I had made progress with my new behavior dyscontrol (BD) admissions: Ty, Lilla, and Greg all age 12. They along with my regulars, Ted, Ashley, Ronald, Shane, Stanley and Roy became rascal-like creating a song for our educational assistant, Shawna, who was, sadly, leaving to return to college. Using a variation of "A Big Fat Walleye" by Bret Hesta. The original goes something like this:
Early in the morning I load up the canoe.
Only one thing is gonna break these blues.
I want a Big Fat Wal-leye (Oooo-ooo).
I want a Big Fat Wal-leye (Oooo-ooo) and so on.
No professional days, on the calendar, so we impishly planned a celebration involving her weakness. While she was upstairs on trumped up errands we used mischievous Stanley's story. He had told of the day in science class that Shawna had jumped straight off the floor when a centipede escaped from our soil terrarium. He mimed the pertinent visual story about how she appeared to levitate in the air. His embellished story went something like this.
"She jumped and hung in the air with her feet off the floor. Her feet pointed straight ahead. She had great hang time in the air. None of us had seen anything like that before. We all rolled on the floor in laughter."
Shawna's fear, weaknesses in all of us revved up the creative juices, also, in all of us...especially when it''s not about us. And under pressure of Shawna's imminent return, an impish behavior likened to their diagnosis-es flowed, only, flowing in a healthy direction.
Following is the tasty, picturesque, harmonious, impromptu serenade the group composed. Each used any instrument of choice. Stanley carried the tune on the recorder with the rest of the students on back up with wood blocks, castanets, small drum, bongos, and rasp.
Shawna's Song: A Big Fat Worm
Shawna ate a big fat worm.
Shawna ate a big fat worm,
She ate a striped one a
And she's dying for another
Naaah, yeah, we did not end Shawna's honors or embarrassing ceremony there. We demanded that she eat and share her candy gummy worms that were placed in a clear plastic apple, and that she should be very professional about it:)
Having built "fear" immunity through song and laughter, the students left the classroom with worms hanging out of their mouths. We had enjoyed our rascality.
The stigmatized crainiofacial anomalies students, happily (?), gradually began to internalized that they had to accept being less attractive to society, but that they could and would find friends. Especially, while building our Gingerbread houses for the holidays. (These diverse kids from multiple cultures had no preconceived architectural designs for ginger, correction, graham cracker houses.) We talked about how, if they asked for help, they could build their own future. Math lessons for kindergarten through fifth grade involved calculating the number of crackers all the way to perimeters, areas and windows. The calculations for how many ounces of frosting were needed to keep their adobes, pyramids, cabins, et cectra entertained us the most. Clean up had everyone volunteering. Licking up the cemented errors on the construction site. Friendships formed as they share building techniques.
I summarized that they had practiced, if only for the moment, how to share our precious gifts of attention, tolerance and being better at, but not better than, others. You do not have to look good to feel good. To keep the good feelings, the instructions for Winter Break included contemplating and remembering the feelings each time that they looked at their Gingerbread house. They, too, could 'let sugar plums dance in their heads.' Some "Candy Thoughts" to dance in their heads, that I continued using, came from Mrs. H. Her bagged candy creative message:
My joyful response in my heart, when my nine year old son saw the newspaper notice for The Frozen Goose Run, a triple event including a run, cross country snow shoe , and cross country ski. I was on the phone speaking to the avid cross country nurse setting up a team. I volunteered to do both, but my recently taught snow shoer interrupted my conversation with, "I can do that!" in his 'glad to be me' spirit. I cautiously responded to the young nurse, "We'll do it. Just to be clear, my son is nine years old.
The day of the race; windchill -42, snow and high winds blowing across Willow Creek Golf course. I expected the race to be called off. Not. My son was the youngest participant (The entry form, 12-year-old and up, but 19 was the closest to him in competition). Many people pulled out and never finished. After my start off run, he was second in the relay with the starting gate on the other side of the club house. I couldn't see him. Conditions had worsened on my run. I took off on the course searching. Snow shoers were loosing their way due to low visibility. When, to my emotional relief, I spied him, and tried to convince him that he could quit. He refused saying that I can, because I do it all the time, Mom. (How much time for a nine year old?) We had prepared - but, but, but -42 degrees Fahrenheit. We all finished, and the race personnel wished that they had had a reward for him. The spirit of the day was enough! Glad and happy.
He has 'done' ever since! (Navy, Special Forces right out of high school.)
