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

Monday, April 26, 2010

Good intentions and laziness

In my role as a special ed professor, I am often visiting classrooms where student teachers work under a "master" teacher in order to learn how to be a teacher through direct practice. Typically these classrooms are a mixed bag. There are some teachers who truly are masters at what they do. I look forward to visiting those classrooms because I can always learn something new from them. Although I teach teachers how to work with children with moderate to severe disabilities, my actual classroom teaching experience is 20 years old. So to visit the class of an excellent teacher who has been teaching for 20 years is a treat for me!

But then, there are those teachers who for whatever reason are doing little or nothing. It is like they got a credential from a school and then just stopped doing anything that reflects best practices. It breaks my heart when I see students in these kinds of classes, and breaks my heart even more when teachers that I have trained have regressed to this level. This semester has been particularly disheartening on both of these levels.

On visiting one of my student teachers, the "master" teacher literally had 2 and 1/2 hours of free time built into the schedule. I can't believe that the school district would tolerate such a thing, but perhaps that tells you what they think about students with severe disabilities. The time spent "working" was filled with doing endless puzzles, or sitting in a circle singing songs, which could be a good instructional activity if the students had the intellectual capability to learn from the songs but unfortunately they didn't. Other activities are totally non functional for the students. Yet the one teacher had a bulletin board by her desk covered with recognitions/awards from the district, and the other teacher I think had good intentions, liked his students, but was a total slacker and was probably being paid like 50K a year to be a baby sitter.

I always warn my teachers that if I am an advocate for a parent and am sitting across the table from them at an IEP, and they are not doing what they should be doing, I will go after them.

But it is when one of my students becomes a babysitter that I really get bummed out. That also happened this semester. One of my student teachers was in this classroom and was literally unable to do the best practices that she was required to do because the teacher was not practicing them. She was frustrated with the placement as was I. But I know that that "master" teacher knows what to do, but must be just too freaking lazy to do what she should. When asked about monitoring student progress, the "master" teacher gave the typical stupid answer that she "knows where each student is." SO if you have a class of 15 students and each one has say 8 objectives, then you are keeping the data on 120 objectives in your head. You see this is simply laziness. But the teacher is friendly and upbeat, and has good intentions so she will get by being nothing more than a babysitter when she should be condemned for being a slacker.

Switching to issues of religious education of persons with disabilities, I remember providing a training on disability ministry to a group of ministry leaders. One woman in the group became very upset, saying "You are too critical! You are being unkind!" Well, if I walked into your ministry at your church, I would celebrate that fact that you have a ministry, in the same manner that I would celebrate that students with severe disabilities have access to a public school education. I don't walk into random ministries or classrooms and criticize what is happening there. However, when I am invited as an evaluator in order to assist in improving things, or I am designated to train people in best practices, good intentions are important, however, I am more interested in best practices. For my own children, I would have rather had a teacher who was grumpy toward them but taught them how to read, or how to write so that when they left the setting they knew how to read or write than to have them in some setting where the teacher had good intentions, but nothing educationally was going on because that teacher didn't care enough to learn about and develop the best practices. Also when confronted with best practices or trained in best practices, they should be embraced, not rejected because they are too hard.

I am happy for good intentions, but I would rather have best practices. Sure, start something just to get it going, but ultimately find out what there is to know about how to best do what you are doing. If you don't care to find out, or find out what you should do and then don't do it, you should expect a certain set of outcomes. As I look at students with moderate/severe disabilities leaving schools with little or no skills, I can only assume that nothing was taught. Bad teachers rely on their perception that nothing can be taught. But I can only assume that if children are in school, someone things they can learn skills. So if they have no skills, then either they were not taught, or the basic assumption that they can learn skills is flawed. The truth is they were not taught!