Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Should a free education be unconditional?

By on September 6, 2008

So you know when you get your group of kids on the first day, there are those who immediately set off your alarms?  Well, that definitely happened to me on my first day.

I have a student who clearly needs help.  His peers are weary of him already and his confrontational style seems not as intentional as inherent.  The startling comments and “seething anger”, as his last year’s teacher put it only three weeks into the school year, seem uncontrollable.  This same teacher recorded that he asked if her windows were bullet proof.  I wasn’t, of course, given this information up front.  I had to seek it out. 

His first quickwrite of this year centered on cussing out his last teachers and cranking them nightly on the phone.  His pride in his violent video games is apparent.  

Like children with Asperger’s (of which he has not been tested to date), he seems unaware of cues or the goings on around him: calling out with inappropriate comments, walking in front of me while I talk to the class, handing me items while I’m in the middle of instruction.  Annoying, yes, but harmless.  

He also will not make eye contact (could be cultural, but this seems different than others of his ethnicity and nationality) and walks robotically, stiffly, without movement in his shoulders.  Strangely enough, and I’m clearly not a diagnostician (though I play one on TV), the few students in my career who have had symptoms like this seem to also come with apparent sinus problems.  His eyes are puffy with nasal issues, he is sniffy, and I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection.

So I approached the counselors who know me as a real student advocate and as a teacher with a somewhat effective antenna.  I don’t send kids to the office.  I handle my own discipline issues, which are few.  So when I come in, they listen.  The afternoon after the first day of school I walked in and said, “So, what’s up with X?”  They pretty much flopped the file onto the desk, a file the size of our Language of Literature book.

     “We’ve been at this all last year,” one counselor said.

     “He’s a pretty disturbed kid,” another said.

     At this time another counselor walked by and, overhearing our conversation, poked his head in and added, “Hey, let me guess, we’re talking about X?”  Yes, unfortunately, we were.

So it turns out that by the end of the year, our school psychologist didn’t feel that X was in need of anything in particular.  Mom had been called in after numerous pictures and writing samples had been compiled by the teachers from 6th grade.  

From what I can gather, Mom is concerned about the stigma of a child in counseling (again, quite cultural), so while we insisted it was necessary, she refused to get him help.  Instead, she claimed that X merely has a great “imagination.”  

So my questions to my readers are these: Should a free education be unconditional?  In other words, if a child is showing early signs of being a threat to himself, to others, or simply in serious need of help that cannot be provided in a mainstream setting, should there not be regulations that designate that a parent seek help for that child as a condition of their free education?  

If we are the child experts, why is there no power to help that child?  Where is our leverage?

And, in the extreme case, is there not a law somewhere, or at least some rhetoric, that a teacher can employ and quote in a meeting, that pushes the issue farther than just our typical shrug of “the parent has all the power?” 

Last week, Barack Obama insisted that parents be accountable as well as the schools.  But how?  Joanne Jacobs posted the question last week regarding Obama’s important question sans answer.  What can be put into place to ensure that they will be?  And do we not owe as much to those students who are in the classrooms with a student like X?

I want to help this kid.  But clearly we cannot be unconditional in our tolerance for parents who will not unconditionally help their own child.

Any advice readers? 

 

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Comments

  1. David Cohen
    September 8, 2008

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    Two responses –

    1. Be aggressive about this now. Compare your present situation with what you learned about the past and stick to your guns. It’s not comfortable, but it’s important to be able to say to a parent that these are serious and ongoing concerns and they’re not improving. If they’re not improving, then intervention is almost obligatory. You’re well within reason in maintaining standards for your classroom. He’s not meeting them. What will be done about it? As long as he doesn’t meet those reasonable standards, then the response about what to do cannot, ethically, be “nothing.” Push back – but make it clear that it’s out of concern for helping the student, not because you don’t like him. That’s why the beginning of the year is optimal – it doesn’t look like you have run out of patience or like it’s festered and become personal. You’re just the new teacher who’s reacting to a student’s observed needs.

    2. I believe the legal principle is “free and appropriate” education. (Not sure if that’s CA or fed. language). By this principle, we have the obligation to provide special education services in public schools, and the state also pays for the educational placement of many children in settings other than regular, public schools, when the students’ needs can’t be accommodated otherwise. The student placement is, I believe, guided by the idea that students should be in the “least restrictive” placement possible, but it must be appropriate.

    Relating back to your initial question then, I’d say that yes, it should be unconditional to provide free education, but the placement issue is not so cut and dry.

