These stories were submitted to me to share with our readers. They are written through the eyes of a teacher. Please enjoy and comment!
Making Pearls By Ken Brzezinski
Two of our students were playing on the playground. The one who is a boy was being bothered by the girl. He kept saying that the girl was making pearls. He repeated it over and over. Finally we asked what he meant by that. He replied pearls are made as the result of constant irritation. The girl was making pearls by constantly irritating him.
Later this year I am going to lose my first student back to regular education. When I first met him several years ago, this child was held by UCLA as unteachable. The parents should put him in a home for the rest of his life. He has come a long way in the time I have known him. I cannot tell you how proud I am of him. Hopefully I will have two more students going back to regular Special Ed in the near future. Either at the end of this year or the start of the next school year.
I have a student now that UCLA had given up on. He is so bright it scares me at times. He is in sixth grade but I am teaching him a high school curriculum for most subjects. His temper and outlandish outbursts landed him in my classroom. His outbursts have been reduced to one or two per week. He nearly killed me the first day that I was working with him. I took him into a time out room and as he walked into the room he grabbed a metal file box that weighed about twenty pounds and threw it in the air it just missed my head on the way down. I removed a lot of things from the time out room after that day.
I believe in the possible and try to get my students to believe in themselves. Not everything I try works. There are days when everything fails and we are lucky to get to the next day and start again. There are days and weeks when the students will not let you do it, but you try. I only had two students today. They were fixated on a fight that they had yesterday on the way home. During the first fifteen minutes of class they kept the fight going. I could not get them to let it go. I separated them. I took one for a walk. Nothing it seemed was going to get them to be civil. Finally I said I would treat them to lunch at McDonald’s if they could be civil to each other. One of their goals is that they are to give each of the other student’s compliments. Compliments are hard for them and are restricted to nice shoes, nice shirts, and nice hair. Compliments started flowing and I gave out stickers. Inside of five minutes we were back on task. They had forgotten for the moment the fight. I do not know what will happen tomorrow. The three of us went to McDonald’s for lunch. They went home with maximum behavior points for the day. Could I have done it with a less expensive bribe? Was a bribe a good idea? I guess I will find out in the morning.
My students do not have academic goals when I first get them in my classroom. I have an IEP this week and have to come up for the first time academic goals for the student. He is in tenth grade. He is a bright child whose behaviors have precluded him from a typical academic setting. He has thrown desks, and disturbed classrooms with his moaning. He has been to Phoenix and other schools. I have to write academic goals for Thursday’s IEP.
His previous IEP’s do not offer much help. I do not think that their observations are an accurate assessment of his abilities. They list his reading comprehension at barely sixth grade level. I have him doing high school reading. I do not know whether I am too optimistic or to unskilled to assess his abilities. They do state that as time went on that he became less and less responsive to their queries and tests. I hope I can find some appropriate goals for him.
I do feel that I talk as well as I write. I need at times to express myself. I hope you do not find my thoughts pointless, or tiresome. I will check with your office tomorrow to schedule an appointment.
I am also pleased to tell you that one of our former students is now enrolled in regular High School and is on the Honor Roll. Five years ago when he came to us, His parents had been told that He should be placed in a state home and forgotten. He was incapable of doing anything. I brought soccer balls to school to teach the students how to play soccer. I cannot say how surprised I was to see him attempt to play too. With in a few weeks he was playing regularly much to the surprise of his doctors. Now he is in tenth grade in High school. He is on the wrestling team and doing well in school. Every so often it is nice to remember him hiding under the couch at school.
I do not remember if I told you my son returned to regular high school from this school. He graduated with his class. I still worry about him because he has not found a place for himself. I have a Masters Degree in Business. I speak with a speech impediment. I hear on only one side of my brain. I still take people literally. I am the subject of many practical jokes. I was in high school too. I probably have AS. My ability to relate to other people is marginal. I do seem to relate to my students. I am currently working on my Masters at California Lutheran University. I took philosophy this last semester. I thought that that course would be the end of me. It required that I expound on my opinions and pass essay exams. In addition to everything else I have word finding problems and occasionally go completely blank on tests. Essay questions are the bane of my existence. I hate them. I may not remember the answer and when I do, I may not remember the terminology that is needed for the answer. I have to describe what I mean.
