I’ll Take ‘Fluency’ for $600, Alex

I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career as a professional development-providing speech-language pathologist.  Before Christmas break, my co-worker Christine came up with this genius scheme of offering a PD session via game show format.  I wasn’t there for the initial conversation, but apparently none of my other colleagues took her seriously enough to think she actually meant it.  As soon as she made mention of it within distance of my eavesdropping ears, I WAS IN!

I was IMMEDIATELY transported back to the living room of my parents’ house and the couch where I spent my middle and high school years.  Immediately.  Back in the day, television game shows were, forgive the pun, the only game in town.  You had three networks on television—yes, three, well four if you count PBS—and your television set was a monolith of dark, carved woodwork.  Most daytime television air carried trashy soap operas with a few local talk shows and one weird-ass Hatha Yoga show tossed in.  I didn’t get into the soaps until high school, so that meant I spent a lot of my formative youth zoned in front of the boob tube watching game shows.  I’m not saying I’m especially proud of having so little gumption that forty years later, I can still hear the Shaft-infused 70s guitar theme from Match Game. So what If I almost never wanted to drag my butt off the couch to actively participate in life then? I turned out OK. Mostly.

When I was a kid, contestants on The Price is Right had to guess how much a new car cost, and if they could, they won the car—it was the BIGGEST prize on TV.  When I was a kid, you could buy a new car for under $4000 and Bob Barker was the TPIR host, not Drew Carey.  When I was a kid, the first round of Jeopardy! had a $100 dollar max dollar value; Richard Dawson originated as the host the Family Feud, now emceed by Steve Harvey, and Kathie Lee Crosby (now Gifford) do-do-doodled her way through elevator music pop hits on Name That Tune, before Beat Shazam could be the slightest glint in someone’s wildest imagination.   TV game shows were super cheeseball high hilarity, contested by California housewives dying to meet the B-list celebrities who guest starred on these shows.  There was no reality TV.  Game shows were early reality, unscripted TV.  It was all we had. Ah, youth.

Anyway, me being me, I practically begged Christine to be her game show host.  And she let me. (squeeeeeee!) Though it was her baby, she allowed me to relive my youth in the role of game show host for MacGyver! The Speech and Language Game Show.  

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This Bizarro World puppet was part of a 1970s-era speech-language therapy kit, so in keeping with the period, I created our MacGyver! brand, our logo.  I about tinkled with delight, so pleased was I with my “graphic arts” effort. But why MacGyver? 

Honestly, it came out of the very sad state of affairs of our budget and finances these days.  At the beginning of the school year, one of our SLPs had been assigned temporarily to a site where she had basically nothing more than a box of ancient picture cards, a piece of string, and a ball or something like that for therapy materials, yet she had managed to pull together meaningful therapy sessions for each of the students she served that day.  She’d managed to MacGyver it through.

Another television gem from my youth was the original television version of MacGyver.  Week after week, there’s MacGyver fighting crime and evil deeds, always at the precipice of certain death, yet finding a way to use whatever little was at his disposal to free himself and his compatriots from danger.  Stuck in a burning building?   He’d take a metal filing cabinet, turn it into a catapult and eject himself through the window past the flames.  When his car crashed and flew off the bridge into the Hudson River, he’d take a tube from the engine block along with a plastic bread bag or something and create a self-sustaining oxygen tank until the swim flippers he cut from the car’s floor mats propelled him to the surface.  MacGyver could do anything.

And so can our speech paths!  My 182 colleagues work miracles with the most challenging, most needy students and let’s be honest—there’s not some huge rock star budget attached to our work.  The miracle is that we effect progress with the supplies and materials we have.  The miracle is that we do what we do: however underfunded we are, we over-achieve.

We played three rounds of MacGyver! along with our own rounds of Speech-style Family Feud, $100,000 Pyramid, and Jeopardy.  And YEAH, we had a Final Jeopardy round. With the music. It was awesome and ridiculous and perfect, and I loved every single second. I even got to be all smarmy Alex Trebek-y when someone forgot to phrase her response in the form of a question. It was joyous.  People played along and people learned stuff, so hey, it was victory all-around.

