Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Deb

I got this comment on a previous post and I wanted to respond to Deb here.
Here is her original comment:
I think you might be an answer to my prayer!

I am a Canadian Grade 3 teacher and it sounds like our educational systems have similar ideals and similar budget problems. I have an unmedicated (diagnosed) ADHD student in my classroom of 18. Most days I feel that I have had little sucess in meeting his educational needs and those of the rest of the class and that he has had great success (though unpremeditated) in causing me to question my abilities as a teacher.

Recently I attended a meeting held at the end of a long and challenging day with no breaks either at recess or lunch and was presented with a list of 13 suggestions as to how I might ensure my ADHD student's success at school. This list had been drawn up by my Administration and a Board "expert" who did not speak to me or my student and did not do a classroom observation.

My response after listening to the others' comments on the list was a respectful and despairing "I can't". What I have done to date is implement an Individual Program Plan, set up and carry out a system of one-on-one (positive) time with the Principal and spend countless moments throughout the day explaining, reasoning, reinforcing and praising my student to the best of my ability.

Can I trust your graph? Will I move into a rejuvenation phase shortly?

My next step is attending a follow-up meeting with my Union Rep included (standard procedure, not my idea) with a view to establishing where we go from here.

I would appreciate any further wisdom you might have - even that you understand has lifted my spirits.

And my response:
Dear Deb;
I don't know who you are but it sounds as if you might be a first year teacher? I am approaching this as if you are, or at least have not been teaching long. First of all, I do firmly believe that graph is true. I found it several years ago, and I think I have posted it more than once on this blog. It holds as true for me now as it did when I was a newbie myself. Every year I hit those depths of despair in November, every year I debate doing something else with my life, even though I KNOW this is my gift, and every year I climb back out and by the end of the year things look so much brighter.
Secondly, in nine years of teaching I have always had that One Kid, and that One Class that drive me up a wall and make me count the days until the end of the school year. Some years I have had Those Twelve Kids, but those years are few and far between, thank God. Each year you will have kids that will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never knew that you could and do things that they never taught you to do in college. I can almost guarantee that you will not appreciate that fact until that kid is out of your classroom, however, but the next time you get a kid sort of like that, it will go better, you will recognize those danger signs faster, you will intervene sooner, and while the problem may not improve, you will never be as frustrated by this particular issue as you are right now.
Thirdly, dealing with administration is a bit of a crapshoot. You never know quite what you are going to get. I have been extremely blessed in that I have an administrative team that have their feet firmly grounded in reality, but I know that is not the case in many schools and districts. As a new teacher, you can expect to be closely scrutinized and monitored, and in some cases this is a good thing. In your case, it sounds like you are being told what to do by an outside "expert." I think that the best thing you can do is the equivalent of nod and smile. Do try any reasonable suggestion, but oftentimes you know your students better than an adminstrator does. Try what they say if you can, and if it doesn't work, you can say that you tried. I would also suggest asking your adminstrator to observe your classroom for a set amount of time. Give them things to look for, or simply ask them to watch that one kid and give you suggestions. Ask for them to observe you for at least half an hour, and try to get them to come in the afternoon, or whenever your student hits the worst part of their day.
Which brings me to the next issue - the actual behavior that is driving you up a wall. Without knowing a lot of the particulars, it seems like you are doing what you can. I have never taught elementary school, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have that child in your classroom all day. I can get rid of my problem child after 55 minutes. The only suggestions I can make without knowing the situation would be:
  • Make friends with the Special Education department (I am assuming the kid is sped?). Ask for help. Set up a meeting with just you and someone from that department that you respect or like or you have heard good things about. Set the meeting for a few days from now and keep paper with you to write down questions that you have. Be specific. Describe a situation that happened in your room that got out of hand and ask how to address it.
  • If you don't have a mentor teacher, find one. If there is more than one 3rd grade teacher at your school, find one that can help you...preferably one with several years of experience (like more than 5-6). If there is no one else that teaches 3rd grade, go find the 2nd grade teacher that had this student last year. Ask that teacher what they did, did it work, and what they would suggest.
  • I am assuming you have talked, or tried to talk, to the parents already. If not, try to talk to them, face to face if you can. Keep detailed notes of what is happening and ask them for help and suggestions that you could use. If you can, email weekly or even daily reports of both positive and negative things that happened. You might have to look for the positive, but even saying "Bobby stayed focused for 5 minutes today during social studies" can be a positive thing if he's never done it before.
  • Again, I am not an elementary teacher, but you could put together some kind of behavior plan for the kid? Like a behavior chart or something that he could earn, or lose, privileges or rewards based on very specific goals.
I don't really know how to help, other than to say it DOES get better, and no matter what it seems like, time does not ever stop, slow down, or go backwards. Assuming you are on roughly the same schedule as we are, you are halfway through this year. Every day that kid is in your classroom, you are one step closer to him not being in your classroom. =) If you want some encouragement, read some of the posts from this blog during the 2008-2009 school year---a year that you could not pay me enough money to repeat.

Malaise and Apathy
Major Malfunction
Class Clowns - the Scary Kind
This is Going to be a Whiny Post
Tappity Tappity Tap Snap
Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Bloodshed
Raisin Hell

And finally, good luck. You can do this!
Sincerely, Miss Dark Side

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