“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Social healing

The gospels have many accounts of people with various infirmities or disabilities coming to Jesus and receiving healing.  This is actually an evidence of him being who he claimed to be.  Does this type of healing continue to occur today?  I am sure it does, and I am not talking about the high profile evangelists making a lot of money from supposedly healing people.  To its detriment, the church has at times approached people with various disabilities with only a "ministry" of healing.  I have also know people who will never go to a church again because of the church's overemphasis on their need for healing, and the church's linking healing with the disabled person's faith or lack thereof.  I have discussed this elsewhere in this blog, but I will only say that if your perspective on disability is that the only answer, the only truly Christian response to disability is healing, then you need to meet a man named Paul who wrote a lot of the Bible, who apparently had a disability and although he asked God for healing was definitely not healed.

But I think there is a great ministry of "healing" that the church can play in the lives of every person who experiences a disability and also a healing in the lives of families of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Hans Reinders in his excellent book, The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, talks about the manner in which society addresses down's syndrome.  Basically he discusses the fact that typically, the suffering experienced by a person with down's syndrome is not the result of the syndrome, it is the result of society's treatment of the person who has the syndrome.  He goes on to indicate that we address a sociological issue with a medical procedure.  That is, I experience discrimination because of my disability, so society's solution is to kill me (through abortion) not to address society's wrong attitudes about me or my disability.  This, however, is the place where the church can have a particular impactful healing ministry.

If I am experiencing suffering because of the social consequences of my disability, then the church through its efforts can "cure" me of that suffering through what they do.  I will still have my disability, however, there is the potential that I will feel much less of the social sting of my disability should the church step up and be what the church was intended to be to me.  
So the church first of all comes to me and invites me in.  
The church then welcomes me and is glad that I am there.  
The church gives me opportunities to have responsibilities as that empowers me as a member of the church.  
The church talks about people like me, people who face the issues I face, from the pulpit, particularly issues related to my disability in order to help me and those around me.  
The church embraces me as a regular member, including me in all the social activities of the church.  
The church socially softens to overlook many of the socially impacting aspects of my disability such as social skills, other behaviors over which I may not have control.

This overlooking is not an uncomfortable, don't know what to do kind of overlooking.  This reminds me of times where I have seen people with severe intellectual disabilities doing ridiculous things in church like literally pouring the entire sugar bowl into their coffee cup.  As they did so, those in the environment looked on helplessly.  Whereas if someone they knew, or one of their children for that matter did such a thing they would correct them.  Correct them, not reject them.  I have a friend who due to a hearing impairment, speaks in a very loud voice during the sermon at church.  If the person wants to say something to me, like "Can you help me get to the bathroom?" it is going to be said in a loud voice.  I could try as hard as I wanted to get the person to not speak in a loud voice but it will never happen.  So I as part of the environment soften, the person doesn't feel condemned, and social healing occurs.  In every way possible, I as a disabled person, am a regular member of the church, the social network of the church, the religious training of the church.  The church interacts with me in a manner that understands that my disability will impact my life, but they first see me for me.  Together we work through the challenges and inconveniences that my disability presents.

I believe the end result of such a relationship with a church is healing.  It is the healing of the social issues which are typically many of the biggest issues I may face as a result of having a disability.  I may or may not be healed physically, however, many of my social interactions are in fact healed.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Lessons from Dr. Marc Gold

Thanks to one of my students, Lilian, I rediscovered a video by one of my professional heroes, Dr. Marc Gold.  Dr. Gold was known for his "Try Another Way" approach to educating students with severe disabilities.  I have linked the video here .  This video was so powerful at the time it was made.  People with severe disabilities were just beginning to exit institutions, and Dr. Gold comes along and teaches them a complex assembly task to illustrate just how wrong people were about who people with intellectual disabilities were.

Or should I say are...

Gold approaches his students in the video with such high expectations, you would think the students would improve and excel through the sheer power of his will.  But actually it is combination if his high expectations and the early stages of training procedures which have been shown to be so powerful. 

But there is at least one aspect of the video which is so sad.  Dr. Gold was at the start of a boom in understanding the education of people with severe disabilities.  He saw tremendous potential which he was able to realize via the instructional techniques he developed.  He saw a future of people with intellectual disabilities having real jobs because they were being well trained.  He decried the "Mickey Mouse garbage" that passes for work in sheltered workshops, once again seeing a future where people were doing real work.  

