Kids Gone Wild.
September 24, 2009 2:51 AM   Subscribe

teacherfites: I've been a pretty decent middle school special educator for a few years now, working with all kinds of disabilities but most of my kids have behavioral issues. Not to be overconfident, but want to mention I've been nominated as Teacher of the Year in my state, but more importantly, I've become the go-to confidante for almost all of my students. So far, so good.

The problem began with this school year.

Basically, due to budget cuts my class size has more than doubled, and at any given moment in my Resource Room (the special education room), I've got over 14 kids.

And I can't deal with it. It's too many kids with special issues and they're not getting the help they need. At any given moment, several kids are being pretty naughty. Pulling their pants up, throwing things, making faces, etc.

It's a fairly structured class in general: the kids have specific work they need to do, they can usually do some of it, but because of the sheer number of kids (which is definitely a behavioral trigger for the majority of them), they start acting up.

The admins want me to deal with it because they're also short staffed and don't want these kids in the office.

We've done role playing and games about respect. We've done quiet 1:1 chats. We've done reward systems (work for 10 minutes, get a break). Nothing is sticking for me this year.

If it helps, these are 8th graders who without exception are supposed to be on meds for various things (ADD, psychosis, ODD, OCD, etc.) They're not always on their meds, though.

Any ideas?
posted by dzaz to Education (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And I want to add that I'm a big advocate of the team approach and I've been asking other staff for help.

We're all flummoxed.
posted by dzaz at 2:53 AM on September 24, 2009

14 8th graders with issues? Oh dear god. You are a saint.
I have no ideas.

Can you get interns? Volunteer parents? Would that just be more people to manage?

Would it help if the local media knew about this? (Do you even have local media?)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:22 AM on September 24, 2009

I have no experience (except from helping a teacher friend on field-trips; bad school, naughty kids, 1st grade).

Would more hands help? I'd fish for assistants who are looking for something to do. Maybe some ex-military retirees would rather help kids than play dominoes. They grok chain of command, and might not run away when they see The Enemy.

If size of audience seeds bad behavior, maybe a partition of some kind would drop the number below criticality. If there's a full table and a bookshelf blocking half the class from seeing a kid, maybe he'll be less likely to try to get attention.
posted by cmiller at 4:27 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Budget cuts. Overcrowded. Admin not helping. Tried what you know to "skin your own cats".
Start doing the paperwork and sending them to the office. Admin must deal with this now. They can either give you help, move kids out to make the class size smaller, or deal with the problem kids themselves.
Your problem will be solved this way. For the record you will win no friends in admin this way, but it seems they already aren't your friends.
posted by busboy789 at 4:42 AM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

You need advocates with the admin to get you professional help, not babysitting volunteers. First, I would request that your principal sit in on one class to see what is going on. Also, if you have an assistant superintendent for curriculum ask that person too. Then, I would see if I could get the parents of the kids to advocate for you to get pro help. They want their child educated as best as they can be. They have IEP's presumably and the district has an obligation to provide the plan. If they could say to the administration that Ms. dzaz needs help and continue to put the pressure on both the local admins (principal and assist. principal) as well as the district wide person responsible for special ed and the IEP process it may result in them "finding" money within the budget to get you some help. You want to establish a record of asking for help.

Then, in the classroom, you sound like you are on the right track, but I have no direct training in classroom management or teaching.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:45 AM on September 24, 2009

My mom taught severe and profound for 7 years (7 kids, 3 aids) and kids with behavior disorders for a million more (10 kids, 2 aids). I hate to say it, but you need at least one more set of hands and eyes, possibly two. There's lots of research out there about having too many kids in the classroom being detrimental to each child: prohibitive learning environment, increase competition, impossible atmosphere for differentiated learning, etc. I would find some of that research and present it to your principal along with a plea for a part-time aid, which would be far cheaper than a full time assistant. Emphasize that while you understand that monies are tight, the children are suffering because of this (they are acting out, not able to accomplish tasks, etc.). That should at least get you started. No matter how good you are, when you have too many kids, you have too many kids.

