Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Off to a Good Start

I would have to say that this school year has started pretty well. Comparatively, it is better than even my best weeks last year. And I mean that on multiple levels. 1) For my personal health. 2) For my social life. 3) For my professional life. 4) But mostly, for my students. For their mental, academic, and social lives.

We started the year off by mostly doing ground rules, expectations, and activities to build a healthy classroom culture. After the repeated disasters that I faced last year, I desperately wanted to set up an environment that would help them counteract their negative behaviors and keep them on track to learn. THEY made a list of real reasons why school is important to them. THEY set high academic goals (with my guidance, of course) in each subject. THEY decided that this year, they would work hard and learn a lot. I could hardly believe how much they got into these foundational steps of creating the academic energy of my room.

Last year, it was not uncommon for me to spend an entire class period (or day) trying to get my students to even look at me, let alone to learn something. This year, we were off and running by the end of the first week. They had a great level of engagement, even in the boring class rules stuff. And then, we decided to make a Class Motto. The school has a motto this year of: “Be Prepared.” So, I thought we might as well try to make a motto for my classroom, to motivate them and redirect them when their tempted to act out or give up. I brought in a few posters and inspirational quotes for them to choose from, and I gave them the opportunity to create one themselves. Meanwhile, I gave a little mini-lesson on the discrimination against deaf people in the U.S. I talked about how for a while, deaf people were punished for using their hands to sign and were only expected to lip-read and speak. I talked about how if a deaf person did not develop the ability to speak, they were labeled with the term “deaf and dumb.” Almost immediately, they protested the injustice of that label and….decided that the class motto would be “Deaf…NOT dumb.” It was a pretty powerful moment for them. They were pretty riled up about it. They will still occasionally point up to the class motto sign and comment on how they’re not dumb. It’s nice to finally see that enthusiasm in them.

In other news, I’m coaching volleyball again. This year I am the JV coach at my current school. Varsity, JV, and C team are all undefeated in their regular season games thus far. It’s been nice to hear people get excited about how much the girls have improved since last year (when I was coaching at a different school).

While things still aren’t ideal for the educational equity of my students, it’s nice to see how much improvement they’ve made in the year since I’ve been here. Here’s to continuing on the path that we are on.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

You win some and you lose some

Bear with me in the fact that I intended to post these thoughts at the beginning of June. A more up-to-date post will be soon to follow.

The fact of the matter is that January to June has looked and felt starkly different than August to December. In good ways. More work completed (and comprehended) by my students. More resources. More people to collaborate and communicate with. More opportunities and more access. More support and higher expectations from my administration. And ultimately more growth. So, naturally, I started to feel pretty optimistic. Unfortunately, I forgot that the laws of nature indicate that I’m bound to win some, and bound to lose some.

Win: One student passionately declared intentions to transfer to the school for the deaf, because it has more access and more opportunities.
Loss: That student backed out of those plans before an attempt at transition could even be made. Twice.

Win: One student demonstrated a growth in reading level equivalent to two academic years and growth in math at a similar rate.
Loss: After proudly internalizing that growth, the student would not look at me or communicate with me during the last week of school out of frustration that I may be laid off.

Win: The family of one student made grand plans to interact with other Deaf individuals over the summer to encourage continued linguistic and personal growth.
Loss: The family did not follow through on any of the opportunities they had.

Win: I have an entire summer of travel and fun planned.
Loss: I don’t know those plans will coincide with feeling rested and rejuvenated to return or if they will allow time for the preparation time that needs to happen before fall.

Everything seems to be in balance as far as the wins and losses go in my world. However, in the world of my students, it seems like the losses weigh in more than the wins. Hopefully next year will add some counterweight to that scale.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Fever

