Sunday, December 29, 2013

Years 13 to 22: The Reid Years: Parents and Principals

Over this past week, I had the chance to visit with my son and daughter-in-law during their trip to see us over Christmas. My daughter-in-law just finished us a trimester of student teaching that was also considered a teaching job since it was in a private school. She has a doctorate in biophysics and she was teaching math and science to middle school aged children. Listening to her talk about the students and seeing some of her lessons and pictures, I know she was making a difference for kids. However, she had many parents who demanded that she treat their children differently, including changing their grades or letting them not turn in assignments or homework. The many meetings, the bullying of the parents, and the lack of support on the part of the administration, caused my daughter-in-law to decide not to continue. This is really very sad as I think she is a good teacher and she teaches with a "hands on" approach that really helps the students learn the material. Maybe someday she will go back to it. We need good teachers like her!

Anyway, all of this made me reflect on my own experiences with parents and administrators. If you have been following my blog at all, you will recall my interesting parents in Spokane (with the antlers on their car), and my horrible principal in Tumwater. Well, Cheney had its' share of both as well. I had a single mom who had three children in the preschool over the years. The year I started at Reid, two of the children were enrolled in the program. These were very sweet children; happy and free spirited, as was their mom! Really she was quite the character! One day the children arrived at school quite late. When the mom showed up with the children she explained that her car would not drive forward, so she drove all the way to school with the car in reverse! Unbelievable but true!!

Another family I worked with also had several children enrolled in the preschool over the years. I loved this family and wanted to adopt the entire family, parents and all! The children always came to school clean, cared for and happy. If there was something you needed or something you wanted them to do at home, it happened. Parents like this don't come along every day, so you cherish them when they do.

And then you get the really demanding, illogical parents. Around about my sixth or seventh year at Reid, a family from Texas moved in. Their son was diagnosed with Autism and although he was 5 years old, they brought him into the room in an umbrella stroller with the seat belt fastened. He had some language and I thought he should be fine out of the stroller, but the parents told me that down in Texas, he had his own "padded room" and that was the only safe place for him to be. They warned me that if I let him out, they would not be responsible for what happened to the classroom. I took a chance and let him out. Well it was like I had unleashed the Tasmanian Devil! Wow! Around the classroom he flew, climbing up on counters and shelves, knocking things over, and throwing whatever he could find. I knew that in order to keep him safe and the other students too, he would have to be confined during instruction in one of our little Rifton chairs with a similar seat belt system to the stroller. However, since we also worked with gross motor activities daily, and I had a big gross motor area in my room, I figured we could make it work. The only draw back was that class size for preschool was 12 children with just a teacher and one instructional assistant. The only time I had extra support was when the specialists came to work with students and helped with groups in the room. Occasionally I also had practicum students from the college as well, but they were not always reliable. So it was up to Kay and me to manage 12 preschoolers ourselves most of the time.

The parents of this little boy would not give up on the idea of a padded room, and kept telling me and the principal that we would be sorry if we didn't provide one. Well he began preschool and we began chasing him on a daily basis; one time right into the street in front of Reid. He was a fast little guy and I began to really worry about keeping him safe. I asked for some additional support in the classroom, but the principal said no. Meanwhile, she downplayed the dangerous situations we found ourselves in with this boy in conversations with the parents. If I talked to the parents and suggested some different parenting techniques they might want to try at home and they didn't like what I said, they would call her and complain. She would then agree with them and come and tell me to stop making suggestions. This was frustrating and went on for over two months. Then one day the boy did not come to school. A few minutes later, down came the principal with a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses. This principal always had one of those super sicky sweet "put on" smiles on her face, and today was no different. She walked in and said, "Guess who these flowers are from?" I thought they must be for me or Kay, possibly from one of our husbands. However, that was not the case. She said, "No, they are from LG's parents. They are for me. There is a nice note from them telling me how much they appreciated my support over the last two months! Isn't that thoughtful?" And then she turned around and went back to her office. Dude! Really? She had done NOTHING to help us with this child! Ugh! Well that family decided to move back to Texas and the padded room. Apparently we just didn't have the "right stuff"!
A small sample of the "thank you" cards
I've received from parents over the years.

But I have to say that over the years, most of the parents I've had the pleasure to work with have been wonderful and supportive, not only of me and my team, but also of their children. They have been advocates for these children and in some cases, continue to support and provide for their care. You have to admire them and continue to hold them up. As a parent myself I understand; you are always concerned, worried, excited, proud, and you continue to be your child's parent no matter how old your child becomes!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Years 13 to 22: The Reid Years: Strong Support Staff and Thematic Teaching; A Powerful Combination!

It's time for me to give due credit and belated thanks to the wonderful support staff I had the honor to work with in Cheney. First up; Kay Scott. Kay was my instructional assistant for the ten years I worked at Reid. She was not new to being a preschool aide having worked for two teachers previous to working with me, and continuing to work with other preschool teachers after I left. It takes a lot of patience to work with that many different people and personalities, but Kay did this with grace and determination. She wasn't afraid to give suggestions or tell me if she thought I was crazy when I had some far flung idea! She also loved working with the children with large motor activities but was a little less enthusiastic about the messy things, so we made a good team! Kay had a good sense of humor and so did her husband Gary. Here is a note he sent in with Kay one day. That cracked me up! And here is a picture of Kay in our gross motor area. As part of a unit on Bears, the children swung in the hammock on their stomachs and hit a "beehive" pinata with a rhythm stick. The beehive was made out of brown paper lunch bags folded down and placed inside of each other. Candy was placed in the middle.

