The Silent Struggle

This past Sunday, I was driving to church with my two babies riding peacefully in the back seat. I looked back at them: one asleep, one looking out the window, and felt so grateful. I am so, so thankful for the two babies that God has given me, especially because, at one point, I truly thought I was never going to get to have a baby. During this time of feeling so grateful and having one of those moments where I think, “Wow, I’m really a mom”, I also felt a pang of sadness for the baby I never got to meet, and then for all the women that haven’t gotten that chance, either.

Also, a disclaimer: While I’m not sure we can really compare levels of difficulty/grief, I realize that my infertility journey was shorter lived and much less painful than some women have to endure. It took a year of Clomid and Femara to get pregnant the first time, then the waiting and healing from miscarrying, and then about six more months of ovulation meds and waiting to get pregnant with Hudson. I am fully aware that some women struggle much, much longer than that and with much more intervention than just ovulation meds. If you’re in the trenches of your infertility journey, I hope you know how strong you are.

Having a miscarriage is easily the most traumatic and unsettling thing that’s ever happened to me. I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t. I waited weeks for my body to realize that I wasn’t pregnant anymore, and then finally miscarried at home. I truly do not wish the experience of a miscarriage on anyone, but I know it is far too common and so many women suffer silently, which is why I talk about my experience that much more candidly. I wrote about my whole experience here.

I didn’t know that I would still think about a tiny, barely formed baby three years later. I especially didn’t know that I would still think about this baby when I had two babies Earth side with me. This has been the most surprising thing about the struggle with infertility and having a miscarriage for me; the fact that it’s stayed with me. Although it’s really not talked about very openly, I imagine this is the case for many, many women.

My heart still hurts in an indescribable way when I hear about someone else who is struggling to get pregnant. I still feel combative when I hear someone complaining about pregnancy pains when there are women who would do anything to have that pain. I still feel jealous of people who have no difficulty at all getting pregnant, even though I have two babies of my own now. The infertility struggle is long-lasting and confusing, and I definitely didn’t expect it to be.

I am an outspoken person, and I don’t shy away from discussing infertility or miscarriage, even though I realize it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. To me, it feels like the only way I can truly honor the baby I didn’t get to meet is by discussing all that I know about it. I know that my honesty has helped someone, and that’s the reason that I keep being candid about my experience.

I also really hate the word “struggle” that is associated with infertility. It doesn’t really fit. It’s hard to describe something that can consume your entire life; your thoughts, your emotions, your body, your marriage as just a “struggle”; the same word someone might use to describe the difficulty they had getting out of bed that morning. If you’ve ever been through any version of infertility, you know that babies and talk of babies is everywhere. On one hand, it’s amazing that this is the reality because babies are miracles. On the other hand, it makes it extremely difficult to stay positive and hopeful when all you want is to have a miracle of your own.

If you’re “struggling”, just know that there is hope for you. It may not be on your timeline or the way you pictured it, but there is a better plan than you have for yourself in the works. You’ll come out stronger. I firmly believe that the “struggle” sets you up for taking in every ache and pain of pregnancy and every sleepless newborn night and seeing it as the blessing it is. I’m praying for you, and you are so much stronger than you think you are.

Lost At School

Here are some reflections on Lost at School by Ross Greene.

My thoughts on Chapter 1:

Chapter 1 starts with a story about Joey. Joey is a student who didn’t understand the requirements of a Social Studies project and ended up hurting an administrator and running out of the building when confronted.

On page 1, Mrs. Woods (the teacher) says to Joey: “Joey, the instructions are on the board. How can you not know what to do?”

Ah. Right away, I’m guilty. How often have I said, “How do you still not understand what to do?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Greene says, on page 6, that “what we’ve been thinking about challenging kids–that they’re manipulative, attention-seeking, coercive, unmotivated, limit-testing, and that these traits have been caused by passive, permissive, inconsistent, noncontingent parenting–is way off base most of the time.”

Wow. Again, how many of those things have I said about students? Specifically, how often have I said those things when I’m in a bind and can’t find a solution to a student’s behavior? I think, most often, the things we say about challenging kids (or their parents) are just excuses for us; a way to get out of the hard work that will be teaching replacement behaviors or the thought-process necessary to change behaviors.

I just got a new student, and his behaviors and discussions we’ve had were in the forefront of my mind as I read pages 6 and 7. What are we quick to do with a student who has behavioral difficulties? Give him or her consequences. We don’t always give negative consequences; maybe we give praise and rewards, but if he or she slips, negative consequences are put into place. I did this right away with my new student.

Greene says, “Consequences are wonderful when they work. They are less wonderful when they don’t work. And they often don’t work for the kids to whom they are most frequently applied” (page 7). HOW TRUE IS THAT?

Further, Greene explains that consequences only help with two things:

  • Teaching kids basic lessons about right and wrong ways to behave
  • Giving kids the incentive to behave the “right way”

The important thing that we’re missing, by giving consequences, is that “the vast majority of challenging kids already know how we want them to behave” (page 7).

