Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Dear Parents (from someone who works with your kids)

Dear parentsI read a blog post the other day written by a parent of a child with special needs. The post is titled Think Before You Judge An Autism Parent: Until You’ve Walked in My Shoes and it covered two main topics – one, don’t judge the parents of children with special needs because, quite simply, you have no idea what their lives look like or what their children need, and two, health care providers, child care providers, behavioral health workers, mental health professionals, etc. don’t care about your child – they just want to shove meds on your kids and collect their checks at the end of the week.

To point one – I 1,000% agree . . . 10,000%, 100,000% . . . . as much as you possibly fathom an exaggeration of completely effing agree, that’s how much I agree. Though I would elaborate to say that we need to stop judging parents all together. Whether it’s a rowdy kid in a supermarket or a tantrum in a restaurant . . . or whatever . . . as the person standing on the sidelines, we have NO IDEA what the situation is really about and we would do well to remember that.

It’s the second point that I’d really like to address in this open letter. The one that says that we don’t care about your kids. I have worked with children, both with and without special needs, in several different capacities for 20 years. I babysit, provided personal behavioral support, I taught elementary school kids in both special education and general education, I taught preschool, worked at an afterschool program, and am currently a therapeutic support staff for children with behavioral health needs. . . . I won’t lie and say that I’ve loved all of the children I’ve worked with. I won’t even say that I’ve liked all of them. What I will say, quite emphatically, is that I have, without a doubt, cared about every single one of them.

I’ve never looked to blame parents, ignore parents, get parents in trouble, or in any way make parents’ lives more difficult. In fact, I’ve always tried to do the exact opposite . . . listen, take everything they say into consideration, and help make their lives easier, if at all possible.

I know that all of us aren’t like this. I know there are bad teachers and bad therapists and bad doctors and, well, bad everything out there. I’ve seen people who were supposed to be working with kids sit and play on cell phones all day. I’ve read about teachers who say things like this. I will not discount the author’s experiences, though they do sadden me. But I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who cares . . . . and it’s heartbreaking to think that some parents may avoid getting services for their children because they think anyone who is paid to work with them doesn’t care.

Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s my job. Yes, I collect a paycheck for what I do. But honestly? I could make more as a waitress . . . . and without the stress of being cursed out by preschoolers or almost having my nose broken by a 12-year-old or cleaning feces off of playroom walls. I’m not in this for the money. I need what little I make to live, but I do what I do because I care about your kids.

I really can’t stress that enough. I care about your kids. I care about how they’re feeling and it makes me sad when they’re upset. I care their progress and light up when I see them achieve a new success. I care about what I can do to help them succeed . . . so much so that I think about it on the bus on the way home and talk about it while eating dinner and even get out of bed write down some new ideas to try the next day.

So, please, all I ask is that you don’t judge us . . . . in the same way that we should not judge you. We’re not the enemy. And the best way to help your children is if we work together.

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The joy of reading together

One of my most treasured childhood experiences is when my mom would read to me. I struggled with reading in first and second grade, so my mom spent a lot of extra time reading with me. Despite my academic challenges, I loved books, and I attribute that love to those nights sitting in the recliner on my mom’s lap.

We read picture books and chapter books. We read fiction and non-fiction. We had discussions and shared ideas. I remember collecting a set of Disney books from the supermarket. I looked forward to the nights when she’d bring a new one home.

I retained my love of books throughout the rest of my schooling (and through adulthood as well). In fact, by third grade, I no longer struggled to read, and in fifth grade, I was one of the few selected to help tutor struggling second graders.

My daughter’s experiences with reading have been vastly different from mine at her age. She’s picked it up every easily. She’s consistently read a grade-level above her year since kindergarten. The one thing we have in common is our love of books.

Since my daughter was an infant, I read to her . . . long before she understood a word I was saying. As she grew older, she became enthralled with books. We carried books with us everywhere and we read constantly throughout the day.

Once she started school, she was required to read on her own every night. After she finished her reading for school, we would read together. In the beginning of first grade, we started reading chapter books together. I loved the discussions we had together . . . the way my little girl was showing me, through independent thoughts and ideas, just how much she was growing up.

Abby readingBy the middle of first grade, she started reading her chapter books on her own and slowly I let our reading time slip away. It wasn’t intentional. Our days are usually hectic. She doesn’t get home until 4:15pm and by the time she’s finished her homework, it’s time for dinner. By the time dinner’s over, we generally have about an hour before shower and bed time. We’ll play games, watch a show, or go outside. But I’ve been missing the unique closeness of reading together.

