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!