Next up; the "Julies". We had two Julies that worked with us; Julie Carstens, occupational therapist, and Julie McNeal, speech language pathologist. These two ladies were (and still are) the most amazing therapists to work with. They were very supportive of the idea of working in themes and every summer we got together at Julie Carstens' farm and had a potluck planning session. We planned out our themes and weekly activities through November, and then during that first conference period, we planned through the end of the year. This was not only fun, but made lesson planning a breeze as the weeks passed.

Julie Carstens planned sensory and other fine motor activities. Here is a picture of her with a student during a unit on Water. The little girl is standing on a small stool in the middle of a wading pool filled with bubble solution (made up of dish washing detergent and glycerin). A hula hoop is being used to pull a giant bubble up and around her. She is inside the bubble! Good times!

Julie McNeal planned language and social activities that were theme related. So for example, during our unit on Bears, she would have the children act out the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. To help make this more fun, I made plastic canvas masks for the children to wear. Here is one of my students wearing one while pretending to climb over a "mountain".

Our PE teachers Jackie Randall and Brenda Kloe made good use of our full day preschool programs and the wonderful college campus in winter. Sledding became a permanent activity when the weather cooperated and we had a lot of snow. It was good "heavy work" pulling the sleds up the hill, and extra fun sledding down! After a half hour or more of this, we would return to the class for hot chocolate.

Finally, Gloria Kelley, our physical therapist, always had the most creative ways to problem solve and make our activities inclusive to a wide range of students with disabilities. One year I had a little girl who was quadriplegic. She was a very bright young lady with great ideas and the ability to communicate them clearly. During our unit on Insects and Spiders, I liked to do fly swatter painting as one of our activities. This activity was done outdoors with large sheets of butcher paper taped to the fences and pie plates filled with paint and fly swatters. The children loved this activity and really got into slapping the paper with their swatters! However, I wasn't sure how to include this little girl. Gloria to the rescue! She adapted a piece of head gear to hold the paint loaded swatter. All the child had to do was turn her head. Success!

 I am forever indebted to all of these wonderful ladies! I learned so much from them!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Years 13 to 22: The Reid Years; Crazy Stories

Pet Unit. This is not the mom with the bird!
During the ten years I worked at Reid Elementary in Cheney, I had some crazy things happen! One of those funny stories was related to a theme we were studying around Pets. I had one mom who said she could bring a parakeet to school to share with the children. She told me that she could just "check it out" from the Ben Franklin and bring it in. Now I knew that the Ben Franklin had small pets like birds and gerbils to sell, but check them out? Like a library? That was news to me! However, the next day, here she came with a bird to show us! The children were excited and the mom said, "I can let it out of the cage because it will come back." I was very skeptical about this, but before I knew how to respond, she had the bird out of the cage! Well the bird was not going to stay close and it flew straight up to the highest part of the ceilings. Now if you had ever been in the classrooms at Reid, the ceilings were extremely high in order to accommodate the observation towers. This was a disaster! How were we going to get the bird back down? Well the next thing I knew, this mom had her shirt off and was running around the room trying to capture the bird in her shirt! Luckily she had something on under her shirt or we would have learned more then the random facts about birds! Eventually she got the bird back and into the cage and we had an entertaining few minutes, as did anyone watching in the towers!

Another great story concerns a conversation I had with two boys at lunch one day. One of the boys and his three siblings lived with his grandmother. His grandmother had adopted the children when it became clear that their mother and father could not parent them. The grandmother had a female partner that was also part of the household and the two women were doing an admirable job of loving and caring for these children. Well one day this little guy announced, "My grandma and ________ are going to get married." I said, "Really? That's great news!" Now the other little boy got a frown on his face and said, "That can't happen. Your grandma is a girl and _______ is a girl, and girls don't marry girls. Girls can only marry boys." The first little guy looked crushed. He said, "Well I think they are getting married." The second little boy looked at him , brightened up and said, "Wait a minute! I think I know what they call that when that happens! They're called transformers!" I thought this was pretty funny! What kind of conversations had he heard his parents have concerning same sex couples?

Finally, in 1992, Leslie Cicero, the kindergarten teacher, and I took tap dancing lessons through the Cheney Parks and Rec program. I had always wanted to learn to tap dance, but never was given the opportunity growing up. So at the age of 40, I took this class. We had all kinds of fun, and many other Cheney teachers joined in. That June, Reid had a talent show. Leslie and I decided to do a routine we learned to the song Footloose. I had never done anything this crazy before! It's one thing to take a class; it's quite another to get up in front of lots of people and do it! Plus, Leslie, a life long dancer, had all the moves. I looked like a klutz. But I don't regret it, it was so much fun! Check out the video if you can on my Facebook page. Here is the link: Hope that works!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Years 13 - 22: The Reid Years in Cheney

Starting in the fall of 1989, I taught at the Robert Reid Laboratory School in Cheney. In 1985/86, the Cheney school district entered into an agreement with EWU to staff the school with teachers and make it one of the Cheney school district schools. Teacher training would continue to be a focus and the teachers working in the school for the district took many practicum students, allowed countless students to observe through the towers, and often spoke to classes of education students on campus. Reid was considered sort of a "choice" school, and wasn't really tied to any particular parts of Cheney.

