Friday, June 15, 2007

A Bittersweet Day

Today my three sixth graders "culminated" (we're not allowed to call it "graduating"), marking the end of my 4th year of teaching.

Starting my first year, I had to come up with a way to keep kids straight, mostly for copying purposes.  I had to be able to go over quickly who was in my class, and who got which homework.

So I've always separated them, first by grade level, and then alphabetically by last name.  So, this year, it was M., E., A., R., A., E., J., R.

It's been E., J., R. for three years.

This is the first group of kids I've had since the first day of their fourth grade year; I, in fact, had J. for summer school before her fourth grade year.

Looking back over the pictures I took at the all school picnic, and today, something really hit home.

This is the nicest group of kids I have ever had.  They are kind to each other, supportive of each other, and a cohesive group.

So while it's exciting to move E., J., and R. off to bigger and better things (after summer school)...part of me is mourning for the chemistry we had this year.  And part of me is just sad that there will be no more E., J., R.

Maybe more later, but I'm -- in Britspeak 'cause I was just reading about the  Harry Potter movie -- knackered.

Yawn's late, and I'll pay for it in the morning, but our poetry book is officially ready to be copied for summer school!'

Of course, I am now singing "Hope Eyrie" (a gorgeous tribute to Apollo 11) in my head.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nerd Heaven


Thank you, Mr. Wheaton, for another way to waste my time! ;-)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

So today, I was at A's house doing his home teaching.

I've been having an unusual number of headaches recently, and have been suspecting that it's time for a new prescription (I began to notice that I had to tilt my head a certain way to see clearly across the classroom; I have astigmatism and I think the lenses are ground in such a way that certain places are the proper shape to be clear, while the main area is not).

Anyhow, I'm at A's house giving him a break after testing him on progress towards all his IEP goals. He's doing a monster truck show for me and tries to tell me the name of one of his monster trucks.

Now, I can usually puzzle out what A is saying, despite numerous speech difficulties (I never remember whether he had a stroke as a baby or has CP but the result is the same), but I have to have some idea as to the context. Monster trucks? Not so much.

So he holds up the side of the truck so I can read the name.

It's a tiny blur.

I say, offhandedly, "Boy, do I need glasses. You're going to have to bring that closer."

He grins. "But you have glasses!" he says.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Wasted Time, and Now Doth Time Waste Me

Via Kristina's blog, a nifty new way to stare aimlessly at the computer instead of working on summer school stuff.


That is, to glance at ocassionally as you are productively engaged in your work.

Title is from Shakespeare's Richard II; found on wikiquote, the quote version of wikipedia.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's Over

Life, I suppose, is all about compromise. Nobody gets exactly what they want, but everybody gets something.

I compromised today to keep the peace with the administration who, after all, is in charge of me. I get that -- I do. Miss T. was happy. The middle school teacher was happy 'cause her life is not inconvenienced by providing curricular modifications or aide support for J to spend extra time in general ed beyond what her program provides. The OT and APE people were happy because she was moved to consult (a decision I actually supported, as her handwriting and sports skills, like everything else, improved around her peers after years of direct service doing not much).

I did put in a plug to get J in clubs at lunch time and after school extracurriculars.

I don't think mom was 100% happy; I wasn't 100% happy.

But it's over.

Mom signed, and if J. has another period like in 3rd grade where she lost lots of skills, no one can say I never warned them.

It's out of my hands. It'll be someone else's Drama.

Meanwhile, I just realized that I left the ice cream K. (a fourth grade teacher) was kind enough to bring back for me after she went out with the other 4th grade teacher and the science teacher, in the freezer at school. :-(

I have more thoughts, but I actually have to get some work done, and I feel a headache coming on. (Ignore this if you're leery of TMI.) I've had my monthly migraine twice in the last week, but the result of that has not happened yet. I wishy my hormones could decide which of my girls to sync up with -- I thought we were getting there a couple of months ago, but either one of the girls is getting irregular and I didn't notice, or one of the other girls is fixin' to start and confuse my poor reproductive system even more.

Anyone else ever wish that the "pregnancy substitutes" in Huxley's Brave New World actually existed?

Monday, June 11, 2007

So THAT's the Secret!

Hmm...let's examine this, shall we?

Last week, I sit down at 6:00 to write A's IEP. A is a new student this year but I know her fairly well and have a pretty good idea of the goals I want to write. 6 1/2 hours later, I am finally done after giving up and writing...a passable...goal to fill out that last darned box.

