Sunday, July 26, 2020

Teacher, Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

Teacher, teacher, can you teach me?
Can you tell me if I'm right or wrong?
Teacher, teacher, can you reach me?
I want to know what's goin' on, oh

~"Teacher, Teacher", 38 Special

Enough already with the debate about whether or not to reopen schools!

I have taught in schools for over 31 years - more than half of my life. More than that, I have taught outside of a classroom for most of my life. So my voice matters and I would like to be heard.

We are irreparably damaging our children. Not just now, as a result of the pandemic closing schools, but by our use of public education as a resource for any "minority" group who wants to push their agenda.

Right now I want to expose the harm that is being done by leaving public schools closed.

I grew up in a small city (it was actually not even deemed a city until later) at a time when handicapped children in our town were "lucky" enough to have a facility that provided them what realistically was glorified day care.

The facility was actually started shortly before I was born, but in 1975 PL 94-142 (Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed, and just as I entered high school, a whole new world was opened up.

The disabled students that had previously been "out of sight, out of mind" at the local facility (for any of us who did not have a neighbor, friend, or family member with a disability) were now in our school building, and sometimes even in our classrooms.

In my school, there was a wing that led to the band/music/chorus/stage that held the classrooms for most of these students, but those of us who participated in those activities became familiar with many of the teachers and students.

What I have NOT seen raised as an issue at all during the school closings is a dialog about how disabled students are being affected by no longer having access to the school buildings.

You can NOT do PT (physical therapy - large movement skills such as walking) or OT (occupational therapy - fine motor skills like writing or turning switches) effectively over a Zoom interface. 

Speech therapy is also problematic and difficult under the best of conditions, and given all of the issues that can arise with connectivity, cameras, and microphones, it is not meeting the needs of these students. (I will discuss the "digital divide" more in a separate blog entry.)

Life skills such as laundry, cleaning, personal hygiene cannot be effectively taught without following the student around and observing them in action. And since most schools have barely been able to provide stationary technology for students, a portable camera interface is beyond budget.

Are schools able to provide an interface on their Zoom or Microsoft Meeting so that the teacher or aide for handicapped students has a private connection to deliver their supplementary instruction which they used to receive in the school building, if not in the actual classroom?

A physical school environment is so much more than learning academic skills (and I include the areas listed above as just a small sample of services provided for disabled students).

School is a medium for providing social skills for ALL of the students. And remote learning just does NOT compare.

When you are IRL (in real life) with a room full of classmates, there is "hands on" instruction in tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions that are kept to a minimum over electronic media. (Don't believe me? How many of you adults only "dress up" for the part that the camera has in view?)

There is observation of interactions between peers and adults that does not occur when people are no longer in the same room.

And there is exposure to a wide variety of individuals who are different from you, they look different, smell different, speak differently, and have different interests - and you learn how to interact with others who aren't just an extension of how you were raised.

Those are all critical educational skills, not only for disabled students, but all students, especially from an early age. 

How else do we expect our children to learn that there are people in the world who are not the same as them when they no longer encounter them, even if just casually walking past them in a school hallway?

If you read the link above about PL 94-142, the original provisions were for at least one free meal a day for handicapped students.

What is not being discussed is that often, the parents of disabled students are unable to provide for these students basic needs sufficiently - food being just the tip of the iceberg.

Yet now we have thrust them into the position of providing supervision of their child's educational program without providing them any training equivalent to even a teacher's aide.

Some of these children have behaviors which even trained professionals have difficulty managing, and that was with the "tag team" approach that gave both parents and teachers time away.

Now these students are full-time in a household that may not be well-equipped to provide a substitute for the public school academically, let alone behaviorally.

Over the past several months I have had conversations with parents of disabled students and they are frustrated and angry that the "remote learning" is not addressing the needs of their child.

Yes, we have a health crisis in our country. But if we allow our most vulnerable student population to become victims to educational malpractice, we are reverting to the "out of sight, out of mind" warehousing mentality that existed half a century ago.

Open schools with CDC guidelines. Give parents a choice if they feel their child is at health risk.

But allow our children to learn and grow in skills and behaviors and attitudes. All of our children, not just those capable of utilizing technology!

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