Next time we meet, I’m gonna tell you all ’bout my little talk at the MDA office tomorrow. I was asked to provide a parent perspective. I always say “know your audience” when you’re speaking to groups, and I’m breaking, I’m shattering my own rule. The only thing I know is that my kid is cool with it. It’s not like I asked his permission precisely, but I did ask him if anything was off-limits. He knows I’m talking about him, about us in some capacity, and he didn’t crumble in horrified preparatory embarrassment. How I do love that boy.

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In Vain

Actually,  it DOES.  Guilty means precisely that.  Our ubiquitous friend Google provides these two definitions for the adjective guilty:

  • culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing
  • justly chargeable with a particular fault or error

I think the message the De Los Santos Law Offices, LLC means to convey is that they can get you off.  I understand “guilty” and “convicted” carry entirely different semantic shades under the law.  But to me guilty means guilty as it relates to personal responsibility, right?   Google turned up a third definition:

  • conscious of or affected by a feeling of guilt

Too frequently, I see a distinct lack of being affected by a feeling of guilt, in point of fact. “I didn’t do it.”  “She made me do it.”  “Prisons are filled with innocent people.”  This, in a perfect nutshell of a mammoth commercial billboard, is why I am having a really hard time at work these days.  The defeatism and frustration I’m trudging through aren’t novel workplace emotions in my experience.  Various forms and degrees of professional-becoming-personal malaise have cycled through dark periods of weeks, months, years during my nearly three decades as a public educator.  Right now I just can’t handle the flippant meanness.  The lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions screams at me every day.  Literally screams.  At me.  At the other adults with whom I work.

I spotted this billboard on the ride to my office from my new school assignment last week.  It so happens that this billboard is visible from the windows and yard of the  Women’s Correctional Facility adjacent to the building on which it’s posted.  To drive past the corrections facility’s unassuming brick facade, you’d think it houses more a commercial bakery maybe, or a 70’s-era office building than a prison.  But it is a prison, and the law firm’s intent is clear in its placement.  They’re a business–I understand basic marketing tenets regarding its placement specifically there by the law firm–but its message is so counter to my personal system of beliefs, I just can’t abide it.

Teachers and other school staff member like myself spend our days teaching the exact opposite of this message to our <a href=”http://Enroll“>enrollees, and we spend our nights planning and preparing lessons and materials to teach that, to engage students meaningfully and productively.  This message–you can do wrong (you know–assault, robbery, murder, vandalism, grand theft auto, whatevs), but we’ll try to get you out of it because it’s not your fault–is the diametric opposite of what teachers want to see and have happen to students.

I shared a photo last week of the pellet holes in my classroom window, and despite what you may think bullet holes in windows means, I LIKE my school.  I like my students, I like the staff members I’ve met over the last couple weeks, and I like the building.  Ah, the building.  The school has to be one hundred and ten years old if it’s a day.  It is grand.  It was grander once, but now it’s tired.  Still gorgeous in its architecture though.  Wooden staircases and floors gleam.  The stair risers are rounded out from square after a century of  little feet climbing and descending the steps.  Detailed woodwork adorns door and window frames, built-in storage cabinets line the walls of coatrooms, and messages of peace and empowerment are stencilled in the hallways.  The building was constructed during a period where public education was viewed as a cornerstone of society; education, and the buildings where children were sent for their lessons, mattered.  Architectural details, like those I see here, were included in schools’ designs in the early twentieth century, and details like those in my school did not come cheaply, so the import of education was demonstrated in the way city fathers funded schools.

It’s hard to imagine a time where budget cuts were not the first and only thing that mattered when society discussed how it educated its children. Is it possible to wax nostalgic for a time I never personally experienced?

I’ve long said that we can’t improve schools (the almighty test scores) until we improve the conditions under which students live.  The critical importance of safe, stable housing underlies Matthew Desmond’s brilliant Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City.  His first-person research into housing in Milwaukee provided an uncomfortable read, and left this reader with the conclusion that slumlording is a profitable venture and that having a safe, regular place to lie your head at night yields better outcomes for people.

