Archive for February, 2011

If you have been following my posts, you may know that my son has a number of health issues including epilepsy, juvenile diabetes, tourette syndrome, and a number of comorbid things that go along with this which includes some learning disabilities.  As a result of all these issues, my son has been on an IEP since first grade. 

Everything was going along fine in school.  In both first and second grade he was keeping in step with the rest of his class.  The only unique event that happened in first grade is his teacher had a baby right before school started and there was a substitute until after Christmas.  Unfortunately, for that year he had to get used to two different teachers, which can have its issues too. 

At this time he was getting a little extra help for reading, writing and language and some OT.  He was also able to keep up the pace with the rest of the class.  At the end of second grade his teacher told me that by the end of the year he was starting to have a hard time with math, and she recommended that we get math included in his IEP.  So, in the next IEP meeting at the beginning of third grade, I requested that his second grade teacher attend and requested that she give her recommendations.  All went well and they added objectives to his IEP as it relates to math.

It was in third grade that everything fell apart.  It is also when his tourette syndrome began, though he had not been diagnosed yet.  After the winter break in December, my son started to have some vocal tics and motor tics that were pretty severe.  I kept looking for a trigger of some sort.  His neurologist was not sure if these movements and sounds were tourette syndrome or non-epileptic seizures.  He suggested we start working with the neuropsychology department, and my son began seeing a neuropsychologist. 

My son missed quite a bit of school, but he was keeping pace in math with the rest of the students.  When his tourettes became really bad we switched him to attending  school for half a day and the school provided a tutor to work with him.  He also had an aid with him at school for safety purposes.  Coincidently, his third grade teacher was going to do the tutoring in the late afternoons and Saturdays.  To accommodate everyone I brought my son to school during these off hours.  It was required that I be present.  So I sat in the same room with my son and his tutor as they worked.

It was then that I started to see some of the issues that were going on at school.  I could tell that his teacher was very intense.  Just listening to her voice raised my anxiety.  I could see that her interactions with my son was also raising his anxiety level.  The other thing that was obvious is that she believed my son could control his tics, and she expected him to be able to work while he was having the tics.  The other thing of note is math was the only subject she included in the tutoring.  No science.  No geography.  No reading.

The other big mistake was his aid.  Her role was to make sure he did not hurt himself when he was having a bout of his tourettes.  Secondly, she was to offer encouragement so that he could get back into the flow of things in his class.  It turns out this woman did not believe that my son’s tics were not purposeful.  At this time my son had not learned any techniques to reduce the intensity or the frequency of the tics.  This woman kept telling him, “you’re okay.”  Well he didn’t feel okay.  These tics were pretty scary for him and the last thing he wanted to hear is “you’re okay.”  She also did not give him any freedom to just  be a kid and be himself.   One day he was having some tics on the playground and the school nurse’s assistant noticed it.  So she brought him into the school.  As the rest of kids came in from recess his tics had subsided and the nurse’s assistant walked him to his classroom.  After she left him the aid came up to my son and accused him of escaping from her and that he was not supposed to do that.  He tried to tell her that the health office had brought him in, but she didn’t listen and continued to berate him.  Once again, not a good thing for my son’s anxiety.

We finally got through third grade, unfortunately not unscathed.  Right before fourth grade started, the school wanted to have an IEP meeting with me and to make plans for fourth grade.  This was a little unusual.  In the past we never had IEP meetings this early in the school year.  It was their recommendation that my son would take his core subjects (math, reading, writing, language) in the special education room with the special ed teacher.  The school said he would then get the help he needed and could also be working in a small group setting.  They could also use different teaching methods that may work better for him.  I thought that was not such a bad idea and was fully supportive. 

The other thing of note was that right before school started, his fourth grade teacher was diagnosed with cancer.  They were going to have a substitute until she could return, which they expected would be after the winter break.  Great another year of having two teachers.  Not a good situation for my son. 

