FOWC: We Couldn’t Hide Our Excitement

Five-year-old Sloane came for a sleepover with Grandma and Grumpa this weekend.  Imagine the delight when we Sloane and I came upon this mother and her little ones:

followMom

Mother Mallard was not as delighted to see us and ushered her ducklings into nearby brush:

ducklings in bush

but new life, once revealed, is seldom content with being hidden, and like little wind up toys, the babies followed their mother around the corner and out of sight.

duckies

Sloane says the baby ducks were her favourite part of the weekend.

(Fandango’s Daily prompt is hidden.)

RV-Able: Don’t Back Up!

The English language is full of expressions that have more than one application.   To back up – along with its many forms – is one of them.  For example, as in my last post, backed up is a euphemism for excrement that is not following the protocols of natural processing – or in our case, a blocked sewer line.

To back up can also mean to get behind, as in to support.  Or, it can mean to reverse one’s steps, perhaps to start again. We back up our work on the computer to save it.  To get one’s back up is to be offended.

When it comes to RVing and towing a vehicle, back up, as we’ve discovered, is not something you want to do, as today’s escapade illustrates.

Spurred on by the success of our first day’s travel – complete with a custom’s officer who kindly overlooked the two strips of cooked bacon we’d not declared – we decided to push even harder today.

We’re spontaneous like that…or, is it excitable?

Anyway, Ric went to bed just after 7:00 p.m. and announced that as soon he woke up, he’d make a coffee, and we’d pull out.

“You don’t even have to get up,” he told me cheerfully, obviously pumped to get going.

We’d parked at Walmart again, and left the tow attached for easy take off.

1:20 a.m., not long after I’d finally fallen asleep, Ric woke up.   Riding on his wave of enthusiasm, I got up too, and coffee turned into route planning, and eventually we pulled out of Algona, Indiana just before 4:00 a.m.  We had a shared goal in mind:  get to the warm weather.

The thick wall of fog that accosted us as soon as we turned on the lights, was unanticipated.   Road signs were only visible when it was too late.

“Let’s find a truck stop,”  Ric suggested, “I need gas.”

We have an app for that – in fact, we have three or four apps for that – but given my own mental clouding in the morning (especially after little to no sleep), none of them were helping.

“It would be better if I could just read the road signs.”

I persevered and we did manage to find a Pilot about 1/2 hour into the trip.  Ric pulled into the fuel lanes, overshooting the pump.

“I’m going to have to back it up about five feet,”  he said dubiously.  Reluctantly he put the rig in reverse and to our delight we discovered we have a back up camera, and it was a piece of cake – motor home and truck moved as one.

“My mirrors are icing up,”  Ric said upon reboarding.  “I’m not comfortable driving with fog and ice.  Let’s pull over to the restaurant and have an early breakfast.”

Following the advice of the gas attendant, we pulled back out onto the road and approached the restaurant from a separate drive.  A long curb at the side of the lot served as a parking spot.  The waitress assured us that we were fine and that when it came time to leave we could drive around the building and exit.

Food just exacerbated my exhaustion and with a sudden sense of doom, I left Ric in the restaurant and headed for bed, where I collapsed into sleep.

Not sure how long I’d been out when I heard the engine engage and felt the bus lurch forward, slowly creeping around the corner, and then coming to a sudden halt.  With horror, I realized that being in the back of the motor home while it’s moving is akin to being in a boat’s cabin at sea – nauseating.  Suddenly, we were backing up and I heard the unmistakable sound of metal on metal and a loud crunch.

“Stop!”  I yelled, both for my stomach and the vehicle.

Ric exited and I followed.

“We have a ouchy,” he said sheepishly, indicating the left rear panel of the RV.  “Luckily it didn’t knock the tail light out.”

Scratch“What did we hit?”

“The truck.”

The truck has a few scrapes but nothing that won’t come out with polish.  “Thank God for that.”

“Yep, apparently we can’t back up around corners when the trucks wheels are locked in one position.”

Seems the waitress had wrongly informed us – the other side of the building was nothing but a dead-end.  With a fair amount of finagling, Ric eventually managed to separate the two vehicles and turn the bus around before setting it all up again for take off.

By the time we were underway, the sun was up and the curtain of fog was slowly dissipating.  An hour down the road we pulled into a rest stop and both slept.

At the end of the day, our ten hour travel time only landed us three and half-hours from our departure – still cold, and exhausted.

On the upside, we are in Effingham, Illinois at a lovely campground.  A fitting place to stop for the night, given our effing day.

Universe, if you’re listening:  We are done with backing up.

