And God Laughs
I told God my plans and He laughed. So now I am living, laughing, and loving according to His Plans.

Waiting For Superman: Two and a Half Years in the Trenches

For two and a half years I worked for a large public school system in Virginia as a special education teacher. Our schools were site based managed which translates to the principals having absolute power over everything that happens at the school, with little accountability. To demonstrate this effect on student learning, let me compare two different elementary schools that I taught at. School One received a high percentage of students who did not speak English upon entering the school system and who tended to be a migratory population. Over 80% of students received free or reduced priced lunches, and it was not uncommon for entire families to live in single rooms of homes shared by multiple famillies. Special education numbers were relatively high. School Two was in an upperclass neighborhood where children entered with a high percentage of students having received a private early childhood education. A vast majority of students were fluent in English as a first language, less than 20% of students received free or reduced priced lunches, and the population tended to be stable. School One consistently performed higher than expected on standardized tests, and higher than most other elementary schools in the district including School Two. School Two had just average performance on standardized tests. School one had a culture of great teachers working together for the benefit of our children. School Two had a culture of every man for himself. School one put into place the resources the children required to learn including an ESL teacher for each grade level, a Spanish speaking assistant in each class in lower elementary, a highly accessible guidance counselor, and a school social worker who helped families access resources. School Two used resources for fancy technological resources and placed the blame for test failure on the students. At the first teacher's meeting of the year pictures were shown of students who had failed and "should have passed". The principal was an ineffective leader and an entire grade level had quit the year before I taught at that school. Teacher turnover was high and teacher collaboration was low.
In terms of poorly used resources, I can attest to the resources provided to my special education classes and purchased with school finances yet obviously given no thought. As a preschool special education teacher I had no need for the stacks of lined writing paper I received, or the scissors (heaven help me if I give a three year old standard scissors!), or the folders, or the binders, or the pencils (in fact we had our pencil sharpener removed so little fingers could not explore) or poster paints. What we needed and had to beg, borrow, and steal to get were things like construction paper, finger paint, velcro, batteries, and cleansing wipes. My classroom for children with multiple and severe disabilities had more writing paper, crayons, markers, scissors, notebooks, pencils, workbooks (!), glue, and poster paint than I could have used in three general education classrooms but we had no batteries for our battery operated toys and switch devices, no cleansing wipes, no adapted writing devices, no slant boards, no devices for the visually impaired, no construction paper, only three working push button communication devices for a class of 7 nonverbal students (so 3 at a time could communicate), no adapted computer until I brought in items I had received from a grant while teaching preschool, no velcro, etc. Each year I taught I spent an average of at least $500 of my own money to supplement the resources, or lack of resources, provided to me by the school district.
These are just some examples from just two and a half years of teaching. My teaching was interrupted by becoming disabled, but had I not I was planning on quitting with the district at the end of the third year with School Two even though I would have obtained the almighty tenure because I was so disillusioned. I was looking into private schools for children with disabilities that were less constrained by the public school attitude towards special education, where children came first regardless of perceived ability.

Your examples of wasted money are consistent with what I have observed, too.

Leadership in the school makes all the difference in the world, as you showed - and I have never seen a school where the principal-hierarchy was not in place. (And I've been in more than a few schools).

I kind of wish you would enter the blog carnival, but I understand why not. Hope you will add your comment 'though - always a bonus for everyone.


wow, reading about the wasted money is eye-opening.

my sister worked in two schools similar to the ones you described in TN. her School One did better as well although you would not expect it at first. just goes to show what the right teachers and staff can do. your students were blessed to have you.

I read your words and I so wish you were able to teach Miss Z.She has another year at preschool.Love her teacher but after that... we will be in the trenches.Scares me.

I would really like to hear more about adaptive toys.I am green at this and I really know,that Zoey's disinterest is based on her knowing,that her limitations,make playing with the typical toys,difficult and frustrating.She loves her books but even that,2 hands sure would help.

Any ideas you have would be so appreciated Bethany.I respect you so much and appreciate all you share with me and I have come to love reading your posts and love you.

Hope the fevers are gone and that you are feeling a bit better.