“it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

From EDWeek.org, this discouraging statistic about kids who come from behind, and not in a romantic sports “comeback kid” kind of way: 

“At schools in which more than half of students lived in poverty, only 6 percent of students far behind in reading in 8th grade and 3 percent of those far behind in math and science were deemed ready for college and careers by the end of high school.”

80% of the students in my district are identified as economically disadvantaged.  But I digress.  I know blogs are supposed to be focused, but I’m not hyper-focused on muscular dystrophy this week.  It’s OK if you take a break from me and spend your valuable reading time elsewhere.  I sure wouldn’t blame you.  I’ve found that writing has been a balm to soothe this moody, savage beast (OK, and like the old adage, music too, obviously), and I need to find and reclaim my happy.  I’m driving my co-workers bonkers, and coming home crying isn’t helping my bad attitude.  So I write.  I can’t change the world, after twenty-seven years, I understand that’s a foolhardy expectation.  But I can change little things in my students’ lives, so I keep trying.  And I can change me.  Just not today quite yet.  I’m still snappy and ornery.

It’s so naive to say “be kind” and expect that people will be just ’cause; it’s so easy to say “take responsibility for your actions” and print it on a poster, but how does that message become part of one’s makeup? I can’t afford to take out my own billboard, but I’ve got to do something besides avoiding that corner during my travels.

Leather Or Crystal?

For the first time since learning our son has MD, I didn’t wake up on the unhappy anniversary date with “diagnosis day” screaming at me.  I walked the dog before dawn, brewed a cup in the Keurig, leafed through the Sunday coupons, when BOOM.  It hit me.

I feel some insane pull of duty to mark the occasion.  That’s ridiculous, I’ll grant, but I’m big on anniversary dates.  Until this year, I’d counted down the hours leading up to January 21, not because I enjoyed that, but because I was consumed with MD.  Maybe this is a sign of my growing acceptance, erosion of the initial shock has dulled the blade stabbing my heart.  January 21, 2015.  THE day.  The day that began the after.

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the myriad other tasks and responsibilities served on my already heaping plate this week.  I’ve been cleaning up a mess–a hot mess, a ghost pepper/sriracha/cayenne/scotch bonnet kind of hot mess at work.  It’ll be but a distant memory in a month, but for now, my full time job is made to take a back seat to accommodate this other full time job.  Not that I get a pass on my actual responsibilities–it’s not that those tasks have disappeared, no, but this clean up occupies so much of my cortex that I can’t even.  Ah, I can’t even finish a sentence with a verb that fits adequately is how much I can’t even.

I’m starting another school therapy assignment tomorrow, and until a few minutes ago, didn’t even know my students’ names, grades, or disabilities.  I’m super good at winging it, but I want not to wing it.  The kids deserve better than that on their new “speech teacher’s” first day.  (It’s in quotes because I’m a speech-language pathologist, but no kid has ever referred to me as speech-language pathologist.  Hell, these days, if kids aren’t referring to me as that old lady white bitch, I’m calling it a success.)  Anyway, it’s unlike me to feel unprepared, and for the first time in five years, I admit to feeling a bit anxious about a new assignment.  It’s probably because I’ve not buttoned up my previous assignment.  See previous paragraph.

I told a colleague Friday that “being me is exercise.”  She laughed, because I’m usually rife with hyperbole, but the truth is that my workweek last week and all the stuff I have to do causes my heart to race.  My Fitbit read about 100 beats per minute just sitting at my desk, organizing, scheduling, calling, emailing, writing.  My resting heart beat when I’m not insane is about 60.  Our district is pushing a mindfulness agenda, and while I’m all for self-care and trying to focus on success and forward-thinking-ness, my workload at present gives not one tenth of one percent of a shit that I’m harried.  Mindfulness, you can suck it this week, thank you very much.  Check back with me around Valentine’s Day, m’kay?

I think I shall choose to look upon this work-induced “Welcome to MD” memory lapse as a gift.  The gift of forgetting, or at least not springing from my bed sheets laser-focused on the big anniversary, is something I should be pleased about, right?  Two of my friends and another family acquaintance lost one of their parents this week.  I feel like a schmuck for having missed one funerary visitation, but I was teaching a class scheduled months ago and I just couldn’t bow out. Within the last two hours, my younger son and I returned from a second visitation; I’m so relieved not to be planning the funeral of one of my own parents.