 I was already sort of familiar with Reid after transferring my son to that school two years earlier. I'm just going to say this now, for the first time, and by the time I get finished talking about this woman, you will all be wanting to meet her! I moved my son his kindergarten year to Reid so that he could have Leslie Cicero, the most fabulous kindergarten teacher ever!! My son was a bright student who by the time he was in kindergarten could already read and do pretty high math problems in his head. He had a vivid imagination and wrote and illustrated numerous  stories (volumes!) about a world he created full of shapes that were his characters. This fascination sometimes took precedent over other required school work. His first kindergarten teacher did not seem to appreciate him for who he was and by December, he was refusing to go to school. At that time I was still teaching in Spokane, twenty-six miles away, and was struggling to figure out what to do. And then some people started to talk about Leslie, and I thought, she is the teacher for him. I moved him after Christmas break and what a difference it made for him! Because Leslie valued individuality, encouraged drama through literature and poetry, and had a very creative nature, he blossomed. I watch children today in school situations that are not compatible for them and what I see happening is them practicing school the wrong way. That was what was happening for my son. With the intervention of a not only compatible, but also a highly creative and capable teacher, he started practicing school the right way. I am forever indebted to her! Thank you Leslie!

So you can imagine how I felt when I found out I would not only be at Reid to teach preschool, but that my classroom would be next door to hers! Score! That was the beginning of a great ten year partnership. I will have more to say about my time at Reid over the next several weeks. Here is a picture from the front page of the Cheney Free Press in August of 1989, showing the new teachers hired by the district that year. Got to love small town papers!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Years 10 - 12: Thematic teaching rocks!

By my third year at Woodridge, I was establishing a signature way to teach preschool. Teaching in themes seemed like such a natural way to expose children to the world around them. With the help of my specialists, we chose themes that made sense and that the children could relate to (for  the most part anyway!). However, some of the themes were just pure fun, like our theme around Water which included trying on plastic, toy scuba gear and having the second grade teacher, a real scuba diver, come into our class in full real scuba gear! Living in Cheney, I was a familiar shopper at the Ben Franklin, which supplied me with most of my thematic props, including the scuba gear in this picture, and the plastic skis in the winter pictures. I loved that store and spent more money there than I care to admit!

Other themes included Winter, Community Helpers, Seasons, and Pets. (By the time I finished an additional 10 years of teaching preschool in Cheney, I had 27 well developed themes!) Each theme lasted two to three weeks. On the board in our Circle area, pictures were stapled that went with the current theme. For example, if the theme was Water, there might be pictures of animals who live in water, things in our homes that use water, children swimming or running through sprinklers, boats, etc. These pictures hung at a level that the children could see and touch and ask or answer questions about. Books read during this time would also be about Water, as well as the songs we sang while at Circle. This was so much fun and an effective way to teach.

In May there was an all school talent show that was to take place in the Shadle Park High School auditorium. I pestered the principal to let the preschool children take part. I made them little duck costumes and we got up on stage and sang "Six Little Ducks". We were a big hit!

I loved teaching preschool and knew that it was the level I wanted to stay at. But as my third year in Spokane ended, a preschool position opened up in Cheney, about a mile from my house! I decided to apply for the job, and when I got it, I was ecstatic! Now I could spend more time at home and less time on the road.

Leaving Woodridge though would be bittersweet. Over the three years, I had made close friends of both the teachers I worked with and the parents of my students. The principal came to appreciate my way of teaching the students and told me after I got the position in Cheney, "I think I will write a bad evaluation for you this year so you won't go. You will have to stay here with us!" That was high praise from her for sure! Once again, my Titantic Award at the end of the year reflected this sentiment. What a great three years!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Years 10 - 12: Cars with antlers and "small parts".

As I started my second year at Woodridge, I began to be comfortable with the long drive. Part of this was because it allowed me a lot of time to "decompress" after a difficult or long day. Winter driving was harder and so a couple of times I actually took the bus from Cheney to north Spokane. This commute took three hours. But it was safer than driving when we had 10" of snow or more!

As I said last week, I really enjoyed working with and collaborating with my specialists. They were so knowledgeable and readily shared what they knew. I was especially privileged to work with an occupational therapist named Dorothy Hanley. Dorothy was a therapist who knew not only her own field of occupational therapy, but also a lot about physical therapy and was one of the first therapists I met who was on the cutting edge of exploring assistive technology for children and adults with disabilities. She had a wonderful story she told me about a young man in high school that was so physically disabled, it was hard to find a part of his body he could control. Dorothy was trying to find a part he could control so that he could use a switch to tap out Morse code that would then be translated into speech on a computer. Eventually she found that one of his knees would work for this and so she began to train him. He was a very bright young man and learned fast. Soon she wanted him to demonstrate this new ability with his mother. She got everything set up and said to the young man, "What would you like to say to your mom?" He laboriously tapped in Morse code, and on the computer, in a primitive electronic voice came these words: "I love you."

