The Importance of Classification by Michael McKenna, a frequent contributor to Kicking Kittens
I often wonder how my youngest daughter would have made it as far as she has without the benefit of being classified as a student with special needs. Her accomplishments thus far are a marvel. While she certainly has goals and milestones to meet yet, she has much under her belt which will serve her well in the coming years as she progress towards adulthood. I don't know if she could claim as many victories without her having a classification in a special education program. When we noticed that our daughter was displaying characteristics and behaviors of an exceptional student we sought professional guidance, assessment, therapy, education, and support. We are lucky to have made this realization so early on. And, acted we did; much to our satisfaction. But, enough about her and our family; it is another student and family that did not seek the necessary services, and the outcome given the very special circumstances surrounding this student's life that makes the argument so strongly in favor of having your child classified as need be.
I was a teacher in the NYC school system, and while tenured I was subject to a very different, culturally closed society in that I taught in the single most economically depressed region of NYC....in other words, I taught in the ghetto. Of the many horror stories I have to tell, the following one is the most unusual as well as tragic:
Teaching as what is termed as a "cluster" teacher has its benefits and drawbacks. In Elementary Education you travel from class to class, teaching for a period of 45-50 minutes, then moving on to a different class and repeating. I was the writing cluster teacher. For some students it was a much deserved break from their regular classroom teacher, for others it was a chance to display poor behavior, for others it meant nothing. I would see as many as 700 students per week as opposed to 30-40 if I were a regular classroom teacher so I saw a huge cross section of young students on a recurring basis (remembering all their names was no easy trick either).
I began my third year of teaching at a new school where I met one student in particular; Charles (yup, named changed to protect his identity). Charles and I got off to a rough start that first year together. I had noticed the dynamic between him and the other students was different...perhaps it was because he was left back from the prior year. I didn't know, and it was not my priority; I was there to teach my students the fine art of writing so I began. Once, in passing, I commented and complimented him on his earrings; he had two huge, what looked like diamond studs in his ears. One student whispered to me that the earrings he wore were, in fact, made of real diamonds. I just couldn't believe it. So I called him on it that day. I asked him if they were real and he answered in the positive. I was stunned; they probably cost as much as my cars and my wardrobe, and I mentioned that to him. He asked me, point blank, if I thought he was lying to me. I replied I didn't think they were real as the cost would be prohibitive given the age of a third grader living in one of the most economically depressed areas in NYC so I said that I did, indeed, doubt his validity. Boy, was I wrong. They were real, and he didn't speak to me for many months thereafter...even after I apologized to him for doubting his claim. They were real, and given to him from his parents who had lots and lots of money. Money from less than honorable means and methods of acquisition as it would turn out.
Nonetheless he was different from the rest of his peers in many ways. He frequently nodded his head from front to back, ticked nervously around his left eye when one conversed with him, displayed speech delays and impediments, and was not social with his peers. He was a candidate for assessment. I had spoken to his regular classroom teacher about it and she said to drop the subject; that it was a waste of time to bother with him. She said no more, and did not satisfy my curiosity nor satiate my responsibility as it concerns Charles. I took it to higher sources within the school's hierarchy and received similar answers with little elaboration. I was taken quietly aside by another colleague some time thereafter my initial inquiries and was given the whole ugly truth about Charles.
Charles was the world's oldest third grader at....drum roll please....thirteen years old. I was astounded to hear that. Simply astounded. He looked just like a typical third grader, and especially so in height; he was the normal size of your average third grader, who was maybe eight years old. I had to exhibit a few double-takes when it was revealed to me that he was so old. It was the Goldfish Theory, but in human terms; put a goldfish in a small bowl and the goldfish doesn't grow much; put a goldfish in a big bowl and the goldfish grows much larger. He was the goldfish in a small bowl. After spending five full years as a third grader, and beginning a sixth year as such, I am witness to understanding the inhibiting physically detrimental effects on the human body.
His parents were not interested in Charles' education as they were never present during the school's earlier attempts at classifying him so he could receive the necessary services. His parents were members of a very powerful gang, and did "things" to acquire their economic living. Charles was connected not only by birth to this gang but I strongly suspect he was involved in some of their illicit and illegal activities as well. His parents refused to grant him assessment. They thought it was a badge of shame; something to be embarrassed about. They did not want him classified as a special education student. I never understood that line of thought.
His peers feared him. His teachers feared him. The school's administration turn a blind eye to him (and I secretly think they feared him too). The dreaded lunch ladies feared him. The custodians feared him. I think adults from the neighborhood feared him as well. My own feelings were mixed to be honest. I genuinely liked him as our relationship progressed and improved; he could exhibit a strange blend of intimacy in conversation with his experiences and observations playing the motivating decision-making process in his life. He couldn't’t write a paragraph to save his life but he could verbally spin a yarn that was funny, clever, and enticing. He was another child slipping and slipped through the cracks in the NYC school system. He was one of many goldfish in that small, crowded bowl.
He was too far gone for me to be of any real help...I could focus my energies elsewhere with positive results for future success but I didn’t give up on him completely. I was still his teacher for two periods a week, and I was going to see him progress as a writer as all my students were going to this, and every, year. I found him a seat in the reading resource room three times a week much to the dismay of that particular teacher (she gave me black looks even when Charles left the school for good) after I spent an inordinate amount of time bitching and moaning to the school's administration. I spent extra time with him as I could muster during our class time. His progress was not easy to gauge, but it was evident in some areas of language pathology that strides have been made. His vocabulary had improved as did his ability to spell the common sight words that we use daily in communication.
The next year coincided with a change in the City's top administrators. Our new leader, The Honorable Mayor Bloomturd (again, I changed the name to protect the identity of the offending official...and how he offends) decided to change what is termed the Educational Continuum. This impacted Charles' life in a most unusual way the next year. Instead of being left back again or being promoted to the fourth grade (I think he was going to be promoted) he was instructed under the new continuum to be promoted to the ninth grade; the chronologically correct grade he should attend under normal circumstances. I saw him one day in the fall of that new year loitering outside of the elementary school where I still taught. I asked him how he liked his new situation and new school. He smiled and said it was great, and laughed as he went on his merry way down the street. My last bit of information about him was that he was arrested as a minor for possession of illegal drugs with intent to sell and for possession of a deadly weapon. He was doing time in a local juvenile detention center. That was about five years ago when I heard that bit of information.
He is now ready to turn 19 or 20 years old. I haven't heard anything about him since the last bit of information. I can only imagine what he is up to....and my thoughts are not wholesome as it concerned his future prospects.
This is an extreme occurrence insofar as one person's life is concerned. I think it is also fair to say that the outcome of his life had many other factors involved; some very unusual ones, and that by receiving assessment and services from a specialized education program would have made a positive impact on his being. Whether or not that would have altered his life is pure conjecture, but I have seen the impact of services rendered where they are needed both as an educator and as a parent, and I am a huge proponent of Individualized Educational Programs for anyone in need of such. Do for your child the greatest service you can; if you have doubts or questions or concerns about your child's behavior or development you should consult with your spouse/family members/guardians about the situation, and then take it to a professional such as your family doctor for further inquiry. Get the proverbial ball rolling fast and advocate, advocate, advocate; it's up to you to guide and steer the development of your child.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
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