I just completed my reading of Evicted by Matthew Desmond, and I should be jubilant that I have stable housing in a reasonably low-crime neighborhood.  Evicted shall stand as a post on its own to be explored soon–it’s a horrifying ethnography of poverty and housing inequities in Milwaukee.  I am jubilant that we can provide a roof over our children’s heads, and that I can let them play outside and walk to school without constant supervision.  Or abject fear.

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There are wiser ways to be spending a dreary, dank Sunday than forcing myself to feel something specific because it happens to be 1,096 days since I crumbled for the first time.  HE is marking the occasion, as always (I think anyway), blissfully unaware.  I’m gonna follow his lead.  I’m going to lay my head down on this pillow Nikki sent me yesterday and read.  Gonna read something light and airy–you know, murder, mayhem, lawyers, and detective-y types–no more nonfiction for me for awhile.  My personal nonfiction is enough, you guys.  I’m always transported while reading, and whether I’m transported to the nineteenth century, World War II-era Europe, western Pennsylvania, or Stockholm, Sweden, I’m going to distract myself, because yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s all I can think about.

The traditional gift for the three year anniversary is leather; the modern gift version is crystal.  Since it’s not the 80s, I don’t own much in the way of leather accoutrements, but I do have beautiful pair of crystal wineglasses.  Now the only real anniversary question is this:  red or white?

Resolve

New Year’s resolutions are for sucks. I’m seeking though not finding resolve these days. I want to feel in control of my life, but my personal and professional agendas have been hijacked. These are not atypical occurrences for a woman who is a mother and whose job is to support others in their work. I would like to feel like the one behind the wheel of my life’s schedules is all. I’m not. I could go on and on (and on) about how poorly I’m eating, how weakly I’m planning therapy, how last-minute my presentation planning has been since 2018 began, but blah blah blah. Who cares?

Busy extinguishing others’ fires, I’ve not felt inspired to write lately. I have been reading like it’s my calling since I got a Kindle for Christmas though, and living others’ lives through fiction has been a delight. Reading any well-crafted novel inspires me, leaves me wanting to do better here, to be better everywhere. I’ll get there.

I was on tap for another of our department’s monthly meeting closing thoughts Friday. This wasn’t my Oscar or Tony moment, but I felt OK getting up there Friday morning–I was having a good hair day, and say what you will about my vanity, a good hair day boosts one’s confidence. You know I’m right. My closing message is something in desperate need of being heard and heeded. And not exclusively for big city schools speech-language pathologists, although as a department we could reeeeally use a collective break.

Here’s my little speech:

Happy New Year!

Earlier this week, I was orienting two newly hired SLPs.  It occurred to me at some point that the orientations I do mid-year are quite different from those we do for the large group of SLPs who start fresh at the beginning of a school year.  As I was talking with our new staff members, I told them I thought it was difficult to start a schools-based job mid-year, and that any orientation I would do would be grossly insufficient to provide all they needed to know.  I say what I always say: get in there and see the kids.  The children will show you and they’ll tell you what they need.  You’ll figure the rest of the paperwork stuff out—getting to know kids and forging relationships with kids though, that’s our strength.

Starting a schools new job in the new year technically means starting in the middle.  And that got me to thinking about new years resolutions.  Do any of you make new years resolutions?  How many of you have kept them??

Personally I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I have found myself over the years making new school year resolutions.  You know. . . this is the year I organize my shelves—that pile of stuff you leave in June to “really go through” in September and never, ever do? Yeah, that.  Or maybe it’s the year I finally ditch the file folder games I made when I was 24, and haven’t used since probably I was 25.  Maybe it’s the year I swear not to swear in the work place or the year I promise myself I’m going to read all my ASHA journals cover to cover.   Whatever.  What these professional end-of-summer resolutions have in common with the new year’s resolutions people make is this:  Generally a lack of 100% success.

