Public School Blues

wrong, wrong, wrong…

It’s all so wrong! The public school system has many faults. Sadly, it’s true. The thing is… it’s not the teachers. It’s not even the administrators. And it’s definitely NOT the students. Perhaps… the parents? Just kidding ;). I don’t believe the fault lies within individual professionals, not even within collective groups of professionals. It’s the system. Years of misguided policy, piece-meal iniatives, and misapropriated funds.

As a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we are supposed to provide a free and appropriate education to all students. Albeit free, it’s hardly appropriate for a growing number of primary school students. To label or not to label? That is the question!

Many school districts are careful about not labeling students as having learning disabilities during the early years of the their education. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Of course it does! However, if we don’t label those children and they don’t receive special education services so that they CAN learn to read, write and develop early numeracy, then what happens?

The general education teacher is supposed to differentiate his/her instruction to accomodate for all of his/her student needs. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, to a point. As a special education teacher myself, I can say that I’ve worked with some really great teachers. Teachers who do care. Teachers who have a high level of professionalism and who do everything they can to meet the needs of their students. The problem is that there are just too many students for them to do it well when they have a couple who just don’t seem to respond to any of their interventions.

So those 2-3 get “left behind.” Not intentionally. If they are lucky, they qualify for English as a Second Language (ESOL) services or maybe the reading specialist will read with them and they get a pull-out session once or twice a week. But that’s not going to cut it for these kids. So as the year comes to an end, their classroom teacher has to decide whether or not to retain them or to push them up to the next grade without having met the grade level benchmark.

This happens in kindergarten, and then again in first grade, and maybe again in second, until… the pressure of the high stakes test scores finally create some urgency and these kids all get tested and begin to receive services in the hopes that the third grade special education teacher can teach them all to read, write, and do math well enough to receive a passing score on the third grade exams.

If that’s really happening, “Why?” you ask, “are we holding out on testing for special education?” The answer to that is tricky. Age does play a role. Students between the ages of 5 and 8 respond to stress in very different ways. Some completely shut down, enough to convince an entire child study team over the course of months that he/she was mentally retarded! Some act out and might seem bipolar, even to the trained eye. Others respond more cooly to stress and are able to function fairly well. So the hesitancy to label is there for good reason. Furthermore, I’ve been told that it’s very easy to test “too high” for special education in kindergarten and first grade. And third, I’m sure that funding has something to do with it too… even though it doesn’t factor directly into the round table discussions at the local school level.   

What we are dealing with is a lack of early intervention for any student in need. Not just kids in Title 1 schools or who are limited English Proficient (LEP).

We shouldn’t simply push students on to the next grade without mastering basic competancies and we should equip/support general education teachers with intervention programs and staff!!!

Yes, these are costly propositions but there are ways to save money… I’ll save that for a post at a later date.


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Confessions from an “Obamakin”

Technically, I am an “Obamakin”, a Republican supporting the Obama-Biden ticket. Was I ever really a Republican? Perhaps…

I grew up in suburban/rural Pennsylvania just outside of Erie. Pennsylvania is typically a blue state due to our two largest cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. However, the rural areas are as red as they are in much of the country. Raised by evangelical Christians, I was highly influenced by hot button issues such as gay marriage and abortion. In those times I truly believed in voting a “Godly” person into leadership so that God would “bless” our nation. That was before I learned that  that theology doesn’t hold up in the New Testament and that Jesus actually taught the opposite.

Matt 16:24-25: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

That doesn’t sound like the easy road, does it?

As I watch this last presidential debate, I am perplexed and saddened when I think about the perceptions my fellow rural citizens may have about the candidates and the issues and I am deeply troubled by some of their comments.

Uncle Joe, a savy small business owner, buys only American cars because he believes that we should support American industry. In the same breath he decries big government and spews confidence in the free market economy. Confused? I am. If you believe in the free market economy, buy the best car for the best value and allow the free market to send a message to the American auto industry: “Make better cars!”

Cousin Sue studies finance at Penn State University. In defending the GOP, she asked me if I would really vote for someone with the middle name “Hussein” ? She encourages me to vote based on the candidate’s plan for our country and then attacks Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright and Ayers.