I had a discussion about this with the principal as we were approaching the time when they would switch teachers and told him, that it isn’t right.  Many of the children in this class had this already happen to them when they were in first grade.  It put a damper on them getting the most out of the teaching.  I said to him it is not right to do this for two years out of the five.  The kids have to get used to two teachers who have totally different teaching styles.  In the end it affects what they learn.  In my opinion my son was getting the short end of the stick.  He was already having problems learning, and never really got a chance to make a relationship with his teacher and get into the rhythm of how she teached.

As we got half way through fourth grade the school requested to meet with me, which ended up being an IEP meeting.  The special education teacher said that my son was difficult to work with.  She said he was not a self-starter.  She said that he was not able to follow directions and was not able to take queues from what the other kids were doing.  She said he basically sat there until she came to him and guided him on what he should be doing.  As I listened to her I thought, this can not be that unusual for a special education teacher.  The principal then informed me that this arrangement was not working out and that they were going to take my son out of the special education room, and instead, for the core subjects, he would be in a room independently with a woman who originally introduced herself as a school social worker.  I thought it was odd, but if the school thought she was capable to educate my son, then who am I to argue.

This is where things went from bad to worse.  It started out with only my son working with this “teacher” for his core subjects.  This “teacher” ending up being his teacher for the rest of fourth grade and for fifth grade.  A number of things happened.  The individual program was changed to a group program.  So the dynamics of the setting changed.  It was also obvious she did not believe my son had tourette syndrome and in many ways implied he was doing the tics with his own control.  I had many meetings, emails, and phone calls with this teacher and with the principal.  In fifth grade there was not one week in the entire year that the principal didn’t get a phone call, a visit or an email from me complaining about how they were handling my son and that they were actually making the situation worse.

There biggest complaint was my son had tics whenever there was hard work to be done.  Once again an implication that my son was making the tics happen.  I got into a big argument with the principal over this.  I asked him if he thought my son enjoyed screaming and jerking all over?  I said, if my son was purposely making these events happen, then why is it that he has events in the lunch room, on the playground, while he was watching TV?  Obviously the principal didn’t know what to say. 

There were a lot of little things that happened with this teacher which just caused my son’s anxiety to increase.  She was also treating him differently from the others in his group.  For example, he was excluded from her reward system.  To this day I don’t know why.  She basicaly never had anything good to say to him directly and was always putting him down.  As we reached the last half of fifth grade, I told my son we just needed to put up with her until the end of the year and then he would not be returning to this school.  He would be moving on to the middle school.  The last half of the year was really hard and there were many times I didn’t think he was going to make it. 

My son was made to believe he could do nothing.  He couldn’t write.  He couldn’t read.  He couldn’t do math.  He couldn’t follow directions.  He never finished his work.  And his teacher didn’t like him and it must be because he could not do anything that would please her.  My son was basically bullied by his own teacher for a year and a half.  Yes I said BULLIED!

Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher.

Newsweek.com had an article called, Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers:  In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability, by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert on March 06, 2010. 

For much of this time—roughly the last half century—professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language—but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.

Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not.

It is also true and unfortunate that often the weakest teachers are relegated to teaching the neediest students, poor minority kids in inner-city schools. For these children, teachers can be make or break. “The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover,” says Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and coauthor of the 2006 study “Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality.”

… Many principals don’t even try to weed out the poor performers (or they transfer them to other schools in what’s been dubbed the “dance of the lemons”). Year after year, about 99 percent of all teachers in the United States are rated “satisfactory” by their school systems; firing a teacher invites a costly court battle with the local union.

The only reason I quote this article is that I later found out that it was known amongst teachers and parents that my son’s third grade teacher was a problem.  Guess what the school did with her.  She was transferred to another elementary school that had just opened.  They didn’t fix the problem.  It sounds a little like the Catholic church and their pedophile priests.

Anyway, we were finally headed for sixth grade and the middle school, and it was like stepping into another world.

To be continued . . .