It’s hard to maintain an ideal.  And I don’t know about you, but once I dip one tiny toe over the line, I find myself belly flopping madly and spectacularly into the pool of promises I’ve blown.  Sure, we SLPs tend to be a perfectionist type lot, but it’s hard to be perfect.  Idealism is just that, an ideal.

So how about instead of drowning in that ocean of frustration at our perceived failures, we just keep going?  Or we just start over?  How about the resolutions we blow on Tuesday we try again Wednesday?  There’s nothing magical about January 1 or September 1 really.  Let’s resolve to keep trying.  That’s a resolution we can keep.

Watch this little girl.  Obviously the message has been fed to this super cute little minion messenger, but it is a good message, a message worth hearing. Whether your resolutions are for the new year or new school year or any old day of the week, don’t give up. Resolve to do more of what makes you happy in 2018!

Not a career highlight, no, but not a crashing disaster either. Here’s a little not-resolution for the new year–from me to you–just trust me and my tummy on this one: Resolve never to order chilaquiles unless you are dining in an authentic Mexican restaurant. You are welcome!

Apparently I’d Be A Good Funeral Director

Monday begins my twenty-seventh year as a speech-language pathologist.  I’m the rare freak in today’s world of work: I’ve had but one employer.  Early in my career, when I was even more broke than I am now, I provided speech therapy per diem under the employ of a handful of rehab agencies.  But for my “actual” job, my full-time gig, my paychecks have been funded by the same entity.  Twenty-seven years and not even a stinkin’ pin for my 25th anniversary.  A “thank you” would’ve been nice, sure, but whatevs, that’s probably not in the budget either.

Labor statistics startle me, and my observations in my own professional department leave me with the only conclusion to be made: Nobody sticks around anymore.  I wasn’t kidding when I labeled myself a freak.  I am.

Until recently, I’d given no consideration to engaging in any other kind of work.  The litany of skills I don’t possess is long, and my experience is narrow.  Plus, I’ve not felt a calling to shift careers.  I’m an excellent mentor for speech-language pathologists (see here if you don’t believe me), but my profession doesn’t support hired guns as mentors.  That gig is rather in-house supported in the various environs SLPs find themselves providing services.  I enjoy speech-language therapy, I do.  But what if I was actually meant to do and be something different?

I vowed to take a career inventory in 2017, and what better time to do that than the eve of back-to-school?  Today is my last alarm clock-free morning and my shoulder injury allows little sleep anyway, so let’s carpe this diem and discover what I might be better suited to do.  I created a fake persona, because really, what better way to enter the second half of my career years than under false pretense?  Nah, I did that just to avoid the spammy emails.  I was also (so far) unwilling to make any financial investment without proper vetting of these sites, so I’m not all-in trusting what I “learned” about myself in 100 online questions.  What I’ve received thus far isn’t a comprehensive list of jobs, but a collection of broad areas of strength, weakness, and attitudes about work.

Based on my response profile, judged to be valid and reliable, I’m supposed to be a writer.  Apparently I’m also well-suited to be a funeral director or involved in food service or the outdoors.  I am realistic, attentive, and investigative (not social?).  Any one of my co-workers can attest to my being realistic and attentive, and I suspect they want to beat me over the head for my workplace pragmatism and my vision of how we fit in our workplace “real world” (and when I say “fit in” I mean how at “our level” we must defer to every layer of higher administration, which kind of means “Shut up, Wendy.” And why am I so overusing the quotation marks and colons today???).  Investigative?  Not so sure about that one, although as an SLP, one often finds herself unraveling the mysteries of a child’s communicative weaknesses and creating a pathway toward competence.  I choose to believe I’m investigative after all.

I’m not a writer.  Nor am I involved in funerary responsibilities, food preparation, or the Parks Service.  Not yet anyway.

Monday I’ll drag my ass out of bed, carry my left arm and shoulder to the shower, and fire it up for my forty-sixth first day of school.  I am good at what I do, and the students and speech paths I support and mentor deserve nothing less.  I can’t help but wonder though, what if I could be good at or even better doing something different?  Those deep thoughts will likely percolate, then emerge here as I inch closer to my birthday–the round one, that really big one looming. . .  This is not a midlife crisis, you guys, unless I live to be one hundred.