It's starting to get nice out here. Minus the wind. I've gotten a couple minor sunburns already from watching a baseball game and going rock climbing. Spring is here. Thank God. - - While I was riding my bike with Lola today, I realized that I hadn't updated my blog in a while. So here I am. Informing you of my whereabouts. - - Things are dramatically on the rise with my primary student. As a TFA teacher I feel like I should emphatically inform you that it's due to my improved classroom management, or due to my lesson planning skills...but I'm pretty sure it has very little to do with me. I am not the "miraculous fix" to this child's life. I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that I strongly encouraged the district to contract a male counselor, fluent in sign language, to work with him. And mostly due to the big brotherly relationship developing between him and the awesome Deaf AmeriCorps volunteer that comes to school once a week. I'm particularly excited because I feel like I am watching my student finally have the opportunity to go through normal stages of early childhood development. He makes funny jokes now (rather than ones about killing me). He is excited to see me (rather than going directly to the corner of the room to pout). He admits that he plays "Kung Fu" outside by himself (even though his dad tends to discourage child-like behavior). He even has started to say "I like to read." That's right only took me 8 months to get my only student invested in what he needs to learn. - - In New Mexico, there is a big standardized test known as the NMSBA. Many grade levels take it in elementary and middle school, but only the 11th graders take it in high school... and if they pass, they get a real diploma. If they don't pass, they can take it again, or accept a certificate of completion for their four years of high school. It's the epitomy of high stakes testing. It's also what determines each school's AYP numbers and therefore, each school governmental funding. For the last several days, I have been administering this test to my other deaf student. Being stuck in one room with a standardized test every morning and watching her struggle, has significantly added to my restlessness and desire to get outside...or just get somewhere else. My other student will take it next year. I have no idea how to get him to learn all of that material in one academic year from where he is at now. - - For about five weeks now, I have been teaching after-school ASL classes. Students and teachers, and teachers' kids all come on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to learn sign language. I've had a pretty good turnout. About 20 people come every week. And about 20 more are interested but have not been able to consistently attend. This tends to be a significant perk in my weekly schedule. These pupil quickly do what I ask, were invested when they arrived, and are fascinated by what I have to say. They even laugh at my sarcastic sense of humor. And they're learning pretty quickly. Today, I pulled two of the boys aside and challenged them to really practice their sign language (and social leadership) skills. I told them that my student tends to be shy, but really could use some other boys to hang out with... and so I proposed that they start inviting him to lunch every day until he agrees. If he says no, they will just eat with us in room 108 to help him get comfortable with the idea of hanging out with them. :) Cross your fingers for me...we could really benefit from reducing my role as "friend" by replacing it with a more consistent role of teacher.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow Days

Tuesday, February 1
My student doesn't come to school because the roads are icy and the driver doesn't want to brave the 1-hour drive each way. Work day. Score! It was a two-hour delay day due to the roads anyway. (Snow plows aren't very effective at removing snow here...the roads are still snowpacked. And they still haven't discovered the beauty of sanding/salting the roads.)
Wednesday, February 2
Snow day. No school. Score! I immediately had the epiphany that I'm even more grateful for snow days as an adult teacher than when I was a kid, on the other end. So, so grateful. It's interesting how oblivious I was to how much my teachers appreciated days off. Also grateful for Lindsay Berman's homemade pizza.
Thursday, February 3
No school for the second day in a row. Score! It's technically a "Cold Day." This is a new concept for me. It only got to about -15 degrees over night. At home in North Dakota, it's -25 degrees and they would never consider cancelling school because of it. I guess the buses up there are heated...and none of the farm kids in ND have to walk a mile or more to get to the bus stop. And the kids have warm coats. And warm hats. And warm gloves...

In other news, I am starting to love my job. I've also been completely moved into my new teacherage house with my new roommate, Hannah Kozick, for about two weeks now. It's so cozy. And Lola loves the company of Hannah's rez dog, Callway.
I'm settling in. I enjoy getting up and walking to school in the morning. My student asks questions in class. He brings in lists of words and asks what they mean and asks for the corresponding signs. He's excited when I read (sign) to him. He doesn't act out at the mention of someone coming to see him or to observe me. He is starting to say (sign) please and thank-you. He's excited about academic challenge rather than shut-down by it. He's learning.
The staff that I work with at Thoreau High School are so much more supportive and fun to be with. They share passions, outdoor enthusiasm, and belief in our students. They see me as an asset to the team rather than as a nuisance or as the clueless new kid on the block.

I'm no longer drowning.

I'm no longer desperately trying to survive.

I'm beginning to thrive beyond the daily circumstances.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year New Beginnings

I went home to North Dakota for Christmas vacation, thoroughly expecting the two-week break to prove insufficient to rejuvenate me. Then I had to leave two days earlier than planned to attempt to evade the impending snowstorm that the weathermen had been predicting to hit most of the Mid-West. Feeling a little robbed of my vacation time, I was pleasantly surprised when I got to stay with my cousin, Jared, at Vail and spend the day on the mountain with him. Even though the drive out of the mountains took three times as long as normal due to bad road conditions, I was able to enjoy time with friends in Colorado Springs that night and even get back to Pueblo Pintado early enough on New Year's Eve to start moving my belongings to my new residence. That's right friends, I no longer live in Pueblo Pintado. Instead, I live in a small town named Thoreau (pronounced thuh-rue). It has a Post Office and cell phone reception! I'm moving up in the world.

