t get the ignoramuses to recycle. Oh, well. More for our descendants to mine from the landfills I guess.

Have visited yours and Robs blogs, too. It causes me no end of cognitive dissonance that green Rob works in the petrochemical industry.

Annie said:

Silverstar, cognitive dissonance. Yep, him too. A person wakes up one day and their careers and values are miles apart. Evolution.

Girl, recycling is a habit thing. If we make it super simple and almost no-effort and step that up gradually, we get some people hooked. Or, we tax the hell out of them and train them that way. High prices bring out the latent conserving tendencies in nearly everyone.

Blogaversary, uphill but not much we can do about that because it has to be done.

Thanks you all for your comments.

Izzy said:

There are a lot of people around here don’t recycle, one of them being our friend and neighbor. I ride him about it all the time and remind him that his 1 yr old daughter is going to inherit the mess we’ve created.

Beth Terry said:

>>we will continue to recycle glass and paper and just try to avoid purchasing products that come in plastic containers whenever we can<<

Here! Here! Plastic recycling is actually down-cycling. And plastic recycling gives people the mistaken impression that it’s fine to buy as much plastic as they want because they can just recycle it. But a plastic bottle does not get recycled into another plastic bottle anyway, so new plastic is needed to continue to make new bottles.

I’ve been attempting to live almost plastic-free for nearly a year. I have a list of plastic-free changes I’ve made that might be useful to you:

That said, there is a campaign to urge Clorox, the company that makes BRITA water filters in North America, to take back and recycle them. It’s already being done in Europe. Yes, the plastic gets downcycled. But if people are switching to BRITA filters to get away from bottled water, then I think it’s a good idea to make sure the plastic cartridges are not just dumped in a landfill:

Thanks for this article. I enjoyed your story!


I am now a contributing blogger at Moms Speak Up which is a collaborative blog of writers from various backgrounds. We write about the environment, dangerous imports, health care issues, food safety, media and marketing as it affects us and our children, education, politics and any other hot topics of concern. We are more than writer/bloggers. We are women, parents, consumers, and most importantly – voters. The “business as usual” attitude of our politicians and the business world is not serving us or the generations who will follow us. We believe it is time for us to speak up and be heard!

My first piece is up today. It talks about the difficulty of being a recycler. My inspiration was Rob, who else? He wrote a piece on his own blog about the frustrations involved when trying to be a conscientious consumer in a world full of stupid people. Of perhaps just confused and worn out consumers like himself. Very hard to know the difference sometimes between the dim-witted and the merely defeated.

If you have a moment, click over and give my piece a read and then share you own thoughts on recycling. Good, bad and ugly, I would love to hear what you have to say.