Friday, October 19, 2007

My Experience With Marijuana

On the day before kids showed up this year the faculty in my building spent some time involved in some cute little team building activities. One of them involved writing things about yourself on index cards. Someone would then read the card from the front of the room and everyone would try to guess whose card it was. If you guessed right, you got a point…

I don’t remember many of the cards now. One teacher put that she’d been bitten on the head by an ostrich once. Another put that she’d fallen off a boat that summer.

On one of my cards I wrote that I’d never smoke marijuana. No one guessed me. But what was really enlightening was that most people were surprised when they found out that I had turned that card in…

meTo be fair, I suppose I’m about the right age to be a leftover hippie. I like Kenny Chesney and Waylon Jennings, but I also like Hendrix and Dylan (and play them at recess for the kids to hear).

To be completely truthful about it, I have had one experience with Marijuana. At the time I was working as a long term substitute teacher, fresh out of college, at Glenn Hills High School in Augusta, Ga. I’d graduated from Glenn Hills and my new boss was my old principal.

I don’t remember the name of the student who gave me the lid; printing it if I did remember it would probably violate a few dozen laws anyway. But I was outside the building on a set of stairs that took students from the first floor to the second floor and I came upon the boy smoking…

“You know you can’t smoke at school,” I said. “Give that to me.”

He looked confused. He probably was more confused than I gave him credit for. He put the lid in my hand as I held it out toward him. I looked at it as we started toward the office.

“This looks strange,” I thought to myself. “Why doesn’t it have a filter?”

The boy was about two steps up hill from me. He decided to turn around like he wasn’t going to go to the office. I blocked his path back down the stairs. He looked even more confused. He took off running. And because I was confused too by the time and new to teaching, I started running after him.

We were about half way down the top hall when it dawned on me that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to catch him. Classes where changing and the halls were now full of kids. I spotted chasing him.

Of course, he was recognized by half the school. And, being confused, he simply went to his next class. I gave the offending inhalant to the principal. They got the kid out of class and suspended him.

And that was the one and only time I ever "had" marijuana; I held it in my hand after taking it away from a kid. The year was 1983. And I can honestly say it’s been over 24 years since I’ve touched the stuff…

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Special Education Vocabulary: Accommodation

The law says that a school has to "accommodate" a student's disabilities. Do you know what that MEANS? Technical jargon can get in the way of understanding your child's rights.

What is an accommodation? The long list of technical terms in special education can be daunting to some parents. And since accommodation is one of the most basic terms, I thought I'd take a little time here to make sure you could find a clear, concise definition...

Schwab Learning has one of the best explanations of the term accommodation that I've come across on the Internet:

Accommodations provide different ways for kids to take in information or communicate their knowledge back to you. The changes basically don't alter or lower the standards or expectations for a subject or test. Through the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan, classroom accommodations are developed formally.

Their page goes on in other places to explain (correctly, I might add) that an accommodation is a change in the student's classroom learning environment so that the student has better access to the educational process.

Accommodations can be simple. If a child's disability has to do with their hearing or vision, one of the simplest accommodations is usually called preferential seating. Johnny can't see very far or hear very well so we move him to the front of the room - closer to the blackboard and to the talking teacher. And in some cases, accommodating a child's disability with a change in their classroom learning environment as simple as that one makes a huge difference in how well they do.

Some other common accommodations include:
  • Extended time - a child with a disability may be given extra time to take a test or complete an assignment.

  • Oral testing - if we want to know whether a child with a learning disability knows who the first president was, we can ask him and let him tell us instead of writing down our question and having him write down his answer. After all, if he knows who the first president was he should get credit for that. And if his disability interferes with his ability to write, that's a fair accommodation to make.

  • Assistive technology - a child with a vision problem can listen to a story on tape instead of reading it from a book and a student with dysgraphia may benefit greatly from using a word processor instead of a pencil.

  • Peer tutoring - simply assigning a classmate to help a disabled student "get it" can be powerful.

Parents should distinguish between these two ideas. Accommodations do not change what is expected of a student in school; they only change the way the student gains access to learning. Modifications actually change the curriculum and expectations placed on a disabled student. But we'll leave that piece of vocabulary, modifications, for another day...

Monday, October 15, 2007

That Special Feeling You Get (When You Think You're Gonna Die...)

Among my favorite parts of my day is the drive to work. It’s about 20 miles from my house to the school where I work. I drive over Stoney Ridge on Rt. 16, through Horsepen, over Gary 14 Mountain, through the community of Skygusty and come out at the Blackwolf golf course – a nine hole course in the crevices between some ridges here. At Blackwolf I turn right and drive to the four miles through Pageton to the City of Anawalt.

It’s a beautiful drive. Turkeys and deer line the twisty, narrow roads. The leaves are changing at the moment so there are lots of colors. Often the roads are shrouded in mist or fog. And there are spots that would be marked as scenic overlooks if I was on an interstate highway.

Time to make another pot...For reasons unbeknownst to me, Tazewell County has decided to scatter gravel on state road 644 around Horsepen. It’s a bit like driving on marbles at the moment. It reminds me of walking on wet floors in cowboy boots, or perhaps roller skating for the first time.

This morning I got to experience that special feeling you get when you are surprised by something and you think the possibility exists that death in eminent. It’s a brief but acute feeling that people often experience on small roads with the ass end of their car tries to pass the nose of their car. Your muscles tighten up from your waist to your collarbones, your throat constricts, your teeth clench, and your breakfast tries to crawl up your throat because it doesn’t want to die with you.

In the very brief moment involved, you be trying to remember when the last time that you went to confession was. Then you remember stuff about driving…

“Steer into it, steer into it. The more you brake the harder it is to steer. Steer into it… Hail Mary, full of grace… Steer into it…”

Okay, I’m not really a Catholic.

I got the car arranged correctly again on the road and continued toward work. For whatever reason, the coal trucks hadn’t started to run yet this morning, so I didn’t have to compete with them. There’s a mile stretch where the road to work bisects an active strip mine, but it was quiet today.

I passed three turkeys on the side of the road near Skygusty, their beards almost dragging the ground. Then came the little white dog with one black eye looks like he fell out of “Little Rascals.”

A squirrel tried to commit hari-kari on the undercarriage of my explorer as I was entering Pageton. I’d decided long ago that I would not roll my explorer to save a squirrel, but today this one escaped harm.

I got to work at about 8:15 with Kenny Chesney playing on my CD player and the windows down so I could feel the cool air…