It was his first day at our school. A kindergartner, he screamed and yelled constantly and made it impossible for other children to learn. He behaved aggressively toward the others. His tantrums and meltdowns were everyday occurrences. Though hearing impaired, he quite often refused to wear his hearing apparatus. His vocabulary was extremely limited though it appeared that he had some ability.
This was not the child we had expected. We had agreed to accept the young boy from another school. I taught his mother when she was young, and his brothers were attending our school. He was a special education child but his IEP indicated that his problem was primarily a hearing issue. It was immediately obvious that we had not been given all the information.
To obtain a more accurate assessment, we called his teacher at the preschool he attended last year. She admitted that yes he had been a very difficult child - very aggressive and violent, and with so many discipline problems that he had to be strapped into a chair to control his disruptive behavior. This was confirmed by his mother who had assumed we had been provided with all the information. She indicated that he had been adopted and had come to the family with many issues. His behavior at home was only marginally better than at school.
He was now ours for the year and we were not about to strap him into a chair. Though we are in financial difficulty, we hired an aid to be with him. We began the process of evaluating him. From my experience it was obvious that he was emotionally impaired. The consultants with whom we worked agreed that would be the likely diagnosis. This would increase our financial burden but there was little we could do. We had to do what was best for him, and what was best for the rest of the children in his class. But the process takes time and his outbursts were creating problems nor only in his class but also the surrounding classrooms. He was spending time in the office nearly every day.
His teacher was a quality instructor, caring, well organized, with good classroom management skills. Nonetheless, in early December I decided to switch classrooms. My thought was that when the final evaluation was done, we could show that we had exposed the youngster to different teaching styles. I didn't expect a radical change in behavior.
He missed his first day in the new classroom, which was typical. On Tuesday I came to his classroom and looked around for him. He was quietly working at a table with the teacher aid. He had behaved in the other classroom for small segments of time so I wasn't totally shocked but nonetheless I sensed a change in behavior. He didn't appear in the office that day or the next. On Thursday I went back to check on him. A psychologist had come from the ISD to do an evaluation. I sat down next him.
Our little problem child was sitting in the lap of the teacher as the class was answering questions about the story they had just read. He was enthralled, cooperating, and enjoying himself.
The psychologist had been warned what to expect and was surprised to see a youngster totally immersed in the classroom activities. "This isn't the same boy," I said. "It must be a twin."
What made the difference? This teacher is quite disorganized, a fact that she freely acknowledges and each year tries to correct. She has improved somewhat, but organization will never be her strong suit. If a child needs structure, her classroom is not the place. But despite the clutter, there is an unconditional love that comes through. Every child, even the most disruptive, feels that love and knows intuitively that in her classroom they will find a nurturing safe haven. When she speaks, every child feels that she is speaking directly to them. One of the social workers who visit our school calls her an angel and it is true.
"It's miracle," I told the psychologist. "It happens often at our school." It does indeed happen often, but I knew these are not miracles. They require work ... hard work. In this case the young boy is not the only child with behavioral issues. As caring and kind as this teacher is, with seemingly endless patience, on many days she is exhausted.
When I tell her that I am in awe of her abilities, or that the social worker referred to her as an angel, she just beams. A small bit of recognition for what she does is all that she needs. This is what she and the other members of our staff do. They change lives. They produce these miracles. Like quality athletes, the teachers at our school make excellence seem effortless.
As a reward for their dedication, their pay and benefits are being cut, the result of the failed policies of the Bush administration and our esteemed corporate leaders. That's why I have nothing but contempt for the idea that we should run our schools like a business.
But worse than the financial problem is that teachers are demeaned and ridiculed by politicians, both Democtratic and Republican. These pandering politicos strive to outdo each other in in the vitriol directed at educators.
It was bad enough when it came from the Bushistas. It was expected, just as it is from Governor Snyder here in Michigan. When the neo-liberal policies such as privatization, merit pay, anti-unionism are pursued by the Obama administration in Washington or the Granholm administration in Michigan, it is very disheartening.
I see one of my duties as an administrator is to maintain a positive attitude on the staff. Therefore I am resisting the Duncanization of education, which attempts to inflict on the nation the same policies that failed in Chicago. My teachers will know that at our school test scores will not be synonymous with student achievement. They will know that the small and large miracles they create every day are more important than any test score. They will know that their efforts are valued and appreciated.
Thus with our little kindergartener, if he does well on tests that will be fine; but it will not be the gauge by which we measure the success of our efforts.