04 October 2010

It's the little things

I'm going to start this post with something unusual, a marginally related tangent.

I listen to a morning radio show called the Bob and Tom Show every morning on my way to work. During commercials of this adolescent non-sense show, I flip over to NPR's morning edition (because I like to keep it fair and balanced). Bob and Tom feature comedians every morning, and one of their favorites used to be Rodney Carrington. One of my favorite Rodney songs is called "Little Things that Piss me Off" (You can here it
here ).

So that's what today is all about, the little things.

Now, you might expect me to start ranting about how little things like kids not having paper, or pencils, (or brains) drives me nuts. I'm not going to. You might expect a complaint about limits on copies, or having no staples, or no auditorium. I'm not going to. No, instead, I'm going to take a shot at the things everybody wants me to do for "special" students, which they insist are "not that big a deal, these are really little things."

But before I do, a caveat. This isn't intended to be a shot at SPED or ELD or or or. Those teachers are often dear friends of mine, and I would never want to do their jobs. They work hard, do mountains of paperwork, and attempt to find a way to get their charges to pass, and their charges often respond with apathy at best, and outright anger and disrespect at worst.

In short, their job sucks more than mine.

Nevertheless, they, and administration have a nasty habit of asking us general education teachers to help their students. Now, I may have some philosophical issues with what students qualify for these aids, and what they do with them, but that's another post for another day. However, I understand my legal obligation to modify and accommodate for these students. I also understand that in many cases, an underlying disability really does make it difficult for the student to succeed. In my heart of hearts, I want students to succeed.

Here's the thing, though; I don't want to be told that these modifications and accommodations are "little things". And that's what the people who want them keep telling us. "Oh, these are actually little things, they don't take that long."

That may be true, when it's for one kid, on one assignment. But when it's taken in context, it is a big deal. More than being a big deal, it takes a tremendous amount of time, which is something I have precious little of (some of which is undoubtedly because I spend time doing this). Let's say I have 5 SPED kids, and one ELL kids in my load of 200 kids. It doesn't seem like it should take much to provide them with accommodations, but it does, if you want to do it properly. (and I'll be honest, I don't do this all that well. I'm really bad at this stuff)

The best picture is that of eating the dinosaur. One plate at a time, it seems reasonable. And if you had a lifetime to eat it, you could. But it rots faster than you eat. And if time wasn't such a major issue, these requests would be fine. But time is always the issue.

You see, rewriting tests, eliminating answers, rewriting questions, so that you really focus on the core knowledge, takes time. And effort. Now, you've got a conundrum. Because you're behind on grading, because actually checking to see if the answers are right takes time, and you're expected to modify assignments, so that you're just checking the core knowledge, and the more you assign, and the more practice young writers get, the more you have to grade. It's a cycle of doom.

I'm going to assume that you'd also like to go home and sleep, and perhaps remember what your family and house look like. And when you indulge in those selfish activities, the dinosaur sits there, taunting you and getting bigger the longer you take to eat it.

The response to this is to wonder why you don't just use the same modified assignments year after year. I suppose you could, but especially in the social sciences (where I teach), the class is often guided by interest, and different years cover different topics. And then, your nice modded test is gone.

Many SPED teachers help modify tests and assignments, but they have a dinosaur of their own to eat. They have IEPs to keep current, students to ride, parents to contact, and gen-ed teachers to harass. Additionally, as you get to the high school level, they might not have the content knowledge to know what the core ideas of a unit are. Oh, and you'd probably want to meet at some point to talk about it. But when?

I don't have a solution to this problem. I know that the law says that these kids get these services. But what about the kids who aren't designated "special"? That's who really gets hurt by this. The more time I spend getting together missing work, modifying assignments and review sheets, the less effective I can be with my regular ed kids.

Sure, additional staffing would help, but that costs money. And the taxpayers are loath to open up the old talkin' wallet in this economy.

In the mean time, I suppose we'll just keep doing those little things, poorly.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is a frustrating task, but your off hand pencil comment got me.

    When I was student teaching, I got so tired of my students not having pencils (and trying to use it as an excuse for why they couldn't/didn't do work or take notes). On my birthday, I handed each student a brightly decorated "Happy Birthday" pencil (from the dollar store of course) and wished each of them a happy birthday and told them that they couldn't ask me for pencils anymore. Some of the more resourceful students stashed those pencils away and loaned them out to their pencil-lacking colleagues later in the semester, usually with their own commentary about preparedness. I didn't have to open my mouth about the issue for the rest of the year. Also, I'm pretty sure none of the students ever figured out that I was giving them presents on my birthday.