Nature

 

A Timely Message from Someone In the Know

I have been following policecommander for some time, as I find his posts sincere and thought-provoking.  In this Ted talk, he reveals the story behind his wisdom, and offers the world a mandate for interacting.  A timely message worth spreading. (Note:  click over to the original post for video.  Give John a shout out of encouragement.)

policecommander

I think I might have done a TEDx Talk…

I think you might be able to watch it here…

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 18.03.53

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Churry

Cognitive functioning is currently down a notch.  (I know I’ve complained of this before, but bear with me – I think it merits understanding.)easy-lentil-curry-3-560x840

I found a recipe for Easy Lentil Curry on the blog:  Simple VeganSince I love curries and lentils, I decided “easy” must mean it is doable even for me.  Part of ME/CFS is a compromised working memory and executive functioning, two terms I had been very familiar with prior to becoming ill, in my role as Special Education teacher.  Knowing what I do about learning disabilities, I applied the same steps I would recommend to students.

  1.  Scan the material.    Before I committed to the recipe, I scanned the document for amount of effort required, such as chopping, since this is physically difficult for me.
    When I determined that it appeared to be within my range of capability, I scanned for ingredients.  One thing stood out:  chili was called for, and I knew I was out.  I sent my husband on a mission.
  2. Ready resources.  I gathered all the required ingredients and set them out on the counter, along with measuring devices and cooking utensils.  By now, I had the requisite chili.
  3. Read the recipe.  Before tackling the cooking, I made sure to read through the recipe start to finish.  Knowing how my mind works (or more appropriately, doesn’t work), I read the recipe over several times for a period of three or four days before actually tackling it.

Go time!  I picked a day when I had no other plans, and felt fairly well rested.  Before started I perused the recipe again and noted that the author suggested soaking the rice and lentils ahead of time.  I couldn’t remember having read this part before, but decided to follow instructions, so; I measured out a cup of each and put them in a colander to soak, while I chopped the onion and garlic.

Working memory is the part of the brain that holds information received and carries it through to application.  This part is always a little tricky for me.  To minimize failure I try to read one step at a time.  The first step read:

Cook the rice and lentils according to package directions.

(Inject stunned silence here.) th-2-1

I had just mixed the rice and lentils to soak.

I checked the packages.  They both needed different cooking times.

Frustrating, yes, but I wasn’t about to give up.  I’d been dreaming about this dish for days.

I tossed the first batch, measured out more, and prepared as per directions, deciding to walk away and have a rest while they cooked.

Determined, I started again, chopping the onion and garlic, and opting to add ground ginger, as two vegetable preps are my limit.

I added one ingredient at a time, referencing back to amounts indicated to ensure I didn’t miss anything.  Each item used I moved to a different part of the counter to indicate my progress.  A teaspoon of this, two teaspoons of that and that and that, and voila, my curry was complete…

Except that the curry spice sat alone on the counter, unused.

What?  How had I missed that?

I read back over the recipe.  It clearly stated two teaspoons of curry powder.  Two teaspoons cumin, two teaspoons turmeric, and two teaspoons curry.  And chili, right?

No chili.

Somehow, every time I read curry, my mind substituted chili.  I’d even sent my husband out to fetch some.  WTF?

I wanted to cry.

Instead, I added the curry and let it simmer.  What else was there to do?

This is how the learning disabled mind operates:  it will lock onto a concept – correct or incorrect – and not let it go.  From the very first time I scanned the recipe and mistook curry for chili, my mind inserted chili into the ingredients list.  If I had not made a visual checklist for myself by lining up the ingredients before hand, I would never have discovered my mistake; I was that certain of myself.

In cooking, such mistakes are maddening, but not devastating.  Instead of lentil curry, I’d made lentil churry; it was still edible.th-1

Imagine though, how debasing it must be for students whose minds, like mine, just don’t process information at the same pace, or in the same way, as the rest of the class.  Ever since I’ve contracted this disease, I think of those students.  I think of how, if I had to pass a test by completing this recipe, I’d be screwed.  I’d done everything right:  scanned the material up front, gathered all the necessary resources, and studied before application time came around.  Still I failed.

Educators put measures in place to help support special needs students, but is it enough?

As I bungle through each day, fighting with my own mental issues, I have to wonder.

Inner Voice of Autism

thJust finished listening to “Carly’s Voice” by Arthur Fleischmann with his daughter, Carly.  Carly, unlike her twin sister, did not develop normally, and after a barrage of tests and consultations was determined to be developmentally delayed and mentally challenged – autistic, non verbal.

