Saturday, February 22, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Quirky People Make Great Stories!

If you do anything for long enough, you will meet lots of different kinds of people and have many great stories to tell. And that's what this blog is all about. Last week at the end of the blog I said that ed specialists really ARE that smart. So here is the story behind that statement.

We had a psychologist named Dave that worked his way up and into a job that really suited him. Technology and computers were making things easier for teachers and changing the way that they wrote their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and collected data. Dave was a quirky kind of guy, shy in social situations, and somewhat lacking in other social skills. But he was a computer whiz and knew software programs well. When I started as an ed specialist, Dave had designed a Word template that helped teachers merge information about their students into an IEP form. This template was sacred, and God help you if you forgot to save each IEP with the student's name so as not to mess up the template! There was also a bank of goals that could merge into these forms, and so at that time, it was pretty impressive.

I took a look at these forms and talked to Dave about designing a data sheet that could also merge with the template information. He looked at me like I had three heads. He said, "Ed specialists are not that smart. You would never be able to figure this out." And with that, I was dismissed. Well, that is exactly the wrong thing to say to me, and so I set out to prove him wrong! I worked with Word and learned all about merging, form fields, etc. I designed data sheets, wrote more goals that could be used by preschool teachers, and set out to give it all a try.

I asked the other ed specialists if I could show them what I'd done. They gathered in one of the conference rooms with me, and I showed them what I had designed. They were very impressed! One of the ladies, Susan R., said, "Have you shown this to Dave yet?" I said no. She started laughing and went and got him. He was reluctant to come, but Susan told him he wouldn't believe what he'd see. He came into the conference room and I demonstrated what I'd come up with. He was at a loss for words. He finally said, "How'd YOU figure this out? Ed specialists aren't smart enough to do this!" We all laughed and said, "I guess we are!" I gained a lot of respect from Dave that day, but it didn't stop him from ignoring me when I came to ask him something in his office. After a while I would say, "Dave. Dave. DAVE! Turn around and make eye contact!" He would be slightly embarrassed, but would turn around with a smile.

And then there was Joanie. Joanie was an intervention specialist in charge of supporting the self contained special ed programs in the district. She was tall, very tall and muscular. She could be somewhat imposing at times. We also had other intervention specialists who dealt mostly with behavior issues. One of them, Bonnie, was amazing. (I will have more to say about her later). Well we were dealing with one young boy with major tantrums, especially related to riding the bus. His mother was agoraphobic and didn't like leaving the house herself. To make matters worse, she told him that the loose straps on the wheelchair buses might turn into snakes!  Unbelievable! Indeed I had written a great Social Story to try and help him overcome his fear of riding the bus, but it wasn't helpful enough.

One day we get this call from the boy's mother. She is at her wit's end. She cannot get him on the bus and we can hear him screaming at the top of his lungs in the background. She is asking for someone to come and help her get him on the bus. Bonnie, ever the behavior specialist, says she will go. However, at this time, Bonnie was very weak and battling terminal cancer. Susan B., one of the coordinators said she would send Joanie instead. Susan calls Joanie into her office and tells her she wants her to go and help get this boy on the bus. Joanie wasn't happy about the request but when Susan told her that Bonnie was wanting to do it, Joanie said okay.

Joanie got in her car and drove to the house. She got out and told us later that she could hear the screaming all the way down the sidewalk. She walked up to the door and knocked. The door opened and there was the kicking screaming little boy refusing to leave the house. Joanie looked at him, pointed to the bus and in her deep booming voice said, "Get on the bus NOW!" The boy stopped, looked up at this towering woman, stopped crying and said, "Okay," and walked to the bus!

Truly, if Joanie asked me to get on that bus, I would! After that I thought we should make a life size cardboard cutout of Joanie that we could use to get students to do what we wanted. All we would have to do was stand behind it and in our deepest voice say, "Get on the bus!"