But today?  Today we celebrate the end of my summer!  Once they finally drag their tween and teen butts out of bed, my middle schoolers and I are going to enjoy our day under the unseasonably cool, azure, perfect last day of summer vacation sky.

 

What Are You Good At?

Obviously I’m quite talented with the grammar, ending a sentence with a preposition in the title here and all.  *and a stunned hush falls over the crowd*  Despite this particular gaffe, somebody thought enough of me to purchase this card with a beautiful message of thanks inscribed within, and a fab swag bag to thank me for being her mentor this year.

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The fidget spinner was not part of the swag (because we are grown-ups), but some energizing bath & body products were. Also, my children never ever put anything away, so my house is a disaster.

I was having a conversation with my friends, the Ladies ladies, not long ago. Periodically we throw out a random question of the week just to see how the others respond. We are all friends, but we don’t get to spend much time together in the real world, so sometimes these questions illuminate and help us get to know one another better. I was bragging on my killer vodka pasta, which I’d made a few days earlier. I wrote that since I’m not really good at anything (crabbing again about my Grand Canyon-scale negative space vacuum of artistic skills) I was happy to have some creative outlet in the kitchen.

Now because they are my friends, the girls responded by telling me I was a talented writer, a good mom, and a good friend.  See, they are my friends. Of course they’re going to say that. And how I love them for their mendacity.  But the reality is my weak visual motor integration frustrates me, and this is not news to anyone who has read this blog before.  I asked the girls: So, what are you good at?

I thought for a while myself, and came up with a short list of things I considered myself good at.  I’m a good friend. I really am. I’m a good program support teacher. Thank goodness, ’cause they pay me for it and I’ve got 183 people who directly or indirectly rely on me to be good in my role. I’m a decent cook–tasty food, but not beautiful plates because, hello?? And I’m a good mentor.

Fortunately, my mentees agree. So it must be true!  For fourteen of the last 16 years, I have had the good fortune to have mentored brand-new speech-language pathologists.  They’ve taught me so much, more than I could ever hope to return to them.  As a group and individually, they’re exceptionally driven, high-achieving young women. Like they have never gotten a ‘B’ in grad school types of high-achieving young women. They’re bright, buoyant though generally seem to believe themselves as underperforming in their roles as school speech-language pathologists.  They are not underperforming.

The miracle is that they do facilitate progress with the district’s (city’s, state’s) most academically and communicatively challenged students. They improve the lives of kids in most desperate need. They do it with woefully inadequate resources and with too often inhospitable working conditions.  These young women work their butts off while feeling they’re not doing a good enough job, deflecting compliments and assigning credit to everyone around them but themselves. 

I do kick ass at work. I fail way more often than I succeed in getting what I believe our SLPs deserve and need though.  If I kick ass, it’s because I’m surrounded by equally (no, more) kick ass SLPs.  I don’t do status quo well, and I’m certain that my boss wants to throat punch me at least thrice weekly. But my boss is a lovely human who understands that my wanting the best for our SLPs and students underlies that tenacity.  Yes, tenacity. Because “pain in the ass” sounds just slightly less professional. 

So thank you, Lenaya, for the gift. The stuff, yes, (the happy notes are SO me!) but the gift of time with you this year. It was I who received the gift this year. Watching you grow in skill and confidence, and measuring the progress you made happen in those small people was my distinct pleasure.  Thank you for reminding me that I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Thanks for telling me you considered me a rock star.  YOU kick ass. 

Best. Card. Ever.  

What are you good at?

Not Justice, Not Karma

Thirteen years ago to the day, I was presented notice that I’d been a named defendant in a federally filed lawsuit. In my work as a speech-language pathologist program support teacher, I was brought in to help “fix” a case gone awry. The “case” was a then- 3-year-old child whose father had been recently relieved of his employment responsibilities (he was fired) from the school district.

I was called to the scene to represent the Speech-Language Disabilities Program. The school SLP who’d been working with the child was unable to communicate effectively with this parent–weren’t we all??–so I was a neutral SLP.  Wasn’t attached to the school, the student, or the parents, so my role was to represent theoretical best practices, and develop an appropriate IEP (individualized education plan, the special education vehicle for services) for this little girl.  I was to be the unemotional outsider.

