Who’s to Blame?

October 6, 2014

In October of the last year, I came to observe Robert in his “transition” classroom. The observation was scheduled a couple weeks in advance. I didn’t ask to observe any specific activities. The teacher chose the place, time, and the activity. He chose cooking – frying tortillas with slices of apples and cheese. By the time, the lesson was over, I was depressed.
It was clear, that the teacher didn’t think about the lesson plan, he didn’t specified goals, he didn’t think about clarity of instruction, he didn’t make general introduction. There were so many things that could be taught: safety rules, hygiene, names of utensils. I was bitter. I knew how much more the students would learn if I WERE their teacher. I would introduce a new vocabulary, I would not just write the steps on a white board, but repeat them with the students in a funny way using some mnemonic technique. I would have arranged the tables in a horseshoe shape around the one and only flat, electric burner. I would have students work at the same time on cutting apples and cheese, as there were enough of aides to assure safety. I would put cooked tortilla in the pile and pass them to the students at the end, so they could eat together while having sort of light conversation prompted by the teacher. That would be a great opportunity to increase social interactions among students.
Student after student approached the burner, put on gloves, too big and too slippery for this job, and using tiny knife sliced the apples and cheese. The gloves were making it hard. The small knife made it even harder. The student poured some oil on the burner (some too much, some too little), placed tortilla with apples and cheese on it, folded it, and later with the spatula tried to flip it over. It was not easy, the tortilla kept sliding off the spatula and off the burner. While one student was doing this, all the others watched and waited for their turn.
Of course, I could blame the teacher for not thinking about the goals or for using wrong utensils. But then, he wasn’t a cooking instructor. Moreover, he didn’t have any utensils to choose from. The classroom didn’t have a bigger knife or tongues to flip over hot tortillas. The classroom didn’t even have sink. The electric flat burner was there because the students didn’t have access to a real kitchen. Although new high school had a splendid kitchen, those students in transition program didn’t have an access to it. That was the wish of my town’s school committee and the high school principal. While the students in high school had an access to the kitchen, students in the Transition Program, those who needed that access more than anybody else, didn’t. They didn’t because they were clearly treated like second class students. They needed more. But for my town’s school administrators those students who need more, are less deserving. So could I really blame the teacher who had neither training in teaching cooking nor an access to necessary equipment?
Maybe a should blame sped director? No, I couldn’t because she was new in the district, just five weeks on a job. Should I blame the old sped director? No, I couldn’t because I know that she tried to bring the transition program back to the spacious rooms in a new high school building where fully equipped kitchen could offer more opportunity to learn. She couldn’t do it, because of the opposition from the high school principal supported by superintendent. Could I blame the director of the program? No, because I was told that he was the director only on paper and was not really involved. Could I blame members of the school committee for opening a classroom without providing any money for a proper equipment, not to mention curricula materials? No, I couldn’t because the high school principal assured them that the students in the transition program won’t need anything and no dollar would be spent on that classroom. Could I blame the principal for lack of concern for the transition students if two mothers of children with disabilities wanted just a place where their TWO children could get custodial sort of care. They didn’t need more academics, they wanted a place to hang out between outings to job sites. Job sites which were mainly found for those two students using mothers connections. Because those mothers were well connected. Could I blame mothers that they wanted to make their TWO children happy and didn’t want to force them into any more learning of academics or life skills as that could backfire? Could I blame the school administrators for avoiding spending money on a transition classroom when the money could be spent on after school sport and art program. Could I blame the whole school district for neglecting children in the transition program ? No I couldn’t because they stated that they didn’t get money from the town to provide necessary equipment. I couldn’t blame the town leaders because it was the Department of Education in Commonwealth of Massachusetts that year after year kept sending a message that the neglect of special education children can go without any negative consequences while the effects of teaching typical children as measured by standardized tests are important and could have unwanted consequences to the district (even parents scorn). Could I then blame Department of Education? No, because they insist that all of the districts have under Commonwealth Law some autonomy and do not take lightly any interference from the State…
Thus I am the only person to blame. I knew that the civil rights of the transition students with disabilities had been violated for years, and yet I have never filled a complain with the Office of Civil Rights.

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