Your experiences are fascinating. I'm going to choose to focus on School 1 because that gives me so much hope. School 2 just sounds like a cluster-eff.

Job 8:21

"He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy."

Blog Info

To read a post, just click on the title for that day's post and you will be taken to the entire journal entry. If you click on the photograph, you will see that picture enlarged.

Wild Olive

Wild Olive

BlogHer Logo

Creative Victory

This is Me

I am a thirty year old enigma who has defied every expectation ever placed upon me and refused every definition created for me. My greatest passion in life is to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs and their families. As a special education teacher I broke all of the unwritten rules to make sure that my kids received the services they needed and had a right to receive. I have never been so proud to be reprimanded before in my life. Now, due to unpredictable twists in life, I am learning first hand what life is like when you rely upon a wheelchair for mobility. I am a medical puzzle with the pieces slowly being identified and put together, and my medical bills alone could fund a small nation. It takes a village to keep me alive. :) However, I am not defined by the genetic misspellings. I am a teacher, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a dreamer, a reader, an amateur photographer, a writer, an advocate, a star gazer, a world changer. I am stubborn, situationally shy, quick to use humor and wit to make others laugh or cope with a situation, sarcastic, fiercely independent, giving, compassionate (sometimes to a fault), protective of those I love, defiant of arbitrary boundaries, perfectionistic, self conscious, self assured (yes you can be both!), articulate and occasionally dramatic. And that is just what I could fit in two sentences! :)

Who's On First, What's On Second, I Don't Know! (Third Base!!)*

Simple Vocabulary Definitions for those who may not speak fluent medical :)

Undiagnosed Progressive Neurological Disorder- This is the diagnosis that is believed to make everything else fit together. It explains my frequent infections, my muscle weakness and dystonia, my dysautonomia, my cardiac issues, my inability to regulate blood pressure, my dysphagia, my ataxia, my severe fatigue, my extreme nausea, my gastrointestinal dysmotility and IBS like syndrome, my unbelievable migraines, my sensory changes in my arms and legs, my vision issues, my hearing loss (so much for blaming medication), and so much more. Going back to infancy and childhood, this would explain the severe apnea, the significantly delayed motor skills, the reason why I could never keep up with my peers in physical activities, the neurogenic bladder, the malfunctioning thyroid, and my frequent illnesses and vomiting. This is the diagnosis now being used since the DNA testing for Mitochondrial Disease came back odd and I can not afford the expenses of a workup at the Mayo Clinic. We are treating symptomatically.

Pan-Dysautonomia- "Pan" means that it impacts many different systems of my body, "dysautonomia" is a failure of my autonomic nervous system or the part of my brain that does all of the automatic things that do not require conscious thought like telling your heart to beat, regulating your blood pressure, adjusting your body temperature, maintaining balance in space, digesting food, hunger and thirst, etc. It is believed that I have had this from birth based upon my history of symptoms, including severe life threatening apnea as an infant, but the cause remains elusive at this time

Dystonia- abnormal muscle tone and spasticity, including painful spasms, that primarily impacts my feet and lower legs and is now starting to be a problem in my back

Ataxia- difficulty maintaining balance and coordinating/executing movements

Dysphagia- difficulty swallowing due to any number of causes including muscle weakness and poor muscle coordination

Adipsia- the absence of a sense of thirst

Other Medical Issues- Lupus Anticoagulant (autoimmune disease that causes me to tend to form blood clots and has already caused two deep vein blood clots and one mild stroke), Migraines, unknown connective tissue disorder, abnormal gastric motility, allergies, history of v-tach and severe sinus tachycardia, changes to my echocardiagram that include leaking valves and a new murmur, low blood pressure, ataxia, untreated PFO (small hole in my heart that increases the risk of stroke), chronic lymphadema in my left arm, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Narcolepsy/Idiopathic CNS Hypersomnolance (believed to be a result of the dysautonomia and my brain's inability to regulate the sleep/wake cycle), mild hearing loss, malformed optic nerves, polycystic ovarian syndrome, pernicious anemia, vitamin deficiencies

* Title comes from an old Abbot and Costello routine that I chose to memorize in 6th grade and absolutely love.