 

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Recently my son got an XBox 360 and joined the world playing games on the internet.  It has been interesting to watch and listen to how he reacts to this interaction.  The first couple of weeks we had to have a few discussions, including  “Don’t tell details about who you are, where you live.”  The concept of stranger and the internet was a new thing, even though we have talked quite a bit about the dangers of the internet.  And then we have had a long talk about swearing and have now instituted a penalty for when he swears which is 25 cents per occurrence.  The swearing started as a result of playing on-line.  I have been keeping an ear to his activity so that I can correct any unwanted behaviors.  We have had many discussions that the games had better not cause him to act inappropriately, and if they do, the XBox is gone.

Last night we had a little bit of a different situation.  Usually I have to intervene and request that he quit the game because he has to get ready for bed.  But last night was different.  He had been playing for about 35 minutes when he came into my bedroom, I asked what’s up.  His initial response was, “I just wanted to take a break.”

Here is a little background information that may explain what was happening here.  My son is bi-racial.  I am Caucasian and from the U.S. and my husband is from West Africa.  When we were deciding to have a child we had some discussions about race relations in the U.S., the differences between Africans and African-Americans, and what it would be like to have a bi-racial child.  My husband and I decided that we just needed to portray good role models and things would work out.

So, here’s a topic that is often not talked about.  It is taboo.  The topic is, the use of the word nigger.  It is even difficult for me to even write the word in this post without an uneasy feeling.  But I feel foolish to call it the “N-word,”  because that is just putting a cloak over the word with the intention of lessening the effect, which is ridiculous.  As I am sure all of you know this word is a racial slur and has been used in a derogatory context for quite a few years.  As I was reading about this word, I found that the usage has had an evolving history, with different contexts depending upon the year.   Having diverse variations and spellings, nigger originated from the Latin word niger, which means black.  It was not until the 1800’s that the word transformed into a derogatory term to describe enslaved Africans. Although the word had no negative meaning before, European influence brought upon the idea that dark skin was dirty and devilish; therefore, making the word nigger an insult.  According to the dictionary the word is a pejorative, which means a word or phrase that has negative connotations or that is intended to disparage or belittle. 

I grew up in the sixties.  I had the opportunity of watching the civil rights movement as it evolved.  This derogatory definition of the word is how I know it.  Whether you say the word as nigger, or the N-word, or nigga, it is not right.  This word for me conjures up images of slavery, and deep-seated racial prejudice.  Both myself and my husband abhor the word.  We have never used it, and we don’t associate ourselves with people who do use it.

Today there is a different trend going on.  The word nigger is still derogatory if the person saying the word is not African-American.  On the other hand, African-Americans use the word nigger, often spelled in eye dialect as nigga and niggah  to either neutral the word’s effect or as a sign of solidarity.   The word “nigga” is a“term of endearment,” a shout out,  or a greeting to a fellow brother You will hear the word in today’s music and comedy by black artists.  On the other hand, when African-Americans assume an aggressive posture with one another, and that exchange gets heated, the word “nigga” will be used in an extremely threatening way that challenges the other to react or respond to some threat.  I have also heard that some middle and upper middle class African-American have used this word to distinguish themselves from the black underclass that is suffering from many of the social ills that has plagued the black inner city for the last 30 years.  Acceptance of the word in the black community can also be different, depending on the age group of the people.  Some African-Americans are deeply pained by the use of the word nigger.  And some declare that they have taken ownership of the word and have evolved it into having a positive connotation. 

In past experiences, I have found that words are infinitely easier to manipulate than beliefs.  I also know that outlawing or abolishing the use of the word nigger will never resolve the problem of racism.  Though I have heard that in the UK The Race Relations Act outlawed racist terms.  I am not sure how they even enforce the law. 

Racism still exists today.  There have been many times that I have had a discussion with another caucasian individual and they are surprised to hear me say that racism exists in their city.  I think this follows the rule of, “If I don’t see it, it must not exist.”  In reality it is just plain ignorance, and the lack of interaction that is happening in American communities.  Even more important there is a lack of interaction between communities.  Segregation in cities still exists.  Everyone knows it, but nobody talks about it.  I think there is also shame associated with the topic which may be why it is not talked about.

