Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Friday, April 21, 2017

Take This Job And Shove It

Hmm, long time no see! Where have you been? Haha, just kidding. I'm sure you've all been eagerly checking my blog each day, hoping for an update. Well, here one is!

Last August I started my first teaching job. Ever since then, I haven't been blogging much. In fact, I haven't been doing much of anything I enjoy! I haven't been reading books, reading blogs, doing arts and crafts, going outdoors, or even spending much time with animals. I barely have time to take care of my own pets! This job has sucked the life out of me.

I will give you a timeline of how this so-called teaching job has gone...

September - December: I started out enjoying my job, which entailed teaching small groups of children with learning disabilities, ADHD or autism. I was frustrated, though, because I was also the behavior resource teacher. In most cases, a behavior resource teacher works with students who have behavior disorders but are functioning well enough to be successful in a general education class for most of the day. You're really just there to support them. In special ed they talk about the least restrictive environment, and it is sort of judged by how much time they get to be with their typically developing peers. For a student with an emotional/behavioral disorder, the most restrictive environment would probably be a residential treatment center where they would live year-round and get intensive mental health treatment as well as education. The second most restrictive environment might be a therapeutic day school, where children attend school during the day but go home after school and in some cases can attend extracurricular activities with typical peers. Following that might be spending all day in a self-contained classroom in a regular school, followed by being in a self-contained classroom but spending a certain percentage of time in a general education class. For a kid with an emotional/behavioral disorder, behavior resource would be the LEAST restrictive environment possible.

Except that, at my school, there are no other options available. You either stay in a general education class for most of the day, or the school has to pay to send you to a therapeutic day school in another district. Which they generally try to avoid. Needless to say, there are many kids at the school who are in general ed and just not being successful. They need something more. Some of them would have an assistant teacher with them in their gen ed class... sort of like how I used to be with Tizzy. But if a kid started having a meltdown, I was called to come and try to calm them down. Either that, or someone would bring them to my room and toss them in. When this happened, all of the kids who I was teaching reading, writing and math to were sent back to class. It could be the middle of a lesson, but I had to drop everything and deal with the kids with behavior/emotional disorders. I wouldn't have minded, except that it was happening every day, even multiple times per day. I had two jobs to do... teach the academic groups, and manage the kids with EBDs, and I couldn't do my best for either one of them.

One time I even had to have a substitute teach my groups for a week, because the special ed director wanted me to be 1:1 for a child who was, at that point, having 24/7 meltdowns in her gen ed class. She was not being successful there, so the only other choice was to have her with me all day, which meant I couldn't teach any other kids, and she couldn't be around any peers. So... yeah. I thought that was ridiculous. That student moved away, and life went sort of back to normal.

Another note... we were always supposed to get a half hour lunch and a half hour of "planning time" each day, with no students. Because my students' needs were always ongoing, I very rarely got that half hour of planning time or lunch. More often than not, I'd be just about to take a bite of my lunch, and I'd be called down to deal with some student who was melting down somewhere in the building. I talked to the special ed director about it, and she said I should just ask another teacher to give me a break IF I FELT LIKE I NEEDED ONE. Except there was never anyone available unless THEY were on THEIR lunch or planning time! I couldn't ask them to give up their lunch or planning time to give me a break! I talked about it with the principal, and he told me to talk about it with the special ed director. I talked about it with the HR people, and they told me to talk about it with the special ed director. I talked about it with the union, they called the special ed director and told her I needed to have breaks, and the special ed director came and told me again to just ask people on my team to give me a break IF I FELT LIKE I NEEDED ONE.

January - The special ed director told me that we were getting a new girl with very severe mental health diagnoses. So severe that she couldn't be in general ed at all, at least in the beginning. Not even for recess, lunch, art, music, PE, etc. At first the special ed director said that all three of the resource teachers at the school (me and two others) plus the school psychologist, would take shifts working with the girl. But a few days later, she informed me that only I would be working with the girl, My academic groups would be taken over by substitutes... usually a different substitute each day. I would have to write full, detailed sub plans each day, and then spend my days alone in a classroom with this girl.  To sweeten the deal, another kid from our school had pretty much been kicked out of his classroom, so he would also be in there with me. I was told to create a daily schedule and run the classroom for these two students. I would not do any academic teaching... they would receive work from their gen ed teachers. I just had to oversee them while they did it, and basically try to keep them from destroying the school or killing anyone.
I still had to do all the planning for the academic kids, plus do all the IEP stuff and contend with the other EBD kids who were in gen ed, but since I didn't have planning time during the day, I had to either stay late each day, or bring my work home with me. Usually I did both. This meant I had NO more time for anything fun or relaxing. I got home, ate dinner while watching TV (my one bit of "fun" during the day), got on my computer and work until bed time, and then went to bed. Weekends were also filled with work.