I know I got through school because I was afraid of the nuns that taught me. I got thru college on sheer perseverance. I flunked out three times. I had four or five majors. There would be days when I could not comprehend what the teacher was saying. Certain concepts went beyond my ability to understand. I still have that problem and will freeze up on certain requirements for my teaching. I do not freeze in the classroom but do have troubles figuring out lesson plans and state standards.
I know that this is a long letter and I apologize. My students do not know how to relate to girls. If you have any ideas I would appreciate them.
Everybody has to have a good day once in a while to make them feel good. I had one yesterday.
We had a student that was angry. He was throwing chairs, using profanity, slamming doors and running from staff. We got him in a corner and talked him into going to the office. He broke down twice on his way to the office. In the office he cried and wanted his mother. He spent over thirty minutes in the office crying. Nothing anybody said could get him to stop. He was unable to say what was wrong.
I looked around his classroom and everywhere there were signs it was Valentine’s Day. There were cards and empty candy wrappers on the desks and it hit what the problem was. I went down to talk to him. I asked him what was wrong. He did not know. I told him I suspected it was because it was Valentine’s Day and everybody in the class had handed out Valentines and he was not able too. He said yeah. We looked around the office and found some miniature candy bars. One of the parents of our students was finishing up art projects for Valentine’s Day. We got some stick on foam Valentines from her. I got a list of all the students in the school and he started writing out Valentines.
Later in the day he showed up in my room and started handing out Valentines. Before he handed out the Valentines he would give each student a hug and tell them what a gentleman they were. My students took the foam Valentines off the candy bars and wore them as name tags for the rest of the day.
This morning when he came to school he greeted me with a smile and a hand shake. Normally he might acknowledge my presence, but he would just rush to class. To day he took the time to shake my hand. I cannot begin to tell you how much that means to me.
Experiments in Texture
Today I ran an experiment for my class. It is a simple experiment but provided interesting result from my students. They found it very entertaining and played with it for more than an hour. The original intent of the experiment was to determine whether a substance was a liquid or a solid. They had a terrible time determining the answer to the question because every time they were sure about the answer the material behaved differently. It provided interesting textures and movement.
The material they were playing with was corn starch and water. I mixed in some food coloring to make it more interesting. Each student got his own color. To make it I poured a cup of corn starch into a one quart zip lock bag. I added water in small increments until the mixture would flow from one end of the bag to the other, looking like an old lava lamp. I then added the food coloring. When the food coloring was sufficiently mixed I had my students pour the mixture into a paper plate and gave them spoons to play with mixture. They made a wonderful mess. The mixture was all over the table in our room. It was all over their hands and faces. Some of them even ate it. Cleanup was a breeze. I had the students put the paper plates in the waste basket. Everything that was on the table we pushed to the floor. We then vacuumed the mess up. They washed their hands and faces. Our carpet is industrial carpet on a cement slab. You may want to do this in a kitchen and use a broom and or a mop for cleanup.
I cannot tell you how much fun my students had plying with this.
Seven months ago a student came into my classroom who believed that Pokemon was real. The first question that he asked anyone coming into our classroom was is Pokemon real. If they answered negatively he would go into a spiel about how he felt Pokemon was real. My other students are into Pokemon but to the extent of this child.
His group home requested that I make it a goal that he not talk about Pokemon. A representative of the school district reiterated this request. I told them that this was impossible. My students were too into Pokemon to have a specific goal that denied the existence of Pokemon.
My focus was not to deny the existence of Pokemon but remove the pressure that the student felt to hold on so fervently to Pokemon. The first step was to enlist the help of my other students; they had to stop challenging his belief Pokemon was real. This left his belief in Pokemon up to me to dispel. When the student challenged me to teach Pokemon as a class in school, I showed him the State Standards website. I asked him to find a reference on the website that allowed me to teach about Pokemon. When the student complained that the State Standards did not have a reference about Pokemon, I told him to write his congressman. The congressman can have it added to the State Standards, until then I could not teach Pokemon.
