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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sitters and Sleeping Children...and Less Pay

It's not often that I decide to take to this blog and write something I feel irritated about.  The last time I did so I got a bit of a scolding (which was well-deserved) by a reader and am fully anticipating the same for this post as well.  But I'm willing to woman up and take whatever responses I get.

In the last six months or so I've taken to doing occasional babysitting in my area using sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com.  These sites help parents find (hopefully) responsible sitters who meet their criteria for different jobs, both long- and short-term.  If you haven't checked them out and are interested in either finding a sitter or doing some sitting, I highly recommend them.  I've had background checks done on both sites, courtesy of interested parents, and have met some nice families.

In my area of the country, babysitting goes for all prices, but generally for one job, a skilled sitter gets paid between $10-$15 dollars an hour.  A less experienced sitter might get paid between $5 and $10 an hour.  Of course, every parent is open to set the price at whatever s/he feels as being reasonable and affordable.  I've actually seen jobs as low as $3 an hour and nanny jobs even less than that.  Because I have over twenty years of experience and a master's degree in education, I generally charge roughly $10 an hour.  I let parents know that I'm usually negotiable with that price.  I have also volunteered to watch children for next to nothing when I have seen families who are truly struggling and I have a free day.  I don't want to get into justification of my price, but I paid $7 an hour to my sitters (college students) ten years ago when my children were young.  We couldn't afford it often and consequently didn't go out much.  We also lived in a different area of the country.

This morning I got an email in response to an ad I answered earlier in the week.  I had told this parent, as I have in the past, that my rate is $10 an hour but I can be a bit negotiable with that.  She said she had thought she was going to cancel her plans but then changed her mind.  Then came the part of the email that I've seen becoming more and more common:  "I've decided not to pay more than $8 an hour because my child will be sleeping and it's an easy job."

This excuse (and let's be honest, that's really what it is) is becoming more and more popular with parents.  I've actually seen parents who want to split the time and the price between waking and sleeping hours. Here's the reason that doesn't work.  Regardless of what your child is doing while a sitter is there, your sitter still has to be there and be responsible.  Whether a sitter is playing with your child or monitoring his or her sleep, they are still responsible for your child. Not half-responsible, FULLY responsible.  Your sitter still had to drive to your house (in our area sometimes fifteen to twenty miles) and commit to the care of your child.  If your child awakens, your sitter isn't going to say, "Sorry, kid, I'm on half time now."  If a, god forbid, fire or some other disaster were to happen, the sitter wouldn't leave your child, or do half a job because the child is now in bed.  My point is that it really doesn't matter whether the child is asleep or not; my job as a sitter doesn't end until you walk through that door.  I'm not allowed to run to 7-11, Redbox, my own house, or anything else.  I'm going to monitor your child just as I would my own young one to ensure their health and safety are protected.  Just because I'm not feeding your child or building a Lego tower doesn't mean I'm not working.  Lots of other jobs have "down times" where workers are required to be on site for emergencies but not necessarily doing the same thing they are doing during other periods, but they don't get paid less during those hours.

I'll be the first person to say that this economy is horrible, and it's difficult to make ends meet.  But if you can't afford to pay your sitter a respectable rate for a voluntary night out, then maybe it's time to pop some popcorn and stay in.

As for the parent who contacted me earlier today, I have chosen to turn down the job.  She lives more than ten miles from me and I do consider that when I set my rate and my willingness to negotiate it.  I'm sure she will find somebody who is willing to sit for $8 an hour.  I wish her and her son the best.  But in the meantime, I hope that parents everywhere will consider the implications of lowering pay for sleeping children.  It's an insulting idea, if nothing else, and a dangerous precedent to imply a sitter is only partially working while children sleep.  Personally, I always felt my children were particular vulnerable when they were sleeping.  Just because the form of the job changes doesn't mean it isn't still a job.

Pay a sitter what you can afford, but don't insult them by implying they're somehow working less when your child goes to sleep.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tried and True: Gathering for Rudolph

So I approached the other night with a healthy dose of holiday cheer, and it wasn't until a friend of mine sent me a message that I realized:  Rudolph was on!  It was nearly 8:30 p.m. and I had already missed the first half of it, but I quickly flipped the channel over and settled in to enjoy the Island of Misfit Toys.

"Are you serious?" my twelve-year old said, with just a touch of a snide tone.  "Rudolph, Mom?  I don't wanna watch this!"  She sunk down on the loveseat anyway, making herself comfortable.

Despite the fact I probably didn't need to respond, I said quickly, "Well, I'd like to watch it...look!  All those poor misfit toys!"  And we sat in silence for several minutes, watching the toys sing their sad song of being unloved.  Personally, I was reliving memories from being ten years old and watching Rudolph with my classmates as we waited to go on stage and sing a Christmas medley for our parents.

"Oh hey," my fourteen year old approached.  "Look!  It's Abominie...isn't that his name?  That big snow guy?"  He wandered through the room and over to do some laundry.

"The Abominable Snowman," I said, and my twelve-year old piped up, "Yeah!  Cornelius is gonna get him!"

And thus I was reminded of the magic of traditions.  Rudolph is such an American tradition that most children see him as a beloved sign of Christmas.  I was immediately taken back thirty years to reflect upon a time when I was a child, and my children—even though they're tween and teen—took great joy in reminiscing, even for a short while, in the pleasure of Rudolph.