So fast forward 30 years...

The strategies advocated by Dr. Gold and shown as being successful in educating these students, are not being sufficiently implemented in classrooms.   Students with severe disabilities are too often babysat, independent of their age.  Expectations are so low and students are meeting those expectations. See Great Expectations.

Dr. Marc Gold died at an early age, but his love, his respect, the dignity he brought for and to persons with intellectual disabilities continues as his legacy.  It is my prayer that his legacy will be rediscovered by those in education and that his high expectations will find their way into special education classrooms today.  I am afraid he would be disappointed to see where special education is today, 35 years after he pioneered strategies that truly work for students with severe to profound disabilities.


Perfection and imperfection

As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, Kathi and I have adopted the practice of bringing friends of ours with intellectual disabilities to the Introduction to Special Education class when we teach it. We will bring 3 or 4 friends, interview them briefly, and then just allow our students to have the chance to sit down with the folks, grab a bite to eat and talk about whatever they want. The guest speakers know that they are there to help students understand the lives of people with disabilities, and are prepared to answer any question. At the end of the evening, students write a brief statement of reflection on the evening. Kathi is going through these reflection statements (hundreds of them) and looking at common themes.

In one of the papers, a student wrote,
why else would something perfect create imperfection but to set an example for us to follow
This is the type of thing students will often write, it is interesting from a variety of perspectives, some correct but mostly it is wrong. It is a platitude about disability and who God is.

First, the assumption is that those of us who do not have some recognizable, some diagnosable disability are somehow perfect and that those who do have a disability are somehow imperfect. That is the type of perspective that too many people have about who they are. They see themselves too much as "God's gift" even though they are drowning in their own sin, or trapped in their own vices, or just self impressed people. People with these characteristics are the "perfect" ones and those with some form of disability are the "imperfect" ones. In reality, we are all "imperfect" ones.

Second, God did and does create imperfect people and we all have the opportunity to observe it, from the example of imperfection in each and all of us. Perhaps we who are intellectually at a particular level deny our imperfection and those who are below that number do not have the ability to deny their imperfection. Even if they do, we intelligent ones find it cute or refreshing. We, however, are in more ways than not, identical to those with measured disability though we deny our imperfection.

So, third, in that way, those with disabilities are an example to us of us.
People with disabilities are not an example of imperfection to the perfect. They are an example of imperfection to the imperfect who think themselves perfect.
In that way, they are the example in a refreshing, nonthreatening manner. They do not come to us in their imperfection and say, look at me, follow my example. They come to us in their imperfection, and as we grow to know them and love them and in many ways become like them, we say, "We are all the same." I am imperfect as you are imperfect. But you are also a creation in the Image of God as I am a creation in his image.

Fourth, people with disabilities are just people. This is the profound lesson that I have learned after 30+ years of interaction mostly with people with intellectual disabilities. They are not here to teach me lessons any more that I am here to teach them lessons. They are just people living their lives, and through the living of their lives I have the ability to benefit and learn from them in the same manner that I have the ability to benefit and learn from anyone else. However, to say that they are placed on the earth solely to help me learn something, is once again the result of my prideful self-impressed nature where I see the world revolving around me, and I see myself as perfect and they as something other. I have said elsewhere in this blog, people with disabilities are indispensable (ala 1 Corinthians 12:22), however, their lives have total value in themselves, not because of what they bring to me.
The notion of God creating imperfection is also very subjective. Is intellectual disability, for example, imperfection? It is certainly different. People with intellectual disability cannot do many of the things that people who do not have such a disability can. I am not one of those who denies that intellectual disability is disability. However, I am increasingly understanding intellectual disability more as difference. People can be successful in life with a wide range of ability levels. People also define success in a wide variety of ways. As a Christian, success is very antithetical to society's definition. Increasingly, I am understanding success from a Christian perspective, and I find that intellectual disability often becomes simply a difference relative to that success. It occurs to me that in his wisdom and his kindness, God sets the "success bar" at a level that is accessible to the majority of people, and simply says that to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48). With that in mind, one must reexamine the notion of imperfection. If I haven't been given the intellect or opportunity to be a university professor, for example, am I imperfect? If I haven't the ability to build a wall straight, am I imperfect? If I haven't the ability to hold a family together because I cannot set the emotional tone, am I imperfect? If I haven't the ablilty to love others like a person with intellectual disabilities will often do, am I imperfect? I can choose a standard for perfection that I will succeed at and then use that as my plumb line, or I can use the plumb line that God provides for success and allign myself with that. The notion of perfect and imperfect looks quite different when I allign myself with God's notion of success or perfect.
It is funny that when I do the interviews I mentioned at the beginning, I ask one friend if he has a disability. He typically says, "I don't think so." I then ask what would a person be like if he had a disability? My intellectually disabled friend doesn't talk about wheelchairs, or blindness, or inability to do something. He says "They can't get along with other people, swear a lot and get in fights." You could put a team of experts in disability in a room for a month and they probably would never come up with that criteria as the definition of disability. But I would have to say that my intellectually disabled friend's definition is probably much closer to what God would hold out as disability, as imperfection.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A new member of our group