I made it a point to this week to rectify that. We started Coraline on Tuesday night. It’s thrown off our schedule a bit. Bedtime’s been pushed back a bit and a shower might have been skipped tonight, but it’s been wonderful to have that special time back when we can share our love of books. And I hope I’m creating for my daughter the same kind of treasured memories I hold so dear.

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” ~Dr. Seuss

Mailbox

MailboxI was 20 or 21. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older. I can’t remember his name. Once a week, we would meet at the Trenton soup kitchen. I was volunteering. He was forced to be there. One of the conditions of his probation was that he would work toward his GED. We had a long way to go. He didn’t know how to read.

I had heard of people who went through life not knowing how to read, but the concept was completely foreign to me. I struggled with reading in 1st and 2nd grade. They even held me back a year. But I had a great teacher the second time I was in 2nd grade. I had an incredible mom who worked with me at home and read with me every night. And I loved books. I loved books so much I wanted to be able to read them on my own. By 5th grade, I was a tutor for 2nd graders who struggled with reading.

Maybe the man at the soup kitchen didn’t have a great teacher or a supportive mother who had the time to read to him every night. The truth is I didn’t know his backstory. The truth is I didn’t really care. Because there he was, sitting next to me, determined to learn how to read . . . and I was determined to help teach him.

There were other patrons of the Trenton soup kitchen who were working on their GEDs, each one at a different level. Some of them were there by choice. Most of them weren’t. Some of them took advantage of the situation and worked hard. Some of them didn’t. Some of them found excuses to get up for a drink or to go to the bathroom or to sharpen a pencil . . . grown men and women acting like school children. Grown men and women still fighting against the world, still guarding their secrets of learning disabilities, still afraid to admit they needed help, still afraid to ask for it.

But not my student. He was always bright-eyed, always anxious to learn. He knew he made mistakes and he wanted more out of life. He had dreams and they all began with learning how to read. The words I had taken advantage of for so many years were squiggly lines on a page to him. We started slowly.

On our second meeting, I brought out the approved workbook. I opened to the appropriate page and placed my finger under the first word. My student excitedly pointed to the word “us” and exclaimed, “I know that word! That’s mailbox!”

I was confused as to how he read “mailbox” from “us.” I smiled and corrected him gently. He sank just a tiny bit and said, “Oh. I thought it was mailbox because ‘u’ and ‘s’ are written on every mailbox.” I smiled again and told him that was really good thinking. Then I explained what the U.S. on the mailbox really meant. He laughed and we continued working.

That moment gave me just the smallest insight into my student’s ability to function in the world without knowing how to read. I thought it was brilliant of him to have made that connection. I wondered how many other connections he made in his day-to-day life and how many of those connections enabled him to keep his secret.

As difficult as things might have been for me at the time, knowing how to read made everything so much easier. I left our lesson that afternoon thinking of how intelligent a person must be to make it through life without the benefit of understanding written words.

I only worked with my student for a couple of months. The following semester, my schedule conflicted with that of my ride. I’m a public transportation girl and buses in Jersey suck. I never even said good-bye to my student because I didn’t know my last day there would actually be my last.

Every so often, I wonder where he is now. I have no doubt in my mind that he learned to read and the thought of how many doors that opened for him makes me smile.

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was 3 years old, my preschool teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “I want to be a mommy so I can brush my daughter’s hair.” When I was 4 years old, my preschool teacher asked me the same question. This time I told her, “I want to be a mom-mom so I can buy soap – pink soap with a little girl on it.” (My mom-mom had just given me a pink roll-on soap with a little girl on the front.)

By the time I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a famous singer when I grew up. That dream was crushed by the silly little fact that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

At 8 years old, after writing my first love poem, I decided I wanted to be a poet when I grew up.

When I was 14 years old, I started listening to the skeptics in my life who said that I would never be able to make it as a writer. They said I should be a lawyer because I loved to argue. So, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. Until I job shadowed a lawyer friend of my mom’s for a day – I most certainly did *not* want to be lawyer anymore.

At 16, I was accepted as a Creative Writing major at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. I was back on track with becoming a writer.

And yet I graduated from college with degrees in Elementary Education, Special Education and Psychology.

