Friday, January 27, 2012

When the going gets tough...

Today was a rough day in Room 10.  One of those particularly hellish days where everyone seems a little off, and a little off for each kid ends up being a lot off as a group… I’ve had a number of fish tanks in my life over the years, and I can liken today to this… You know when you sprinkle the fish food on the surface, how sometimes at first, nothing happens? Then all of a sudden, one fish heads for those flaky little morsels, and suddenly it’s a writhing swarm of open mouths flailing all over each other in a seemingly unending tangle of crazy?

That was today.

Maybe it was the fact that I was at a workshop yesterday. Maybe it was the big fluffy snowfall this morning. Or the fact that it was Friday. Or the fact that it was assembly day and the routine was a little off-normal. Maybe all of these things together, who knows?  What I DO know is that by the end of the day, all I wanted to do was lock myself in the Sensory Room and have a good cry, throw myself off the padded walls for a bit, and maybe peruse the Want ads in the paper for a nice quiet office job.

I hate days like this, and thankfully, they are rare. I don’t hate them because of the stress, or the worry that someone is going to end up hurt or injured (which happened). I don’t hate them because of the precious, hard-gathered classroom items that get destroyed beyond repair (which also happened). I don’t even hate them because I end up tired, sore, and emotionally drained (which happens fairly regularly).  What I hate most about days like these is that I come out of them feeling like a terrible teacher, because I know that I could have done way more for my kids, as a teacher, than I was able to demonstrate today.

I want to enjoy my kids! Goodness knows I love them, each and every one, but I have to be honest, on days like today, sometimes I don’t like them very much. And I know that sounds horrible, I do. I don’t like ME, because of it, but I can’t help it. It’s very hard to like the child running in circles around the room, shoving other kids and laughing.  Or the one shrieking, refusing to eat and smacking people in the face. The other one shrieking and running around pulling hair, also laughing. The one darting around the room to grab and throw things, or the one dumping food on the floor because all the others are getting attention from misbehaving so why shouldn’t they get some, too? It’s maddening.  It’s infuriating. And it most certainly doesn’t bring to mind the words “like” or “enjoy” - even when you know in your head about communication and behaviour, sensory processing, and the myriad of other reasons for what is happening. You just CAN’T pay attention to everyone at once, and if you manage to get through the day in one piece, you end up like this – re-reading your post in horror, because you’re admitting all the things going on in your head, which on one hand, you really want to delete and write something positive, but on the other, you feel like give some perspective to all the good things that DO happen in Room 10.

It’s not always wonderful. Or magical. We have really bad days.  And I don't just mean the kids - I mean all of us.  One really bad days, I don’t usually blog.  I try to let go of days like today, not record them. Certainly not share them with the world. But there it is, and I refuse to delete it.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, though, is not that today was awful, but that in the end, it’s only a day. Not every day is like today. And really, if I’m being honest, even today had its moments of sparkle. This IS my blog, and try as I might, I can’t just leave it to the negativity of the day.  For myself, and for anyone reading this, I have to leave it with the same positivity that I depend on to project me into the next day (although I have to admit, a weekend to unwind doesn’t hurt either!) I LOVE my students, and sometimes loving them as much as I do and wanting so much for them makes for very hard days, when things don't go the way I know they could.

Here’s what was great today: I watched one of my students participate with the other second graders in a Lunar New Year parade at today’s assembly. I wish I had a picture of her face as she bounced around with them, banging her tambourine – it was exquisite! My big boy was requesting beautifully all day – asking for help with no hesitation when he needed it, finding the right words at the right time – great progress.  My littlest was a quivering ball of energy today – I swear he couldn’t have been more wired if Red Bull was running through his veins – but bless his little heart, he FINALLY handed me the picture exchange at snack time to ask for more Cheerios – twice. Finally, at the end of a very long day, after the kids, the after-school meeting, the inbox full of emails, and the paperwork gathered for this weekend’s “homework”, I was blessed to have a friend sit on the floor with me and laugh for half an hour, as we attempted to blow up my brand-new ball pit for our gross-motor “Wiggle Room”.  We failed miserably, leaving it half-inflated and sad, and shaking our heads at my “wisdom” in deciding that a giant inflatable pit full of plastic balls was a GOOD idea for the room after the craziness of the day. Stay tuned for how THIS turns out!

Happy Friday, everyone...  Thanks for helping me get out of the fish tank alive. J

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jingle Bells and Joy...