My children in the psych unit see two faces of themselves. The past and the future like Janus, the Greek God. At first first many see themselves as angry undeserving beings. Their souls lost. But I resolved that they would gradually see the "glad to be me" spirit in their sad faces, not orphan souls. I'm labeling. In medicine labels are well intended, even needed, building blocks to reach diagnoses. Granted, if overused they may become stumbling blocks consuming time labeling that could be spent on the cure. I resolved to temper the labeling habit.
My perseverance was warmly recognized in the cold month of Minnesota winter. Two nurses and one teacher stopped by my classroom to say, "You are a miracle worker." Ariel's transformation from an out-of-control 12-year-old autistic-like baby into a functional autistic-like young girl amazed and surprised many. I had been too immersed in the challenge to notice that others recognized my efforts. My spirit had been replenished. Ariel's glad spirit because she understood, "You can because you/we do! Warm all over.
I'm thankful to be me.
Boo, trick or treat!?!
We don't want the truth. We just want to believe. TD exemplifies my scary thoughts.
I hadn't wanted the truth when I asked the class to tell me something that "I don't know about you". Wallop! "My dad murdered a guy." TD just wanted to trick me, right? A twelve year old over exaggerates, right? Wrong. It's likely that his behavior was learned - innate?
Needlessly to say, this student needed help. TD had been admitted upstairs as an inpatient in lock-in to have questionable bruises investigated. His father had with-held medication and TD , apparently disassociated and presented a performance of his father's crimes.
TD was amazing to observe. His voice, actions and eyes changed expression when he became his father. He perfectly mimed his father's behaviors and actions right down to his cigarette use. I suspected his father, also, used marijuana for TD rolled, folded, and held his small piece of notebook paper differently. TD, additionally, mimed his father while he was "spaced out". Talk about spooky behavior. I struggled. I struggled with my conscience concerning society's neglect. As pledged when TD came to my class.
The good news was that he appeared to sense that I wanted to teach him. He sometimes lived on the street, but he brought in his homework, simply, to see a happy face on his hospital chart and to see himself equal or better at something for the first time in his life. His homework packet arrived somehow, some way - it was a mystery.
He noticed that I shortened his "grumpy" time to three minutes and gradually denied him permission to storm out of the room when he was "fed up" or confused. Learning was new to him. He had lived with knowledge deprivation. Most people in TD's life had been relieved when he left and justified ignoring him with "He doesn't hurt anyone that way". Easier, yes. Easier did not make it better. Nor was it fair to him or to his village.
You know that you are married to a teacher when, before leaving the house she says, "Now everyone go to the bathroom." I promised that I wouldn't name my source, but many of you have lived with and/or know these experiences.
Your children have been in school, now for about a month, and certainly, have discussed their teacher. "I don't like my teacher; she gives too much homework." But have you enjoyed these reminders of your school days. These may encourage all you new teachers to laugh at yourself.
Now back to my sources quotes.
You know that you're married to a teacher when:
Thank a teacher's husband or significant others for their service. Your child is learning and gaining wisdom. Happy School year.
School has started. Time to rein in the 'big' emotions, tantrums, outburst, frustrations. The school year had begun. Ronnie was admitted for mainstream classroom disruption: noises, crawling, screams, crying, sitting under desks, his way or no way. He had run out of his home classroom several times. His parents were called at least eight times to pick him up from school.
When emotions are high, we are tempted to use shortcuts. The child is in distress, "we" rush in. As was the habit for Ronnie, age eight, Pervasive Developmental Disorder. I, like many care givers in psychiatric field, sometimes wish mental disorders came with outward signs (like a broken arm) to ease the anguish and shame of the victim's family and helping eliminate societal stigma. An outward sign would let us offer sympathy and move on with our daily living.
I seated Ronnie (you teachers probably guessed it) next to my continuous complainer who didn't want to do any thing. My hidden agenda was to have them sympathize over life's 'have to dos'. With his verbal flow of knowledge about school, he (a third grader) completely and accurately informed her (a first grader) of upper-grade expectations. It worked like a charm. She didn't want to read at all. She sighed heavily, complaining about the number of pages assigned to her. Ronnie said, "I have to do two stories, one math, three reading worksheets and spelling, so your two pages aren't much." Another heavy sigh of self-pity. She was not about to let anybody "beat her" at her own game, so she orally read her two pages with highly defiant body language. This reading was her first apparent break-through in complying with directives.