Everyday this student would draw extensive Pokemon figures on all of his papers. I never commented on his drawings except to say how pretty they were. Whenever the student would bring Pokemon up during class, I would ask him how his comment related to the current discussion. Whenever it applied or could be used in Math or other subjects I would encourage him to use it.
The idea was to reduce the stress he felt about Pokemon. I felt that if we could reduce everyone being in his face about Pokemon, his hold on it would decrease. His last statement about Pokemon being real happened two months ago. The drawings on his papers have changed from solely being about Pokemon figures to fish and dinosaurs. His pronouncements in class have been about fishing and dinosaurs. Subjects that the other students have found more interesting. The week end after his mother took him fishing, the conversation in class was all about fishing.
I cannot state that Pokemon is removed from his beliefs, but it has taken a lower level. When he started our school he had a full time aide. Much of the conflict that he had when he started had to deal with his rigid belief in the reality of Pokemon. When people stopped challenging this belief, the necessity of an aide decreased. While this student still has many problems, he is improving.
Yesterday 9 of our students played basketball for forty minutes. For
the forty minutes there was good sportsmanship being displayed by all of
the students. Basketball rules were enforced for the students that had
the skills to meet the rules. Students that did not have the skills were
allowed to play using their best abilities. Students from each team
allowed them to either pass or shoot without defending them. For forty
minutes the students played without fighting and without swearing. When
the two students had a held ball, the teams took turns on passing ball
back into play. Our students have come a long way to play for this
length of time without having conflicts of some sort. The score of the
game was 56-48 and everyone who played scored.
Note on a Basketball Game
Earlier today I wrote a note on a remarkable basketball game yesterday. I told my students about the note. All day today at the school we left the computer on; to see how many people responded. I know that many of you have not had time to read the original note, but to those who did and responded to it. I want to thank you. My students hear praise from me all the time. They listened all afternoon for responses to my letter. It was wonderful for them to see how many more people were impressed with their good sportsmanship. Every response reinforced the message of the note. Basketball at PE today was even better than yesterday because my students took your kind words to heart. It was not just me praising them; it was the combined chorus of everybody that I sent the e-mail to. If you really want to change behavior praise the child when they are doing good. Today we reinforced good sportsmanship. I want to thank you all.
Last Thursday and Friday my students Picked up trash first at our school and playground. We then picked up Trash along the street that our school was located. My students and I donned rubber gloves and carried trash bags to clean up the mile long street next to the school. Friday in completion of a semester long service learning project we went to the park at Sycamore Cove along the Pacific Coast Highway and picked up trash on the beach.
We were welcomed by the Rangers at the Ranger Station. We were given instructions on what we could pick up on the beach. The Rangers provided us with rubber gloves and trash bags. We started at one end of the beach and worked our way to the other end. In two hours we had picked up about 120 pounds of trash.
We then held a cookout and our students and staff consumed 32 hot dogs and 24 hamburgers. There students spent the next hour swimming under the watchful eye of the staff.
We cleaned up our picnic area and met with the Rangers at the Ranger station there. The Ranger asked our students questions about what they picked up. He then told them how each item affected wild life if they had not picked it up.
We had a very good day at the beach.
Last Night I attended the Graduation of a former student at a local High School. This student was the happiest and most vocal graduate there. He raised both hands in the air shouting victory after getting his diploma. Eight years ago his graduation was unthinkable. He was about to be sent to a residential home where he would be cared for, for the rest of his life. He was diagnosed as being severely autistic. His mother looked at different placements for him and decided on a little school, where they could contact the person in charge, the owner whenever there was a problem.
The owner of the school drove this little boy to and from school everyday because he was too violent to ride with other students. This ride was a forty mile trip one-way that she made each day. The first time I saw this student he was hiding under a couch in the office. I was there as a parent checking on the progress of my son. A few weeks later I returned to teach the children at the school soccer. This little boy was my challenge. Can you teach an autistic boy to play soccer? My plan was simple place a ball in front of him and see if he kicked it. He did. Some of you may have read my previous story about soccer.