Well that was Dorothy! And you had better know what you want and not be fooling around if you called her to have her come and solve a problem! She terrified me most of the time because I always felt like I should be able to solve my own problems. But one day I had a little boy in a Mulholland wheelchair, who seemed to be in a lot of pain, and I could not figure out what to do to make him comfortable. Now for those of you who don't know what kind of wheelchair this is, I've included a picture. These chairs, known as positioning wheelchairs, were great because they gave students with not much body control a way to be secure and alert while sitting in them. However, I knew that something was wrong, but was afraid to do anything to the chair myself because these were very expensive. So I called Dorothy. She came out and walked over to this crying, uncomfortable young boy. She looked the chair over and pulled out the abductor piece on the seat that was between his legs. He immediately sighed and stopped crying. Dorothy turned to me and said, "You have to remember to always leave enough room for a man's small parts." I felt like an idiot, but I was grateful for the reminder!

Another valuable lesson I learned this year involved very interesting parents! Woodridge is located in a pretty "well to do" part of Spokane. It had a lot of parent volunteers and a very active parent teacher organization. It was not uncommon to see many parents (mostly moms) in classrooms, in the workroom, or sitting together in the lobby sharing cups of coffee. Well, not all of my preschoolers came from this part of town. Several of my students' families came from nearby areas that were much more economically deprived. One of these families had a little boy in my program. This was a sweet little boy and he also had a brother in first grade. This boy's father did not trust the school bus system and so brought him to school and picked him up every day. He owned a very unique station wagon; something like an old Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and to make it extra special, it had deer antlers on the hood! You can imagine the impact that made on the Woodridge neighborhood! Well this dad insisted that I bring his son out to him while he sat in his car. He parked in the back lot and could see inside my classroom, but refused to get out and come in to pick up the little boy. Most of the time, this was not a big deal, and either my aide Ann or I would take the little guy out. However, one day Ann was out putting children on the bus while I waited with others in the room. I could see the station wagon out in the parking lot and pretty soon the brother came down and knocked on my back door. I opened the door and the boy said, "My dad wants you to bring my brother up right now." I said, "I can't do it right now because I have other children I have to wait with. But I can watch you walk with your brother to the car. Would that be okay?" He said, "I don't know. My dad will be really mad." I said, "Well you can take him up while I watch or you can go tell your dad I will bring him up in a few minutes." He decided to take him and I watched as he walked the few feet up the little incline and into the car. I waved to the dad as well, but I could tell he wasn't happy! Sure enough, no sooner did he get home than he was on the phone to my principal. He yelled and told her I didn't care about kids and who knows what else! She got off the phone and came to my room. I explained exactly what happened and she told me we would be meeting with the parents in the morning to straighten this out. Well I know that I "stewed" about this all night. By the next morning, I was not feeling in an apologetic mood!

The next morning came and we were all together in my principal's office. I could feel my heart beating fast and my blood pressure rising as the mom and dad went on and on about me not having their son's safety as a priority. I didn't say anything and then my principal said she was sure I wouldn't let that happen again and that I was there to apologize. Now to this day, I can't remember what I said to these parents, but I know that it was sarcastic in a way that went right over their heads. I had a small amount of satisfaction and they were all puffed up with importance and accepted the apology. As they left the office, I got up to go to my classroom. I'd taken about two steps when my principal said, "Mrs. Stockbridge, where do you think you're going? They may not have picked up on that comment, but I did. And let me tell you, that will not happen again." Told! I was surprised, and then I saw a small smile start to creep at the corners of her mouth. I smiled too, and went to class. However, that year on my evaluation, I got marked down on "interactions with parents". I appreciated her "reigning me in". I believe that is the principal's job, and when it is done fairly and equally, it doesn't leave a bad feeling. My Titanic Award for this year reflected this incident!

Next week: my thematic teaching really starts to come together!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Years 10 - 12: Preschool Again! This time in Spokane!

Over the summer of 1986, our family moved to eastern Washington. We settled in Cheney where my sister Linda lived. I got a job with Spokane Public Schools teaching a new preschool program located at Woodridge Elementary; the very northern most school in the district. This would prove to be the second longest commute in my teaching career; fifty-two miles round trip per day!

The school year started as a half-time position because there were only three little boys in the program. I had one assistant, Ann, and pretty much no equipment. Any money set aside to start this program went to furniture; kidney tables, chairs, etc. There were no toys, puzzles, blocks, baby dolls or anything for the boys to play with and/or build learning objectives with. So I raided my own boys' toys. Toys they had outgrown or I knew they could do without, at least for a short time. The Parent Teacher Organization at Woodridge also came through. They donated $500 to help me get what I needed to really set the program up. I have never forgotten this act of kindness!

The three little boys that I started the year with all came from the Guild School; a birth to three program for children with developmental disabilities. Two of the boys and their mothers were good friends. I actually have permission to show pictures of one of the little boys. His name is Jon. He is now 31 years old! I have stayed in touch from time to time with his mother. (In fact, in 1996, I was doing my master's degree program through Leslie University and met Jon's teachers from after he left preschool to ending middle school, which was at that time. Jon became the focus of our final thesis. We had a beautiful slide show with pictures of him from preschool through the current day and at the end, Jon came in and met the class in person! His mother Lynne graciously answered questions. It was fantastic!) 

It was quite the learning year for all of us! But by November, I was full time with an afternoon class of older students. The kindergarten teacher and I began to do some activities together in the afternoons, so that my students could have some time with typically developing peers. I had excellent support staff. The occupational and speech therapists worked with children right in my classroom and collaborated with me in my theme teaching approach.

