Friday, February 15, 2013

Under Pressure

I feel like this tonight - wrung out and ready to crash.  
I intend to take a nap with a cat tomorrow.

I am pathetically, unbelievably, completely glad that this work week is OVER.  I left the school as quickly as I could at the end of the day.  I haven't blogged much lately because I've had just too much on my mind, and I hesitate to share all of it publicly.  What I can share, though, is that the pressure at school has been tough, and the reason isn't much related to the class I'm substituting in.  It's much more related to what's been going on with Safety Guy lately.

He's had go-rounds with bullying in the past, and it always seems to be the same handful of kids.  Some of them he gets along with off and on, frenemies I suppose you could call them, and a couple he rarely gets along with at all (because they're too much like him, with similar needs).  Over the past month or so the frequency of the bullying, and the magnitude of Safety Guy's reactions to the bullying, have gotten much more intense.  It's happening in less structured situations (like in the hallways), but also in a couple particular classes (general music, which is a big, unruly class, and his 15:1:1 math class, which contains a number of the kids who have bullied him in the past, as well as a couple kids he just doesn't get along with because he and they are too much alike).

The worst part of this (as if knowing that my kid is being bullied isn't bad enough) is that his resource classroom is right next to the classroom I'm subbing in long-term, with a double door between us.  I get to hear when he loses his cool, up close.  My students will tell me (as if I can't hear, but I know they mean well) that my son is having trouble today.  I can hear the frustration and pain in his voice, the edge-of-tears "why don't they leave me alone" desperation.

This week was the last straw.  Something has to give.  I've exchanged a flurry of emails with his resource teacher, his guidance counselor, and the school psychologist.  They are wonderful professionals, but in many ways their hands are tied by the logistics of the school staffing, space and schedule.  There is NO other class SG could be switched to.  There is NO way to separate him from these kids - they share many of the same needs for smaller group instruction and resource help, and they are in most of the same classes together.  There is ONE resource teacher for 8th grade, and she's awesome, but she's got her hands full.  Every day these students go to school in lockstep, from class to class together all day long, always in each other's spaces and faces, and on each other's nerves.  They all know EXACTLY how to set each other off.  SG is only away from most of these students during his French class, while the other students have Spanish.  He eats lunch with me now so he doesn't have to eat with them in the cafeteria.  In all of his other classes, he is trapped with them.

Now I know Safety Guy isn't a total victim here.  He has the "rules police" thing going on big time, which is very much an Aspergers characteristic, as well as being a personality trait.  None of his peers appreciate him telling them when they've broken the rules, and obviously they won't listen to him when he tells them to behave and listen to the teacher, or to stop doing something because it's bugging him (like making random tapping noises).  And sometimes, because he's a typical teen boy, he'll trash talk them and shoot off his mouth and get on their nerves for that too.  I'll be the first to admit that he's not the easiest person in the world to be with day in and day out.

BUT.  BUT BUT BUT!  He does not deserve to be bullied.  Just because he can be difficult doesn't mean he's earned this torture, that he somehow brings it on himself or deserves it.  

When he told me this week that one student had called him "fat," "queer," and a "dickwad" (at one point whispering the insults to him over and over, so softly the teacher couldn't hear but SG sure could), and another student had called him a "man-whore," I put my foot down.  (My husband too - he's no more pleased with this than I am.)  Safety Guy said he hadn't told his teachers about all of the bullying each day because, in his words, "They don't do anything about it."  Now, that's not totally true - when they catch the kids in the act of bullying, those kids DO get detentions or other consequences and have to talk with the principal or counselor.  But this has gone on for so long, and these other students have not stopped in spite of dozens of reprimands and various forms of school discipline.  Safety Guy feels that even when he does report it, nothing will make the bullying stop, so why should he bother?

It's breaking my heart, dealing with all of this.