February - The special ed director and principal told me they wanted to meet with me, and that I should bring a union rep. I was shaking in my boots. I asked them what it was about, and they wouldn't tell me. It turned out that one of the academic kids' parents had complained that she didn't want her child in the academic resource groups because he was with children with "ADHD and behavioral problems" and that they were disturbing to their child. The special ed director accused me of telling that parent that the other kids in the group had ADHD and behavior problems, at a meeting I'd had with the parents. I recounted everything that I had said at the meeting. The parents had mentioned that their son was anxious about coming to the resource room and they wanted to know if the other kids were scaring him. I had said no, but that it was a group of 6 and 7 year old boys and they could definitely be noisy and squirelly. I thought maybe their son, who was very shy and quiet, was just overwhelmed by their activity. I'd offered to switch their son to a group of slightly older and less wiggly kids. The special ed director told me that I should not mention other kids in the group at all, and further more, the parents thought my classroom was "unwelcoming." (Remember I'd taken out anything fun and inviting because of the three kids I was now in charge of.)
Later that month, at the student's IEP, his parents mentioned that their son had told them stories of the other kids in his groups, and that was how they had come to the conclusion, on their own, that those kids had ADHD and behavior disorders. (Those particular kids actually don't, by the way... they are just particularly rambunctious little boys!)

March - I was told that another student would be coming in, twice a day for half an hour each time, for social skills instruction. I would have to balance him with the other two. That went along for a few days, and then they told me he would also need to eat lunch in my room because he was having trouble in the cafeteria. Then they told me he was going to be in my classroom full time for a few days while the powers that be decided how to handle him. And then they told me that he was going to be in my classroom indefinitely. All three of these kids were prone to outbursts where they'd overturn tables, desks and chairs, rip stuff up, throw stuff, kick holes in walls and doors, etc. And all three of them usually refused to do work. I was told by the special ed director and the psychologist that I had to clear everything interesting, fun or welcoming out of my room, because they would either destroy it or play with it instead of doing school work.
The principal came to observe me a few times. All new teachers have to go through these observations, where the principal watches you and critiques your work. When he came in, I was usually struggling to get the kids to do work, or guarding a door to keep one from running into the other room and trying to kill another kid who had somehow angered him, or just standing back and watching calmly while one trashed the room. The principal wrote on my review, "Teacher does not post learning targets."
Learning targets? Really?
Once I found this graphic novel, and started reading it with the kids. They each wanted to be a character in the novel, and they would read it like a play, making the different voices for the characters and everything. We read from this book each day. It was one thing we did that calmed everyone down and got them to work together. The principal observed one day. I was proud that the students were calm, focused, and actually reading. The principal wrote in my review, "Activity does not match what students would be doing in their gen ed classes."
The principal called me in for a meeting and told me that, because he was not seeing "evidence of student growth," he would not recommend renewing my contract for the next year. He also mentioned in his review that I had talked to parents about other students... bringing up the whole thing about those parents who were worried about the kids in their son's groups. He said there was time, I had until May, to try to show some evidence of student growth. I was supposed to post things on this online portfolio thing. All the teachers had to do it, but so far none of the other resource teachers had done it because they didn't know how. I ended up teaching them how to do it.

April - The principal called me in yet again, with my union rep. He told me that there had been a meeting with him, the special ed director, the superintendent, and other officials, and that they had decided to not renew my contract. They weren't even going to wait until my annual review in May. They had made up their minds. I needed to decide if I wanted to resign to avoid being nonrenewed, or just get nonrenewed.
The union rep was outraged and said I was being railroaded. I'd been switched to a different job than what I'd applied for, I'd been given no resources to do the job correctly, I'd been given no extra training, and the principal couldn't even tell me anything specific that I'd done wrong to make them decide not to keep me on.
Didn't matter anyway. By then I'd already decided that I wanted out of there as soon as possible.

So anyways... I will be looking for a teaching job yet again. I am terrified that I won't find one. My mom told me not to renew my lease until I know I have a job. Do you know what that would mean? I'd lose my apartment and be back where I started! Except even less than where I started, because I can't live with my aunt and uncle again since they turned my room into an office, plus now I have a kitten. I could lose everything.

And that is why I haven't been blogging. My union rep told me to just enjoy the rest of the year, quit working so long and so hard, because I don't owe anyone anything anymore. But I still have responsibilities to the kids, so I still have to put in a certain amount of work. I should have a little extra free time now, though. And maybe I will start blogging again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Weird Way To Fall Asleep

I've been having some weird insomnia issues lately. Basically I've been going through some sort of low-grade depression ever since returning from Chicago, probably triggered by homesickness and exacerbated by a whole bunch of "ice days," most of which required me to stay in my apartment because it was too icy even to make the 6 minute drive to see my aunt and uncle and them. Sitting indoors day in and day out with not much natural light or fresh air resulted in my spending most of my time huddled in a pile of blankets with my dog and kitten, somewhat watching TV, sleeping or dozing the days away, and then having difficulty getting to sleep at night. This should have been my best few weeks ever, with plenty of time to just do art projects, blog, write, etc... but unfortunately my low-grade depression  took away any motivation I had to do anything other than sit on the floor with my animals. Exacerbating this further was the fact that I got sick on Friday and had even less energy than before.

The main reason I'm telling you all that is because I wondered if you'd heard of ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a relaxation technique that seems to work for some people. It is kind of hard to explain. but I will try. See if you can relate to this at all.

