Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Crayons, chalk, and lots of kids

I’m a Special Ed. Teacher. It is a big part of what defines me. Most of the time, I love it. (or at least, like it) I love to watch kids learn and grow. Working in an elementary school means that some of the kids that I work, I will work with for seven years. I watch them start as tiny five year olds, and see them leave as preteens. I share, with parents, the excitement, tears, and dreams they have for their child. I’ve been teaching long enough now, that I have students who I worked with as six year olds that are now adults. Actually, one of my special kids called me yesterday. He’s 21 years old, works in a construction job, and lives on his own. He wants to work with me again to “…improve his reading so that he can go to college.” I’m touched. I told him that teachers don’t have favorites, but that he was one of mine. He said that he always knew that. That's what teaching is all about.

A feel good story always seems to end with something hard. Here’s my hard. Here’s a statement from my school district administrators.
“…it is anticipated that the projected revenues will fall approximately $3.069 million short of the cost of projected expenditures.”

What, you ask, does that mean? It means that my district will need to find a way to cut three million dollars from the budget. As teachers, we were asked to send our ideas to the school board of where to cut this money. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. What more can possibly be cut? My classroom is always cold. I wear layers to school all fall and winter because the temperature in my workspace is freezing. Hell, a couple times this year I’ve worn mittens in my class. I don’t think we can cut heating costs. I buy all the paper, pencils, dry erase markers, chalk, notebooks, markers, crayons, snacks, stickers, etc… myself. I can’t suggest cutting the instructional supply budget. Seriously…have you been in a classroom lately?! The fifth grade classes in my school have 34 kids in each of them. Does anyone realize how crazy that is for ONE adult to handle? 34 kids!! And of those kids, there are: a couple with serious mental illnesses, several who are struggling to read, a couple with autism, two that don’t really speak or understand English, and more who are tired, hungry, and not interested in school. If I happen to stop in a regular ed class and a teacher asks me to stay with the kids so that she can use the restroom, I panic. Our kindergarten classes have 22 kids in them. Again, can you imagine being left alone with that many five and six year olds—and on top of being left with them, can you imagine trying to teach them to read, write, calculate, and get along with each other?! So as teachers, WE PRAY that the class sizes don’t get any bigger. Heck, we don't even want them to stay the same. We'd like them smaller please. As a special ed teacher, I can’t even imagine having more kids to case manage in seven different grades. I don’t know how we’ll possibly provide adequate service to kids that need a lot of special attention when our paraprofessional staff gets cut again.

Like other teachers, I wonder when education will not have to be about “getting by.” It’s a scary time.

“Do you think that Dixie senses the physiological changes due to hypos, or the behavioral changes? After all, I think that each of us has our own "unique" behaviors when low, but the biochemistry would be the same.”
I don’t know if we’ll ever know how Dixie (or other dogs like her) senses hypoglycemia. She has known even if we’re in different rooms. That makes it seem like it isn’t her sensing behavioral changes. I don’t think that we’ll ever really understand the sensory perception that canines possess. I would assume that some of how Dixie knows is scent, because I know of other people who have trained dogs for diabetes alerting and have used scent training techniques. The dog trainers that I worked with said that a big part of it is the bond that humans have to their dog. It’s a deep connection that helps the dog know. What I do know is that knowing what is happening inside me is Dixie’s gift and her talent.

The photo is of Dixie pushing the mounted life alert switch in my house. (I have it so that if I am unresponsive, Dixie has a way to alert someone. She can push the button and if I don't respond, life alert will send help.) She's not had to use it (knock on wood), but we practice so that if we need it, she'll remember how to do it.


Chrissie in Belgium said...

I am happy and sad after reading this post! That is all I can think to say! At least you know I have read your post and care.

Minnesota Nice said...

I have heard a number of times about teachers buying their own school supplies, but never about having to wear mittens in the classroom! How frustrating.
Thanks for answering my question. Maybe Dixie has psychic powers.
Now, just how do you get her to "practice" hitting the button? Do you pretend that you're unresponsive?

Scott K. Johnson said...

What a great story about you & your teaching. And how very frustrating to hear about the budget stuff.

I wish it wasn't all about money all the time.

I'm curious about "testing" the life alert stuff too!