This week at The Light and Power Company (our group that includes adults with various disabilities) we had a new attendee. He is a man, lets call him John, with profound intellectual and physical disabilities. John is largely non verbal, and doesn't move very much. I must tell you that I am delighted that through his father, John has decided to be a part of our group (I may be jumping the gun a bit as last week was his first week with us)! I introduced him to everyone as I typically do for anyone visiting, and asked him the question I typically ask visitors, "What do you like to do for fun?" I asked him and he didn't answer, however, his father told me that he enjoys music, so I was ready with a response for him. After introducing him, I instructed everyone to go over and introduce themselves to him and they did. John had his hand shook by perhaps 45 different people. I hope it wasn't too traumatic for him!

Over the past few days in thinking through John's presence in class, I am reminded about the story in Mark 2: 2-12 about the man lowered through the roof by his friends in order to meet Jesus, and I suppose to be healed. At least that is what I would think his friend's motivation was. Little did they know what the result of their assistance would be. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" So they were going for healing and what they got through THEIR faith was much better...forgiveness.

This passage puts a whole new light on the presence of my new friend with profound disabilities. What will God do in his life if I and those around him are faithful? Like the friends in the story, his father had the faith to bring him to church, and ultimately to bring him to our group. In many ways, we now have the responsibilty to bring him to God through our love and acceptance of him. I am also reminded of the verse in John 9:3-5, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that the Glory of God might be seen in his life, we must work the works of him who sent me." So his presence provides the opportunity within our group and wherever we are with him to have the Glory of God seen in his life. What an amazing opportunity.

I will be honest in telling you that I don't know quite how the principles described in the two stories will be fleshed out in our interactions with John, however, you can believe me that I will be watching to see how they will be worked out. I anticipate seeing him each week, and in between should the opportunity arise, and look forward to seeing how God will act in his life and ours.

One final note. A member of our group and a longtime friend, Arthur Seale, grabbed John's father as he was pushing him out in his wheelchair. Arthur said something to the effect, "Your son is welcome and wanted here. He will never be too noisy, he will never do anything that would cause him to no longer be a part of this group." I didn't say anything, but inwardly (and probably outwardly) I was beaming. Arthur nailed it. This is the message we desperately want the church to give to parents and persons with disabilities.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on Special Education reforms

So this week, I have been in several classrooms. Last week, I was with a brand new teacher who had been left alone, still in her first week of teaching, with 6 high school aged students with severe to profound intellectual and physical disabilities. She asked me to stay for a few extra minutes so she could take one of the girls to the restroom while I watched the others. I think this is a rare situation at this school, but it is unacceptable nonetheless.

In another school, I discussed the focus on state standards with several teachers of severely disabled teens. One teacher indicated that the curriculum is no longer focused upon teaching functional skills that the students will need to be adults who are functioning as independently as possible. Instead, everything is so geared to preparation for the CAPA exam that students are to take a district designed preparatory exam. I am confident that those who designed it thought they were being very innovative. The problem is that the state that mandated the test is so obviously wrong so the practice test is obviously wrong. For example, questions ask severely intellectually disabled persons about noble gasses and planetary orbits which is beyond rediculous. I will tell you that to me, the California Alternative Performance Assessment or CAPA is goofy.

An alternative means of measuring student progress may be what is needed. Something that makes teachers accountable, however, is less norm, standards based. The moderate servere population is just too heterogenous to have such standards. CAPA and other assessments are futile attempts to squeeze people who do not test well on standardized assessments into them. In reality what is needed is criterion referenced assessments, that chart a students growth against his current level of performance. What is needed is for teachers to develop criterion referenced training procedures and then implement them with a data based approach. Additionally, the kinds of things that are being assessed are all to often totally irrelevant to any aspect of the student's life.