For years I have wondered about families who really watched the twenty-five days of Christmas, but after our experience with Rudolph the other night, it reminded me that there are wonderful programs that we all feel warmly satisfied with in our souls.  Whether it's The Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, or one of the many Santa Claus favorites, we all have a favorite we identify with and want to pass on to our children.

And that sharing is part of the spirit of Christmas, no doubt.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saving Time and Money at the Mall

Ah, the great shopping mall at Christmas...the symbol of all that is so typically, well, American.  Everywhere you look are the signs of what so many of us consider to be the problem with the Christmas holiday, as well as the pressure cooker of keeping up with every other family.  Malls send us the mistaken message that all shoppers can afford hundreds of dollars in presents for their loved ones.  Walk by the Apple store in my local mall on any given day and one would think the average American has hundreds, if not thousands, in disposable pocket money.  The same mall is anchored with a Nordstrom's and a Dillard's, both high end stores.  So why in the world would this budgeting mama encourage a trip to the mall with a tween?

Because I remember very clearly what it was like to be a tween myself.  I remember vividly all the outfits presented to me at Christmas that were just slightly off, veering from cute to nerdy (sorry Mom!).  I remember all the exchanges my poor mother made after Christmas.  And I don't intend to spend my valuable shopping time after Christmas standing in the return lines.

My tween is almost thirteen.  She has definite ideas of what she likes and doesn't like, particularly when it comes to what she wears.  I have specific things I am looking to get her—a winter hat and gloves, and both can be found in a reasonably priced store hidden in a back corner of the mall.  We will do some window shopping to get some ideas of what she would like for Christmas other than gift cards (I hate giving gift cards).  We get to spend some time together looking at pretty things and getting some ideas of what the other wants for Christmas.  In addition, today is $5 movie day.  I have a rewards card with the movie theater, and the theater will also comp me the cost of my parking.  So I'll pay $10 for parking and a movie for two, plus get the credits on my rewards card, which may very well give us a free snack or drink.  Not a bad deal.

The trick with visiting a mall, I find, is to stay focused on the goal at hand, which is NOT to purchase anything today.  It's to get ideas of what my tween likes and wants.  Once I have those ideas, I can purchase the items from the semi-affordable store in the mall...OR I can purchase it somewhere less expensive.  Either way, my tween feels heard, we have a nice afternoon outing, and mom saves a few bucks.  Not bad for an otherwise boring Tuesday afternoon, huh?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Creative Christmas...or how to do christmas on a very strict budget

We moved to Virginia to be near my family approximately seventeen months ago.  In that amount of time I've had—and quit—three different jobs.  My husband has had one temporary job.  To say the job market is tight here is putting it mildly.  The last job I had caused me tremendous stress, which caused more trouble for my physically, to the point that I could not complete what I needed to in order to do well.  So I followed my gut and quit.

I'm not always the most reasonable person, as several people were quick to remind me.  On top of it, our cars, both of them, chose this week to break down.  One needs a replacement tire, and the other needs a couple thousand dollars worth of repairs.

Fortunately I'm a stasher.  I stash all sorts of stuff everywhere.  I have a "Disney account" that we'll be tapping into, and a retirement account from when I was in my early twenties that I never rolled over that I may have to use.  The most frustrating part is knowing we are just one phone call away from everything turning around.  So many of my friends across the country are in similar situations, doing whatever they can to make ends meet.

My first and biggest stressor, ironically, was thinking about how I was going to provide a fun and meaningful Christmas for my kids.  They're young teenagers now, and material goods are highly valued.  Gone are the days where a few puzzles and a dolly would make a grand Christmas.  These days it's video games, iPods, cell phones, and whatever other gadgety equipment they can get their hands on.  It's clear with our budget this year, there are not going to be a tremendous number of expensive gadgets gracing the tree.  But I am determined that my family will have a joyous Christmas no matter what.  So here's my plan.

1.  Focus on the meaning of the Christmas season.  Talk about how we give to others and how it makes us feel, and how that Christmas spirit is especially alive right now.  I think when times are tough, it's even more important to talk with kids about the "true" meaning of Christmas, and how God's gifts to us are still alive today.
2.  Schedule fun and free (or low cost) family activities each week.  Some of the things we'll be doing include baking cookies for people who are shut in, taking walks around the neighborhood to see the decorations, driving through neighborhoods to enjoy the lights as we sip cocoa, and watching classic Christmas movies and cartoons.  Making easy ornaments will be on the list too!
3.  Find out what the kids want to do to celebrate Christmas.  My twelve year old told me last night that she wants to have an "unplugged" evening, where all electronics are off, and we just sit around, drink cider, and talk.  Ironically, things like this are often the memories we cherish.
4.  Set an affordable budget and STICK TO IT.  My budget is quite small but it will purchase a couple of things my kids really want.  I also have an entertainment budget, and I use coupons and specials to stretch it farther.  Since my kids are older, we can do free things on the weekend, when they're more expensive, and more costly things during the week, when the rates are cheaper.  I have made a hard and fast rule for several years now not to carry ANY credit charges through the season.  If I can't pay for it with cash, it doesn't get purchased.
5.  Talk with your kids and explain how this Christmas may be different and why.  My kids are old enough to understand our financial constraints.  Younger children may be satisfied with an explanation of "We're going to do some things a little different this Christmas!  It will be fun to try these new things!"

The most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that our attitudes as adults will carry over to our children.  If we have positive attitudes that focus on the important aspects of the season, we will be rewarded with children who will also begin to develop positive attitudes and respect for what we see as being important.

Check back here regularly for our plans for the season!  And feel free to leave your own ideas in comments as to how you're making this Christmas a special one!