Tonight, I sit down at 7:30 to write J's IEP. Although I have known J for three years, I've been less involved in her schooling this year as she's only with me 30% of the day. I don't really have an idea of the goals I want to write. Meanwhile, as I type, I chat with Cat. 2 1/2 hours later, I am done.

The secret to good IEP writing is, apparently, have absolutely no gosh-darned clue what you're going to write before you write it.

Okay then.

One More

As more IEP.

A disclaimer: I love my kiddos. I love the day-to-day aspects of teaching them. I love taking a book that most people think is beyond their reach -- War of the Worlds, say -- and find a way to make it accessible to them.  I have mostly positive interactions with parents.  I truly think I do the best I can to further each and every child's development, whether they come to me matching colors, not matching at all, or reading at a 2nd grade level.

That said, while I like to think I'm a fairly good writer, and have been told I'm a good IEP-writer -- and while I have only had two IEPs go dramatically badly -- I freak out before each and every one.

I know J.  I know what she can do.  I've seen how she's grown this year.  I've seen what being included 70% of the day has done for her.  I can delineate how she's grown -- how, while she could read and decode nearly at grade level, she could only comprehend at a pre-primer level and can now comprehend at a late first grade level.  I believe -- truly -- that full inclusion is the best placement for her...because for her to be alert and available for knowledge, she needs to be around her peers.

She's shown that this year.  I've had her since summer school before fourth grade.  She's going into seventh now.  For two years, I taught her nothing.  I tried every trick I could think of -- visual cues to help her learn what question words meant, manipulatives to shore up her number sense so she could fix mistakes in her rotely-learned math.

And she barely treaded water.  Her comprehension did not improve.  Her social skills did, marginally, but her ability to apply what she had learned did not.

Within a week of being 70% included this year, she was answering questions appropriately (though not always correctly); that is, if I asked "Who was White Fang's first owner?" she might have said Wheedon Scott, but at least it was a person.

Ditto math.

Ditto her handwriting, for crying out loud.

For whatever reason, being with her peers turned a light bulb on that I never even knew existed.

Except that the program specialist doesn't think so.

Which puts me in a very awkward position.

Meanwhile, I have to write and propose goals that would work equally in a special day class setting and a general education setting.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


So, before I got my credential, I worked as a teacher's aide at CHIME Charter elementary school -- a school with full inclusion as its philosophy and model (with one exception: students that were deaf were given small group instruction in the mornings).

Well, one day, the student I supported wasn't there, so I was watching the rest of the kids at lunch. Several of the kids that were deaf joined the table where I was hanging out with some kindergartners, and one introduced himself.

Very, very rapidly.

Like...very, very, very rapidly. Warp 10. Fingers blurring into what I knew were letters, but God help me if I could follow them.

Now, I know some sign, but that was WAY too fast for me, and I haltingly told him so. Being an eight year old boy, and typical in every other way, he tried one more time and went about his day -- 'cause, really, who wants to chat with a teacher at lunch?

This little girl smiled when I asked her name (she was in kindergarten or first grade at the time) and slowly signed, very deliberately, signed L-E-A-H. Then she told me the other boy's name as well.

Fast forward to today -- in January, it'll have been (yikes!) five years since I worked there. A few months ago, my TiVo recorded a show called Signing Time as a recommendation and who should I see but Leah!

My TiVo also has various disability-specific wishlists, and it recorded a show called Profiles in Caring, about Leah and her family over night. (Streaming video here.)

Leah's little sister, who was...oh, I'd say maybe 2 1/2 the last I saw a big girl, talking away as Leah and her sister (Lucy) arm wrestle. Leah's mom discreetly asks Leah to let Lucy (who has cerebral palsy as well as spina bifida) win, and Leah does.

Leah looks to be about 9 or 10, I'd say, but she's clearly the same thoughtful, nice little girl I knew way back when.

So...go buy Signing Time for a once-upon-a-time buddy of mine. :-)

Accessible Subs

When the "Submarine Voyage" ride reopens Monday at Disneyland, it will have a new story line, shiny new coral reefs and something not envisioned when it debuted in 1959—an alternate experience for disabled visitors.

The "Imagineers" at The Walt Disney Co. couldn't retrofit the hatches and spiral staircases of the original 52-foot submarines to accommodate wheelchairs.