But I believe these tests are also the result of poor teaching in far too many moderate to severe disability classrooms. It could be the State's effort to make teachers accountable. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited a classroom where the children of whatever age are simply being babysitted.

I have been in a high school classroom where the lights were off because it was nap time.

I have been in a classroom with 12 profoundly disabled students and a teacher and 1 aide.

I have been in classrooms where 20 minutes of the 6 hour instructional day was spent on IEP objectives.

I have been in classrooms where each student only has 1 or 2 IEP objectives.

I have been in classrooms where students are spending their instructional day in front of the television.

I have been in classrooms severely disabled students literally sit for hours with no interaction from anyone.

And so on and so on.

If I am the teacher's supervisor, these things stop immediately, to the degree I am able to get a teacher to change. But you don't have to look too far to see low expectations, activity based babysitting going on in public schools.

In two classrooms I was in over the past two weeks, there were also two students who were characterized as behavior problems. However, when I worked with the students, and then the teachers followed up with those same students, many of the behavior problems went away. I will never forget the words of one of my student teachers many years ago. She naively observed, "When I made the curriculum interesting, the behavior problems went away!" It is true for students of any age. I think I related how I was working with a young man with severe disabilities in a classroom, who followed me to the door, signing as I was leaving, "More work. More work." It broke my heart.

In another school, I watched as instructional aides took students out to the playground. I then entered a classroom. When I came back outside, I counted the aides. There were 12 on the playground, 9 of which were sitting around picnic tables in the shade, 2 who were kind of walking around monitoring things and another standing and watching. In other words, there was NO interaction between the aides and the students, none of the aides were participating in games or play with the students and all this was occurring in a large grassy playground area in the center of the school where anyone could see what was happening. This is a high priced private school for students with severe disabilities.

It is so sad.

Then I found out this week that one of the teachers that I have trained, one that I took particular interest in has become something of a slacker. I know that she knows what is right, what she should do in her classroom. But she has succombed to the pressure to be incompetent, to do little or nothing. It is funny, because to a significant degree, if you do what your district wants you to do as a moderate to severe disabiltiy teacher, you will not be doing what is in the best interests of your students. If you judge your performance on the evaluation by your principal, that may not be the correct standard as your principal may know nothing.

I am always appealing to my students.

You have a responsibility to expect the best from your students.

You have a responsibility to demonstrate how to interact with severely disabled people.

You must be accountable for the instruction that goes on in your classroom.

You cannot give in to the pressure to be marginal.

But they sometimes do anyway.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

They like Gospel music

I was going through some of the materials from the IASSID conference I attended in Cape Town South Africa and ran across notes from a session entitled, "Autism in Africa" by Dr. F. Njenga, a Kikuyu elder and psychiatrist. He was interesting and funny. However, one comment he made I thought was fun and stuck with me. In his research on autism he noted that, as a characteristic of people with autism, that they like "listening to Gospel music." Really! It was presented as a characteristic of the people with autism that he studied in his research.

Now I haven't the foggiest idea why the people he studied had this characteristic. Perhaps it was the only music they had access to, perhaps the only recorded music, or maybe there was something about the music that they particularly liked. Whatever it was, how cool that there is that input being made into the lives of these persons. I am reminded of the Isaiah 55:11 passage which says,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Today's New International Version)

As I say, I don't know why this is a characteristic, however, the fact that it is, is encouraging.

It has long been my desire that a characteristic of persons with intellectual disabilities would be that they are church attenders. That is my desire for a variety of reasons; for the benefit they would enjoy from attending church, for the benefit the church would enjoy by having such individuals in their midst.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Special education needs reform

I was visiting a local California high school today, and for some reason something I observed just set me off.  It was like the last straw.  An adult man, I assume he was an instructional assistant, was walking a high school student with severe disabilities by the arm, holding him as if he would run away, while he was talking on a cell phone.  I got really angry.  He wasn't talking to the boy, or interacting in any way.  The boy was NOT being treated as a human being but like a nonentity who he was just dragging around.  How can we possibly tolerate this?

But this type of thing is all too common in special education.  
Bear with me while I rant a bit...