My principal though was not really sure about me. She had been a preschool teacher for children with hearing impairments years earlier. She liked to tell me that she did that job in "hose and heels". She may have, but I'm willing to bet she didn't do much while sitting on the floor or finger
painting! She gave me quite a bad time about wearing jeans all the time. But on picture day, I surprised her by dressing up. At the end of the year, she liked to give out "awards". This is the one she gave me. She really did have a great sense of humor!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Year 9: Last year in Olympia

Following the transition year back into teaching, I found myself in the elementary school I'd been in nine years earlier when I taught in the PEPSI program. This time I would be teaching a self-contained classroom with children aged 6 to 12. There were other differences too. When I was there in 1976, the program I worked in was isolated and I did not know any of the general education teachers. In fact, I did not know where the faculty lounge was. This time, I got to know all of the gen ed teachers, and became good friends with a few of them. They were interested in the special ed programs, and some of their students came to volunteer in our programs. It was wonderful! The principal was quiet, compassionate and had a terrific sense of humor. He was a great listener and that is how he helped you solve problems; by listening and acknowledging your concerns. Best principal I've ever had!

I enjoyed the students too, as well as the entire working atmosphere. The summer before I started back, I took a Math Their Way course. Boy did I love that program! All "hands on" learning, free exploration of materials for more than a couple of days, children figuring out patterns; I could go on and on! My students loved it as well and learned so much with it. Together with Edmark for reading and Slingerland for writing, they were learning a lot. The parents were surprised and pleased. For some of the oldest students in the class, this was the first time they were doing work that looked like "school".

This school year, 1985-1986, was also the school year of the Challenger disaster. We were all watching on that January day when the shuttle was destroyed. Words cannot express the sorrow and shock we all felt. No one was sure what to do or how to help the students process. So two weeks later when we were celebrating the 100th day of school, the entire student body released balloons in memory of the astronauts. That is one of those memories that will never fade.

Finally, I made some amazing friends that year. Two of the teachers taught in special ed rooms, and one taught fifth grade. We really enjoyed each other's company and I stayed in contact with these ladies for many years after I moved. In fact, if we had not moved, I've often wondered if I would still be there today!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Year 8: I thought this was supposed to be resource room!

Each fall, starting in 1980, the director of special education in Olympia would call me up and ask if I was ready to return to teaching. He always had some job open that he needed to fill. Each year I would turn him down. Then in the fall of 1984, my husband decided he'd had enough of working for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was thinking of working as an independent contractor. Computers were coming into their own at this time, and not everyone was as adept at using them as Jay was. Being an independent contractor meant that Jay could stay home with the boys, but that meant going back to work for me. I wasn't really ready, but could see this would be best for the family, so I gave the director a call.

Me in 1984
Indeed he had a job for me. A resource room program was getting too full at Roosevelt Elementary in Olympia. Another teacher needed to be hired to distribute the increasing caseload. I figured this would not be a problem. I had been a resource room teacher two times before, so how hard could it be? I would start right after Thanksgiving vacation.

Well, I went to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and much to my surprise, I wasn't just inheriting about half of the resource students, I was also getting three additional students who were labeled EBD (emotionally behavior disordered). These boys, ranging from second through fifth grade, had interesting histories. The second grade boy was busy and could not focus, but did not have too many other issues. He easily could fit into one of my resource groups for academic support. The third grader came from Yelm and had blown through three teachers by November. Two of them decided to retire immediately! The fifth grader had many emotional problems as well as brittle bone disease. He too had sent his teacher into early retirement! This was not the job I wanted to go back to after several years at home with my two little boys!
My end of the year "award".

However, I was committed by this point and had signed a contract. Many days I had to wear headphones and listen to calming music and ignore the verbal abuse and extreme behaviors these boys had. I also had to figure out what to do with them when I had the eighteen resource room students in my classroom for groups. I thought, "I just need to make it through the year. Next year something different will come up." So I kept going. There were glimmers of hope; and indeed, the third grader tracked me down several years later to tell me how he was doing and to thank me for working with him that year. I've never forgotten this; it meant a lot to me. This boy's name was Josh, and at the end of the year, I got an "award". Here's the picture of it.

Another story I've never forgotten concerns the fifth grader with the brittle bone disease. One day he came in with a cast on his arm and announced that he had fallen and would not be able to write until his cast was off. As you might imagine, with an excuse to do no work, he took extra delight in walking around and tormenting the other students. Well one day he was out at recess and I got a call to go to the office. When I got there, here was this boy crying and holding his other arm. Another boy, one of my second grade resource boys, had apparently hit him and knocked him down. This was a very small boy, but he was feisty and didn't tolerate a lot of nonsense from anyone! I asked him, "Tell me what happened." He said, "I was playing with the ball when he (the 5th grader) came up and called me a pussy! So I decked him!" The fifth grader looked at me all innocent and said, "I meant like the cat!" Ah huh. Karma! Sometimes you got to love it!

Needless to say, with two arms in a cast, there really was nothing this boy could do at school. So he was home for the next six weeks. And I can tell you, he watched his language after that!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Years 6 and 7: Co-op Preschool at Camp Thunderbird on Summit Lake

By the end of my fifth year of teaching, I'd been married for four years, had a brand new baby son, lived on ten acres of land outside of Olympia in a house that my husband and I had built, and had taught everything from birth to age twenty-one in four different locations! I was ready for a rest.

Of course as we all know, being a mother is not all that restful! However, it was a different kind of work and one that I'd been looking forward to for a while. Being at home with first Matt and then two years later, Mark too, was great. But it was a little lonely out where we lived and I was hoping to meet some other young mothers who lived nearby.