Having stumbled across ABA, Carly’s parents hired one-on-one therapists to work with their daughter, whose behaviours seemed to escalate out of control.  And then one day, Carly typed the word:  help.  What follows is important reading for families affected by autism and for those who work with them.

Carly has risen to become an important advocate for autism. She can be reached through her Facebook page, twitter (@CarlysVoice), or YouTube (Speechless with Carly Fleischmann).

Educational Walls

I have this recurring dream that I am teaching a class, composed of adults and adolescents, which is spread out over three rooms.  Try as I might to build community through ice breaking activities, it is physically impossible to reach all the students at one time.

I am reminded of how it feels to teach grade 12 English at Summer School – twenty-two days in which to cover a semester’s worth of curriculum in a classroom populated by adult learners, or kids who have failed their regular class, or students wanting to get ahead – a nightmare worthy of repetitive dream processing.

The dream is actually a good analogy for the challenges facing teachers today.  While courses are divided into academic, applied, and essential (in some instances) we are expected to gear each lesson to different learning styles.  Recently, there has been talk of de-streaming again: lumping all students together regardless of aptitude.  th

My first teaching assignment was a grade 7/8 split class.  While it was permissible to combine some lessons, math definitely needed to be taught separately.  So my job was to figure out how to keep the 8’s occupied while I was teaching the 7’s and vice versa.  At the same time, I had to be able to switch at the sign of a hand from one grade level to another in order to answer questions.  That may sound easy enough, except that I am a language and literature major – math having been abandoned after high school.

Are you beginning to sense the dilemma here?

How does a teacher respond to the many different needs of her students, breaking down the walls of differences, so that everyone is included and thriving?    I don’t think I can honestly ever say that it worked to my satisfaction.  Bent on reaching each student, and ensuring success for all, I always felt like I was falling short.  Obviously, I was effective enough to be continually employed, but that is not my point.  I really feel, as I do in the dream, that I am not getting through to everyone.  th-1

So, what are the three rooms as depicted in my dream?  In the dream, I am teaching English, and the exercise I am attempting to do, is one which allows the students to experience for themselves how easily we change the meaning of a sentence by altering a word.  It doesn’t work, naturally, because of the walls separating the individual rooms:  a) not everyone can hear what is going on; b) not everyone can see the board from where they are; and c) I cannot monitor student reaction.  (All normal classrooms concern, by the way, even when we are in the same room.)

Most of my teaching career has centered around working with students with learning disabilities, which ironically enough, I now struggle with myself, as this illness affects my cognitive functioning.  How that manifests itself for me, is that I am not able to multi-task effectively.  For example, I cannot possibly conger the concentration needed to write this blog if there are distractions around me – no matter how innocent they might be.  I need to be in a separate room, where it is quiet.  (One room defined.)  This is true for many students, especially those with ADHD.th-2

I am also not able to process information in a timely fashion, which means that if someone throws me an idea or question for which I have no immediate context, then I need time to think it through.  I might get stuck on their tone of voice, or something I was thinking about (unrelated) before they presented their information, or even a word that my brain feels compelled to play with. Time to process, could be a separate room.

Thirdly, I have difficulty accessing stored information and articulating responses: it comes out haltingly, or as unfinished words or sentences, like a car sputtering or backfiring.  Well-meaning others often jump in with suggestions to help me along, but that only frustrates me further.  Patience is needed to enable me to express myself.  I am not stupid as my speech might sometimes suggest, I just have to work harder than others to express myself.  I need space to think through what I want to say and then formulate what and how I want to respond.

None of these rooms actually exist in a normal class, thus the need for them becomes walls.  A typical classroom is noisy, fast-paced, and demanding.

Imagine how that must feel as a child with a learning disability, not to mention what it does to their self-esteem when others laugh at their inability to stay on task, or grasp new concepts immediately, or fail to respond to questions coherently.

I am not currently not working in an instructive role, but I think about my students often, and obviously still cannot shake how deeply I believe we are failing many of them.  th-3

I don’t have answers at the moment, but as Dr. Phil says, we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.  I am willing to acknowledge the inefficiencies, and start to ask the right questions.

Is it just me, or is anyone feeling the same way?

“Best Boy” Heartwarming

Despite my need to regulate how much time I spend listening to audiobooks (my mind balks at overstimulation), I could not tear myself away from Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb.  Bronson Pinchot lends his voice to the audio version, skillfully imitating the stilted speech of someone who struggles with semantics.

519szyUFmCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Todd Aaron, the first person narrator, describes himself as a “developmental” and alludes to a possible diagnosis of Autism.  Incapable of understanding the complex workings of ‘normal’ life, Todd’s motivations are simple:  food, honesty, love, and a desire to go home.