People talk a good game, but you don't see it when the rubber hits the road.  Either they are evil or they are slackers.  I recognize that you have to choose your battles.  I literally take a half hour of every class I teach and talk about what is worth loosing your job over, because when you get into the system, it may come down to that if you are going to fight for justice in the public schools or other state agencies.  You know, in this political season, ask people who are dependent upon government services how things are going in terms of receiving those services.  I can tell you for them that it is largely a battle every step of the way.  And now we want to turn health care over to the government?  Ask people how it is to go through the government for adoption.  Ask people how it is to go through the government for disability services.  In nearly every case it is a nightmare.  Let me tell you a little about special ed, and think about whether you would want the government controlling any area of your life.

In special ed, it starts with IEPs, individual education programs which are largely incomprehensible.  They make no sense to anyone, but are signed by teachers, special education teachers, principals, school psychologists, speech therapists, and parents.  I don't fault the parents, but I do fault all the rest.  Recently I advocated for a friend's son at an IEP.  The teacher went through each of the objectives read and commented upon them.  I then spoke up and asked, "Can anyone here tell me what any of these objectives mean?"  The answer was that none of them could!  There wasn't even a fight.  I typically have teachers I am training bring IEPs of their students to class, ones that the inherited and they are largely, I would guess 70% of the objectives are nonsensical.  You would have no clear idea of what is to be taught, how it is to be evaluated, and whether or not the student achieved the objective.  Other objectives talk about what the teacher will do, like place a student in a stander for 20 minutes.  So the objective is basically met as soon as it is written.  There are typically not enough objectives written.  For many students with severe objectives, the objectives which should fill an instructional day are limited to 3 and are things like, will swallow, will not hit his neighbor, and will tolerate being touched.  That is so lame.  Teachers who write such objectives should be at best ashamed of themselves and at worst sued for malpractice.

Then we have state leaders who must be clueless, writing objectives and developing standard based assessments for students with severe disabilities.  So I have gone into classes where teachers are teaching severely disabled students, people who cannot read, or do basic mathematics, or perhaps even take care of their personal hygiene very well, about the orbits of the planets, or the atomic weight of gold.  I was literally in a class where one severely disabled student stood still while the others walked around him so they could learn about orbits.  Who are we fooling with such nonsense.  And the fact that such standards are being mandated by the state, in my case California, is nonsense.  But why are there such standards?  Partly it is a political battle, and neither democrats or republicans are going to get all students to grade level, the fact that they think they might tells you how foolish they are.  But it is also due to the fact that too many teachers are slackers.  There is great pressure in the public schools for teachers of students with severe disabilities to be simply baby sitters. It is interesting that in one of the reauthorizations of the IDEA act (individuals with disabilities education act) that the law states that if teachers are not writing goals about specified areas, they need to write why they are not writing goals in specified areas.  Doesn't that sound like rules to prevent someone from being a slacker? 

Then, school districts literally work, I have come to believe, to frustrate parents.  I know of one district in my area who basically has a person who goes to meeting to NOT give parents what they may want.  In another district, I was told by a program specialist that the state of the art classroom for autistic children is reserved only for children of parents who threaten to go to fair hearing.  Otherwise the students are given what the district admits by the practice is a substandard education.  Other districts do not provide translators unless the families request them, which takes a lot of guts if you do not speak the majority language, or provide translators who are instructional aides not paid to do so.  

Educational decisions are largely NOT made on pedagogy.  They are all too often based upon administrative convenience.  What is the cheapest way to go, how can we do what we always do without changing it, and so on.  I was in an IEP once where a child had worked his way out of being in a classroom for emotionally disturbed children.  At the close of the meeting, the administrator said, "We have no regular education placement, so he will have to stay in the emotionally disturbed class for 4 more months."  "Then, I will not sign the IEP" I said.  "This child has worked to get out of special ed, has been successful, but you are not going to move him because it is inconvenient for you? NO WAY. " And because I spoke up, he was place in a general ed class the following week.