Camp Thunderbird
When Matt was almost four and Mark about a year old, I did meet some other moms. There was a small community center nearby for the Summit Lake area, and soon a group of us were using the center to do aerobics. One of the moms was an early childhood educator who worked for the local community college helping to set up parent co-op preschools. When she found out that I was a certificated teacher with some early childhood experience, she talked about the possibility of setting up a co-op preschool right there at Summit Lake.

Halloween party
There was a boy scout camp, Camp Thunderbird, right on the lake. Karen knew the camp director and soon we had permission to set up a preschool in one of the buildings that wasn't used very much. This was great! We had a lot of help from parents wanting an opportunity for their young children to have playmates. As I recall, I taught the group of two year olds and was amazed at how quickly they learned and remembered what they learned! It was a whole new ball game for me! Matt had a chance to meet other kids, and later Mark participated too.

One of my funniest memories from this time is the end of year program we put on for all of the parents. All the little girls were decked out in ruffles and shiny shoes. The little boys had on sweaters and looked very neat. We had prepared a delightful program of children's songs.

Sad Matt.
Now some of you know me and know my love of children's music. I don't mind hearing these songs over and over, and I don't mind waking up at three in the morning with them going through my head! However, in my family, I am alone in that. My two sons hated children's music and would beg me to turn it off if I happened to play some at home! They get this from their father! They like other kinds of music, but not children's!

So on the day of the performance, there was Matt, looking all spiffed up, but with the saddest face ever. He looked like he was going to cry! At one point he disappeared behind some bookcases and I had to go and get him and sit him in my lap until the concert was over. Poor guy!

But I have my revenge now. Matt's son Eddie LOVES children's music and he loves grandma's books she's made to go with them. When I visit, we sing, and sing, and sing! Who's having the last laugh?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Year Five: Morning Sickness, Eighty Mile Daily Drive and Happiness

 My current school district has a motto that says "Special education is a service; not a place". But by the end of my fourth year, with my self-esteem at an all time low, I felt like the place I worked was going to ruin my teaching career and my ability to provide any valuable service. As the year ended, I made an appointment with the special education director and told him I wouldn't return to that job the following year. I asked if anything else would be available. He told me that there was a resource room opening in Rochester, a forty mile trip one way from where I lived. I'm pretty sure he thought that would discourage me, but I said I'd do it.

And so in September, 1978, I started my daily eighty mile commute. This was a very long drive and since my husband and I had only one car, I dropped him off in Olympia at his job before continuing my drive south to Rochester. Rochester then, and maybe still is, a very small community south of Tumwater and Little Rock, and just north of Centralia and Chehalis. It is right off of the I-5 corridor so the drive is pretty direct and easy. However, I was pregnant with my first child during this school year, so I was also fighting a daily dose of morning sickness! I have to say it did make for a much more interesting commute!

But back to the actual school year. After having a very humorless and militaristic principal the previous year, this year's principal was a breath of fresh air, and also a baptist minister. He was kind, patient, and soft-spoken, with a deep concern for all of his students. The teachers were open and welcoming. My instructional assistant was the mother of a little boy I'd worked with in the preschool program two years earlier in Olympia.

My resource room consisted of twelve boys! They were great! One boy in particular really captured my "teacher's heart". He was probably the most learning disabled student I've ever worked with. Extremely intelligent, if he heard the material he needed to know, he could orally answer any questions you asked. However, if he had to read the material, or write a response, the process would take hours and was painful to watch. At the time I thought, if only we treated him like a student with a visual impairment, gave him everything on tape to listen to, and had him take the tests orally, he could be successful. I met with his teacher and started the process of recording his history, social studies, science, etc. lessons on cassette tapes. Then I would give him the tests orally. He would ace these tests! He was so smart! I had to be careful in the classroom when I was working with other students though.
He would hear the material, and later when I was asking questions of that small group, he was ready with all of the answers, even though he had not been a part of that discussion! Strong auditory memory! Today we have so much more technology like Don Johnson's SOLO Suite that allows students with severe learning disabilities to learn alongside their typical peers and stay at grade level. But thirty-five years ago, the best we could do was a cassette recorder and a microphone!

Years later, while working as an education specialist in Spokane, I was in a self-contained program helping a teacher. The instructional assistant looked very familiar. I was talking to the teacher, but watching the IA and thinking, why does she look so familiar? Well it turned out to be the woman I worked with that year in Rochester! She and her husband had moved to Spokane, and her son, the one I worked with in preschool, was now an adult and living in a group home here! Sometimes it really is a small world!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Year Four: Military Principal, Appendicitis and Working with a future SNL star?

When I started working for the Olympia school district, I was unaware that they served most of Thurston county's special education needs through a co-op model. So after having such a fun year with preschool in year three, I was moved to Tumwater to teach a self-contained special education class for children 6 to 12. I was heart-broken at having to leave the preschool, but I was the last teacher hired for that program, and numbers had dropped.