Now let me get back to my son, which is what started me with this post.  He has already been raised to know that the word is a bad word.  He has studied in school about the civil rights movement.  He knows the work that Martin Luther King did.  He knows that without this work his mom and dad would probably not be together.  Up to now my husband and I have somewhat sheltered him from the race issues in the United States.  He is older now and we are slowly explaining what is going on.  We have lived in predominantly white neighborhoods, even though we are not fully accepted in either white communities or black communities. 

Last summer a six-year-old girl in our neighborhood called my son a “migger,”  as if to disguise the word.  My son was upset and told me what happened.  This little girl and her family were living with their grandmother.  I told my son to stay in the house and I would deal with this.  I was so angry.  I know kids can tease each other and sometimes have a “gang” mentality, but, this issue was one that I could not dismiss or ignore, at least not in my own neighborhood.  I knocked on the grandmother’s door and told her what happened.  I told her that I am not trying to cause trouble but I can not let this issue go.  She said she totally understand and immediately grounded the little girl.   The little girl, with some prompting from her grandmother, came to me and apologized.  I told her that it was not me that she needed to apologize to.  It was my son who she needed to apologize to.  She walked back to my house with me and apologized.

As I said earlier, my son has started playing video games on-line with others.  We understand the risk of allowing him to do this, and we continuously monitor the situation.  So, the evening my son quit playing the video game early, it turns out that he was playing a game with a couple of other individuals.  Based on their discussion my son knew that two of the guys were African-Americans.  That evening these individuals (I assume in an action of comradeship) called my son a nigga.  I think my son was a little caught off guard.  He knew that some white people use the word and it is not a good word.  But he did not expect another black individual to call him that word.

I know some people may be angry that I am even discussing this topic.  I am being sincere when I ask, how do I explain to my son that not everyone uses the word in the same way.  Sometimes it can be bad, and sometimes it can be accepted.  As I write this, I can’t even say that it is “accepted.”  The whole concept is distasteful.  I can not tell my son that sometimes it is okay to use the word nigger.  I can’t.  And I won’t.  I still have not figured out how to have this discussion with my son.  For the time being, I told him that if it happens again, he should just depart from the game. 

I know this issue will arise again.  My son has recently changed schools which has a larger black population.  Within three months of the start of school, the African-Americans have found each other at lunch and now always hang out together.  As a result of this my son is getting an opportunity to interact with other kids that are black.  In some ways it is nice, because he is not alone, which has been occasionally an issue before.  I can see, based on my son’s description, it is a group of unity and a presence  of safety.  I am not sure if this is good or bad.  So far it appears to be positive.  We will see where this goes.

You may have read in some of my previous posts that my son is in the sixth grade and has been on an IEP since first grade.  School has been a struggle for my son and myself.  I look at education in a very practical, logical sense.  What I have found out is that many times our educational system has no sense of being practical or logical.

Third grade for my son was a big hurdle.  It is the year that he started having tics.  It is the year I learned that you can not trust the school, and the school does not always have the student’s’ best interest in mind.  It is the year that I changed my approach in dealing with the school.

During the onset of tics, my son was being taught by a teacher whose mere voice raised anxiety.  Unfortunately I did not recognize what was going on until it was late in the school year.  Third grade was also the year when the students learn math facts.  They spent a significant amount of time memorizing addition and subtraction math facts.

The school used a program called Rocket Math to learn math facts.  It is a program that begins with easier addition and subtraction problems and gradually gets harder.  The student practices a set of math facts in preparation for the test.  The teacher determines how fast a student can write, which then correlates to how many math facts they need to get done on the test.  The test is a one minute timed test.  If the student correctly completes the number of equations required based on their writing speed, then the student moves on to the next set of math facts.  Each set of math facts get progressively harder as they work their way through each set.  The key to rocket math is practicing each worksheet over and over again.