Then there is little or no accountability within special education for the programs offered.  If a child doesn't learn, doesn't progress, the assumption is that it is his fault.  If we really expected that a child would improve, we would ensure that the instructional program we were offering was working.  That implies taking instructional data, which most teachers do not do.  At the same IEP that I mentioned above where I advocated for my friend's son, the district self righteously read through their program and would not be interrupted for questions.  When I was finally permitted to ask questions, I said, 
"Please read objective #1."  
Objective is read.
"Has any data been taken on this objective?"  
"So you really have no idea where the student is performing on this objective do you?"
No response.
"Please read objective #2."
Objective 2 read.
"Has any data been taken on this objective?"  
"So you really have no idea where the student is performing on this objective do you?"
No response.
"Please read objective #3."
Objective is read.
"Has any data been taken on this objective?"  
"So you really have no idea where the student is performing on this objective do you?"
No response.
I stopped after objective 4, but could have gone on.  There is little or no accountability for what we are doing in special education.  The IEP process has largely become a joke.

Another note on the IEP, they typically take an hour or so.  So we have to hurry.  That is, unless you have someone like myself there who knows the rules, and then the IEP can go on for as long as it takes to get a good result.  But without someone in the know, people are bullied into getting a result quickly.

Do you know that at the IEP the parent is the most powerful person in the room?  In another IEP, a speech pathologist who was very impressed with herself, was pushing the parents with her desire to teach sign language to their autistic son.  The parents said they didn't really want to teach sign language to their son.  She pushed again.  The parents less confidently replied again. She went on as if they hadn't said anything.  I finally spoke up.  "The parents have indicated that they do not want to have their son taught sign language.  We do not want to hear about sign language any more and your objective about sign language is dead."  That was the end of it because that is the level of power the parent has at the IEP.  Their only recourse is to take it to the next level, a fair hearing, and I can tell you that school districts do not want to do that.

Then I met with a teacher who was reprimanded because she didn't have the goals and objectives written into the form prior to the meeting.  You see, we are supposed to have goals in mind before the meeting, goals that we share with the family, but we tweak and finalize those goals at the meeting.  The idea is that parents have input and are not bowled over by a bunch of professionals.  But it doesn't happen that way.  Why? Probably because it takes too long to write the goals on the form at the meeting.

Then there is the revolving door of instructional assistants.  Do you know that one of the most critical aspects of an instructional program for students with severe disabilities is consistency?  Do you know that a characteristic of students with autism is that they need consistency?  But aides are moved through classrooms as if their presence or nonpresence, their skill level, whether or not they have already been trained by the teacher are all irrelevant.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

So the system needs reform.  I try to do the best I can with the teachers I train.  I tell them that there will be great pressure on them to not reflect the best practices that I train them in.  I tell them that they will be told that what they learn in university is all just ivory tower stuff and not reality.  I tell them there will be great pressure on them to be mediocre.  I tell them they have been trained to be experts and they need to act like the experts.  Administrators do not typically know much of anything about special education.  I know that because professors who are friends of mine who train those people tell me that it is so.  I know that school psychologists know little about how to actually educate students with severe disabilities.  I know that because people who train school psychologists have told me so, and I have been in enough IEP meetings with them to understand that fact.  I was told once by a school psychologist to not request counseling for a emotionally disturbed child because it would cost too much.  One of my students was the one told not to offer a translator for exclusively Spanish speaking parents unless they requested it.  

If you are an administrator or a school psychologist and you are offended by these remarks, then do something about it.  Change the perception.  Run IEP's as they are supposed to be run.  Don't do things for administrative convenience reasons.  Provide access to the best programs because it is the right thing to do pedagogically for the child.  Demand excellence from your special education teachers, particularly those working with students with severe disabilities.  Ask yourself whether IEP objectives make absolute sense, and ask parents if they make sense to them.  If teachers cannot be accountable for student performance because they have not been taking data, call them on it.  "I don't want to see you go into another IEP without graphs of data on every IEP objective, and if you don't understand an IEP objective, for goodness sake speak up!"

It breaks my heart when I visit the class of a teacher who has graduated from a program of which I was a part, and has been teaching for several years, and has become like the mold pressures them to become.  It takes a real backbone to be a good special education teacher as you are not only trying to get past the disabling condition to provide the best education for the student, you are fighting the district to get appropriate services and materials.  I can tell you of teachers of students with severe disabilities who were literally placed in their classroom with NOTHING! No materials whatsoever.  They were then expected to purchase the materials with their own resources, or to fight to get reimbursed the $300 dollars for the year that was allocated to the district.

When parents come to you and are pissed off, there is a reason why, and it is not simply because they are unreasonable parents.  Look at the system you are a part of from their perspective.  A light came on for me when I realized I was basically the DMV or the IRS to parents.  It totally changed my perception of them, and the way that I did business.

More to come.