Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The End of the Return from Bus Strike Honeymoon

Today officially marked the end of the lovely honeymoon period after the end of the bus strike when my students were so surprised and excited to be back in school that they listened to whatever I asked them to do. Today they would not. It felt like a day in September today, not March.

It started yesterday with the tickling, Juan would not stop touching and tickling anyone who came in his path, which set off all of the boys trying to tickle each other. Various consequences were threaten, it just would not stop, no one earned choice time. Today, Juan refused to go to his reading group and insisted on following the Physical Therapist (PT) around the room. I had to resort to taking his prized Dora the Explorer paddleball from his backpack. He immediately leapt to where he needed to be. Later in the day during Speech, I caught him lifting his shirt and making inappropriate gestures at the speech teacher’s back, which is usually a rare behavior for him. Since he did complete the rest of his work, he narrowly managed to earn choice time today.

Adama who did not come to school at all during the bus strike, has developed this unstoppable attitude. Now when I separate her from the group, after she hits or kicks her classmates, she talks back in order to continue to disrupt the group. She is more violent than she had been, in the past she had just been impulsive and accidently hurting her friends. Positive reinforcement is not working and I am going to have to come up with something new.

But the saddest for me was dealing with Florentina. Florentina is a student that has the most intensive sensory needs that I have ever seen. She uses a wheelchair because she walks unstably on her tippy toes. She is verbal, but speaks in memorized phrases. When she started in my classroom three years ago, every morning she would have a full blown, violent tantrum upon entering the classroom. I still have small scar marks from her pinching and scratching. People who visited my classroom back then are shocked to know that she is the same girl; her behavior has improved so much because of a consistent routine and the bond that we have formed. Then she missed almost 5 weeks of school because of the bus strike and an additional week due to doctors’ appointments and a cold.

Today Florentina lost it. When the Physical Therapist quickly transferred her, forgetting her old ways, to a new classroom chair that we received while she was out, it triggered a tantrum. She dangerously tried to slide herself out of the chair and hit or pinched anyone who came near, while crying and yelling. This is why you did not keep a child with special needs out of school for 5 weeks. It took all my attention from my 11 other students to prevent a full meltdown. I even gave her the marker that she had been fixated on, just because I knew how hard the transition was for her and that I could phase out the behavior another day. The crying continued as I tried to lead my small reading group on the other side of the room. Finally, 20 minutes later she calmed down enough to participate in a small group activity. This incident was not only hard on her, but disrupted everyone else in the classroom.

Math was also quite the challenge with Adama refusing to not touch everyone and everything. Everyone else’s new thing is to rest their heads on the table and feign tiredness. By the time choice time rolled around and I was trying to write notes home to parents, chaos had enveloped us with everyone complaining about everyone else. One or two kids having a bad day can quickly wear on everyone else in the room.

So the honeymoon is over, it’s time to revamp my behavior plans and schedule a few yoga classes afterschool. How long will it take Adama and Florentina to recover from this? Why do my other students and staff have to be distracted by their behaviors? As teachers, we welcome our students, close our doors and settle down to business, it’s just what we do. It just pains me that this loss of instruction was something that was unfairly done to my students and did not need to happen.

*Pseudonyms are used to protect identify of students

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