Luck to you!
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:47 AM on September 24, 2009

Address the school committee meeting. See if you can get teachers and parents to attend. Ask local news to cover the meeting. Keep the focus on seeking solutions.
posted by maloon at 4:47 AM on September 24, 2009

For all its worth, my (autistic) son was in a middle school class almost exactly like yours. We always had great experience with the special needs programs at the grade school level, but at middle school it all broke down. We pulled our son out of that school after three months, when we fully realized what it was like in there. The principal begged us to keep our son there, because at least in the state of Florida a school gets extra funds for each special needs student they have, and pulling our son from the school directly impacted their budget significantly. I don't know if there is an angle there for you to play. Frankly, you are being placed in an unforgivably dangerous situation. There is no way for you to manage that many special needs kids, and when one of them inevitably gets hurt the school will be facing a serious lawsuit.
posted by Lokheed at 5:05 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Federal law says that schools must do whatever is necessary to provide a standard education to every student---some states address this via class size, etc. Some don't. Regardless, parents are eligible to sue if the goals specifically addressed in each IEP/Service Plan aren't addressed by school as per that plan. You know that because you're a Spec Ed professional and you know that's why you have IEP's, and that's partially why you're freaking out.

Honestly, I'd start at the teachers union and move to the PTO, perhaps making some telephone calls to my local state government representatives.
posted by TomMelee at 5:14 AM on September 24, 2009

This answer will not help you in the present situation but here goes. You find yorself in the situation you are in because of the vicissitudes of publcally funded education. To a very large extent budgets are not controlled by teachers but thy are the ones who must deal with the consequences of budget cuts.

I would take a very hard look at your situation and determine if it's something you can tolerate or get used to. While the other posters' suggestions that you need to find an ally in te administration are no doubt true I wouldn't hold your breath. The fundin problems of public education are legion; you will be in this situation again.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 AM on September 24, 2009

Contact the media?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:48 AM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Going to the teachers union will only help depending on the contract. The contract may allow for 15 spec ed students per class even though it is neither practical nor appropriate. So much depends on your current district and the relationships between the admin and teachers, the district and taxpayers, the teachers and parents. Going to the media seems like a very poor idea. It will put you in an adversarial relationship with everyone but the parents of students in your class who care. You will get a lot of angry taxpayers wondering why they should pay "all this money" for special ed. You will get gen ed parents wondering why there are 25 students in their classes and "only" 14 in hers.

The key is to find an ally who can help you get appropriate support so you can carry out the student's IEPs. Scare them into understanding that the issue is the larger law suit down the road the comes with failure or even less than success.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:16 AM on September 24, 2009

I almost posted "contact the media" as the first answer, but I hoped that someone else would have something more helpful. This really sounds like an impossible situation. Maybe I can contribute this:

When you contact the media, or write a letter to the administration, or threaten to resign, or whatever you feel you need to do, include:

- usual class sizes - cite sources, rationales for this

- vivid examples of What Can Go Wrong and How Much It Can Cost - without getting purple or melodramatic. Again, cite sources.

- examples of specific instances and kids in your class; include actual kids' names (change them if you think you should) and personalities -- these are actual, lovable kids, and they need to be seen as such -- and actual events, showing how they are not being helped or are being endangered. Bonus if you can include contrasting examples of learning happening in previous years. It's better if you can include events for which there were additional adult witnesses.

You sound clever enough to have figured this out yourself, and I don't know that it's "the best approach" in your situation, but I do know that specific, clear communication that evokes a vivid picture for the recipient is invaluable and not frequent enough.

Good luck. I know it won't do you much good to be angry, but if it helps, I'm a little angry for you.
posted by amtho at 7:41 AM on September 24, 2009

You find yorself [sic] in the situation you are in because of the vicissitudes of publcally funded education. To a very large extent budgets are not controlled by teachers but thy are the ones who must deal with the consequences of budget cuts.

Teachers don't control the budget, typically the Board of Education proposes a budget and the voters vote on it. The taxpayers decide the tradeoffs of money versus what is of value to them educationally. Yes, the teachers take the brunt of it because they are the brunt of the budget. In my district the compensation for all employees including benefits such as health and a defined benefit pension plan account for 75% of the budget. In the Lexington, Ma budget it is over 80%. I for one value the amount spent on the schools because my children get a good education and my property values are supported by the school system success. But, in NY with a state mandated pension plan, built in step raises and health care contributions by employees at less than 10%, the math soon breaks down. In order for my district to maintain services and programs at a static level to last year, the budget would have to go up by 6.5%. At that rate, the budget will nearly double in 10 years. Pressure will be coming to reduce compensation costs. Some of it will come from virtual classes, larger class size and enrollment reductions from people moving out of district because of property taxes.

