Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Post In Which I Deviate From My Normal "Foody-ness" and Vent a Bit About Education...



You guys asked for it. :)



Jamie said...
Hey, I know this may be a touchy subject for you (my mother-in-law is a special-ed teacher, too), but I would love to see a post with your thoughts on the no-child-left-behind act and it's impact on your work. I understand that the challenges this legislation has brought on special needs kids are even more imposing than in the other school areas.

Melody Polakow said...
I am interested in your thoughts on Jamie's question here too... also, your thoughts on mainstreaming? (hehe, and this is a food blog?)I really feel for you... I think teachers, especially special education teachers, are so under appreciated.. I could NEVER do what any teacher does, day in and day out. I simply do not have that emotional reserve...


Hmmm... Well, yes, this IS a food blog, but I appreciate the questions and comments. Thank You for recognising that I do have a life outside food (though sometimes you might not believe that!).

Being that some people I work with may know about this blog, I've probably already been more opinionated than I should - not that that shuts me up - but just know I'll probably keep my comments a bit on the conservative side...

OK. (Deep breath)...Few of us would argue with the intentions of the NCLB act, I think the original concept was good. We do need standards and accountability.

But... NCLB tries to be "one-size-fits-all" (and as we plus-sized women know - one size NEVER fits all!!) The Act has expectations that are difficult for ANY teachers and students to conform to; But far, far more so for those of us in Special Education. Children learn at different rates,and to dictate that students with Special Needs must show a year's growth at the same rate as the general population is totally unrealistic. The students I work with are working as hard as they can. Yes, they are showing growth, but if they could show the growth expected of ALL students, they wouldn't need Special Ed. Whatever happened to the bell curve? Eh, just venting there...

One of the big problems, I feel, is conflict between the two federal mandates affecting special ed. - NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. IDEIA calls for individualized curriculum and assessments that determine success based on growth and improvement each year. An Individualized Education Plan -or IEP.

NCLB, in contrast, measures all students by the same markers, which are based not on individual improvement but by proficiency in math and reading. We're being asked to do two very different things. Not only that, but if scores in a certain group/classroom/school are consistently low, teachers are asked to re-evaluate and re-assign students to more self contained special-education environments. All in the name of keeping those test scores within the margins...

Of course, this also puts pressure on schools to remove special education students from general education classrooms, undoing the years of progress we've made toward inclusion in mainstream schooling. We're right back where we started. My thoughts? Grrr... NCLB is doing my kids no favors.

Of course, the thoughts I rambled on here are fairly wide-spread - not specific to my district alone. The students in MY class specifically, are not students who would fit the criteria for"mainstreaming". I have mixed feelings about that label, but that's what it is. It's been determined - by who? I don't know. Our class focus is on learning life-skills. We practice every day things - skills you and I take for granted: feeding and grooming and hygiene. Watering the plants, opening a soda can, and keeping the tone of our voice even, crossing the street, learning our phone-number, brushing our teeth, folding laundry, turning pages in a book, giving bus fare, running the microwave and flushing the toilet.

Unfortunately, NCLB requires that I test my students for proficiency in reading and math. Only reading and math. No federal Education mandate bothers to measure whether they know what to do when a "Don't Walk" light flashes or a fire alarm sounds. There's no proficiency standards for tying your shoes, blowing your nose or sorting the recyclables. And sadly, teachers ability isn't judged by how much they care...

Jim Horn is an Educator who has the BEST blog about issues in Public Education. He advocates for a commitment to, and a re-examination of, the democratic purposes of schools. Love his blog. But I
digress.

He JUST posted a great post: "NCLB: What IS Left Behind?" A great read if this an area of interest to you! My favorite quote in the essay: "Most troubling, however, of all that has been left behind is the teacher’s nurturing care, the teacher whose advocacy for and sensitivity to every child’s fragile humanity has been a trademark of what it means to be the teacher of children."
~
Jim Horn, Blog: 'Schools Matter; What IS Left Behind?"

Education is ultimately supposed to prepare all students for life. My fellow teachers and I simply do the best balancing act we possibly can.

9 comments:

Johanna3 said...

you can vent all you want!!

i think you are so right!

urban vegan said...

One size surely doesn't fit all--in anything,least of all education.

Vivacious Vegan said...

You have such a kind heart. I can't even begin to imagine the challenges you face at work on a daily basis. Very interesting thoughts on this subject. Hopefully '08 will be the start of change!

Dino said...

Oh my gods, you are SO articulate and talented when it comes to things you're passionate about. I've been wondering the same exact thing ever since that disaster of an act came into being. Thank you for saying what the rest of us were thinking. Most of all, thank you for being passionate. It's so important in life to be passionate about things that matter.

bazu said...

All I have to say is, I agree with you. Daiku's sister used to teach special ed. as well and I've heard her express some of your exact thoughts. You're so tough and awesome to do what you do, I hope you know.

Plus, I love the sourdough bond that we have now! I can't wait to try out sourdough english muffins- your idea and Urban Vegan's recipe = perfection.

Dino said...

Friend of mine saw the post, but can't remember his google account, so I'm posting it for him:

I am a vegan, teacher of children with Autism in an alternative placement setting. Your classroom sounds quite a bit like mine. Due to NCLB, we do teach Reading and Math, but at the expense of life skills. So it is wonderful that one of my students now knows 20 sight words, however, he still cannot use the bathroom independently. There are just not enough hours in the day to fit everything into a packed schedule--especially when children require long breaks after short amounts of work. Not to mention that government offices never factor in that a kid might have so many self-injurious behaviors that on a good day they are only available for learning 1/3 of any academic session. These maladaptive behaviors increase with pressure and difficult demands..such as locating sight words. I do my best and I love the kids, but I'd much rather spend the time teaching my non-verbal students sign language, voice output devices or picture exchange to request items. To me, that will have a much greater impact on their overall happiness than "distinguishing the pictorial features of a map legend" or typical nonsense like that.

Tofu Mom (AKA Tofu-n-Sprouts) said...

Thanks for your comments and thoughts everyone. I didn't even realize, when I started this post, how near and dear the subject was to my heart.

Dino, I'd LOVE to chat with your friend. A vegan Special Ed. teacher? Wow! They exist? Never met one. We'd have ooodles to talk about! That'd be the coolest thing ever.

And he basically said, only better and in less words that I did, EXACTLY how I feel...

Dino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melody Polakow said...

Thank you for your thoughts and words, and most of all, your service to humanity.

It is just insane, to deal with the beauracracy of NCLB and of the school system in general, I'm sure...

Fabulous entry and thanks for the links.