Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Education for Educators

Wow it's been a long time since I posted on here!  I can hardly believe it's been since January.  Unbelievable.  Anyway, today I was reading over my Facebook page as is typical when an article a friend had posted caught my eye.  Being a staunch advocate for children, I watched the entire video.  Here it is:


I'm terrible with links, so forgive me, but hopefully you can access it.

In it, a father of an autistic child talks about his struggles in trying to figure out why his normally pleasant child was exploding at school.  After several attempts of working with the school in utter frustration, he wired his child so he could hear the conversations that took part during the day.  What he discovered was teachers and aides making cruel and abusive statements to his son, several of which causing the child to cry and eventually lose control.

The father is, in all fairness, furious with the way his child has been treated, and the fact that all but one teacher/aide have been moved into other schools in his son's school system.  As a parent of a child who has special needs and has been the victim of verbal abuse, my heart bled for him.  There is nothing more painful than hearing that a teacher has told your child he is dumb, a waste of time, or, in this father's case, a "bastard".

As a teacher, my heart also ached.  I could not imagine ever saying such things to the children I worked with.  Even at the times I have been most strained, most challenged, I have always refrained from verbal abuse.  In my opinion, children carry those words with them for a long time, because they came from a powerful source—the all powerful,  all knowing teacher.  Teachers MUST be aware of the power they have, and exercise it with utmost caution at all times.

However, as a teacher educator, I see this situation differently.  I understand the father's frustration, anger, and devastation.  But I place that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the administration and school board of this particular school.  Special education is a particularly difficult aspect of education, and teachers MUST be educated appropriately in how to deal with a variety of diagnoses.  More and more, we are seeing self-contained classrooms with autistic children.  This means these teachers must be trained appropriately in all aspects of autism.  Children with autism are capable of learning a wide variety of skills, but they will always be autistic.  Teachers must know how to coax those skills out of these children while understanding the limitations each child may have.

In addition, schools should be doing regular observations of teachers, even if they're informal.  Knowing that the principal is going to be randomly popping in is much more likely to keep everyone on the up and up.  It's human nature.  If you know your classroom has an open door and anyone could be coming in, you're much more likely to keep yourself in check, even if you're more given to frustration.

And that's the final crux of the issue:  frustration tolerance.  In my opinion, frustration in teaching most often stems from a lack of understanding of the child's processes.  If you understand that it's ridiculous to expect a three year old to read, you won't get frustrated when she points at pictures and labels them.  If you understand that a down's syndrome child is more likely to be stubborn, you will expect to guide him to his chair more than once.  That's not to say nobody ever gets tired of guiding a kid to a chair.  But it is to say that the expectation is more appropriate.  Teachers who struggle with this kind of frustration need more support and education, or else they need another job.

Administration owes it to teachers to support them in the classroom to do developmentally appropriate, humane teaching.  They owe it to teaching staff to help solve problems rather than ignoring them, or in worst case scenarios, bullying teachers into being forced to manage difficult situations with no support at all.  A strong administration can make a huge difference in how these situations are handled.

The bottom line, despite all of these scenarios, is that parents must advocate for their children.  Although some might think this father went overboard, he discovered the reason his son was unable to succeed in school and ensured his child emotional safety.  In the end, the only person who is going to love your child as much as you do is YOU.  Parents need to keep their eyes and ears open and trust their guts.

And that, my friends, is my two cents for the day!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hey Mister, What Do You Want With My Kid?

This morning my parents got into a lively discussion over breakfast about helicopter parenting.  My father had heard a story on the television about a mother who doesn't allow her ten-year old daughter to use a public bathroom stall alone.  She insists on entering to cover the toilet seat for the child.

My mother shook her head.  "That is so invasive," she said.

I wasn't really surprised by my parents' comments.  After all, these are the two people who raised me, who never asked about my grades, rarely attended a ball game, and only showed up at school for the parent teacher conference (hey, education IS important!).  But if one were to define the anti-helicopter parent, there would be a picture of my parents next to the term in the modern dictionary.

The whole conversation brought me back to thinking about an interaction I had with my daughter last night.  As she and I were chatting, it came to my attention that one of her brother's friends has a cousin who has been chatting on Facebook with her.  My daughter is a few weeks shy of thirteen, and this "cousin" is...wait for it...twenty.

(Insert long expletive of fear and anger here.)

(Now insert deep breath here.)

I made it clear to my daughter this relationship was not going to continue, wrote the young man myself, and made a mental note to check up on who she's messaging more often.

"Well I unfriended him," she announced, tears flowing.  "I hope you're happy!"

Well, no, baby, I'm not happy.  In fact, I'm somewhere in between being flabbergasted and sick to my stomach.  I'm an educated woman.  I monitor my children's screen time.  I pay attention when they talk with me every day.  I listen and have conversations with them on a daily basis.  Yet somehow this person had entered into my home and I hadn't even known.

A few weeks before, my oldest child had come home with two friends, one of whom I knew and one whom I did not know.  He introduced the boy I didn't know, who looked the same as any teenaged boy, and I kindly said hi to him as my kid walked out the door with his two friends.  Turns out the boy is of adult age.  My oldest is fourteen.