Rewinding a bit, at the end of the semester a large group of people gathered around to discuss my student's progress, struggles, and some potential options for better services. Since we've been struggling from the beginning of the year to make Tse'Yi'Gai into a location in which multiple people can encourage him, teach him, socialize with him, and hold him accountable, it was acknowledged that the school probably has more triggers for frustration than effective supports. So, either he could be bussed to Thoreau every day (67 miles each way), because there is another deaf student at that school, two interpreters, and another Teacher of the Deaf. Additionally, the school is bigger, has more class options, and has a bigger, more comprehensive Special Education program. Option two? Go to the New Mexico School for the Deaf (NMSD). But since my student has insane amounts of anxiety even at the mention of going to Santa Fe, the family decided that Thoreau would be a better option. And it is a much better option than Tse'Yi'Gai even with the long transport time. I've loved moving in and getting to know the staff at this school. They've been very open, hospitable, and supportive so far. It has me feeling very optimistic about this new beginning. So here I am. Waiting.
And waiting.
And trying to get some work done while...waiting some more.
Why so much waiting? He hasn't shown up for school yet. First problem: transportation. A long series of hiccups occurred in this process and they were finally sorted out (temporarily) so that he could come to school today. But he didn't. Apparently the temporary driver wasn't thrilled about his change in roles and the mother needed to "make some arrangements" today. Therefore, it just wasn't a priority to get him to school. I've been in touch with the mother regularly throughout this process and got a lovely email from her tonight. This email informed me that my student would not be in school until next week Wednesday. There is only one day left this week (Thursday), which apparently isn't worth making, then Friday and Monday there is no school, and Tuesday, he'll be going in to the doctor to do a hearing screening (for the first time in 16 years) for the possibility of using hearing aids (also for the first time in 16 years).

There is a good possibility that most of you reading this blog are thinking, "Great! That is very helpful! Better late than never!" So, I'm going to give this decision a little bit more context and perspective. My student is 16 years old. He is profoundly deaf and mute. He has has had excruciatingly limited communication for the first 13 years of his life, and has since started to learn correct ASL and develop deeper levels of communication (mostly with white, hearing females from outside of his Navajo community). He has gone through multiple Navajo healing ceremonies and visited the Medicine Man on various occasions in desperate, misguided attempts to have his hearing restored. He is intelligent and picks up on interesting social cues. Therefore, he knows that his People have not made a valiant attempt to try to communicate with him. He knows that his deafness is considered to be a very bad thing. Something to be fixed. He knows that he is an "inconvenience to accommodate". He also knows that hearing aids would be another attempt to fix him. He desperately wants to be fixed. He wants to have access. He wants to be included. He wants to be valued.
Now, if he is accepted for implementing either Hearing aids or Cochlear Implant, there is a lot more to consider. If you look at the statistics and information involved with Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants, you will find the following information. Hearing aids and Cochlear Implants are most successful in individuals who have substantial residual hearing. They are most successful in individuals who have at least some speech capacities developed. They are most successful when implemented at a young age. They are most successful when the individual has easy access to high quality services with great frequency. My student has none of things going for him. Even in the success stories, they require extensive speech therapy in order to get to that level of successfulness. And even then, they do not make a deaf person into a fully functioning hearing person. And so, when they are approached as a way to fix deafness, like the healing ceremonies, they are typically followed with substantial disappointment.

And so, it breaks my heart. To think of him having to deal with another huge disappointment that he can't be fixed. Another realization that he's an inconvenience to tote around to all of the speech therapy appointments. Another huge blow to his self-esteem and self-worth. When we could be accepting him for who he is. When his parents could morph this effort and money put into the hearing screeing into an attempt to learn ASL on a level in which they could effectively communicate with their son. When we could be interacting with him in ways that tell him he's not an inconvenience, that he's not a problem that needs to be fixed, and that he is valuable.

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think I'm being pessimistic. Maybe that was depressing to read. So here is a fun video of Lola playing with Chaco (Pete and Kimber's pup) to end this blog entry on a lighter note.