Cousin Ann says that it seems “unwise to be allowing this man into power at this crucial point in time in our country. It all seems a little shady.” What does she mean by “this man” and the term “shady”?  

Another family member actually visited the Assembly of God church in Wasilla, Alaska. Sarah Palin’s old church. What is curious to me is the fact that Palin’s unwed daughter’s pregnancy doesn’t seem to be an issue. But Obama’s “dysfunctional” family is.

McCain is not such a bad guy. He is a hero and a patriot. He has taken a stand against his own party in the past. There was a time when I was an undecided voter. There was a window in which John McCain could have snagged my vote. It closed quickly and tightly. Although I can’t put my finger on the defining moment. Was it when he said the fundamentals of the economy were strong or when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate?

I actually think that it was before that. I must admit that I am swept away by Obama’s retoric. But what is truly captivating is not the eloquence in the delivery but the combination of his demeanor and the actual content. He is a great orator. However, that would never have been enough, not even to win the democratic nomination as Hillary so fervently believed. What reaches me is his ability to remain calm and even keeled in the midst of the chaos of our time (and of the Republican campaign). The content of his answers in the debates make sense to me. 

Back to my initial question. Was I ever a Republican? The answer doesn’t matter today. What matters is how I see myself now.

I am for (in no partiular order):

  • stricter gun control
  • gay/lesbian union and legal rights equivalent to marriage
  • more government regulation on Wall Street
  • more financial support for improving public education
  • mandatory health care for children
  • affordable health care for all citizens
  • the pursuit of alternative energies
  • dialoging with our national enemies (Who was it that said we should keep our friends close and our enemies closer?)

Do I sound like a Republican or a Democrat? It’s a shame that we only have two parties… Honestly, my party affiliation doesn’t concern me if I can stand behind a candidate who I believe is straight with me and who represents me. I have found that candidate.

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Menopausal symptoms

I found out what is wrong with me…


Apparently, since I have been nursing, my estrogen levels have remained significantly low (as they should) mimicking a menopausal state. Even my “fuzzy thinking” can be explained by the lack of this hormone. Who knew! Probably every woman over 50…

So I will have these symptoms until I wean. But I feel much better knowing that I don’t have a brain tumor or hypothyoidism and that I’ll be back to “normal” as soon as I stop nursing.

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Working Mom

The challenges of being a working mom are becoming so clear and tangible!

We have been in school for 16 days. I have already missed 4. That’s a whopping 25%! Thank God I co-teach so that those days I was gone were covered by a more than competent general education teacher with whom the kids are familiar.

Why have I missed 4 days? My son was sick… TWICE. The first time he had a virus complete with fever. The second time was much worse. He had a double ear infection and was working on cutting 4 teeth. I’ve never seen him so unhappy in my life. Poor thing was in so much pain and he just couldn’t shake the fever until the antibiotics kicked in. I had taken him to the doctor on Monday. His ears were clear. But on Thursday, the doctor said that he probably had had the ear infection for several days. So it developed just after the first visit. 😦 I’ll have to better time our next doctor’s visit.

The good news is that he is better… except for a worsening diaper rash due to the diarrhea caused by the antibiotic. He’s currently sleeping on his stomach with his bottom exposed to the air and the diaper under his pee pee. I hope I don’t regret this!

The other difficulty is preparing for work at night or in the morning. Last night it seemed as if I couldn’t be left alone so that I could get some instructional planning done. I already feel like my needs come dead last in the family list of priorities. I’m sure many women/mothers have felt this… Why? Why does it have to be this way? Then I feel like b@#* for defending my own agenda.

This morning was nearly impossible. I was up at 6:20 am. The following is a list of my accomplishments. I had hoped to leave somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30 am. No such luck…

1. change baby’s diaper

2. dress baby

3. nurse baby

4. prepare baby’s daycare bag with labeled bottles and daily info form (and feed fish)

5. pump

5. prepare pumping bag

6. feed baby solids because he’s fussing and seems to be hungry early today

7. eat breakfast while feeding baby

8. give baby antibiotic (which he hates)

9. prepare cooler for pumped breastmilk

10. pack lunch

11. pack school materials and laptop

12. shower

13. dress, make-up, hair, etc.