Since college, I have taught resource room, waitressed, taught preschool, been a stay at home mom, started a jewelry business, been a retail shift supervisor, and am now a freelance writer and editor.

My life has taken many twists and turns over the years and it is only just now, at 32 years old, that I am beginning to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. And that’s okay.

From the moment children learn to talk, we start asking them what they want to be when they grow up. And somewhere in between their toddlerhood and teens years, we expect serious answers.

We tell teens that they don’t know anything about the real world because they’ve never had to live in it and yet we send them off to college at 18 expecting them to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives . . . and they only have 4 years in which to do it.

How does that make sense?

I know there are some people who know what they want from early on and never waver from it. My cousin is one of them. Since he was still in single digits he knew he was going to be a carpenter, and now in his mid-twenties, that’s exactly what he is doing.

I knew what I wanted from very earlier on, but I allowed myself to be swayed.

And then there are those who just have no effing clue what they want to be when they grow up . . . and that’s okay.

I often wonder how my life would be different if I put off going to college. I wonder if I would actually have a degree that I use. I wonder what kind of experiences I would have to write about if instead I had traveled through Europe or joined the Peace Corps or just actually allowed myself to be young and have fun.

So, here’s my advice to young people – take your time. Don’t make decisions about the rest of your life because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Screw what you’re supposed to do. Live. Enjoy life. Make mistakes. Take a road trip. Fall in love. Be young. Have fun. There’s plenty of time to figure out the rest.

First a “genderless” baby, now an entire “genderless” preschool

Last month I wrote about a couple in Canada who are raising their child as “genderless.” Well the issue seems to have been taken a step further in a preschool in Sweden. While searching for something else entirely, I came upon this article from WTFNews. The preschool staff at Egalia will not use the words “boy,” “girl,” “he,” “she,” “him” or “her.” Instead, they will use the word “friends.”

WTF pretty much sums it up!

I wouldn’t say that I’m as far left as they come, but I am pretty far to the left – a bleeding heart liberal, if you will . . . and quite proud of it. This, however, is over the top even for me. Here, I thought we had made progress with anatomically correct baby dolls!

Not acknowledging a child’s gender makes as much sense as not acknowledging that child’s hair color, eye color or height.

I do agree with the center’s dedication to organizing a classroom environment that does not place children into perceived gender roles, but I also think most of their efforts are unnecessary. According to WTFNews, “From the colour and placement of toys to the choice of books, every detail has been carefully planned to make sure the children don’t fall into gender stereotypes.”

I used to teach preschool (as I have stated before). I did make efforts to create a very eclectic classroom environment. We had a play kitchen, baby dolls, dress-up clothes, blocks, cars, an art center, a library and countless other toys. I never made any effort to make children play with certain toys, but I will say that almost all of the boys liked to play with the “girl” toys and most of the girls liked to play with the “boy” toys . . . and vice versa.

I did have a few dads and one mom who balked if they saw their sons playing with baby dolls. I tried to explain that it was completely normal. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Regardless, the next day the boys would go back to playing with dolls.

The point is, gender roles are taught and the only thing you have to do to keep kids from falling into those gender roles is to not teach them. You do not have to take away a child’s gender.

I’ll make the same argument I made with the “genderless” baby — Denying a child’s gender does nothing to break gender stereotypes. In fact, it perpetuates them. Claiming that you shouldn’t call a child a boy or girl or use him or her is like admitting that using those terms will define the child.

Break the gender stereotypes. Don’t ignore the gender.

High heels hurt my feet, but they never got me suspended

My boyfriend walked into the bedroom a little while ago. He shook his head and said, “You want another example of how schools are so afraid of anyone who looks different?” So I turned away from the computer to listen to the story he had to share.

Now, I have a thing for free creative expression. Perhaps it stems from my attendance at a high school for the arts many moons ago. Or, perhaps my attendance at said high school stemmed from my thing for free creative expression. At any rate, this story did more than irritate me; it outright pissed me off – so much so that my boyfriend had to stop me and say, “Why are you yelling at me?!”

“I’m not yelling at you! I’m just yelling because it pisses me off!”

If you haven’t clicked on the link yet, here’s the story in a nutshell:

A ninth grade boy in Washington State has a conversation with his mom one night – about high heels. He tells her that he doesn’t think wearing high heels is all that difficult. Mom says, “Fine. You try it.” Boy says, “Okay. I will.”