For Ronnie's defiant behaviors we watched his shoulders. If he slouched a little my assistant would direct him to another table or to the computer. We kept moving him like a bouncing ball. The first time he did not want to do something I handed his a small, two-inch stuffed 'playroom is fun' T-shirted computer mouse and instructed the mouse in a firm voice to do Ronnie's work. Word got back to me at break that he liked his new teacher, "She was funny and a little weird."
After three kids skipped into the room chiming, "Did you miss me?" Ronnie bellowed bounding into the room, "I know how much you missed me!"
In all this hullabaloo I replied while pointing two fingers, "I missed two, you and you," and then turned toward Ronnie, "and you and you." The three bowled over in know-it-all, "That makes four." I calmly watched as Ronnie put the mouse back on the computer. This was the same Ronnie who had flipped the finger at the nurse and tripped her. Progress!
Kids need the building blocks and a support system for the ups and downs - pot holes of life. These tried and true Coping Skills:
Vera, Vera, my little gawky bird. Six-year-old Vera, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), knew how to play the power game. She entered and said the Pledge in a monotone, (I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God - explained your God or no God- 'Americanish'. Our little community was explained over time.) checked her 'To Do' list with a disgruntled, "I don't do subtraction." She pretended to enjoy the computer, sat quietly appearing not wanting to be seen, worked until asked to change to a subject of her choice, but controlled the environment.
It was time to have her interact with another person. Harold was my chosen 'victim':) He was excited about reading "The Little Red Hen". Vera did not want to read, let alone with a boy, so I sat between them as Harold's page-turner. "Vera," I directed, "We will make your first oral reading easy. Your job will be to read 'the' as silly as you want every time Harold points to it." He cheerfully read. I praised his word sounding-out skills. About the third page, Vera whispered in my ear, "If you make me read one more 'the', I will stick my tongue so far down your throat that it will hurt." (Remember, she is only six years old.)
I spoke not a word, calmly helped her off her chair, nodded toward the door while making eye contact with my assistant who escorted Vera out the door. Perplexed by my silence, Vera walked out, sat on the chair and watched me through the window as I mutely went back to turning pages for Harold. At the end of the story, I walked to the door to talk with Vera and her nurse. Vera had realized she had forfeited the game of school with inappropriate language. If she could resolve to play the "game of school life" she would be allowed to re-enter; otherwise she would stay outside the door. She was given a laminated pictorial paper for problem solving. I explained that in Dr.K's classroom we practiced school manners and learned new skills through cooperation and sharing. This teacher likes to teach.
Vera was welcome anytime to learn her academic subjects with minimal interaction with other students, but that no interaction was unacceptable. In a half-hour she decided she would whisper new (acceptable) words when working and talking with other students, and tell me when she was tired of reading. (Paul Galdone's "The Little Red Hen" , also, showed what happens to 'lazy' little girls and boys with the "Not I' said the cat, "Not I" said the dog, and "Not I" said the mouse. "He that does not work, neither shall he eat" is hard to swallow.)
Silent discourse with respect was silently felt by Vera. (Minnesota Civility Project, Civil
Discourse) supported me all these years. Change had begun.
Freedom, Independence, and Responsibility: my mantra for the Fourth of July with emphasis on responsibility for the citizens of the United States of America. The World Cup Uruguayan coach, Oscar Tabarez, this week's quote concerning character taught to his young citizens and winning team, "A young talent should train and prepare for life's challenges, character, and win the World Cup. Behavior; no fouls, no bad conduct, and whatever happens, no back talk to referees."(Wall Street Journal, July, 2018). Yeah, to another teacher and coach like me.
Clyde, Clyde, Clyde you missed on all three counts. The young 12 year old student with the insincere, morally meaningless apologies such as, "Oh, I'm sorry." (NOT, said I to myself) Clyde had entered our psyche unit because he had attacked a boy in the final round of a history competition. Apparently, the other boy had laughed at Clyde when he placed second. Clyde had run up the aisle and assaulted the boy. His father had had difficulty pulling him off the other boy. The final insult to Clyde; his best friend placed first, earning a position on the state team.
Clyde's psyche report, disjointed thinking impaired Clyde's seeing the 'big picture' as shown on his psychiatric evaluations. I lamented over visualizing his early childhood. He showed mixed-hand dominance and significantly impaired fine motor speed coordination for both right and left. (I am guessing, coloring, cutting, and pasting were too childish for him. There are few substitutes for teaching fine motor skills in the classroom). Clyde had been 'over-adultized'. He even insisted on reading Time magazine, although Kid's Time was available.