For as long as I can remember, I've had strong reactions to certain sounds, There are some sounds that I've always hated, to the point where I'd have to cover my ears or even get angry at the person making them. In the past few years I've learned that this is an actual condition, called misophonia. That basically means that certain norma, everyday sounds trigger an unpleasant emotional reaction. The site I linked to above,, lists tons of common triggers that different people have reported. One of my biggest triggers has always been mouth sounds. For instance, people chewing with their mouths open, talking with their mouths full, "plopping" their lips (I don't know if there is an actual word for it but I could demonstrate it for you if you were here) biting their nails, sucking on candy, loud kissing (like movie kissing), or using a toothpick. All of those might mildly annoy many people, but I literally have to cover my ears or I get a strong emotional and physically uncomfortable feeling. My mom and brother were huge offenders when I was a kid, and it used to make me get angry at them, but eventually I realized it was easier to just plug my ears or cover my head. The sound and sight of people brushing their teeth is also a huge trigger for me. Why do all TV shows have to show people brushing their teeth and talking to each other? Can't we just assume they brushed their teeth at some point? I cannot converse with, or even be in the same room as, a person who is brushing their teeth, Even brushing my own teeth is unpleasant. I need some sort of background noise, like a bathroom fan or water running at full force, to distract me. Sometimes people's voices, or the way they pronounce words and sounds, is a trigger. For instance some people say their "P" sounds really juicily, and it makes me want to rip my ears off and throw them as far away from myself as I can. Sometimes people breathing noisily or with stuffy noises bothers me terribly. People with very soft voices bother me terribly. I don't mean normal quiet voices, but for instance when I was younger I had this case worker whose voice was so soft, she sometimes literally whispered. It made me want to raise my own voice to almost a yelling level to balance it out! It turns out, misophonia is pretty common for people with autism or ADHD.

On the other hand, some weird everyday sounds have always given me a very pleasant, calm feeling. Many of my family members remember how, when I was little, I was always begging people to take me for a walk. I would either walk along in the stones that bordered the road (they didn't have sidewalks where my grandparents lived) or in the piles of dried leaves that gathered along the edges of the sidewalk and roads in the fall. The reason was because I loved the crunching sound my feet made while walking on these surfaces. LOVED it. I could have walked all day and all night listening to those lovely sounds. Another sound I can think of is book pages. When I read, I tend to sort of wiggle the page I'm on, to hear the crunchy sound. Some books also make a pleasant sound when you open them wide enough that their spines bend a little. The sound of typing or of buttons being clicked has always been a favorite of mine, but only when I'm not trying to concentrate on something else. It gives me such a strong reaction that, if I am trying to do school work or something, I cannot stand to hear other people typing... but if I'm just sitting there doing nothing, it is a very pleasant sound to me.

When I was little and I'd go to sleepover parties, I'd often be one of the first kids to decide to go to bed. I'd lay there listening to the other kids whispering, and it would make me feel so calm and relaxed that I'd be able to lay perfectly still and I'd drift off to sleep. Throughout my life there have been many other times when I'd be sleeping in a room, and I'd wake up because some other people came into the room, but, not knowing I was awake, they'd start whispering to each other. Listening to their whispered voices would put me right back to sleep. I detest the 700 Club, but I've been known to turn it on when I'm trying to sleep, because the way he pronounces his P sounds... which is the exact same thing that drives me crazy usually... actually relaxes me sometimes when I'm not trying to do something else. Other sounds I can think of include the teacher writing with chalk or erasing the blackboard when I was a kid (white boards just don't have the same effect.)

So. The other night, I couldn't sleep, and I  was having such restless leg issues that I imagined, if I cut my legs off with an axe, they'd continue to run around on their own because they just had so much energy and movement in them. I decided to use my phone to look for a video of the 700 Club dude, to see if it could put me to sleep. I also thought of looking for a video of people whispering. That search is what led me to learn about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Almost the exact opposite of misophonia, ASMR is when certain sounds give you a pleasant, tingling feeling and make you very relaxed. There are people who actually make series of videos of themselves whispering or making other common ASMR noises, and others watch or listen to these to fall asleep. Apparently some of them have a cult-like following! If you do a video search for ASMR, you will find a ton of these videos.

If you have both misophonia and ASMR, as I apparently do, it can be hard to find a video that relaxes you and doesn't drive you crazy. The reason is that a lot of people's ASMR "triggers" are also misophonia "triggers" for others. For instance, some people love mouth sounds, and there are whole videos where people just eat loudly in front of a microphone. That would be like torture to me. I found some, though, that are just whispering. When I put those on my phone, I fall deeply asleep very quickly. Its weird. Here is one I found that is of someone reading a story in a whisper. This wasn't quite as easy to fall asleep to, because I really liked the story and was paying attention to it, but it was still very relaxing and helped my restless legs to chill out.

I just felt like some of you guys out there might be interested in this. I was surprised when I learned that misophonia was a thing and not just my own weird quirk, and now I've been surprised to learn that ASMR is also a thing!

I suck at ending blog posts. So here, for no real reason, is a very cute picture of Lily and Yoshi!