So they did the next best thing. The undersea voyage has been photographed with state-of-the-art equipment, and the high-definition images will be displayed on a 61-inch plasma screen in a theater designed to resemble an observation outpost.

The viewing site is also intended to accommodate people who are claustrophobic.
I'm of two feelings about this.

The first is -- well, that's cool. It's nice that they're thinking not only of their guests with physical disabilities but also those who have difficulties in enclosed (or, in Patrick's case, dark) spaces. It seems like a reasonable solution to a difficult problem.

The second, though, is this: for all the money they spent on the subs -- from the first test drainings of the submarine lagoon, the (rumored) retrofits of the Matterhorn that said draining required, to the retrofits of the subs (which, apparently, was extensive, and included adding seats and switching the motors from diesel to electric), to the new underwater painting techniques -- for all of that money, they couldn't have enlarged one hatch on, say, two subs, an installed a telescoping platform of some type? Perhaps the same type that the Jungle Cruise now has?

Over the years, I've watched as Disneyland has gradually become more accessible -- and, perhaps as a result, or perhaps just because of the increasing presence of people with disabilities out in the world, or, perhaps, just because I've grown more aware of what I was seeing, I also saw an increasing presence of people with disabilities.

Where once it was notable if I saw one other person in the park with Down syndrome, it's now notable if I don't.

The trains were given large back compartments that can be accessed from all stations except Main Street. It's a Small World now has a boat with a platform that can be raised or lowered so that a person does not have to transfer out of their wheelchair. (Patrick got to ride on that once.) Space Mountain now has this nifty new loading feature where they can move a whole train to the side so that someone who moves slowly or has to transfer out of a wheelchair can take all the time they need.

In my experience, too, the cast members are uniformly trained to be respectful without being overly helpful. If Patrick is first in line at an attraction, they ask him how many people are in the party. (If we're in a particularly noisy spot, I usually gesture myself above his head, so he doesn't see.) When he goes out and about in the park on his own, he's never reported being questioned or treated as though he was lost (though a cast member did talk him through a scary experience with the fireworks once when he was stuck waiting to get back to us).

While preparing for Disney World, I picked up this book which talks about all sorts of special needs, including intellectual disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments, and so forth.

The article continues:
"The law doesn't apply to everything," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a global consulting firm.

"If something is too challenging, then it just can't be done and they don't have to allow a physically or mentally challenged person on the ride," Speigel said.

Disney declined to disclose the cost of the renovations.
But here's my problem with that.

Speaking solely as someone without an engineering could have been done. We've all seen those telescoping platforms that extend up (cherry pickers?)...I don't buy that they couldn't have taken, say, two subs, and have installed that.

But maybe I'm being unreasonable.

And...since when does claustrophobia count as "mentally challenged"?!

Patrick's issues with the dark have very little to do with having Down syndrome and a whole lot to do with living through the Northridge earthquake at the age of six and forever associating the deep dark that ascended as all the power went out as going with earthquakes.

To be honest, if the subs truly went underwater, I might have issues with them -- I tend to overthink things and dislike driving through tunnels (driving through a gorgeous mountainous area on the way to Denver was sheer torture) or riding subways such as BART underwater.

"It's such a phenomenal world we've built down there, and at the same time it's such a beloved attraction that it's really not an option for us" to exclude any guests, said Kathy Mangum, a vice president at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Okay, I like the philosophy, but it shouldn't be an option to exclude guests if it wasn't a beloved attraction.

The whole idea of Disneyland, as Walt Disney says, was to provide an inclusive place. He was tired of taking kids to the merry-go-round and not being able to ride with them. He was tired of being the guy on the bench watching everyone else have fun because he couldn't ride the merry-go-round. So he built a place where parents and children could have fun together.

If the Disney company truly wants to live up to that legacy, exclusion shouldn't be an option, no matter how beautiful or how beloved the attraction or experience is.

SG-1 C/S 'Shipper Squee

Before I get to my more serious post, I just have to say something. Tiny spoiler.

Cam -- seriously -- blink. Yes, Sam is wearing civilian clothes. Yes, she said they went to Victoria's Secret. But, really...blink. ;-)

(Oh -- and I have to wonder if there were any fun outtakes where he drooled over the wrong person, given that Vala was also in civvies -- and sporting a clearly salon-gotten tan (which, Claudia, doesn't flatter you.))