The next day the boy, Sam Saurs decides to wear high heels to school. But wait! High heels go best with a dress, right? Sam Saurs, who was already known for his quirky style, thought so. He walked into school sporting some black and white heels and a black dress with white polka dots to match!

So what happened next? Was he sent home to change? No. He was suspended! Wait – there’s more! He was also not allowed to attend the school dance or his class trip. (Later his suspension was cut to 3 days, but he was still not allowed to go to the dance or on the class trip.)

Are you serious? For wearing a dress to school? (Oh, and for those wondering, there was nothing in the school dress code that said that he could not wear a dress.)

Ok, first – it wasn’t that long ago that women wearing pants was considered cross-dressing. But that’s really beside the point. This was about a silly challenge laid down by a boy’s mother – all in fun. Someone please tell me who this was harming?

Second – I had a classmate (at that art school I mentioned earlier) who thought skirts and dresses were more comfortable than pants (I, personally, disagree with him, but que sera sera). He would come into school in “normal” clothes while a female friend would come wearing a skirt or dress. With two more friends to do the running between bathrooms, they would swap clothes. I remember a blue evening gown once, but my favorite was the leopard print skirt with the fishnet stockings.

I didn’t see a problem with it then. I don’t see a problem with it now.

Kudos to you, Sam Saurs, for being yourself and not caring what other people think!

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I miss working with kids

I started babysitting when I was 14 years old. By the time I was 15, I had four on-going jobs. I also started working as a bagger at Genuardi’s. The parents of the kids I babysat shopped at that Genuardi’s. I was “talked to” on a few occasions for abandoning my work to play with my kids!

In college I started working with kids with autism. I worked for four different families over three years. I went from playmate to teacher, and I relished the role. I also had three practicums and my student teaching experience in college. I became attached to my kids every single time.

When my daughter was an infant, I taught preschool. I loved my job. I couldn’t stand the center where I worked, but I loved my kids and I loved teaching them. I would experience an immense amount of excitement every time I created a new lesson. That excitement would only grow as I watched my students learn and enjoy learning.

I haven’t worked with kids in five years. Of course, I have my daughter – and that’s no small thing. She’s awesome. She keeps me on my toes and lights up my life. I haven’t let my education background go to waste. Just as I am always a writer, I am always a teacher. That joy I feel what I see my daughter “get it” is the same joy I felt when my students would “get it.”

Still, I miss working with kids. I miss making a difference in the lives of children. These feelings have been exaggerated lately. I’ve been rather active in my daughter’s schooling. I enjoy talking with her classmates. Here’s a couple snippets of conversations we had while traveling on field trips.

“Abby’s mom?” one little boy asked.

“Yes?” I responded.

“Do you know all the days?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you smart?”

I told him that I’d like to think that I am. He told me that he’s smart because he works hard, and his mom says that if you work hard, you’ll get smart. I told him, “That is very true. I can tell that you’re very smart.” He smiles.

“Miss Dayle! Miss Dayle!” one little girl exclaimed.

I asked what she wanted to tell me and she did (though for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was). Then I said, “thank you.” She looked at me funny.

“Thank you for remembering my name,” I said. She continued to look at me funny. I said, “Everyone calls me Abby’s mom, but you remembered my name. I appreciate it.”

She smiled and started laughing. She then repeated my name a few times, making sure to draw out the “L” and said, “It’s funny.”

I smiled and said, “Yes it is!”

I went home that day and thought about the conversations I’ve had with children over the years.

I thought about the monosyllabic 12-year-old with autism who said “Merry Christmas” to me when I left on break.

I thought about the beautifully dimpled preschooler (who I deemed my future son-in-law) that I just could not stay mad at because he would look at me, smile, and say, “Miss Dayle, your hair looks pretty today.”

I thought about every smile, every “Aha!” moment, and every hug.

I adore my daughter, but I miss working with kids . . . plural . . . Each child offers something new. Each child teaches me something new. See, I’m not just their teacher; I’m a learner too. And the lessons I learn from children are lessons I could never learn from anywhere else.

I printed out a volunteer application for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). It’s going in the mail tomorrow. I know it won’t be an easy job. I know that emotionally it’s going to tear at me. I also know that I’m ready for the lessons those children will teach me. I want to make a difference in their lives . . . I know they will make a difference in mine.