14. pack water bottle and coffee

15. pack car

16. leave! (7:45am)

Since I fed the baby solids (I usually don’t), my husband asked if I put that on the form. I didn’t. I explained that I didn’t because I had filled the form out before I realized that he wanted to eat. As I’m headed out the door, he yells downstairs… asking if I’ve changed the form… I reply nastily, “NO!” He asks me to change it. I reply that I’m not going to. In my mind that is one additional thing that he can do this morning since he drops our son off at daycare. And if he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. They’ll try to feed him at daycare, he won’t eat and they’ll save his food or throw it out. Perhaps we loose $0.75 in the process. Personally, those cents weren’t worth my sanity.

I arrive to work grumpy and out of sorts…

At the end of the day, I decided to take some “me” time. So I headed home, took a nap for 45 minutes, jogged around the block for 25 minutes and THEN went to pick up my son. I was in a much better mood and able to deal with the impending diaper rash I would discover later. Did I mention that I’ve been up at least 4 times a night these days as well???? Being sick wreaked havoc on Gabe’s sleep schedule. Plus, he’s teething and now with the DIAPER RASH… Well you can imagine. I feel like I can’t expect much. Tonight we started with Motrin. I’m hoping that will ease some of the discomfort and help him AND I get some much needed zzz’s.

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Gabe started crawling Friday for the first time! I got him home, immediately set him on the floor and enticed him by tapping playfully on a piece of paper. Gabe promptly got up on all fours, rocked back and forth, and began to make his way toward me. It wasn’t a fluid movement but a choppy form of forward locomotion that utilized several strategies for propulsion. I was probably about 6-7 feet away. In a matter of seconds he arrived, snatched the paper and proceeded to crumple it.

Gabe started with the crab crawl a couple of weeks ago. This is when the baby pushes with his arms instead of pulls and thus moves backwards. He enjoyed that type of crawl for about a day before he realized it wasn’t moving him any closer to the interesting things in front of him.

Then I observed him using the leapfrog crawl from time to time which involves the baby being on all fours and thrusting forward with both knees. During this time he also learned to push his whole body into a push-up position lifting his knees completely off of the floor. This impressed me as it’s a difficult position for me to perform! His strength and balance seems to be pretty good at this point despite his chubby belly!

Now at 7.5 months, his crawling consists of a combination of the leapfrog crawl and traditional crawling. He moves forward in the classic manner 2-3 times and then does a leapfrog and ends up on his belly on the floor. Then he gets up on all fours again and starts the process all over again. He seems to enjoy moving toward an interesting object.

How long will it be before he becomes very proficient at crawling? How long before he’s fast? Should I finish baby proofing immediately? Does this mean he’s ready to try quick dissolving finger foods like cheerios? I often see that the progression of food is linked to developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling, etc.

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I am so tired! I’m trying to think of a topic to write about today and my mind hops and skips from one to another: Sarah Palin, baby not sleeping, chronic fatigue, teaching first grade, Obama, yoga, my physical health, co-teaching, juggling work and home… The list goes on.

Tonight I should have gone to bed at 7:15 when my son went down. But alas, here I am at 9:00 typing away. I’ve snacked entirely too much and haven’t done any exercise of any sort which makes me feel even worse.

Last night, Gabe was up almost every hour crying. I think I figured out at like 4 am that he was just cold. Before that I gave him the paci and attempted to soothe him in various ways. He didn’t seem hungry at all so I didn’t feed him until 4’ish. Then we ended up sleeping in the full bed in his room for the remainder of the night, which wasn’t that long! I hope that tonight is better!

It’s tough to be coherent with first graders on such little sleep. For those of you who are curious, I will write about school at some point. I just can’t find it in me right now to write about much of anything…

Enough is enough! I’m headed to bed.

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Woman, mother, VP candidate

Although Sarah Palin is a woman and a mother, she has not swayed my vote. First, I firmly believe in voting for the presidential candidate and not the VP. Second, she has very little experience and has an ethics committee examining her. I’m not going to outline all of the philosophical differences we have when it comes to government here.

Do I think it’s exciting that we have people representing minority groups running for president and vice-president, OF COURSE! However, we should vote on the issues. Our future is too important not to. And even though both parties will inevitably play the race/gender cards in hopes of garnering more votes, neither minority group wants to be patronized in this manner. As a woman and a mother, I want someone to be elected on merit!

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