The week before Christmas was a great week in Room 10.  Caveat: This is not a blanket statement. We still had tantrums, the room got trashed on more than one occasion, we had staff injuries, student injuries, several destroyed books (my pet peeve!) and a near-disastrous incident with a Christmas tree in the hallway. Despite all that, this week had moments that simply glowed, and although it’s taken me some time to get to it, I wanted to share them...
One very cool thing that has happened is that back in November, I spoke at our staff meeting about my class, introducing the kids to everyone.  It was something that was way overdue, but nice to finally get done.  Because we are out and about in the hallways, integrated with other classes for outdoor play and such, I wanted the rest of the staff to be aware of my kids’ triggers, behaviours and personalities, so that they could share with their students, partly to keep everyone safe from some of the aggressive behaviours, but mostly so that they could greet and interact with my kids when they had the chance. Following the meeting, one of our Grade Two teachers invited me up to talk to her kids about my class, and the kids were fascinated – they had lots of great questions about my students, and almost all of them volunteered to be Play Buddies. Their teacher set up a rotation of volunteers, 2-3 at a time, to come down to my room during activity times and interact with my students – a great opportunity for all the kids involved.  Some of them are more natural at it than others, of course, but all of our buddies have been open and wonderful, and some of my kids are really enjoying the attention and interaction from their new friends.

Also, my amazing husband has been coming in every week to do “Guitar Time” with my kids. It’s not an understatement to say that they LOVE this – many of my kids have an affinity for music, and they eagerly gather and sit on the carpet to “sing along” with The ABC Song, The Ants Go Marching and The Hokey Pokey.  It’s a 20 minute slice of guaranteed calm and fun in an unpredictable week, and I think my staff and I enjoy it as much as the kids do!

As December rolled around, I decided that I wanted my class to participate in the school holiday concert. As with most things this year, it was going to be a complete gamble.  A change in routine, an unfamiliar location (the gym stage), and an audience full of people – strange noises, smells, sights – it could be a perfect recipe for disaster for my kids. Besides, I was pretty sure none of my kids had ever participated in a school concert, but I was determined – Room 10 is a place of opportunity, and as far as I could see, participating in the concert was another great step.

My plan was to try and make the concert as stress-free for my kids as possible – to try and create some familiarity despite the changes required to pull it off.  I decided on Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells – most of my kids don’t celebrate Christmas, but I figured those were two “festive” choices that everyone could enjoy. We added them to our regular guitar time, invited some of our Play Buddies to come and sing with us, and borrowed a bin full of jingle bells from the music room so that the kids could play along, even if they weren’t singing.

I met with the music teacher, and we juggled around details – where to put us in the program, what we would need onstage. I sent notes home to the parents, explaining what we were planning. When my husband turned out to have a gig on the night of the concert, I panicked briefly, and then asked another teacher who plays guitar if he could fill in for us – no problem! The day before the concert, he came down on his recess to play through the songs with us, and the kids didn’t miss a beat. I was incredibly grateful.

The day of the concert, we had an afternoon dress rehearsal. It was supposed to be at 1pm.  Then at 1:20.  Finally at 1:45, it got started. We moved ourselves into the change room to wait for our turn, all of our staff on high alert – needlessly. The kids were brilliant – they waited patiently, interacting with the other kids who were there waiting, and when our turn came, everyone made it onstage without a hitch – no panic, no meltdowns.  We got ourselves settled, our buddies joined us, and off we went – Jingle Bells first, followed by Frosty.  There was not a blip. Every one of my kids was engaged – sitting nicely, playing their jingle bells and looking out into the crowd.  I saw our custodian in the audience wiping her eyes, and when the entire school joined in singing with us, it was a darn good thing they did, because I was suddenly so choked up I could barely see, let alone sing. It could not have gone any better.

When the evening rolled around, I held my breath.  Could it possibly go just as well twice? It could. All of the kids showed up on time. They participated beautifully. The audience sang along, and the parents were thrilled to have their kids participate. I truly could not have asked for more out of the experience for them, or for myself – it was a gamble that paid off in every way!

As one final update for 2011 (even though it’s already gone!), the Sensory Room is still moving along. That $600 blacklight installation? It happened.  I must have an angel on the shoulder of the principal of Special Programs, because I arrived one morning to find it up. And then it came down, because the “safety cover” on the light diffused the blacklight so that it didn’t work.  And then, after weeks of back-and-forth, it went back up, using my original $100 fixture, with a cage over top.  Which is what we had asked for in the first place. Sigh... Who cares? It’s up, it works, and the neon carpet tiles have been ordered to go with it – yay! Thanks to the expensive installation done by Special Ed, it now turns on an off via a switch located outside the room... I’m sure that will come in handy at some point!

Finally, in the last week of school, my principal came running to find me... more angels afoot!  One of the superintendents at the field office had heard me on CBC back in the spring, and instead of buying Christmas gifts for all his office people, he wanted to make a donation in their honour to our room. Mirror ball kit and Aromatherapy set – check and check! I strongly suspect his head secretary, who was our school secretary for many years, had something to do with this, and I shake my head yet again at the amazing good fortune I have to be surrounded by such love and support from so many people – it is truly overwhelming.  We are within $3000 of our end goal for the room, and 2012 is sure hold new adventures for Room 10... Happy New Year, and stay tuned!