And so I was placed at an elementary school in Tumwater. Now this elementary school had never housed a self-contained program before. They did have a resource room, but that was the extent of their special needs population. The principal of the school was not interested in having this program either. A former military commander, he fought with the special education director to keep it out, but lost. So when I came to set up my class, he told me there was not a place for me. It seemed that there was a portable classroom, but that was for the resource room. It looked like I would be put on the stage in the gym. I went back to the special ed director for guidance. He called the principal and told him that I should have the portable and the resource teacher should be put in a smaller space. But the principal decided that the two special ed programs should share the space. I had half of the portable with 12 students with moderate delays and no educational assistant. The resource room teacher, serving 2 to 3 students at a time, had the other half, and an aide! Not only that, but she insisted that we be quiet at all times, and if we were too loud, she would lean over the bookcase dividers and go "SHHH!"

There were some bright spots; the kindergarten teachers were very friendly and wanted to include some of my younger students in their classes. However, the principal refused to have any of my students mainstream out. We were not allowed to be on the playground at the same time as the general ed population, have lunch outside of our class, or walk off of the sidewalks. The principal frequently turned on the intercom to listen in on my class, I'm sure hoping to catch me doing something he could get rid of the program for. By the middle of October, I was a nervous wreck. I started having stomach problems and severe abdominal pains. I chalked it up to stress. But then one day, the pains were so severe, my husband was called to come and take me to the emergency room. It turned out I had acute appendicitis and had to be operated on immediately! And because I had eaten that
day, I had to be awake during the operation! Those of you that know me well know how horrible this kind of thing is for me. I have a deathly fear of blood, needles and especially that combination! Well that little fiasco gave me a much needed two week reprieve.

After the first of the year, the special services department came through with a single-wide portable for the resource teacher to move into. Now I had the whole portable to myself! It felt wonderful! And we could be as loud as we wanted, we could sing and move and have some fun. The aide that the resource teacher had was now assigned to me half time as well. Life was getting a little more bearable. And then the biggest surprise of all: one of my students could start attending kindergarten. I have kept this note all of these years because it was a victory for inclusion. The first battle I had launched and actually won.

Finally, are you wondering which future SNL star I was working with? I've given you a little bit of information about the resource teacher. She was strict, cold, ultra-religious (but not necessarily "christian" in her actions), and constantly talking about her church and singing in some upcoming cantata. When the aide we shared finished her half day with me, she would have to brace herself for the "force" that was that resource teacher! Well about 5 years or so later, my husband and I were watching SNL, and there was Dana Carvey as the "Church Lady". I turned to my husband and said, "Oh my God! He had to have met (the resource teacher)! That is her exactly!" I have a picture of her, and it is almost a dead ringer for this one of Dana as the Church Lady! However, my husband said, "If anyone remembers her and she sees this, you are in a lot of trouble!" He's right. So instead, I'm leaving you with this one. Take my word for it, she looked just like this!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Year Three: Cheerios and Cheese

During this third year of teaching, I had a little girl who was on the autism spectrum.  She was my first real experience with a young child with autism. She was 6 years old, non-verbal, not toilet trained, and would only eat two foods: Cheerios and cheese. Her mother reported that at 9 months, she had about four words. She smiled, interacted, played. And then she began to loose these skills. When I first started working with this young girl, she ignored all attempts to bring her out of her self-stimming world.  Nothing seemed to be reinforcing enough to get her to stop.

Being new to autism, I looked for inspiration and help anywhere I could. This book, Son Rise had just come out the year I was working with Marlene. In the book, Barry Kaufman and his wife Suzi, claimed to have cured their son Raun’s autism through a unique program they developed. Essentially someone was with Raun every waking moment. They decided that since he was not joining their world, they would join his. Whatever Raun did, spinning plates, rocking back and forth, making noises; they joined him in the same activity. I decided to give it a try!

I started right away. The two of us would find a quiet place to work. Whatever she did, I did. If she made noises, I made the same ones. If she jumped, I jumped. This was quite alarming to this child! For the first time all year, she stopped what she was doing and looked at me! She would make a frustrated sound and slap the table or wall with her hand. I would do the same. She looked more and more. Sometimes she cried and would walk away, and I would wait. She would come back, and do something and wait to see what I would do. Eventually she came to enjoy our time together and when I imitated her actions, she would smile and make excellent eye contact.

Since she seemed so much more “available” to me and her world, I decided to see what else I could get her to do. I used a Polaroid camera and took pictures of her two foods; cheerios and cheese. I sewed Velcro onto the apron I wore in the class, and attached the pictures to it.  I made sure I had these foods with me whenever we worked. Soon she started to look at the pictures and whenever she touched one, I gave her a little of that item. She caught on quickly, and eventually, I added pictures of other items or activities she showed an interest in. At home, she started pulling her mom into the kitchen and putting her mom’s hands on the refrigerator (to get cheese), or on the cupboard for the Cheerios. Her mom was amazed. This was the first time since she was a baby that she was attempting communication.  By the end of the school year, she was much more connected to her world, was communicating with pictures and some gestures, and was actively seeking out adult company. 

Sadly, this special little girl and her family moved away the next year, and I've never known what became of her. I often dream about her though, and in my dreams, she is laughing, playing and talking!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Year Three: PRESCHOOL!!!!

In the summer of 1976, my husband got a job with the Washington Department of Fish and Game. He was to be the new editor for their publication Washington Wildlife.  This was exciting, but it meant moving away from Oak Harbor and into the Olympia area. For me, the change didn't seem too great as I grew up in Seattle and my parents still lived there. So I was still close to family.