Todd’s lack of sophistication makes him a natural target for schemers, adding just enough suspense to keep the reader hooked.  I would like to read more about Todd Aaron; his outlook on life is a good reminder for us all.

Handicapped Attitudes

I’ve aspired to many things in my life, however; being an obstacle wasn’t one of them.

And yet, here I am, the woman with wheels, slowing down the flow of traffic.  (What’s the opposite of bionic?)  I always try to pack my sense of humour when I venture out, knowing how frustrating it can be to get behind a slow-moving “vehicle”.                                       th

Part of the ME/CFS experience is difficulty with balance and the muscular system.  A year ago, I stumbled frequently, had difficulty holding onto objects, and at times, was unable to walk at all depending on how much exertion I had experienced within a forty-eight hour period.   I had to rely on a walker to get around the house.

Today, with the exception of “crashes”, I can manage in the house without support, and use the walker for short distances outside.  By short distances, I mean I can walk the length of five houses on our street – beyond that I begin to experience a shut down in my leg muscles.

Whereas last year, I could not tolerate being out of bed for longer than more than short periods (an hour or less), today I can go two hours without regressing.  Progress which thrills me!

The difference for me was in the realization that it is the effort involved in walking that drains me, and therefore, by using a wheelchair, my limited energy takes me further.                               th-1

Recently, I imposed on a friend to take me to a local mall so that I could buy some new slacks.  My destination was right across from the elevators which could be accessed from the underground parking area.  We parked in the designated handicapped parking and I pushed my wheelchair up the short ramp to save my friend’s knees, which I knew were a problem.  It was my “exercise”.  From there, she pushed me for the duration of the outing.  It was my first time in a mall in two years, and I was excited.

A passerby, witnessing my transition, remarked:  “Better get in the chair before someone catches you on camera.”

The remark rattled me.  In hindsight, there are many comebacks I might have offered, but none to alter the sheer ignorance and cruelty of this woman’s comment.

Why are we so quick to judgment and to think negatively about the actions of another?

“People in wheelchairs or scooters make me nervous,” a friend confessed in way of explanation.

“Some people milk the system,” said another.

I’m not saying this woman is the norm, the majority of people are polite, smile back, and patiently hold doors.  I just don’t understand the need to be mean.

My husband has had similar experiences.   As a result of multiple injuries and surgeries, his knees are a source of constant pain, and his legs are severely bowed (one a different length than the other.)  With each step he takes he experiences hot searing stabs, and so he has been prescribed a handicap parking pass.  Twice he has been confronted by men who claimed he was illegally parked.                             th-2

We know how frustrating it is to arrive at our planned destination and not find an available handicapped spot.  For me, it can determine whether or not I am able to complete my intended journey.  For my husband, it means compounded stress on his legs – and we both rely on those legs to get us through each day.

As I stated at the beginning of this post:  I never aspired to be where I am today, but I am trying to make the best of it.

All I ask is for a little respect – or to heed what our mothers taught us:  If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.   th-4

A Reflection on Need for Reform in Education

Having been absent from the school system for the better part of two years has not fueled a complacency about education; it has given me a lot of time to reflect on my experiences.

As indicated before, my passion in teaching was with special needs student, and I spend many days thinking about one or another teenager and how we might have served their needs more appropriately.

Adolescence is a crucial period in the development of a citizen of the future: which is how I approached my work:  How could I best help prepare this child for the life that awaited him/her?
th-1I came into teaching at a time when building self-esteem was the all important goal, which really translated into:  let’s give children an inflated sense of self, build their reliance on external signals, and teach them to doubt their ability to overcome adversity, giving them a false sense of protection and entitlement moving forward.  Sorry if that is harsh, however; as a parent who raised my children on the principle that I was responsible for helping them finding their wings and ability to fly (i.e., be responsible and accountable), I shuddered frequently over the disservice we did to many students.
thWhile I do not have answers, I do believe that we need to enter into a serious dialogue that addresses current issues.  At the point in which I fell ill, the trend was swaying towards a recognition that resiliency is the best thing we can foster in students, and there was a movement towards looking at ways to change the instructional format and expectations for assessment, in order to define “success” in a way that defined more personal outcome than an assimilist attitude of mass conformity.

Forty years ago, I was invited to participate in a panel composed of educators, parents, and former students of the high school I had attended.  The question they put to their alumni was whether or not we felt that our experience at the secondary level had helped prepare us for life beyond.  The resounding response was “no”.   This was before the age of technology changed the landscape of the post-secondary world.  Success today requires adaptability, versatility, and a willingness to engage in life long learning.  Are these the skills our high school students are pocketing during their high school years?