  2. Rho
    September 10, 2008

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    Well, after 3 weeks of two brothers who came to us from an SBH unit; and who could only “tolerate” half a day there-went home for the afternoon every day–I say get him out of your room. I am finding out more each day how frightened and tense these kids make all of the other kids. I am not willing to sacrifice 98 freshmen to “save” two 17 year “freshmen” who have caused huge problems wherever they go. No father and a mother who doesn’t get them the medication they are supposed to take.
    One of them, this morning, when told to get his head off the desk, to get his hoodie off his head(after being told at least 3 times daily to do so), and then to get his books out of his locker outside my room (he had planned to sleep all period)told (screamed at) me to “shut up you fu***** bitch. Go to hell.”
    By great good luck, the principal was right down the hall and I passed it off to him. I handle discipline, too, but not that kind of language! Not at the high school level; not fair to all the rest of my kiddos.
    They were clearly relieved when he was taken out of the room by the principal. They thought it was awful; we proceeded to have a great class as I did all that I could to lift their spirits. They are afraid of him and his brother and they scare me too. I can picture myself at the end of a pistol or knife with this kid- way past normal mouthy kid stuff.
    Our principal is calling a meeting because they are doing this to everyone. Our usually laid-back SS teacher is even spooked by them and it takes a lot to rattle him. Principal believes that our students are in danger from these two and is trying to get them back into the severe behavior units. They need more help than we can give them in our little rural school.

  3. ms_teacher
    September 10, 2008

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    I could not agree with you more. I had a student last year who was clearly emotionally unstable. His mom knew this and had known for years, but was unwilling to do anything. This was severely effecting his education and when he was in the classroom also effecting the education of his classmates. Due to severe budget cuts, we do not have any counseling staff and only have school psychiatrist who is at our school site 2 times a week. Our only option was to send him to “anger management” which had nothing to do with his particular issue.

  4. tweenteacher
    September 11, 2008

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    Thanks for your comments. It seems like you and your school are on top of the problem and moving ahead. Just remember to keep your incident log of comments and actions to create a paper trail should the mom need evidence of the problem. Especially include any info you get from the brothers about home life. I email the counselors and cc the principal after each incident as my paper trail file.
    Take care, keep me informed, and good luck with your classroom environment.
    -Heather
    aka Tweenteacher

  5. tweenteacher
    September 11, 2008

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    I really appreciate your situation. I once worked at a district alternative school that kept its numbers so low that they didn’t have to provide legally certain elements to help the students. Needless to say, our numbers, however, went up around testing time in the spring. There were no special ed services, no ELD textbooks or support, and we shared a school psychologist with the other schools in the district. Every time I needed to be out (flu, professional development, etc…) hell would break loose in the classroom and there were even some injuries. It didn’t happen on my watch because I had ditched the curriculum to work on classroom environment, but whenever I was gone, the &*^% really hit the fan. It’s an immense pressure on a teacher to be the sole provider of stability and professionalism for their students. We all need support. The most important support should come from the home, but when it doesn’t, the schools needs to be prepared to be on deck.
    Thanks for your comments. Please feel to check in. I’ll update my website about the student as it progresses.
    Take care,
    Heather
    aka Tweenteacher

  6. Pat
    September 13, 2008

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    I agree with Rho that a student deserves a free and appropriate education. It doesn’t seem like this is the appropriate setting for him. I would ask that he be retested. By keeping him in the mainstream, the school is not doing what is in the best interest of this student or the other students in the school. If your school psychologist is resistant, I would speak to the special ed director and show all the documentation. I look forward to the updates.

  7. tweenteacher
    September 13, 2008

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    Thanks for your advice. I agree that as a teacher I need to be proactive for him as well as for my other students. Believe me, I come out swinging. I will be moving forward for this kid and a resistant school psychologist isn’t going to stop me. And comments such as yours really help arm me with support, and I thank you again. It is just a shame that it feels like those meant to support a child aren’t all on the same team.
    I will let you know as things progress.
    Thanks again,
    Heather

  8. Edgar
    September 18, 2008

    Leave a Reply

    Hello. My name is Edgar and I’m an editor at OpposingViews.com, the debate website. Since we both cover education issues, I thought I’d drop you a note. I would’ve e-mailed you but I couldn’t find an address.
    See, we’re currently having a discussion about whether or not homeschooled kids are at a disadvantage. You can see it here:
    http://www.opposingviews.com/questions/are-homeschooled-kids-at-a-disadvantage
    Although vetted experts are the ones doing the debating, anyone can contribute by choosing a side and posting comments about the experts’ arguments.
    Check it out and, if you have the time, let me know what you think at eacosta@opposingviews.com
    Thanks!

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