I applied for some special education jobs in the Olympia area, and was delighted when I was interviewed and chosen for an early childhood position in a birth to six program! I loved early childhood and couldn't wait to get started. The program was called PEPSI and that stood for Parent Educator Pre School Intervention. For the birth to three population, we went into the homes once a week and worked with the children and their parents, recognizing that the parents really are their child's first and most important teacher. These same parents and children also came into the center once a week and received occupational, speech, and physical therapy. Again, we watched and learned along with the parents. It was the first time I watched therapists "co-treat" children and I was fascinated. Speech therapists worked with children while the occupational therapist bounced them on large therapy balls. The reason? All that movement and input helped these little ones make more vocalizations. And I can't say enough about the parents! I remember working with an eight month old boy with down syndrome. He was delightful and happy and his young mother could come up with more ways to get him to use his pincer grasp! Each week I learned as much from her as she did from me!

The three to six year old's came in the morning each day. There were three of us teachers and each of us had an instructional assistant. Some parts of the morning routine we did as a group, like circle, music, and free play. Other parts we did individually, working one-on-one with children on specific goals and objectives. I had so much fun this year and learned a lot about early childhood. Next week I will go into more detail about my work with one special little girl!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Year Two: Harassment and Redemption

As much as I loved this second year of my teaching career, it wasn't without it's challenges. The students in my class, ranging in age from 13 to 21, had a variety of disabilities, some of them with multiple disorders. But one student I had seemed to not have the disorder she was labeled with.

This young woman was said to be hearing impaired. Indeed she wore two hearing aids and had been aided since she was a very young child. However, even though she had been taught sign language, and that was her primary method of communication, she never seemed to initiate communication on her own. In fact, if you started signing to her, she would just sign the same thing back to you, at the same time. In this respect, she reminded me more of someone with autism, someone who was echoic; that is, someone who repeated back whatever you said. Although I was still relatively new to the special education field, I had met and worked with a number of young children and adults with autism. Most of them that had language, displayed a certain amount of echoic behaviors. So I was curious: could this young lady have been misdiagnosed all of these years? Could she actually hear? I tried on several occasions calling her name when she was in the back of the classroom and I was in the front. I called it in a normal voice; not too loud or too soft. The result? Every time she looked up and at me! I decided that I would meet with her mother and discuss what I had witnessed and what I thought might be going on.

As I was planning to set this meeting up, an event happened that made me frustrated and extremely unhappy. This young woman's bus dropped her off early every day. The bus was so early, that it arrived even before I got to school which was at least 45 minutes ahead of the start of the school day. Well on this one particular day, I arrived shortly after her bus dropped her off. I could see her waiting by the door to the classroom and she was surrounded by several eighth and ninth grade boys. They were all laughing and making rude gestures to her, barking like a dog, and worse. And what was she doing? She was imitating these and sobbing, tears running down her cheeks. Did this make them stop? No. These boys were like a pack of dogs that had their prey and were enjoying toying with it. I can't even tell you how angry I was! I marched down there and took the girl into my classroom and tried to calm her down and let her know she was safe. When my paraprofessional arrived, I left her in her care and went straight to the principal. I knew who a couple of the students were and that was enough for him to figure out who the rest of the offenders were.

Although this behavior did not surprise me, and in fact it unfortunately only reinforced what I thought about junior high school students; what happened next did. As word got around about what happened, the leaders of the freshman class came to me and wanted to apologize for the behaviors of that few from their group. They wanted to somehow make up for this unfortunate incident and soon I had several ninth grade students volunteering daily in my classroom! They also asked if they could hold an assembly to help educate all of the students by explaining more about who the students in my class were and why they need additional support and different ways to learn. I have never forgotten this kindness on the heels of such a horrible, humiliating experience. It allowed me to see that redemption is always possible.

And what about the young woman? Well, I did meet with her mother and after our conversation, we took her down to the University of Washington's Child Development and Mental Retardation Center (CDMRC). As part of her evaluation, they did agree that autism was most likely the primary disorder. I don't know what happened after that as the next year, my husband and I moved to Olympia. But I like to imagine that a proper diagnosis may well have helped in her future interventions!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Year Two continued: Life Skills and Real Life

When I look back at that second year of teaching, life seemed so much simpler. For students with disabilities that were more moderate and severe, the expectations for what to teach and how to do it were generally left up to the teacher. Because of my experiences working in group homes and up at summer camp, I really tried to focus on "life skills"; those skills that would get them ready for living in group situations or as independently as they could. So we learned to take care of clothes, sorting by color, folding correctly, etc. We worked on grooming skills like brushing teeth and hair and washing our faces. And the best of all was our little cafe! We called it Cafe 6A, since that was my room number.

I decided that once every couple of weeks we would make a meal at lunch time and invite one of the faculty to attend. There was a lot of teaching of skills with this activity and preparations for it. The students learned how to set a table correctly. They learned how to write up a menu and invitations.
Cooking the meal involved learning about food groups,the importance of washing your hands well,  measuring and cutting up vegetables, pouring, stirring, turning on a stove or oven, and what to do if the temperature was too hot or too cold.

We also worked on social skills by having the students take turns being the waiter and taking the orders and conversing with the guest. In fact we all sat down with the guest and ate together, working on good manners and using proper utensils and napkins. Afterwards we always wrote a note to the guest thanking them for coming. I'm not sure what the faculty thought about this, and maybe they were just being gracious and took pity on a young teacher, but no one ever refused to come and everybody ate!

One more story about year two next week, and then on to year three!