Thursday, October 26, 2006

four letter words ... special ed style

Being the remarkable special education teacher that I am, I managed to get a few of my former students placed into less restrictive classrooms. For this I have earned the ire of my general education colleagues who fail to view these students as welcome in their classrooms ("Oh my word, Mr. Benjamin. Clive is a real talker!" or "He just keeps getting up and looking out the window. Great at math, but really Mr. Benjamin, he's so hard to keep in his seat!"). The downside to this was a number of open seats in my class, which were quickly filled with three transfer special education students.... all with ADD! Yipppeee!

The new arrivals include:

Big Girl (ADD, Transfer)
Really Nice Kid (ADD, Transfer, New Class Alpha)
New Loud Boy (ADD, Transfer, Instigator)

So, to make a long story somewhat shorter, the class has been full of classroom powerplays to see who is going to assume what role. And for the most part, I've been somewhat successful in keeping these newly acquired roles in check (example, Really Nice Kid knows enough to not be too physically assertive as the new classroom Alpha, and New Loud Boy tries to pass out gum with a modicum of discretion). But with all of the ADD-ness in the classroom, things become a little edgy instructionally, and I'm forced to make the mini-lesson super mini, so as to keep them all in their seats for the requisite time).

Fine... anyhow... here's the latest problem.

New Loud Boy, a serious instigator in the classroom, has recruited Teddy U.A. (Undiagnosed Autist), as his latest source of amusement. Teddy, being rather noncommunicative and socially marginalized, is a quiet kid prone to explosive episodes due to his difficulties with expressive language. Now that the special ed terminology is out of the way, this just boils down to Teddy being totally confused as to how to speak with other kids and making totally baffling statements during instruction, such as the statement he made when I was discussing ocean currents and Teddy screams out ... "Mr. Benjamin... Pirates go, 'ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!'" This, of course, made the class howl, and Teddy took a fair amount of pleasure with their reaction.

So it's pretty easy to see Teddy's mind at work here. Say crazy crap (which isn't really, but for the purposes of the classroom's reaction, it is), get laughs and smiles, get gratification and feelings of collective belonging which act as an effective reinforcer, so say crazy crap again and get reward. Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

New Loud Kid, of course, quickly figures out that you can make Teddy say just about anything if it will get a laugh from the class. Two weeks ago, I was puzzled by Teddy's continual use of the word "pu$$y." He was saying it at all sorts of inappropriate times, and making the class fall apart. As Teddy is a rather large boy with a particularly low voice and impaired articulation, "pu$$y" turns into...


Now if I was 12 or 13, and realized that I could make the "weird kid" say all sorts of crazy crap, I'm pretty sure that I would. For a 12 or 13 year old, that stuff is just funny. And the class thought it was hysterical, until Teddy would get angry about something or other (always at fifth period, because his fat ass would be hungry because they switched his lunch to sixth period, causing cranky Teddy to flip out at minor classroom injustices) and start calling them "pooooozzzzzzzzyyyy." I pretty much pinpointed New Loud Kid for adding to Teddy's admittedly poor lexicon, and warned the little bastard to cut the crap.

This lasted a couple of weeks, and whenever it happened I would encourage the class to simply ignore it. Unfortunately, New Loud Kid, a typical adolescent, decided that adding another word to Teddy's vocabulary would be great classroom fun, and this week the word began to slowly manifest itself.

For those of you teaching academic int#rvention, there's a new computer based reading program, expensive as all hell, that NYC has been implementing. And I teach it in typical NYC fashion... without any formal training. The program requires that you break a class into groups, and these groups rotate between computer instruction, independent/guided reading, and small group instruction. All of this with one teacher (me!) running it (at least here in OZ). Great program... blah, blah, blah... but a real bitch in practice when you're the only teacher in the room. For example, while teaching small group, howls of impatience and alarm will simultaneously burst forth from students out of all corners.

"Mr. Benjamin, this book is gay! I want another! Mr. Benjamin!!!!!!!!!!!"

"Mr. Benjamin, my computer says it's dumping memory. Is this bad?????? Help!!!!"

"Mr. Benjamin, someone stole my reading log. Wahhh!!!!!!!!!!"

All... at... once. All the time. Yet, it's a rather engaging program, so I muster on as best I can.

But this week, while I was teaching my small group stuff in another corner of the room, I can hear Teddy speaking quite unusually into the headset connected to the computer. He's doing a speaking exercise, in which the computer will display a word such as 'plant," the kid records himself saying the word, and then the kid compares his reading of the word to the actual pronunciation.

So I hear Teddy saying something odd, and go stand behind him.

The word 'crops" displays on his monitor. Teddy holds the microphone to his mouth and instead of saying 'crops' says, "Cooooooooowwwwwwwwwk."

I rip the headset from his noggin and hit the replay button. Sure enough, there's Teddy saying the word 'cock' in his own special way. I also hear New Loud Kid hysterically laughing at this whole mess that Teddy has gotten himself into. I look at New Loud Kid and tell him, "I know what you're doing! Stop it! I'm serious!"

But the seed had been planted, and for the past week everyone in the school has been subjected to Teddy loudly proclaiming...


The kids thought it hilarious, and some of the staff, as well. I, on the other hand, was appalled when he said it during a fire drill in front of the principal while smiling at her with this big ass grin.

So, basically, I've been trying like hell to get him to stop saying it, and yesterday he actually did. Relief! No more "cooooooowwwwwwwwk!" being yelled incessantly. I won!

Um. No. Today, during a discussion of the importance of Uncle Tom's Cabin during the abolition movement, I thought I heard a low voice whisper, "Say it ... Cock!" I look up from the overhead projector and immediately start telling New Loud Kid, "I know what you're doing it. I know! Stop it! I'm not amused!"

Not a moment later, I hear Teddy scream... at the top of his lungs...


I put down my marker, and pretty quietly said, "Oh, Jesus. Here we go again."

And New Loud Kid looks at me all horrified and exclaims, "Mr. Benjamin, you shouldn't take the Lord's name in vain."

I kid you not. This boy, who told Teddy to say "pussy" and "cock", was totally serious.


Anonymous said...

My Lord.

You have the patience of a saint. I taught special ed. once, I was not very good at it, and I'm amazed and impressed by those of you who manage to do so day after day.

Ms. H said...

Oh. my. god. I hope the classmates of my autistic kid don't figure that trick out.

So much more to say about this post...lemme escape first, though. More later.

Anonymous said...

I know that this is bad but I can't help but laugh at what goes on in your class. By the way, according to the UFT they are trying to put into the next contract that any program imposed on the teachers requires focused PD. Don't hold your breath on it.

Malach the Merciless said...

Shocking, ADD is barely recognized is MA