Sunday, July 10, 2011

When I grow up, I want to be a spy!

Recently, I was contacted by a friend who's friend (ya with me on that?)  needed to interview a special ed. teacher for an assignment.
Being a Special Ed. teacher is a lot like being a spy.  Ya know that the government has and uses covert operatives to do amazing and difficult things, but you really don't know the specifics about how they do their job, ya just kinda...know its there and speculate the rest.  Well, that describes my job and unfortunately the speculations usually aren't pretty.  I've had fellow teachers make passing comments about me being a, "glorified babysitter" or others say, "I don't know how you do it?"  or they watch me come out of a room with my scrubs soaking wet with sweat because, I have spent the morning restraining a kid, and they give me that, 'pitty-head-sake' and instantly think, "wow, I bet she's doing that job until she can get a "REAL" job.
So, in an effort to spread the word about what I do, I am going to post my interview with my friend's friend.  I am NOT the type of person to do anything I don't want to do.  I am not the "grin and bear it" type of gal.  Unlike my friends, I can't sit in a car for more than 6hours, I don't pretend to like someone, and I certainly wouldn't keep a job for more than 15years...just until something better came along. 
Honestly, Autism is my something better. 

Occupation: Special Ed. Teacher
1)    What have been your personal experiences with behavior management and exceptional students?  
"When I was 14, I got a job cleaning horse stalls for a rancher, and as fate should have it, their son was autistic.  One fateful day, out of sheer desperation the owners asked if I could, "watch their son."  I didn't think much of...I wasn't gonna turn down a job where I got paid to watch cable tv. When Evan came into the house with a dead baby buzzard, a treasure to him, but something stinky to me....a bit of a wrestling match ensued, but I eventually won and locked him out of the house.  Growing up around boys and on a farm wasn't the dead bird I found gross and strange....the only strange thing about it was he wanted to bring it in the house.  That afternoon when his parents got home to locked doors they feared the worse, but when they realized I told their son, "NO" and lived to tell about it.  A career was born!
 I became his personal care attendant, respite provider, summer school aide, paraprofessional, behaviorist’s assistant, curriculum consultant, and finally a teacher.  Last year, my husband and I became Evan's godparents.  I met him when he was 12 and non-verbal and he didn’t start talking until he was 14.  I had just turned 14 when I met him, [I mean] We grew up together, so I got to see the educational side of his life along with the day to day living in the home.  Having that [experience] makes me understand the day to day battle of my students parents really well."

2)      What are some of the challenges you have encountered in managing these students in the classroom setting?  
"Most general ed. teachers and administration have a common misconception what education looks like in students.  They do not understand that letting the student throw themselves on the floor while I ignore it, is just as important a lesson as addition.  The general ed. teacher gets to teach concepts and theories, my world is more applied.  I have to teach the student to “come to me”, “sit at the table”, and then I get to teach them what 1 picture of  orange cat looks like, and the next day I get to teach what 1 picture of a gray cat looks like.  It might take me half a semester just to teach them to come to me and sit down and just by teaching those 2 skills, I have not only made my life a little easier, I have also completely changed their life in the home. 
In addition, I teach kindergarten to 4th grade, so I have a wide range of skills to teach.  So I must plan and prepare 4 separate lesson plans, all ranging from potty training to teaching a student to take himself to his 2nd grade class."

3)      What are some challenges you have come across when conducting FBA’s?
{My Edited note: an FBA is also known as a functional behavioral assessment, in my world there are 4 reasons kids misbehavior [pretty crazy concept-huh? Hearing that blew my little mind] 1) escape the demand, like being told to return to work. 2) Avoid, they try and avoid working. 3) brings pleasure 4) pain.  So in order to determine the function of a behavior, I conduct an FBA-for example I will record the amount of times the student get’s up and runs from the chair…things like that.  By determining the function of the behavior, I can narrow down a plan of action to correct the behavior.  That plan is called a BIP or behavioral intervention plan. 
"The biggest challenge with an FBA is when you have multi-faceted functions of behavior.  For example, the student chews on items in the classroom to seek deep pressure, in addition she uses it out of boredom and b/c she is stressed.  Multi-faceted functions are the hardest to interpret and write a strong BIP to decrease the behavior b/c it’s hard to pick which function to work on first.  In addition behaviors that are not generalized are also challenges for conducting FBA’s.  If the child is engaging in high stimulation behaviors at home but not at school, those behaviors are hard to get consistent data on and write a strong BIP for.