This little boy caused all kinds of problems at the school. One day after he refused to do any work the owner decided to challenge his resolve. Whenever work was placed in front of him he was tearing up the paper and breaking the pencils. The owner called the parents and asked permission to keep him after school. He was kept after school for a long time. The owner got him McDonald’s for supper. The little boy still refused to do any work. At about nine-o’clock in the evening the little boy asked how long could he be held after school? The owner asked him what he liked for breakfast? About 9:30 the little boy decided that he would do the work.
I started teaching at the school the year after my son went back to regular High School. This little boy was a member of my first class. He was still stubborn. He did as much work as he wanted too. I had the advantage of knowing that if push came to shove he would do the work if only to avoid being kept after school. The question in my mind was not would he graduate from high school? The question was did he want to graduate from high school. The answer came two years later, when he requested being returned to regular school.
The school worked out at his IEP that he would start regular high school one period per day. At the end of the first semester the transition was half of a day at regular high school in a special education class. He started tenth grade in a special education day class. After a couple of months he tested out of the special education day class. He joined the wrestling team and was on the honor roll.
I was there at the graduation with owner of our school. I was given three big hugs by the graduating senior. None of my hugs were as big as the one he gave the owner of the school after he had his diploma. He came rushing across the field at us and nearly tackled her while giving her a hug. The graduate stated that he considered the owner of the school his third grandma. I met that night his grandma’s and a Lady from United Parents who had worked with his parents for many years. Everyone was amazed at the progress the graduate had made. Me, I was hoarse from cheering when they announced his name to come up and receive his diploma.
The Movie Cars
Today I took twelve students with the diagnosis of autism to see the movie CARS. I was accompanied by five aides. All of the students thoroughly enjoyed the movie. After the movie all of the students went to Mc Donald’s and placed orders for and ate their lunch at McDonald’s. The students tended to be very specific in their ordering. Hamburgers without cheese and no pickle. McDonald’s handled every specific request with ease. They even had our orders filled by the name of the particular student. The students enjoyed their lunch and the movie and we headed back to school. I know this sounds like a small thing but we took twelve students with the diagnosis of autism to a movie and to lunch without a problem. Everyday victories need to be acknowledged.
I know that this is going to sound dumb, but today I insulted one of students diagnosed with autism. He got that the insult was a joke and he laughed and laughed. He laughed so hard that he had to hold his stomach. He has a beautiful laugh. I would like to think that I am that funny; I know that I am not. I sure enjoyed listening to him laugh.
At the Beach
Today at the beach Tom and Arnold ate their lunches together and had a conversation that only they could understand. Arnold may be the person who understands Tom’s thinking best. Tom has to understand that Arnold has a more animated attitude toward life than Tom does. I keep trying to tell Tom that it is okay for Arnold to be different from Tom. It is their differences that make life interesting.
(Note names changed)
Mom comment on behaviors in public
I wish people were more understanding, I wish they had more compassion. The only way we can help the children with autism is to expose them to the world and help them learn to deal with it. I do this all day every day. Sometimes I feel great about what I am doing. Sometimes things do not go as planned. I work very hard to get my students to trust me. When I feel I have their trust I work to challenge them. They know that I will not hurt them, and I push to expand their world. If they are going to have a problem, It is better that they have it in a controlled environment than in the real world. We are trained to handle their outbursts. We would prefer that they not have outbursts, but by challenging them, we can get them to grow. This is not an overnight fix; you have to spend the time to make it work. My most improved students have been with me for five years. I have another student that has been with me for 2-1/2 years. Will they have difficulty living in society, I do not know. I hope that I have prepared them enough to get by. They will always be autistic; I hope the world will cut them some slack.
Dodge ball game
Last week I sat and watched as seven of our students, most of them with the diagnosis of autism played dodge ball with an aide. They played for nearly forty-five minutes without the need of a teacher reminding them how to behave. Now Dodge ball is an interesting sport with the idea hitting your opponent with a ball. If you are quick, you can catch the ball and the player who threw it has to leave the court. One team sort of dominated the play but everyone was playing and having a good time. Once when a player attempted to catch the ball, he missed and the ball hit him in the nose. The aide and the player who threw the ball rushed to see if he was hurt. The other players gathered around.
