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!