4)      What are some challenges you have come across when implementing BIP’s?
"Consistency, in a special ed. classroom you may have 2 aides, 6kids plus a revolving door of therapists, and teachers.  Say for example, your BIP requires you to go into an over-correction procedure anytime the student spits.  One day, 1 aide is with 2 kids in general ed class, the other aide is running the class in big group and you are working 1:1 with another student…and he spits at the exact time an occupational therapist comes in for a consult.  In moments like that it’s easier to ignore the behavior and address it when you have time to win the battle."   

5)      What are your schools strategies for integrating special education students into general education environments?
"Honestly, our school does not have strategies for integrating special ed. into gen ed.  The program that I teach is for severe students with autism and I concentrate on teaching and shaping appropriate behavior and communication.  But the strategies I use have proven effective for me.  They are expose the student as much as possible, I try and get my students to participate in as many extracurricular activities with their gen ed class as possible, like ceremonies, field trips and graduations and I also teach them to react to verbage.  When I take a kid into the general ed. class I have extremely high expectations.  They will act like their peers- no exceptions.  I also use the verbage their peers would use (in addition I also inform my students parents, so they understand that by me calling them “weird”  I am in no way insulting, but educating their child.  If mainstream is the goal for the student, they need to learn that being called weird is bad.  Most kids with autism do not understand inferences or insults.  But by introducing them to the language, I am also teaching them appropriate ways to replace the maladaptive behavior).  For example, while in general ed class if the student started to rock back and forth and flap his hands, I would say, “that looks weird,” then I suggest a replacement behavior or tell them to look at their peers and imitate what they’re doing.
I also am big on fading assistance.  When taking the student into gen. ed, I do so with the plan to fade the para or myself.  I also pre-teach, if I know ahead of time that the general ed. class is changing their schedule or my student has had some trouble in their class, I use social stories, or schedules to help teach my student to adapt.   I also modify and accommodate the work from general ed to help the student succeed and I work closely with the teacher in assigning a “buddy” to help my student, this helps with peer relationships for my students.

6)      What are some of the social challenges faced by these students?
"The nature of autism has trouble with social cues.  They don’t understand inferences, body languages, and tonal inflections.  Most of my student’s peers are teachers, parents, therapists, so my students haven’t the first clue how to interact appropriately with their peers.

7)      What training is provided at your school or in your district for teachers in behavior management?
"I use regional education center, they host all kinds of behavior/data/FBA and BIP training."

8)      What types of behavior management/discipline management programs does your school use?
"Every child is different therefore in my class if a behavior is impeding education an FBA will be conducted and a program will be implemented.  Some BIC classes use, “Boystown USA” and have strict token management systems.  My class is nothing like that, if I am seeing a behavior that is unusual or I can’t solve I will turn to behavioral studies online.  By law, I have to use “best practices” and cannot make things up as I go along.  Any behavioral procedure I use/implement must be backed by a case study and/or peer review."  

9) What is your favorite part about your job?
"The kids.  Totally.  100% There victories are why I do what I do.  Watching a child get up from the table and go to the bathroom all on her own. Or watching a student perform in a talent show with his 2nd grade class, thinking back to when I got him, his other teacher thought he was a hopeless case.  I did that-I taught him to be responsible for his actions. Teaching a student to talk, then watch him blossom into a student who is indistinguishable from his peers.  I did that.  I mean my [victories] are small in steps, but massive in how effect their life and their families lives.  
When I get into a compliance battle with a student, it may take 40minutes or 5days, either way...I am going to win.  Most people think I am arrogant when I say, "OH! I'll win!"  But I know from experience that by winning I am slowly changing my little corner of the world by changing a families life.  and that outcome of breathtakingly beautiful!"

 10) What is the worst?
"Watching the parents mourn the loss of a normal life.  That sentence is hard to understand unless you really understand what parents of a special child go through."
11) What do you mean?
"missed graduations, missed proms, no mother-daughter shopping trips.  No late night talks about boys, No father-son fishing trips.  Instead your life is, therapies, doctor's appointments, driving the long way home because you can't pass the McDonald's otherwise a meltdown will ensue and you're just too tired.  I am not saying the parents love their kids any less, just saying their life is different.

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