I know I am ranting into the wind here, but the haunted memory of so many children, who lives touched mine, lingers with me, especially how inadequately their needs were met.

This post is dedicated to all those students who spark was extinguished by bureaucracy, failed initiatives, and a system whose mandates often have more to do with keeping “bums in seats” than actually making a difference.

Ken Robinson’s take (although focused on the U.S. system) speaks much more eloquently about the matter:  (If you haven’t time to watch the whole talk – please skip to the last two minutes – this is the part that brought tears to my eyes.)

Working Memory: A Special Education Teacher’s Experience

As a special education teacher, the term “working memory” is a familiar concept.  We see many students whose independent education plans indicate difficulties in this area, and we create accommodations to support their learning.  I thought I’d really grasped the complexities – until it happened to me.  Now, I have a whole new appreciation for students faced with this challenge and recognize how truly difficult the school system must be for them.  The following TedTalk with Peter Doolittle, whose focus is on psychology and learning, explains in simple terms what working memory is:

 

How did you do on the memory test?  Now imagine that your brain is not fully functioning in this area.  Here is what it looks like for me:

th-4       Cooking, even the simplest thing, has become a chore.  Where I once could throw together any number of dishes without referencing a recipe, this is currently not happening. I might complete two steps of a recipe but my brain will get stuck on the third, either not remembering what comes next, or becoming suddenly lost about what I just did, or skipping it all together.  Once frustrated, my mind will shut down completely and I have to surrender the task.

th-2 In a group setting, I will have difficulty following just one conversation (as mentioned in the video), and often lose the context of any of them.  Compounding the situation is that while trying to be attentive to the talk in the room, I will lose other important information, such as people’s names.  For example: over the Christmas celebration, which in our family went on for two days, I combined the name of my son with his girlfriend’s, referring to each of them by the muddled version.  I apparently did it four times, before someone gently pointed out to me my mistake.

th-5  The worst is that often when someone presents a new idea to me, or asks a question that involves thinking, I draw a blank.  My mind just does not compute.  I am conscious of frantically searching for some semblance of meaning, asking myself questions such as:  “What does he mean?” or “Why is he asking me that?” or “What is she looking for?”  The resounding lack of response is discouraging.  In many instances, the penny won’t drop for up to two days later.

Each frustration that I experience reminds me of my students.  I am an adult, and can laugh it off, or walk away and come back with renewed ambition – my self-esteem doesn’t rely on my mental competence, as I have an established track record  indicating the problem is temporary.  Yet, I do get down on myself, and some days, feel like giving up.   Imagine how a child, for whom school performance is all important, must feel.
th-6If I think about writing a test that relies primarily on my ability to take information that I have not yet processed, and apply it correctly – the assumption being that I have it memorized – I can understand how students shut down.  Even writing this blog, I am dependent on the constant support of resources, such as a thesaurus, a dictionary, and other supports.  I could not do it without them.

Likewise, I cannot expect my brain to function with background noise, or distractions.  I often have to step away, and start again, when I am able to re-focus.  Students are expected to work under many pressures, a deadline being one of them.

I often thing of “K”.  “K” was a lovely young man, respectful, soft spoken, who at the age of fourteen, had lost all confidence in himself.  He’d bring his math work down to the Resource room and stare off into space for long periods of time, or put his head on the desk and shut down.  No matter how much I’d try to encourage him, he had just given up.  Faced with failure after failure, he just decided school wasn’t for him anymore.  He hated himself.  “K” had a faulty working memory.

And yet, if I’d take the paper, and read the question and put it into a context he could relate to, he could talk it through, and for the most part demonstrate an understanding of the concepts.  Unfortunately, most math testing does not allow for this.  He was expected to remember and apply the mathematical equations they’d learned in class.  Knowing what I do know, even I couldn’t pass such tests.  I cannot trust my brain to carry the information through to completion.

I am learning to live with my disability, creating compensations, putting supports in place, and recognizing my limitations.  (My husband and I agree to always trust his confusion over mine.)
th-7As educators, we have a long way to go to support student success.  I think we have to go back and look at the basics – how we introduce the information, how we help students process it, and the supports we put in place that optimize their success when demonstrating learning.  The best thing we can do for students like “K” are to help them learn to recognize their challenges and find strategies that will serve them well into their lives, instead of constantly reminding them that they do not fit the norm.

I’ll be thinking a lot about this over the next little while, as I am trying to cope with my own working memory loss.