That is why I think the way to win this is to show that the REQUIRED IEP programs are NOT being met. Running from public education because of lack of funding is to ignore these students who need your help and others like you. Goal number 2 form the Lexington, Ma Public Schools FY 2010 Goals is "ensure all legal mandates will be met". This is your ammo. Find an ally and go to war. Page 11 of that document talks about the great special ed program. If this is your district, show it to them. I would also discuss it with the PTA.

As for specific teaching ideas, ask the admin for a consultant to help you during your professional development time.

dzaz, thank you, we need advocates like you!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:56 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

If my son's classroom was as understaffed as yours is, I would contact my state's special ed ombudsman. I wonder if you can hint at that for any of the parents. (Note: that might be a bad idea. I don't know. It's just what I would do.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with the kids. Teacher of the Year nomination? I see why!
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2009

What happens to you if one of the children hurts another one while you are the only teacher in the room? Would you or the school or the board be liable? Just looking for more leverage here, not trying to create panic. Frankly, it's disgraceful that they would ask you to find a way through a mess they've created without even trying to give you proper assistance. If you decide to quit, perhaps the day you leave is the day to contact the media/governor's office, making sure they note your teacher of the year nomination/award. This is very sad for everyone involved.
posted by x46 at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2009

x46's comment makes me consider that you may want to make some kind of official complaint / paper trail, partly to make sure you're not held at fault, but mainly because the act of doing so might provide some additional signals that the situation really is urgent.
posted by amtho at 12:07 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why aren't they on their meds? Is there a problem with them being dispensed at school, are the parents taking them off, or is something else going on?
posted by Cricket at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2009

so sorry.

One long term solution (provided all the others about getting help don't work)--write a grant and get computers in the classroom, and get some really great learning programs and games. Develop individualized learning portals for each student. Use Moodle.

Much educational research shows that one-to-one technology can really help special needs students focus, and it improves classroom behavior.
posted by RedEmma at 3:39 PM on September 24, 2009

You might have done already this already, but how about separating the class into smaller groups or stations? Have each group, if possible grouped by ability or skill level, and physically separate them far enough from one another so that it minimizes the behavior problems in a large group. Then you could walk around and help each group. The problem however, is that you have to create 3 lesson plans for each station and have the kids take turn on working in each area.

Good luck! I feel your pain.
posted by dealing away at 3:51 PM on September 24, 2009

Response by poster: They're not on their meds because they "forget" to take them at home, and I gather that their homes are mostly (not all) wildly unstable places. So I then get to document correlations between negative behavior and medication; this information is passed to the admins who then make the call to social services.

Those calls usually get screened out.

The computers...yes! I did this. I have laptops and Netbooks in my room and the kids can earn tech time but they first have to behave appropriately for a certain amount of time. It's working.

And the classroom itself is separated into several areas; the computers; 4 working stations, 2 isolated stations, a sewing station where the kids work in teams to make quilts to donate to babies in hospitals, and a comfy chair reading/lounge area. But when I've got a critical mass of teens (and remember, I'm usually in the hallway with a kid who's having an issue), some of them sit within hitting distance.

I did talk to admins today about my concerns that because of the large amount of kids, we've in essence created an illegal sub-separate classroom for the sped kids; not the least restrictive environment they're entitled to. All the sped kids in one room at one time is not considered okay; they're also concerned.

Time will tell. These poor kids, you know?
posted by dzaz at 5:47 PM on September 25, 2009

Is there any update to the situation since you went to the admins in September?
posted by tristeza at 11:37 AM on March 21, 2010

Response by poster: There is and there isn't. As the year progressed, one of my kids had such problems that he had a psychotic episode and was hospitalized, so he's gone. That made it a little easier.

But then there were plenty of others to step into his shoes. And they tried.

What ended up happening was me sitting with all of them and saying, "You know what? This classroom sucks. It sucks for you because you can't get your work done because you can't get yourselves under control. It sucks for me because I'm your biggest cheerleader and I believe in all of you, but you're all acting like assholes. If all I'm doing is helping one of you while you flip out and the rest of you take that time to act like 2 year olds, then this really is the fucking sped room. Living with a disability doesn't give you license to be an idiot. Let this be the one place in school where we can get shit done and then play stupid games. But it's up to you."

2 results: they're so good now that the principal wants to know what I have in the air fresheners to get them to behave.

Second results: I got written up for "unprofessional language."

Fuck 'em.
posted by dzaz at 2:35 AM on May 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

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