Monday, September 17, 2012

Acid Rain and Life in the Coccoon

It’s hard to believe that we’re already into our third week back to school here in Room 10 – there seems to have been so much packed into the last few weeks...

For those that are following here in Ontario (or elsewhere in Canada), it will come as no surprise that the beginning of the school year has been marked with a very dark cloud due to the provincial government’s passing of illegal, unconstitutional, and just plain WRONG legislation, forcing unprecedented cuts to our teacher sick days and pay grids, as well as the removal of our right to strike or challenge the legislation through arbitration or Labour Board investigations. In addition, the bill gives unilateral power to the Minister of Education to make changes to our contracts and to conditions within schools, which is a scary thought indeed if you’ve seen how little she clearly knows about what is good for kids and schools.

That being said, this blog is NOT about politics.  I explain the above only to illustrate how the beginning of our year has been so far... uncertain, frustrating, heartbreaking and more than a touch of angry and bitter.  When I’m not cocooned in Room 10, I’m usually coaching the skipping team, directing the school musical or helping run special events at the school, so the actions of the government and the consequent battle between supporting my students and fighting for my legal and democratic rights is a particularly heart-wrenching one, and one that is currently taking up a lot of time, energy and emotion. It’s a crappy way to start September, a month that is usually tinged with the rosy glow of excitement and the anticipation of what is to come in a fresh new year...

In Room 10, however, little changes, partly out of necessity for the energy and flow of the room, and partly because, as this stage, much of what we do is exempt from scrutiny, since all our “special activities” are part of our programming.  And it really had been a magical couple of weeks in our little cocoon!
We’re down a student this year – sitting at five – two of my buddies moved on to middle school (*tear*) and out of my hands, onto bigger and better things, and my one new student is a beautiful little girl who seems to be fitting in quite nicely.  We’re still getting a feel for her, and she for us, but so far, routines are getting easier and we’ve been having some great success with introducing a couple of new signs at snacktime. I’m not usually one for edibles as reinforcers, but if they’re part of a kids’ lunch anyway, I’ll take the communication opportunity where I can get it!

My returning ones all seemed to have a great start, too.  My “intense” guy was on his meds all summer, and aside from the first few days, when he was clearly seriously jet-lagged and disoriented after spending the summer “back home”, he is managing quite well, and showing some awesome receptive language skills and participating (most days!) in group activities quite willingly.

My returning gal has had a rough start... I can’t help but feel that she is incredibly frustrated all the time, and we’ve been seeing a ton of hitting, kicking and throwing/destroying behaviour. She is painfully prompt-dependent, and all our attempts to wean her off seem to end in someone getting abused or something getting trashed.  Luckily, mom is on board and seeing it at home as well, so I’m hoping a meeting this week will help us get some strategies in place. On the upside, mom spent all summer working on toilet-training, and she’s been doing pretty well at school so far. We’ve had a couple of accidents that were clearly willful, but today, we were waiting in the office for her to get picked up early for a dentist appointment, and she actually requested to go to the washroom – she closed the book we were reading and took my hands to get up, and when I asked her “Do you need the washroom?”, she actually said “I want washroom please”!!! Seriously, I know it sounds minor, but it is HUGE! She has never indicated a need to go to us, and even at home, mom says she will only ask mom. AMAZING breakthrough, followed of course by tons of excitement, praise and a mini-oreo! (I know, again with the edibles...)

My other gal is only with us 2 days a week because of IBI, so we haven’t seen her much, but last Thursday, I tried her for the first time on an independent work station – numbered tasks (that she knows how to do), that she had to complete on her own in order and without support from any of us.  This was a huge goal last year and one that we never even managed to get set up, with all the crazy, let alone test out.  The result? BRILLIANT!  She worked on her own for half an hour, didn’t get up, roam around , get silly, nothing.  She just did the tasks – it was amazing! Seriously, I cried, I was that happy. I have super-high hopes for her progress this year, and this was definitely a good sign of things to some.

My littlest guy had a good summer too – his family finally got some respite care for him, and it turned out to be one of my awesome supply staff who got the position.  He got to go out and about every week with someone who already knew him, and hid family got some much-needed time at home with him happily otherwise occupied – win-win.  She actually brought him in to visit me the week before school started, and not only did he let me cut his nails without a single tear (they clearly hadn’t been cut all summer!), but he spent much of the half-hour visit hugging me around the waist – SO out of character from what we had seen in him last year, when he hated to be in close contact, for the most part.

So individually, good, but the best part is that together, all is STILL good.  The change in personalities in the room (both students and staff) has been a wonderful combination.  I have a fantastic new TA who loves the kids, believes in them and is up for anything, a student CYW who is quick on her feet and eager, and most day, we have 1-on-1, because of being down a kid. Seriously – this is not the same room as last year! We’ve been doing alphabet lessons every day... last week was all “A”, this week is “B”, etc... We walked to the grocery store last week, bought apples, and made applesauce (“A”), and everyone survived behaved themselves and even had a good time.  Next week, I’m gonna get crazy and try a lesson on the Smartboard!

All this to say that despite the gloom, stress, frustration and anger, life in Room 10 is pretty damn good.  Some days, it’s downright joyful, and despite the rough start otherwise, I’m still very much looking forward to the year ahead, and the discoveries and adventures it will bring to our little cocoon.  Maybe we’ll even end up with butterflies at the end... ;)