The player who was hit in the nose shook it off and left the court and the game went on without another incident. The players changed sides after every two games so that no one faced the sun too much. I kept expecting that I would have to go over to the court and referee a fight. There were no fights. Everybody knew the rules and they played by them. They were not supposed to hit another player above the waist, but accidents did happen, the offending player apologized and the game went on. The game lasted almost all of PE without a fight or a curse word. I was amazed and pleased about how well the students played the game.
Lunch on me
Today I took two of my students to lunch. They were half way thru the Language Arts portion of the CAHSEE. I took them to IHOP. They ordered their favorite meals from the menu. Having my students pass the exam is important to me. I am not sure if they will pass it this time or not. They may have to take this test three more times before they graduate. I want to create a positive attitude about this test. I want them to look forward to taking this test. After lunch they went back and finished the Language Arts portion of the test. Tomorrow they will take the Math portion of the test. Tomorrow I will take them out for lunch again. Other than to be in the room to help them with the instructions on the test I cannot help them in anyway to take the test. Will they pass it? I do not know. I will prepare them to take the test again as best I can. Next month another of my students will take this test. Different School Districts take it at different times. I will take that student out to lunch too. It is my hope that by making a positive experience out of taking the test, they will relax and perform better on the test.
Thanks to a parent
This school year is just beginning and I have to say thanks to a parent of one of my students. This year she has purchased new desks for my students. Today she purchased a cabinet that I needed for my class. While she was at the store we discovered that we needed plastic containers for our rewards drawer. I called and she brought back four containers that would keep our rewards safe for our students. This afternoon when I was not looking she brought in new balls for our ball chairs. These balls are small exercise balls that fit into rolling chairs that we have. In addition to this she finds art projects for our students to work on for every major Holiday. She tries to make sure that no one feels left out. While I am not going to mention her by name I want people to understand that we appreciate all that she does for our students.
Last week my students chose to go to Burger King for Fast Food Friday. We went to Burger King and everyone ordered their favorite meal. We went to the Burger King at the Mall. While there I noticed that the movie Open Season was playing. It was just twelve O’clock and the movie started at 12:10. I asked how long the movie was. I was told it was under two hours. I called the school and got permission to take my students to the movie. Now all of my students complained about going to the movie. I had not prepared them for the movie. I had to work to get most of them to go. One student balked completely about going to the movie. He had to be taken back to the school. Six other students although complaining went to see the movie. The students, who saw the movie, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the movie.
Today the student choosing Fast Food Friday again chose Burger King. As we were going to Burger King one of my students pleaded that we would not go to the movie afterward. I have the two problems to deal with at the moment. I have to find out why the one student balked at going to the movie last Friday. I have to find out why the other student did not want to go to the movie today.
I like to use movies for teaching my students. They are visual learners. Whenever there is a historical movie not rated “R” playing I like to take them to see the movie. My students remember so much better the movie, than they do reading about the same material in class. In general my students behaved like gentlemen, even the student who refused to go to the movie.
My students and I are reading Shaw’s play Pygmalion in class. Not all of my students are crazy about the play. I find that I am the more we read the play the more I am convinced that Professor Higgins is on the autistic spectrum. The professor is single minded he is interested in a narrow focus in the world of speech. He is abrasive without knowing or understanding why he has hurt other people’s feelings. He has no use for small talk. He ignores people in gatherings to focus on his contemplation. His mother does not want him around on the day that she greets her friends because Professor Higgins insults them so badly that they do not come back. The professor is absent minded and constantly misplaces things. I may be wrong but I stop the reading and point out the similarities between Professor Higgins and a person with autism.
This week we will watch My Fair Lady and see if my students come to the same conclusion that I have. It is harder to find in the movie because of the songs, but it may be interesting to find out.
Between Five and Six years ago I met an angry young man who nearly killed me the first time I took him into the time out room. He was eight years old and as he entered the time out room he grabbed a metal file and through it in the air it hit ceiling panels above my head and almost hit me in the head on its way down. His anger changed the way the timeout room was furnished, nothing that he could pick-up or turnover could be in the room.
Later that same year this student accidentally hit me in the mouth with a putter while playing Putt-Putt Golf. During the years we have both learned from each other. I have learned how to challenge his thinking without making him physically violent. He has learned that it is possible to have an opinion other than his. Although this has not come without pain not only on his and my part but on the part of almost everyone who knows him but as he puts it he has grown.
