When it comes to department, district or company policy, we tend to be on autopilot until some new technology, new national crisis, or new “hot button” issue jogs us into policy development. Although hasty, “knee-jerk” reactions may not always be advisable for a whole host of reasons, there’s another reason to lay low and see if there’s another option to policy creation. When we attack that new issue with new language we can draw unwanted attention and scrutiny from employee unions, the media, parents and others when we would have done better to “not leave the porch light on,” as one labor lawyer recently put it. Read the rest of this entry
An interesting article in a recent New York Times Magazine section caught my eye. Its title was “Forecasting Fraud,” and it focused on the phenomenon of one’s misrepresenting themselves by using titles that are not entirely accurate. The article’s central example was the ubiquitous TV weatherperson who is referred to – often inaccurately – as a meteorologist. While a meteorologist has specialized education, many of the people who report rain or shine may only qualify as a “weathercaster” rather than a meteorologist, since they can claim only professional experience, and have no special course work or degree. Read the rest of this entry
Maybe it’s the fact that, just last week, I delivered a keynote presentation in Florida about child abuse. Maybe it’s that, just yesterday, a safety officer for a state association told me of his worry that too much attention is on the threat of the “active shooter” in our schools to the exclusion of the continuing threat to students from sexual violence and domestic abuse. Either way, as I read an article in my local newspaper this morning about the firing of Rutgers College basketball coach Mike Rice, I was frightened by the potential parallels to adults who work with students with special needs – including school bus drivers. Read the rest of this entry
When I was in-house counsel for the district, I tried to make it a practice to follow up verbal discussion with a short email depicting what we had discussed. I began the practice only after having my “words” come back to me as gospel, when I hadn’t said – or at least meant – what the listener had heard.
At the Transporting Students with Disabilities Conference in Frisco TX last week, I was reminded of the importance of language. What you say can make such a difference.
The first story is one I heard from an attendee in one of my sessions. When a driver, whose primary language is not English, called dispatch to complain that a student had insulted him, the dispatcher heard, instead, that a student had “assaulted him.” The dispatcher immediately called 911, law enforcement arrived in force, and the “molehill” became a “mountain” quite quickly.
We know that parents react quite differently to the word “harness” than they would to “safety vest.” The federal government has, over time, become more sensitive to the reactions of students with special needs and their parents by changing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142, enacted in 1975) to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997). In 2010, with little fanfare, President Barack Obama signed legislation known as “Rosa’s Law” requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government.
When I referred at the TSD conference to “mufky pufky” meaning (to me, anyway) “hanky panky” of a sexual nature between students, I got a big laugh and a request to tell the world about my creative term. When I googled the phrase just now to see where I got it, I saw a 1965 birthday wish from one person to another, lovingly sending “Mufky Pufky and Ish kabibels” to the birthday girl, and a reference in a language that I don’t know but that sounded like something my grandmother from “the old country” would have said.
Words can be fun, mis-leading, provocative, and insulting – or is that, assaulting. Let’s all keep that in mind as we talk with family, colleagues, parents, and especially students.
I noticed a long time ago that even people I respected as highly intelligent and effective in their lives struggled with self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is widely recognized as an essential skill for each student in order to contribute to post-K-12 success as an independent citizen. Are we failing to teach that skill, or are many adults failing to retain it? When students’ IEP’s and Section 504 plans included language such as “Student will let teacher know when he doesn’t understand the homework assignment,” I have wondered how these students will achieve this goal when so many of the very capable adults I’ve known might well have failed to accomplish it.
Just last evening, a woman I admire, with academic and career credentials anyone would be proud to have, described her inability to ask a person whom she had hired to do work in her home to deliver the result he had been hired to deliver. The problem wasn’t that the worker was unable to meet my friend’s needs, but that my friend was uncomfortable simply asking for what she was paying for.
Maybe my friend’s reluctance was a creature of past discouragement. If one doesn’t think “asking” will work, why put oneself “out there”? Poet Maya Angelou said “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” Maybe we’re somehow afraid of success.
Or maybe self-advocacy is too often identified with being “pushy” or “aggressive,” rather than task-oriented and self-assured. Are people reluctant to go after their needs because they simply are insecure about how to do so?
But let me encourage you a bit, at least as self-advocacy applies to your position as a pupil transportation professional. Consider carving out those requests that you must make for the sake of your student riders, from those things you’d just like to have in your work environment. Practice asserting yourself with supervisors to get the equipment, the changes, the personnel that you need to keep students safe. When self-advocacy is, in reality, for the benefit of students whose safety depends upon you, you’re obligated to take the plunge. Maybe if you (1) identify what they need; (2) develop a plan to get it for them; and (3) carry it out with good timing, respect, and awareness of the style and limitations of the people with the power to give you what you need for students, you’ll find you’re successful – at least some of the time. Maybe, then, you’ll try it in your personal life as well.