After the winter vacation we'll be working with the school psychologist to put some more protections in place for Safety Guy, in the form of a behavior plan for him.  Now before you think I'm nuts for letting them put a behavior plan in place for SG when it's these other kids who obviously need their behavior modified, I KNOW.  Yes, I know it's the bullies that are the root of the problem.  But by documenting how/when SG is being "set off" by them and helping him with strategies to deal with them, it will by default also identify the bullies and put the responsibility for bullying where it REALLY goes - on them.  Because documenting their provocation will hopefully lead to help for them as well.  You see, I don't know if they'll have behavior plans too - and even if I did, I couldn't talk about it.  It's a Catch-22, being both a parent and teacher in the school where SG is having these problems.  I can't say everything I know.  However, I know that Safety Guy can't be the only one to "give" in this situation, no matter how dramatically he reacts to the provocation of these other kids, these bullies.

We had Safety Guy's pre-9th grade meeting on Monday, to plan his high school program.  One of the things we asked was that SG be separated from the most persistent bullies as much as possible in his classes.  The response wasn't encouraging:  most of the students with needs similar to his will have most of the same classes.  That makes it all the more imperative that we get a plan in place NOW to document and address this issue formally.  It's gone beyond the level of simple day to day discipline.  Frankly, I'm amazed that Safety Guy hasn't clocked one of these kids yet.  And, I fear that he still might; then he'd be punished for violent aggression, even if he was totally provoked into it.  When did it become the victim's fault when they are hurt, and their duty to give way in the face of the bully's rights, and their time for punishment if they hit back at the aggressor who has been hurting them?

If I thought Safety Guy needed a different academic/behavioral placement, we'd be seeking it.  But he's not the problem here.  He will continue to learn ways to deal with bullies, how to manage conflict resolution, how to get along with difficult people.  But he doesn't have to be the one to give up his rights to a free, appropriate public education in a safe learning environment.


  1. I'm so sad reading this, for you and for my friend SG. :( Please tell him we are praying that this nonsense stops. I know our family went through a horrendous time last spring over a bullying issue and instead of the parents putting a stop to it, they joined in, as did their 'friends'. This escalated to infiltrating our church family and homeschool community. Sadly, some people are just dirtbags who raise little dirtbags. It's a hard road to walk, but it can't last forever.

    Can SG be assigned a 1 on 1 aide who does not leave his side for a couple of weeks until this cools off? Maybe a sort of 'escort' type aide to make sure that if SG is hearing something, he's not the only one hearing it? I know the schools are understaffed as it is, but if this could stop the continuous cycle, it might be worth it. (They could also prompt SG to not 'correct' the other kids, or police them.)

    Another idea, could SG have a notebook that he can carry and instead of 'correcting' or policing' aloud, he writes down whatever so-in-so is doing wrong? Then it's private and he feels the vent happening as he writes it down, but isn't entangling himself with troublemakers or inviting problems by addressing them aloud?

    Is bringing him home again an option? (Last resort, but a resort??)

    Praying and sadly understanding just how painful this is.<3

    1. Those are all good ideas, Blondee. I've brought up the idea of an aide before, and no one wants to recommend that step officially (it's a step backward from greater independence), but I like the idea of having someone with him temporarily to start to break this cycle. I also like the notebook idea, and I'll be sharing that with his psychologist when we get back from winter break. Bringing him home to home school would be a last resort, honestly, unless we did a totally self-contained distance-learning program.

      I really, really appreciate your prayer and concern; that means a lot to me, and to my family.

  2. It may seem like a step back, but you and I both know sometimes a step back is the only way to get back on track. Hope you got in the nap with kitty this weekend and that the break is a good rest for everyone. Continued prayers, keep me posted. :)

  3. Laurel, I'm so sorry this is continuing for your son. How very frustrating and sad. I know if it were me in his shoes I'd have broken a long time ago. God bless SG and you all as you take the next step in front of you. Hugs.

    1. Thank you, Tamara. Grace, grace - oh how I need grace!