Sunday, December 12, 2010

Did you catch the number of that bus?

I started teaching four years after the Education for All Handicapped Law was passed. Maybe five.

"I'll take history for $400-Alex"
In what year were the public schools required to accept all children?

Me: (only person to ring in- well not really ring in this was a DOE professional development session)- I just called out- 1974

Buzz-wrong- 1973

Okay-I was the only one in the professional development session of twenty-five people who attempted that one- how much closer did they want me to get?

I started as a Special Education Teacher in 1978- four or five years (depending on who you believe) after the passing of the law requiring written Individual Education Plans for all students with disabilities.I've written a lot of IEPs. I've written them on yellow onion skinned paper separated by four carbon papers. I've written them on carbonless specially treated copy paper,and I've written them on computer programs designed by social studies teachers, programs that have no save button, and can be overwritten or erased with a single key stroke.

Five years ago the Hehir Report suggested, (demanded?) that New York City put into practice a Web-Bases IEP system. This year they did. Welcome to the 21st Century- Mayor Bloomberg says that the new chancellor is qualified for the job because she knows what skills NYC students will need for the 21st Century- It only took the Department itself a complete decade to figure out what skills it might need.

So off we go into Web-based IEP world. Ten years ago, when the above mentioned computer program designed by a social studies teacher came into existence, and the DOE was the old Board of Education, organized around geographic districts, I worked as a staff developer training teachers how to use the system. With varying success- some people stared, amazed that I was showing them how to scroll down a page, or choose options from a menu. I might as well been asking them how to turn on the water faucet or use the tv remote. And then there was the teacher who when I asked her to double click the mouse- looked at me and said,""We got rid of our rodent problem"

In fact clicking the mouse to open the program became my acid test to whether things were going to go well or not- if the staff member immediately opened the program by double clicking the desktop icon- it was going to be a good day. If I needed to go over the structure of the right, left side of the mouse, practice depressing quickly in two short strokes, and guide the hand that moved the cursor it was going to be a long day. About 30% of them were.

But a decade passed. I went back to teaching young people. And those who thought that using computers was a task for a future other than their's- retired. (I went to visit one friend in Florida, who asked as long as I was there- could I take the IEP icon off her desktop- it gave her agita to look at it.

Friday I found myself in a computer room coincidentally on the same floor of the office building I worked in the old Distric Board of Ed days. A young woman born long after the passage of the Education for all Handicapped Act, hustled us at lightening speed through the new web-based computer program
"Don't worry" she assured us- she learned the program from the ipsy-spiffy video clips attached to the program and we could too

"Were we expected to turnkey the new program to the other staff in our schools?"
No little presenter didn't like that word- just point them in the direction of the ipsy-spiffy video clips.

When does this new system begin- immediately- old system gone- in order to be federal compliance we must use it now!

No cause for panic little presenter assured us, we could practice over the weekend using ipsy spiffy little video clips and then we could all magically transfer our newly gained knowledge to the other IEP writers in our school- just click on this button and then that button and then the intranet button and we could access it all. So we did. Everybody in room could double click. But do we know what intranet means?

Apparently not- the button worked fine in the office, not at home.

The Union sent me a survey about the training. The last question asked if I saw any flaws in the actual program.

How can I tell- I still trying to figure out what bus hit me?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I found this excerpt on Science Teacher's blog:
I was inspired to comment and he liked it so I am posting my response here.

Stephen Downes, a "Canadian education technology research specialist," wrote "Things You Really Need to Learn" a stunning and succinct post now on The Huffington Post, well worth a read.

Here's Stephen Downes' list:
1. How to predict consequences
2. How to read
3. How to distinguish truth from fiction
4. How to empathize
5. How to be creative
6. How to communicate clearly
7. How to learn
8. How to stay healthy
9. How to value yourself
10. How to live meaningfully

My comment:

I don't understand the list. I am pretty sure from the professional development sessions and the other news in general that the list should read:
1. How to predict the answer by underlining key words and other test taking stategies.
2. How to fill in the “correct bubble” when given a series of multiple choices
3. How to distinguish “their” truth from any creative “fiction” that might produce a new or different way of looking at the world and subsequently be marked wrong.
4. How to sit quietly and let others get good test scores also.
5. How to be creative- write as much information as you can in the open ended questions so that the grader may be justified in giving you partial credit
6. How to communicate clearly- in a five paragraph essay with an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion
7. How to learn the material that is to be tested
8. How to stay healthy -this means eating a good breakfast on test day
9. How to value yourself- as a data point on the district's test reports
10. How to live meaningfully-as long as the meaning can be evaluated by a standard-based test.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Elma joined us right after the winter break in the middle of her eighth grade, two and half years ago. Never a good sign. Kids don't get switched in the middle of the last year of middle school - unless...

Unless the sending school really wants to get rid of them.

And they really wanted to get of Elma, she dictated the story to me later in the year, in an attempt to fulfill the English class requirement of writing a short story. The "fictional" account started with the third person: "there once was a girl who slapped her teacher..." and ended with the first person admission, of "and then they sent me to special ed."

It wasn't hard to imagine Elma slapping her teacher. Elma did everything to convince us of her street credentials. She spent last year with magenta bangs-and a matching sweater two sizes smaller than her bra size- a confirmation of her affiliation with a girls gang. No amountof cajoling could make her lose the sweater (how she got enough oxygen in her lungs remains a mystery) we didn't even try with the bangs.

But two and half years have gone by and Elma hasn't slapped anyone. Elma stuggles to read and write-but cursing and wrecking havoc come easy. "You know I read mad slow, Ms. Teacherfish, she complains"

Last year over the phone I relayed to her mom that she is in fact slowly trudging her way through the high school curriculum and was on her way to graduate.

"Elma, is not the type of kid who graduates, high school" her mom told me. I thanked her for her time, hung up the phone and checked the high school diploma box on the goal sheet- it's up to Elma to graduate or not graduate - not her mom.

Monday- I sat with Elma and coached her though the literary response essay spelling every other word, but there were something so sincere, so dedicated about her intensity, that at the end period, I mentioned that I enjoyed working with her.

"Thank you Teacherfish" she replied

Tuesday was a Ricardo day in English. Ricardo brought his obnoxious, demanding, I'm gonna hijack this class with my foul mouth and outrageous attitude -self to class and sat down at the table with Kenya and Elma. The N word and F bomb were flying all over.

I sat down two tables away, too tired, too defeated by the school politics to wage this war.

And then Elmo stopped, took her assignment and moved up next to me.
"Lets do it." she said.

So maybe those magenta bangs will peak out from under the mortarboard eventually
Oh wait- they're gone. Last year's trend.