Long-time star of the Tonight Show, comedian Johnny Carson frequently played the role of Carnac the Magnificent, a “mystic from the east” who could psychically “divine” unseen answers to unknown questions. When student safety is in your hands, you can’t depend upon others being mind-readers. You’ve got to ask for what you need to keep students safe.
I had a gum graft last week. No fun, but not as bad as I’d anticipated. In fact, I was made more comfortable during the procedure with the help of a healthy dose of nitrous oxide. It’s a good drug, even if “laughing gas” is a bit of a misnomer. And, it’s not nearly as “magical” as the medication they administer intravenously so that one’s colonoscopy is less fearful than the preparation for it. But, I digress. The point of my story is that I had some insights during my “twilight time” to what it might feel like to be a student with a disability – restrained, movement limited, and in some cases (like mine, yesterday), basically unable to communicate. I couldn’t “do”; I was “done to.” I was at the mercy of the periodontist and his assistant. I trusted in their expertise, but couldn’t help wondering in the semi-paranoia induced by both the nitrous and the situation, if they knew what they were doing.
I amused myself by focusing on what I might say about this in a blog. That diversion helped to make me somewhat objective about the complete vulnerability I felt. Here are some observations.
• Sometimes touching a student’s body in the course of securing him or her cannot be avoided. Be aware that you’re doing it. Say something that recognizes and apologizes for what may constitute a privacy intrusion.
• Assume that the student is hearing and understanding every word you say to another person with whom you’re working. I happen to think my periodontist is a terrific guy, and I really like his assistant, but I didn’t want to hear even a little bit of conversing about their holidays – I wanted total concentration on my mouth.
• Soothe the student with reassurance that everything is going well. At the end of the procedure, Dr. Thomas said “You did awesome,” to which I replied, “How did you do – that’s the important thing!” In the course of the hour long procedure, I might have liked to know what stage we were at. I might have been glad to know that there was very little bleeding – an indication that I was unlikely to have the excessive bleeding reflected on my post-procedure instructions that would require extra care. You get the point. I’m not enjoying reliving the experience, and you probably don’t want to read more details about it. So, getting back to the student and the CSRS – It may seem obvious, and even patronizing to say “You’re all secure and ready for a safe ride,” but it can be very reassuring to the student.
Anyway, it might be valuable for you to reflect deeply about what it must feel like to be at the mercy of another. I highly recommend reading Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, an award-winning book about a teenager who is “glued to his wheelchair, unable to voluntarily move a muscle-he can’t even move his eyes.“ Narrated by the fictional boy, it will add to your vision of vulnerability, much as yesterday’s experience added to mine.
I collect egregious stories about bus drivers. I adapt real life situations I learn about to make them teachable moments. In a pinch, I’ll invent a good illustration of a point I want to get across to drivers, attendants, or their supervisors.
It’s with an eerie sense of “how could this happen” that I read, sometimes, headlines or court cases that describe events that I have dramatized, enhanced, or simply put out there as a shocking exaggeration of unacceptable strategies or failings designed to capture my audience’s attention, and stick with them.
I ask you. . .how is it that I continue to read accounts of how a driver or teacher has duct-taped a child? How could each of these headlines (some real, some concocted by me to represent the situation reported) form accurate lead-in’s to media reports of terrible situations:
“Who’s the adult: Driver sprays mace in student’s face”
“Driver disabled camera before mistreating handicapped child”
“Cell phone video captures driver’s cursing”
“Aide is silent while driver takes female student into his own home off-route”
Don’t be afraid of your own ignorance or insecurity. Now that I’m a new resident of KC MO, I’m remembering how great it is to be new, and, therefore, unaware of such things as directions, where to get things, etc. I use my “newness” as a way to ask others what I don’t yet know (such as directions). It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly new at something, and it reminds me how useful it is. For one thing, there’s may be a kind of immunity from offending someone when you preface a question with “I’m sorry I’m new here, so I’d love to know the backstory to your feelings.” It sure beats saying “Where are you coming from?” I’m tempted to “fib” and be a “new” resident for a very long time.
Along those lines, I’ve never had much fear of not knowing in my professional life either, and I recommend it. Transportation supervisors need to buy time to be smart. Don’t be afraid to say to parents, staff etc.: “I will get back to you. Don’t make any changes until you hear from me. If you don’t hear from me in [what period of time] please ask me again.”