It frightens me to know how easily young adults can co-mingle with adolescents.  For my children, these young adults are held in esteem, having passed the rite of turning eighteen and finally being on their own.  Not having to follow adult rules, live under adult roofs.  It's intoxicating.

But as we all know and most can remember well, there's a big difference between who we were as a young teen and who we were as a young adult.  Our decisions, our interests, changed.  Which leads me to the above question:  what do you want with my kid?

Of all the parts of my children going through adolescence that I've encountered and felt ill-prepared for, this is one of the top issues. I always pictured myself as the vigilante mom who would hunt down the sexual predator on the screen with my sixth sense and pin him to the wall by his gonads.  Or young adult men who tried to mess with MY kids would take one look at me and bow, saying, "excuse me, ma'am", and turn and run.  Instead, one actually looked me in the eye, in my face, greeting me as though his relationship with my child was absolutely normal.

My conversation with both children ended in a sad and upsetting discussion of things that can happen between adolescents and adults, primarily sexual abuse and inappropriate relationships.  My daughter admitted she hated telling me the truth.  I hated bursting her bubble and hurting her heart.

I've always worked hard not to be a helicopter parent.  I have a tendency to have a mama bear that appears from time to time.  But I've tried to control that and give my kids room to be kids.  To climb trees and fall, to work out problems with their friends without my intervention, to take pride in their own successes.  To use the public facilities without me in the stall.

But in a situation like this, I'm unsure where I should be.  And being outside of the stall with an ear to the door just feels too dangerous.

So for now, as far as the computer goes, I'm in the stall.  I'm spreading down the toilet paper.  And I'm hoping they are both learning how to do it a little bit better themselves.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Make a Commitment: Do You Need A Sitter or Not?

So my last entry on this blog was about the interesting new pattern I was noticing of parents trying to pay less to sitters for times when their children were sleeping. I'm still annoyed thinking about that scenario, but there's another one that I've been seeing a lot lately too.  This one is really common when men write ads.

"Not looking to pay very much—kids can basically take care of themselves.  Just need someone here to make sure they're safe."


As an early childhood educator/mom/sitter/advocate, I initially found my mouth hitting my keyboard before I pulled it up slowly.  After reading the same statement several times in different ads, I found my reaction settling in as one more of disgust than of shock.  The latest ad I read with this statement was for a family that included three children between the ages of four and six.

I would have loved to believe my children, at four and six, were self-sufficient.  And in many ways they were.  They could put on their own clothes, make a peanut butter sandwich, and pour some milk.  They could play independently in their rooms and (to some degree) pick them up.  They could take a reasonable bath and dry themselves off and slip into jammies.  However, I'm not sure I would trust them to do any of those things alone in the house.

And here's why:  one of my children routinely dressed himself as though the Village People were his fashion model.  Both children liked enough peanut butter on their sandwiches to break the bread.  Milk routinely got left on the table instead of put away, or huge glasses were poured and never finished. Strange things showed up in our bathtub regularly, including a variety of character dolls with haircuts and missing feet.  One of my children once emerged from the bathroom missing an eyebrow, and when questioned, admitted to shaving it off.  Both children insisted on doing pirouettes on the bathtub ledge for the babysitter.  And as everyone knows, there's nothing more fun than to run around naked when you're wet.

My children are now 12 and 14.  I trust them mostly to be alone in the house for a couple of hours, but not usually together.  See, my lack of trust stems from my own experiences with my brother, and our attempts to lock one another out of the house or cause other mischief and general misery.  My brother thought there was nothing funnier than doing the Michael Jackson hip shake-crotch grab in my presence, which totally grossed me out.  I'm sure I did plenty of horrible things, none of which I remember (I truly don't...selective memory is lovely!).  The point is, if you can't trust a child who's twice the age to stay by him or herself alone and unsupervised, why in heaven's name would you make such a ridiculous statement that your preschooler is self-sufficient?  Call me overprotective, but I'm hard pressed to think of any five year old I'd leave alone for an extended length of time.

So back to the original idea of "kids entertaining themselves".  Well no shit, Sherlock.  Kids have been doing that since the beginning of time.  When my kids decided to do pirouettes on the bathtub ledge, they were doing it for entertainment, not because they truly thought they were ballerinas.  When one of them threw out my brand new contact lenses down the sink, it was because it was fascinating to watch the water, not because they own stock in Acuvue.  When one of them hid four sticks of butter in her room, it was to make sure she had food later, not because she really had a penchant for butter at six a.m.

That's why I HIRED a babysitter.  I have never hired a sitter with the expectation that he or she "entertain" my kids.  These aren't show people, folks.  I hire them to keep my children safe and to guide them as needed.  To make sure that peanut butter sandwiches aren't smearing on the floor and butter stays in the fridge and that you dry off, put on your jammies, and leave your eyebrows intact when you bathe.  It's insulting to those people who are willing to come into your home and care for your children to pay them LESS because you think it will save you a few bucks by not having them play with your kids.

So if you're one of those parents who think you need to pay your sitter less because you don't expect grand entertainment, I have one thing to say to you—please.  Your sitter is there to take your place, and ensure your children are safe and well-cared for.  Don't punish him or her for doing the job well by paying half of what a good sitter is worth, just because you don't think your kids need a bedtime story.

Trust me.  Your contacts will thank you.