Greene explains that kids, the majority of the time, know the expectations of the classroom and school. They want to do well. They want to participate just like the other students. They know they aren’t supposed to do certain things at school. Knowing right from wrong isn’t the problem. The problem is, according to Greene, that “kids with behavioral challenges lack important thinking skills” (page 7).

Greene compares this lack of important thinking skills to learning disabilities. Just like a student with a learning disability has difficult mastering the skills required to become proficient in reading, challenging kids have difficulty in mastering the skills required for becoming proficient in handling life’s social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

Why isn’t our first impulse, when a student displays an unwanted behavior, to teach him or her the appropriate behavior? Why do we so quickly give a consequence? Do we always take the time to ASK a student if he or she knew the appropriate response? Do we ask what his or her thought process was?

“Consequences don’t teach kids the thinking skills they lack or solve the problems that set the stage for their challenging behavior” (page 8).

“The reality is that well-behaved students aren’t behaving themselves because of the school disciple program. They’re behaving themselves because they have the skills to handle life’s challenges in an adaptive fashion” (page 8).

It’s my job as an educator, but especially as a special educator, to help my students understand where they are lacking thinking skills and help them to fill in the gaps. It’s also my job to be my students’ advocate and help his or her teachers understand this as well.

That was only the first chapter. I can’t wait to see how this book changes my thinking and practice with my students with behavioral challenges.

Teaching With Poverty in Mind

Teaching With Poverty in Mind – Introduction and Chapter 1

The introduction was a quick, humbling three pages. Jensen goes straight into assumptions made about people living in poverty.

The thing that stood out to me the most was on page two where Jensen explains “theories” about why disadvantaged students underperform in school. “Their parents do not have high IQs, their home environment is substandard, their parents are missing or have moved, or they just don’t care.”

How many times have we, as teachers, said that a student or his or her parents “just don’t care?” How unfair is that?

Jensen defined poverty as “a chronic and debilitating condition that results form multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body, and soul” (page 6).

Jensen then describes several different types of poverty, including situational, generational, absolute, relative, urban, and rural. While I was reading through the types, I could quickly picture several different students and where they may fall in these subgroups.

The most interesting and thought-provoking part of Chapter 1, for me, was The Effects of Poverty section. I thought, going in to reading and having heard Jensen speak before and discussing this book previously, that I understood the effects of living in poverty. I was wrong.

First up: “40 percent of children living in chronic poverty had deficiencies in at least two areas of functioning (such as language and emotional responsiveness) at age 3” (page 7). AGE 3. Already, by age 3, kids show these deficiencies. How can we expect kids to bridge that gap and be successful in school?

Next, Jensen goes into all of the effects of Poverty at Home. The list just goes on and on:

  • low-income neighborhoods are likely to have lower-quality social, municipal, and local services
  • poor children often breathe contaminated air and drink impure water
  • households are more crowded, noisy, and physically deteriorated
  • kids living in poverty spend less time finding out about the world around them and more time struggling to survive within it
  • low-SES kids are more likely to rely on peers than on adults for social and emotional support
  • low-SES kids are more likely to come from single-guardian homes, and their parents or caregiver tend to be less emotionally responsive
    • single parent strain is directly related to poor school attendance, lower grades, and lower chances of attending college
  • low SES kids form more stress-ridden attachments with parents, teachers, and adult care-givers and have difficulty establishing rewarding friendships with children their own age
  • common issues include depression, chemical dependence, and hectic work schedule
  • overall, there is a negative correlation between adverse risk factors and academic achievement

Poverty at School:

  • high tardy rates and absenteeism are common problems among poor students
    • school can help turn children’s lives around, but only if the children show up
  • parents who did poorly in school themselves may have a negative attitude about their children’s schools
    • these parents are often unwilling to get involved in school functions or activities, to contact the school about academic concerns, or to attend parent-teacher conferences
      • I’m not sure about the use of “unwilling” here; perhaps a better word would be “intimidated”? Do it make it easy for these parents to come in? What are we going to tell them at parent-teacher conferences?

Action Steps:

Thankfully, Jensen says that “teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential.”

My first thought about this statement was “HOMEWORK!” I don’t like homework (if you want to check for understanding, do it in the classroom and be able to quickly reteach or let a kid know they are doing things correctly), and I’m hoping that this part can be eye-opening for other teachers as well. It’s so important to remember what our students are facing when they go home; is your homework helping them master standards, or adding another level of stress to their already stressful lives?

Possibly my favorite part of any of the first chapters is this statement: “For example, some teachers perceive certain behaviors typical of low-SES children as ‘acting out’, when often the behavior is a symptom of the effects of poverty and indicates a condition such as a chronic stress disorder” (page 11).

I’m a huge advocate for understanding the root of any behavior, but how often have I just assumed a behavior was attention-seeking, when really it could have been related to Low-SES stress?

All in all, Jensen says that “the number of U.S. children in low-income situations is forecast to rise over the next few decades” (page 12). This isn’t something that’s going away, so we may as well embrace it and do our best to make all of our students successful.