I asserted then, and stand fast to this day, that the district acted in the best interest of the child. Therapy services were delivered as the IEP required, but after the father physically assaulted the school principal, he, not his daughter, was restrained from school property.  It made speech therapy at that site, shall we say, something of a challenge for the family to attend.

The guy requested mediation.  Mediation in the special education process is about what you’d expect.  Two parties engage in discussions, mediated by a neutral legal presence, and develop a consensus plan.  Our side was “successful” (lots of quotes here tonight, friends) in the school board’s directive to “make this guy stop calling me every night.”  A plan that I disliked but had to live with was developed, and to this day I am bound not to discuss the mediation with anyone outside that room.  The plan assigned a third SLP to provide services, and she did so with the utmost professionalism.   Because this family’s beef was never actually about therapy for the child, the father then filed for a due process hearing, which went entirely, wholly in favor of the school district. He filed complaints with the Department of Public Instruction, all of which were found to be groundless. 20120821-justice-sword

Having failed in all previous legal outlets, his swan song was to sue me and other named individuals, including past and future school board members, two district superintendents, various high-ranking district special education officials and a partridge in a pear tree in federal court.  The feds laughed him out of the courts, wouldn’t even hear the vaguest rumblings of it from this yahoo, and at long last, he went away.  PS–it really never was about his daughter, who was appropriately served and dismissed from services when her communication goals were met.

I’ve never forgotten that my maternity leave was interrupted by this suit. My then-boss came to my home to visit me and my week-old infant to tell me that I’d been served, so to speak.  She had the decency and respect for me to tell me to my face.  She was an amazing leader, a talented supervisor whose lessons were many, but chief among them: always find a way to do the right thing if it’s good for kids.

Two weeks ago, I was informed that this man had been arrested.  This man who sold himself and narcissistically viewed himself as an exemplary father, so committed to his daughter’s education that he had to “right the wrongs” done to his daughter (none).  So full of self-righteousness and straight-up crazy (well, I do have a psychology minor) was he that assaulting a school principal and pursuing every single legal remedy known in the special education realm was his duty, I imagine he would say.  He’s a great dad, I know he would say.  I heard him say it, I remember.

But great dads don’t use computers to solicit sex with underage boys.  Great dads don’t have sex with underage boys.  Multiple boys.  Multiple times.  Pretty sure that’s not good for kids.  He goes to jury trial November 7, and if the allegations prove true, well. . .

Someone asked me if hearing about the trial left me feeling vindicated.  It hasn’t.  Someone asked if I felt karma had done what karma does.  I don’t.  I’m not happy or relieved or feeling anything good about it.  This man did the unthinkable.  This man has children, and was having sex with children his son’s age.  Allegedly.  Multiple times.  No, I don’t feel good about that.  I’m not smirking or fist-bumping or told-you-so-ing.

I’m appalled.  I’m offended.  His path of self-righteous wrongness continued to spiral from inappropriate and ridiculous to criminal.  His court record is lengthy, and this is not something to rejoice in.  It’s one thing to mess with my professional life, but quite another to mess with a child’s mind and body.  I will never understand.  Ever.

After-Conference Cocktails

A funny thing happened after parent-teacher conferences last week.  Upon my return home, I cracked open a malt beverage and basically slammed an alcoholic beverage for the first time since college.  OK, graduate school.  Well, OK and maybe that one time in Mexico, but Mexico is the home of tequila, so tequila is part of the cultural experience, people, so shooting tequila was key to becoming culturally competent, see?  I see you rolling your eyes back there–stop it!  Still.  It’s not my standard operating practice to drink anything with a kick on a Tuesday evening, but I did.  And then another funny thing happened:  I immediately tore into a second Redd’s Apple Ale (I feel like they should probably slip me a Benjamin at the very least for all the free advertising I’m giving them here, right?  Hello??), and pounded that one down nearly as hard and fast as the first.