Clyde's parents had instructed him in a 'modernized Puritanical fashion'. He habitually walked with his neck angled at 45 degrees or more. They rigidly insisted that he look them in the eye when he was being spoken to; therefore, the inclination of his head to avert a lecture. Only , in our classroom did he relax his neck. By the second day the angle of his head improved measurably. He used me as a 'sounding board' ti bring up topics for discussion his situation without naming names. He gave his opinion concerning parents that act "too good". He said, "They made then go to church, made them join, and participate in church functions, even as an accolade". (Note the confusion with pronouns and acolytes.) His parents impressed on him that "getting good grades, getting ahead and getting into the best schools". Goodness, the "getting" for whom?
Since Clyde and Mark's, another student, viewpoints of society and parental control differed entirely, I began their social study's reading: America Will BE (1994) Chapter 8 "Life in New England." They were to debate issues concerning children's strict discipline. They both used decisive arguments for and against:
Puritan children were being treated like miniature adults,
Not healthy to work so hard at age six
Children wonder about things so they need to explore
They are not 'full of sin, as full as a toad in of poison'
Spanking might stop laziness but would increase disrespect, (the word respect was prominently in my classroom)
It is hard to love or honor adults who believe that
'Better whipped than damned by the devil' - who is the devil anyway?
Clyde took the Puritan view in the debate since his favorite book was the New Testament. You should have seen the utterly incredulous looks when I asked them to change sides in the debate. A row almost ensued, but computer time was used as an intervention. Threats and name-calling were disallowed. This was not about right or wrong, but strong defense of points of view. A minuscule beginning had begun for Clyde.
For the next day's assignment they would discuss, 'Two Views of Nature' as a Puritan and an Algonquin over putting up fences. Puritan's (immigrants) fenced in their crops and allowed their pigs and cows to roam freely. Native Americans fenced in their animals but not their crops. The Puritans' animals were eating the natives crops.
Educating them was my best defense against losing freedom of expression. Passion without punching. Maintaining civil discourse, incivility especially invective to deliberately provoke not allowed. (trolling- Googles word).
Independent thinking with responsible behaviors.
Two Perspectives, two Perceptions. Hmmm Immigrants?
Happy Fourth of July US of A!
Glop, glop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is; college graduation! Pat yourself on your back. Graduation speeches glop everyone together - naturally. (Do you want to hear all 700 names separately when you are there for your "darling child'?)
My darling child, Doris, age twelve was my dark-haired cooperative (in the hospital environment) sporadically happy sixth-grader. With her family she kicked and screamed because of neglect, sexual and probably verbal abuse. She had been, temporarily, in foster care, until she went to live with her maternal grandmother who claimed she was unable to manage Doris along with her own health issues. Doris became even more unruly when told that her grandfather (a convicted sex offender) was coming home.
Doris attempted suicide. In lock-in she had lessons and I assigned her reading from The Hobbit with staff under my directions. Doris wrote summaries. Our back and forth comments mainly discussed her fears. Tolkien's lines comforted Doris with a little "typing" accent from her teacher.
I smell you
I feel your air
You are Fear
Who walks unseen
But I am a Hericane
No one takes my mind from me
The energy within me
Shall make you flee.
The young suicidal patient remains the most difficult for me to comprehend, understand or help.
The hospital report said that she was prone to misperceptions, cognitive distortions and poor judgment when stressed. I thought she saw clearly. She knew something was wrong with the picture of family support going to her grandparents and her siblings, leaving her abandoned. She had chosen submission that exploded when she no longer could passively closed out her emotions. What real life had taught her or given her had been a joke that she would undo with help from the medical staff. Doris remained bland and restricted, making sporadic eye contact while biting her nails to the cuticles.
I ignored her nail biting, but encouraged her to close her eyes and exhale two or three times when negative thoughts of what I called the monsters of her mind. "Doris, you'll soon be on your own at 18." We would hear her quietly murmur, "Don't feed the monsters of the mind - those monsters at home."
On Doris's dismissal day I sent her my our favorite rendition above and paraphrased Tolkien's referral to life as a great adventure (The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said. The chances the changes are all yours to make. The mold of your life is in your hands to break.
Many experts, psychologists, pastors, and counselors predict the graduate future relationships balance on agreements concerning
Children of society, as you receive your diploma, turn and congratulate your gate-keeper, mother, father with a blown kiss and pat them on their back with a "Thank you."
Feel the effervescence of your accomplishment. Fizz, fizz!
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire