Archive for January, 2009

Spank You Very Much!

I originally wrote this blog post for parenting blog This Mommy Gig; it appeared on August 26th, 2008.   I have edited it slightly for inclusion on my blog.

Last week, reported that over 200,000 children in the US were spanked at school in the 2006-2007 school year.  As I read the article (with this blog post in mind), I took note of what I felt were some the key takeaways:

  • Corporal punishment is legal in 21 states, but only used frequently in 13
  • Texas led the paddling pack with 48,197 students receiving CP that year
  • CP was disproportionately applied to Black students (17.1% of the population received 35.6% of those swats, and was 1.4 times more likely to be paddled than White students)
  • A mother whose 13-year-old son was paddled was told by school administrators that paddling is “the quick and dirty way of dealing with discipline problems”

I was originally going to focus this piece on the utter dearth of empirical support for corporal punishment (sorry, my access to EBSCOhost is limited over the summer), but then I got to the user comments, where I was taken aback by the overwhelming support for corporal punishment in schools.  Scroll down to the end of the article to the “Sound Off” section (can’t link to it directly) to read the comments.

Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Please don’t get me wrong, folks: I’m not here to tell you how to raise or punish your kids, and I know that the spank/no-spank debate is a hot-button issue on successful dates in parenting circles.  My concern in this instance stems not from whether or not people spank their kids, but rather that so many people seem willing to put this decision in the hands of their children’s schools.

Postscript: As I read this article, I was reminded of someone I once knew who told me she “could not wait” for her son to turn 1 so she could start spanking him (not sure how she came by that magic metric).  We had quite a few discussions about parenting, but never did I feel less comfortable than when she’d talk about spanking with such fervor.  I always thought the phrase “a gleam in one’s eye” was just a figure of speech until I heard her wax romantic about the ways she could, would, and did spank her child.

Post-Postscript: Check some statistics regarding the breakdown of corporal punishment in public schools by state and race at The Center for Effective Discipline.  I’m genuinely curious as to how many of us work in schools where corporal punishment is practiced, and if so, what does that look like?

T3: Cutting Up in the Classroom

Rebecca Bell over at Notes from the School Psychologist recently started a blog carnival called Teaching Tips Tuesdays (or T3).  This is my contribution to this week’s edition (but linked to last week’s T3, since there isn’t one up for this week yet), and will be cross-posted to/linked from her blog (I think!).

As an English teacher, I taught many sections of our tenth-grade English II course that were designated as In-Class Support (ICS).  In these classes, we would have as many as 10 students with learning disabilities along with another 10-15 students who did not have learning disabilities.  The goal of the ICS model is to allow special education to be as inclusive as possible by assigning two teachers to a classroom, one content area teacher and one special education teacher.    The course content is identical to that of non-ICS general education courses.

Given the high co-morbidity rate of ADHD and other learning disabilities, it’s not uncommon to have students in these classes who comprehend the material well enough, but have serious trouble organizing their thoughts in writing.  This can be difficult enough for 15-year-olds without any other influences, but when you throw ADHD and other SLDs into the mix, the writing process can become incredibly frustrating for both student and teacher.

About five years ago, I had a student who was experiencing great difficulty writing a research paper.  He knew what he wanted to say, but told me he just couldn’t make sense of what was in his head to get it on paper.  Rough drafts were due that week, so I told him to bring in a rough draft and I’d work with him after school to try to help him.

When we sat down together to look at his draft, I saw exactly what he meant.  The paragraphs themselves were more or less focused on a single topic, but reading the paper as a whole, the topics shifted from this to that back to this again.  It was incredibly difficult to follow his train of thought and the defense of his thesis.

I tried explaining why the paragraphs didn’t make sense in the order they were in, but the student wasn’t getting me.  I don’t know how I got the idea, but I eventually got up, walked over to the teacher’s desk, grabbed a pair of scissors, and returned to the student.  After getting his permission, I proceeded to cut his essay up by paragraph.  I then asked him to put all the paragraphs that deal with Topic A in a pile (whatever Topic A was), all the Topic B paragraphs in another pile, and all the Topic C paragraphs in a third pile.

I will never forget the look in his eyes and the widening “O” his mouth made as he uttered he magic words: “Ohhh, I GET it now!  Thanks, Mr. B!”  He reorganized his paper that weekend and, if I remember correctly, received an A or B on the final draft.

Cliff’s Notes Version: Physical manipulatives can be great for getting kids (and teachers!) to grasp abstract concepts like writing or mathematics, and they can be found (or made) in the least likely places.

Dear Diary

My recent stint filling in as a school psychologist in a maternity-leave position was unique to me for a few reasons.  Not only was it my first “real world” exposure to working in the field (internship notwithstanding), but I was also working within a finite time period.  This job had a “sell-by” date on it, and even if I hadn’t been offered my new full-time position, my time as a psychologist at this particular school would have ended when the woman I was filling in for returned in February.

It’s been a long time since I had a job like that, and if I’m honest, yes, I do think I perceived the position differently than if it was a permanent job.  I don’t mean to say that I slacked off or didn’t care; rather, I think the limited time frame made me a little more aware of my thoughts and reactions to the job on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I decided to document my thoughts at the end of each day a la Doogie Howser.   To do this, I used Quillpill, a Twitter-like microblogging service.   While there are many similarities between the two services, Quillpill is promoted primarily as a story-telling, rather than IM-ish, service.  From their “About” page:

Quillpill supplies you the writer, diary keeper, poet, or reader with access to a unique writing tool for mobile and web. The mobile web offers you a much more book-like experience than even a laptop can, as the mobile phone is the first web-able device that is as portable, accessible, and personal as a paperback novel or your favorite journal. The best part is: You already own it and carry it with you!

There is a web interface, but more often than not, I found myself using the mobile interface to input my daily observations on my Palm Centro phone as I walked to and from student observations, meetings, or even in the car (passenger, natch) or on the couch at home (iPhone users have their own special interface).  Whenever the ideas struck, I was able to reach into my pocket and record.  The 140 character limit also forced me to keep my writing succinct, not a trait for which I’m known.  An unfortunate by-product of such brevity is that without context, entries don’t always come across as intended, but that’s not necessarily a problem if you’re just writing for yourself.

I’m glad I did this because I (and now, you) can look back at my daily thoughts (I think I missed fewer than 10 school days between 4 Sept and 23 Dec 2008).  I’ve made only minor edits for anonymity and clarity (remember what I said about context before you judge me, please!). For those of you who just want the Cliff’s Notes rundown, here are my top 5 takeaways:

  • I hated being new at something again
  • Bureaucracy and red tape were endlessly frustrating, and I sometimes felt powerless to do what I thought would help
  • Parents appreciated me & my efforts much more than I thought they would
  • I observed some double standards in terms of how some teachers conduct themselves & what they expect from their students
  • I really enjoyed being a vocal advocate for kids who needed one

Overall, it was a very positive experience, and I’m grateful for being offered the opportunity to get my feet wet in an environment in which I was familiar and comfortable.  I’ll be starting up in a brand new position in a brand new (to me) school on Monday, 5 Jan, and I’ll absolutely use the lessons learned in this temporary position to guide me as I establish myself in a new branch of my career in education.