My husband looked at me and asked, “You gonna keep going?”  I do love this man–for many reasons, and even a little squeeze extra this time because he didn’t ask with even the slightest note of judgment in his voice.  Probably because he was gonna try and get me all drunk and stuff and see what would happen.  But I was all like, it’s 6:45, Honey, and the kids have homework and piano practice and what would happen is sorta inappropriate with the kids moseying around.  (Editor’s note:  I may have projected a bit here.  The actual exchange ended with his for reals non-judgmental query because my husband is a swell guy who loves me and hasn’t tried to get me drunk since before we were married.  I assured him then that I didn’t need a third margarita, that I was a sure thing after only two.)  Sorry.  Sometimes my mind drifts.  But surely you know that already if you’ve read so much as one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously.

I didn’t keep going with the booze therapy, but I did send a picture of my nearly empty bottle of brew to an online group of friends, saying something along the lines of celebrating having survived parent-teacher conferences.  And how I love my friends for thinking that I was celebrating the end of parent-teacher conferences where I’m the teacher.  No, no.  I was celebrating surviving my own child’s parent-teacher conference where I was the parent!   And how I love my friends all the more still for saying it’d be OK if I had two more or ten more.  They get me.


Wearing my professional hat at conferences often leaves me filled with wonder.  Sometimes shock.  Sometimes awe.  I work with children whose family’s lives include extreme poverty, street violence, substandard housing and homelessness, poor education, unemployment, underemployment, and pretty much every other trauma known to limit education outcomes.  My students live the kind of neighborhoods about which people intone, “THOSE” neighborhoods, the kind you see on the news, but wouldn’t dare to dip even your pinky toe into.  This is where I work.  Every day.  Often but not always, their basic needs of food, shelter, and love go unmet.  But it’s not always, and I hate hearing mass judgment of the poor as “THOSE” people.  It’s inaccurate and it’s unfair.  My students teach me every day, but most recently they’ve been kicking my ass (and by ass I mean psyche and heart–anatomy is hard).   In my therapy recently and at conferences last week, these are actual exchanges I had or overheard.

Student to me:  I met my daddy last week.  He in jail.  Is he my blood?  (She’s nine)  My mama stabbed my daddy, but only on his hand, so it wasn’t no big deal or nothing.  But she had to go to jail for awhile, but not as long as my daddy and then I was livin’ with my granny and she told me that my daddy was from the block, but I don’t think he know my mama.  Like she never knew him.

Me to her: I’m pretty sure she knew him.

Her:  Nuh-uh

Me:  Well, she knew him for at least a little while about 10 years ago.

Her:  My daddy say that that they make you drink pee when you in jail.  I don’t wanna go to jail.  That nasty.  I ain’t drinkin’ nobody pee.

Me:  Let’s work on getting you smarter so that you can avoid jail, OK?

Parent to a fourth-grader:  Put your fuckin’ shit in your bookbag and LET’S GO!

First grader with an intellectual disability to me:  My uncle killed my dog Saturday.

Me:  WHAT?  WHY?

Him:  He didn’t like him.

Me:  WHAT?  WHY?

Him:  He didn’t like him.  You can hear me?

So, despite having a two-drink minimum after conference for my big kid, I’m reminded that it could be worse.  A lot worse.  The gift of a good education is one whose importance and value cannot be stated strongly enough.   This is part of what made me nuts about my big kid’s conference–and it’s not that it was BAD, but it wasn’t GREAT.  My kid doesn’t understand how critical it is to get his work and words on the paper–how you write and (I HATE THIS) how you test is how you’re judged.  It’s how you get into a good high school.  It’s how you get into college.  It’s how you do better than the other guy you’re interviewing for a job against. He doesn’t get the why.

My son struggles with problem-solving and reasoning.  We’ve known this, but now we KNOW this. In some ways the universe has smiled upon him, providing him financial stability (sort of), safety, and love.  We don’t struggle in the same ways the families of my students struggle, that I can say for sure.  This is not to suggest that we lead a charmed life either.  If you’ve read more than one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously, you know that too.  But he needs help improving reasoning and problem-solving skills, and that is something he does have in common with the students I serve.  How could I have failed to notice til just now?  Christ, talk about being asleep at the wheel.

Education is the single best way to rise against ignorance.  Says the mother who slammed a couple drinks after conferences. . .