in a tough situation

Today was a really hard day.  The kind of day where you have a confrontation with a coworker and feel shaky and ache-y in your bones the rest of the day.  I’m having a glass of wine and writing to try to unwind and stop feeling so awful.

I haven’t blogged about my team much.  I have never really written about my assistant teacher, who was new in the fall and has become a wonderful friend.  She’s also a wonderful assistant teacher.  Let’s call her Miss Slinger, after Mr. Slinger, the wonderful teacher in Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse.  Miss Slinger was not the issue today (she’s never an issue!), but I just wanted to mention something positive.  Sometimes I’ll ask her to do something in passing, and then before I know it, it’s done.  Those days, I call her Super Slinger.  I get to work with Miss Slinger every day, and that is a really good thing.

There’s also Amelia Bedelia, our special ed assistant teacher.  She’s only in our room on Mondays and Fridays, but those days are always good.  She’s great with the kids and really fun to work with.  So I get to work with Amelia Bedelia, and I’m lucky there, too.

Then there’s Miss Nelson, the special ed teacher who works on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with my four special ed students.  She’s a very good person, very caring, and extremely conscientious.  She’s also overworked, possibly overwhelmed, and fairly tightly-wound.  Her style of teaching is quite different from mine, and I think it has been hard for her being in my room, and not being the teacher in charge.

One student in particular is a problem where Miss Nelson is concerned, because he behaves differently for her than he does for Amelia, Miss Slinger, or me.  Miss Nelson has low expectations for him (without meaning to, but he’s got a disability, you know), and he exploits that and manipulates her.  When she’s not with us, he is part of the class and he does pretty well.  When she’s in the room, he’s rolling on floors and tables and running out the door, laughing.

I talked frankly to her this morning about how I’d like to change the way things are going for this child.  There was a power struggle with him later in the morning, and she stepped back, so I stepped in, and I took his hand and firmly brought him back to the group.  I held his hand and brought him all the way down the stairs.

Here’s the email she sent me today, with names changed:

Hello Kiri,
It is with great regret that I tell you that I felt the need to share with R______, K_____and the Prince, the incident this morning with X_____ on the stairs coming back from Art. I was disturbed by the use of an arm pull down the stairs that was used to promote his compliance.
Please understand that I have great respect for your skill as a teacher, but I believe that a child with a disability needs to be handled differently than a typically developing child. I hope that by working together to combine our own teaching styles and support the best interests of special education children, we can talk through this situation, put it behind us and move forward.
 
Sincerely,
 
Miss Nelson

Here’s the email that I drafted in response:

Miss Nelson,

It’s okay, I understand your concern.  And I am sorry to have upset you.  However, I think that you may be blowing this incident out of proportion.  I never yanked on X____’s arm, and I never pulled hard.  I didn’t hurt X_____, and the end result was that he came back to the line and rejoined the class.  (I’m very happy to speak to K____, who is expert in these matters, about how to handle this sort of situation in the future.) Having rejoined the line, X____ participated for most of the morning and had a good, happy day.  It was wonderful that he chose the art center, and that he made some progress on learning how to use scissors.  Had he been allowed to continue to refuse to participate, as has happened many times before, we would have lost him for the rest of the morning, as has happened many times before.   

I hope you understand that I am not advocating for treating X____ exactly like any other student, all the time.  I am, however, advocating for having high expectations for him so that he has the opportunity to succeed.  He is, after all, in our class to be mainstreamed.  Rather than say from the start, “he can’t do this, it’s too much for him,” and not even try to have him do things with us, I’d like to start with the expectation that he will be a part of all that we do, and then make adjustments as necessary.
I am looking forward to our meeting with R____ and K____ on Thursday, and want to let you know that the Prince will be there as well.  I hope that the two end results will be that X____ starts to be fully integrated and really successful in the classroom, and also that the two of us will improve our teamwork and partnership, with a strong sense of shared purpose and trust on both ends.  
 
Kiri

I probably won’t send it.  I’ll send her a brief, edited version.

The good news is that I called the Prince at home, where he was trying to make burritos, and he gave me his full support.

Now I just have to make it through this big meeting on Thursday.

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6 thoughts on “in a tough situation

  1. Kiri,

    As a regular reader and parent of a special needs child, I think it’s imperative that you send the message. Miss Nelson, and others like her, need to understand that it’s not about them; it’s about the child. You appear to be the one who has that clearly in mind.

    Good luck,

    Jonathan

  2. I think you’re email was wonderul. You sounded so diplomatic and caring toward X. You also put it in such a tone that you were gracious and understanding to Miss Nelson.

    I find it so hard when there is a staff confrontation. Episodes like this keep me up for days.

    Hope all goes well with your meeting.

  3. I am praying for you today – Thursday – as you face your meeting. Looking forward to hearing about a positive outcome. Don’t you love it when your boss backs you up all the way! I had an incident with a student during finals and my dean backed me up. Feels great. Hugs from here to you . . . you are amazing and wonderful and amazing.

  4. You go girl! Didn’t it feel good to write that message even though you don’t intend to send it? It was extremely well written and said everything you wanted to say without actually saying it in a very professional way. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that “stuff”, it’s what makes our already difficult jobs almost impossible. It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you work with a few turkeys 🙂

    Can’t wait to hear the update!

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