Now my son had a couple of disadvantages here.  He has dysgraphia and had tremors, both of which made it difficult for him to write.  Supposedly the teacher adjusted his writing speed goal to take this into consideration.  Rocket math  was an activity that occurred all year-long.  Every day the students practiced their math facts with the intention of passing a set of math facts and continuing on to the next set.  Every day my son brought home a worksheet with the current set that he was working on at school. 

Close to the end of winter during third grade, I noticed that when we worked on the practice rocket math at home, it triggered my son’s tics.  Whether we were casually doing the math or practicing a one minute speed test, the tics would start.  All I had to do was bring out the green sheet of paper that had the math facts on it, and the tics would immediately begin.

When the tics had first appeared we were not sure what they were.  One form of my son’s epilepsy involved facial focussed seizures which included rapid eye blinking.  The neurologist had put my son through a number of tests including a long-term EEG.  The goal of this EEG was to capture the brain activity while these movement events were occurring.  The doctor asked me if there was a way to trigger the event.  I pulled out the green piece of paper with the math facts on it and the eye blinking, head jerking tics immediately started. As a result of working with our neurologist, neuropsychologists, and other specialists we determined that my son was experiencing anxiety, and his reaction to the anxiety was to have a tic.  His body had associated the green piece of paper with stress and it reacted to it with tics.   Once seizures were eliminated from the equation, we focused on the anxiety topic.  Besides seeing a psychologist, we also worked with a specialist that taught my son bio feedback and other relaxation techniques with the intent of preventing the tic episodes.  Unfortunately none of this was successful.

Meanwhile I talked to the school about my son’s situation with anxiety.  Besides rocket match, I could see a pattern of events that would raise my son’s stress and would result with a bout of tics.  The event included:

walking into the noisy lunch
 music class
violin practice, which we had to drop
any assignment that was difficult
transitions from room to room
going into a store or a restaurant
getting ready for school
walking in the noisy halls at school
playing with a rambunctious group of kids in the neighborhood
playing a video game where he was stuck on a level

Pretty much anything that could raise anxiety resulted in a bout of tics.  I explained this to the school but they didn’t really get it.  I asked them to stop the rocket math.  There had to be another way of teaching math facts without doing the one minute timed test.  I even asked them to put the rocket math on a different color paper.  Get rid of the green.  Now do you think they would cooperate?  No. 

I even introduced them to a learning system called touch math.  Touch math is a multi-sensory approach to learning math and works with student of all abilities and learning styles.  The key goal to touch math is reduce the need for memorization.  Each stage of touch math is reinforced with pictures, touching, and counting.  Research studies indicate that children transition from the concrete to the pictorial and finally to the abstract stage of learning.  Touch math is respective of this transitioning.  The founders of touch math made it their goal to help banish math anxiety, whether that anxiety is born of fear, lack of comprehension, or a learning disability.  It is very practical approach and a perfect solution for my son.

The school tried touch math for a couple of weeks, and before I knew it they were back to the green sheets with math facts and timed tests.  I had even bought the materials they needed to use for touch math.  During this time it was also obvious that the anxiety at school was expanding to other triggers. 

I don’t understand why a school would continue teaching with a method that was detrimental to my son.  The more the mind associates specific activities with anxiety the harder it is to get rid of the automatic response of tics.  The goal was to break that cycle before it got too ingrained in my son’s mind.

All of this was very logical, but for the next two years the school continued making my son do rocket math.  This raised a whole set of anxieties, and for two years my son was constantly having tics.  Over time the tics got worse, beginning with an eye blink or head jerk and evolving to full body jerks and screams. During this time the school also punished my son for having the tics, as if he was purposely doing them.

Why couldn’t this school see what this was doing to my son?  Why couldn’t they chose to teach math facts in a different way?  Even today, I don’t understand why they were so insistent on using rocket math.