Last night his parents held a combination fund raiser and anniversary party. My student was in attendance with a number of his friends. My student was outstanding in his ability to handle the number of guests and to play host not only to his friends that he introduced to me and to everyone else in attendance. He was remarkable in his self confidence and in his presence of mind in making sure his friends were comfortable. I cannot tell you about how much progress this student has made since he started at our school. To see him walking around introducing a little girl that he held when she was only two days old to everyone. She is only half his age but they are friends. I enjoyed the party mainly because I got to see my student’s social skills bloom beyond anything that I could have ever imagined.
Last Friday another teacher and I took my class of students (all HFA) roller skating. A roller Skating rink in Ventura was having a special. We had lunch at Burger King, which made most of my students happy. After lunch we drove to the roller rink. Things that you worry about when you take students places like this. One they will fall and get hurt or I will fall and get hurt. ( I am recovering from broken fingers on my hand) we got there and everyone rushed to get skates on, except for one student. This student has a problem speaking and it took a while to get him on the floor.
The other teacher took him around the floor for as far as we could tell this was the first time he had been roller skating. We have taken my class ice skating before but this was the first time roller skating. My students did not do too hot. Two quit with about only one trip around the floor. One had trouble getting started but he kept trying. He is fourteen. He stayed on the floor and kept trying to get the hang of it. One student was almost an expert. He participated in the races put on by the rink and took second place.
The student who was trying so hard fell and had people from the rink around him. I was told he was hurt. I went over to check him out and he was lying on the floor taking off his skates. I helped him to his feet and went over to the sidelines with him. He was crying and said that this was too dangerous and that we should all go home. The student who could barely talk wanted to skate some more. I called the school and told the principal and the student’s mother that he was hurt and was demanding to be taken to the emergency room. I checked out his arm. He had full range of motion and there was no evidence of swelling. The rink gave him an ice pack. I set him down and thought that he was OK. I relayed to the principal about how he felt and she said we should stay and his mother could take him home the next morning.
I went on the ice and tried skating. The next thing I knew the student was hanging over the rail raising a raucous. At this point I was angry. I split the class into skaters and watchers and drove the watchers back to school. The skaters stayed for another twenty minutes. They came back with the other teacher.
When we got back to school my student’s mother had gone to Staples. He lay on the sidewalk outside the school crying about his arm. The principal went out and talked to him about it. She was trying to get his mind off his arm. We gave him more ice to put on his arm. When his mother came back she went through the same steps that we did. She said that he would live. I got his point sheet and she took him home.
I got this e-mail later: It’s Broken! He has a temporary ace bandage-type wrap until Tuesday when we can see the orthopedist to get a permanent cast. We might have to leave school early for that. The doc said he was very brave. We went to Urgent Care since all the regular doc offices were closing at 5pm. He’s upset with himself and I’m trying to keep him from “dark thoughts” by saying he needs a positive attitude to heal.
I responded with:
Tell the student I am impressed with how well he behaved after hurting his wrist. I never thought it was possible for it to be broken with the range of motion that he was showing. Tell him I am sorry I doubted him.
The student wrote me later:
I have mixed feelings about my cast. On one side I’m a prisoner to it, but I also feel it’s a liberator to me by forcing me not to play video games and to do other things. I feel peaceful now that can’t play video games, but I don’t want the cast signed please.
I wrote him:
You need to take a more positive attitude about you cast. I not sure you care but girls love to sign them. Right now I suggest you drink tart cherry juice. Nobody has signed my finger splints. Oh, why tart cherry juice, it is 10 times more effective than aspirin for inflammation. Remember those papers that I gave you for babysitter and her sister. I am drinking 16 ounces per day to help my fingers.
A little while later: if you need therapy, I am going to a good one in Thousand Oaks. I visit them for therapy three times a week.
And finally: Hi Ben, I just had a silly thought. You could dress up as the mummy for Halloween. I would hide you cast. I know I am being ludicrous, as in ludicrous speed from space balls, a movie that was written by autistic people. Check out the scene combing the desert.