You can understand my frustration.  What could possibly be the reason?  A different learning method would mean they would have to do a little extra work to enhance their lesson plans?  Were they lazy?  Or is it just incompetent teachers?  It has been this specific experience that opened my eyes to the fact that this school did not really care about my son or his education.  They were just riding out their time until they could pass him off to middle school.

 If you have been following my blog, I am telling you a little bit about myself, my husband, my marriage, my son and my career.  I have had an interesting life and I thought I would share a slice of it.  If you want to start from the beginning, please read my post called Another story begins . . . 

As I indicated in my earlier post, I was in a very unique position.  My husband’s company was closed down.  I was offered a consulting job and moved to Ohio.  I worked for a project manager for about six months and it was obvious he didn’t have a clue.  And I, an outsider to this bank, had to escalate the issue and get the team a new project manager.

Well it all worked out fine.  We got our new project manager and it was obvious he understood the principles of project management.  In addition to the project manager they brought in a team of consultants to help with the project.  Everything seemed to be going along pretty good.  There was a lot of pressure for getting this job done.  The project was late in getting done and it was way over budget.  But we had a great team who were working hard to make it happen. 

As I said it was going fine, at least, until we put together a real project plan and the project manager saw the estimated end date.  There was a lot of work yet to be done.  The first six months were almost a complete waste of time.  We were now focussed for the first time on the real work that needed to be done. 

Keep in mind the goal of this project was to put in a system that managed tasks and time frames with the ultimate goal to reduce or eliminate any penalties or losses due to improper procedures on servicing a delinquent mortgage loan.  To accomplish this, we had to understand all the paths a loan could go as it went through the default process or out of the default process.  This was multiplied by the different investor imposed tasks and time frames.  In the end it meant thousands and thousands of tasks needed to be set up in the system, interlocked together and tested. 

So this new project manager had the brilliant idea that he was going to cut scope on the project which would bring in the timeline and reduce the overage of the budget.  The part he wanted to cut was the specific tasks that related to investor requirements.  He suggested we create one path and not put any of the investor rules into the tasks or their timeframes.  The team was a little shocked to hear this proposition.  He was cutting out the whole purpose of the project.  So to assist the team in defending the original plan, I put together some analysis that compared the savings if we did the project the right way versus the losses the bank would incur if we agreed to the reduced scope.  The difference was hundreds of millions of dollars.

Well the obvious happened, the management of the bank agreed with the rest of the team and this book-smart project manager was taken off of the project.  He knew that I had created the analysis that triggered his dismissal from the project and before he left he tried to take a punch at me.  He recommended that my contract be ended and that the team could do the project without me.  My anxiety went through the roof.  I really could not afford to lose this contract.  I needed time to put into place my plans for permanent employment.  It was a little scary being a contractor because you never knew how long you would have work.  This was too much pressure for me.  Lucky for me the management of the bank stepped in and insisted that I remain on the project.  They recognized my value that I brought to the project and I had skills that they needed.  Once again I risked my own ability to make a paycheck for doing what was right for the company.  In the end the risk paid off.

 

Related topics:

Same company, different job . . . 
Back again . . . 
Swallow my pride and move on . . . 
Worst fears were coming true . . . 
A new business can be rough . . .
It’s a different world . . .
Change in career, another move, and starting something new . . .
Good-bye Chicago, Hello Columbus . . .
Chicago and a time of crisis . . .
A place of prosperity . . .
There are good people in the world . . .
Hard times: a need to relocate . . .
And another story begins .

Let the snow be white . . .

Posted: February 17, 2011 in Mind Flurries
Tags: , ,

The weather these days turns me blue

It’s true the temperature is headed up

The snow on the ground is no longer new

The cold winter has taken this time to letup

We are now left with snow banks melting down

No longer my favorite, all crisp and white

Instead I face the contaminated brown

I know this change in snow is its plight

But why not leave it white until the end

The time of spring can come another day

It’s true with this warm up the snow can not contend

And now the snow, away it goes, I sadly say