Chapter Description: Clark attends an I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for one of his students, and shows just how good he is at dealing with Amazon parents.
“Is everyone here?”
“I think so.”
“Then let’s begin with proper introductions.”
“Hello I’m Tamara Bankhead, and I’m the Resource Compliance Specialist.”
“Hi, I’m Chandra Skinner: Speech and Language Pathologist.”
“Hello, I’m Maxine Winters: Physical Therapist.”
“Hello, I’m Jasmine Sosa: Occupational Therapist.”
“And I’m Clark Gibson: Pre-Kindergarten Teacher.”
There was a friendly smile, followed by a nervous chuckle. “I’m Winnie Roberts. I’m the Mom.”
Yet another ritual. Another routine in what was my regular existence: The I.E.P. meeting. I.E.P. was shorthand for Individualized Education Plan. Contrary to popular belief, schooling isn’t always the same knowledge conveyor belt, pumping kids full of information and then passing them on to the next grade level.
To prevent them from falling through the cracks and to get them needed services and therapies, some students had I.E.P’s. All of mine did. In order to even get into Pre-K at Oakshire Elementary, a student had to have an I.E.P. This wasn’t terribly hard to do in Oakshire, if I’m being honest. The school got more tax dollars per student with an I.E.P. so they were incentivised to load up my classroom as much as possible.
People like Brollish were doubly incentivised. A crack under the pressure, a misfiled paper or something improperly filled out would have been all the excuse a clericly minded Amazon might need to dismiss me and “arrange a transfer”. All of Beouf’s caseload had I.E.P’s., too.
The first time I was in an I.E.P. I was a wreck. Buzzwords like “federal documentation” and “data based conclusions” got thrown around all willy nilly. My peers gathered around the conference table would be all but sweating bullets sometimes, making sure to have all of their notes perfectly in order, their lines perfectly rehearsed.
Teaching is a weird job. You’re expected to be educated and infinitely more informed on educational practices than a layperson, but also do service with a smile while keeping in mind that the parent is always right. The technical expertise of a doctor with the social constraints of a nurse.
“We are gathered here today,” Bankhead all but read from a pre-approved script, “to discuss Jaden’s progress in meeting his yearly goals.” Bankhead was a Resource Compliance Specialist: Essentially, a glorified secretary whose sole job was to keep minutes for and run these types of meetings, as well as make sure everyone else had their paperwork properly filled out. It was a thankless job, but she made more money than me, so she didn’t need thanks. “For this Annual Review-”.
I tuned out for a second and suppressed a smirk. Annual Review was such a bullshit term. Far too often, bureaucracy demanded multiple ‘Annual Reviews’ for the same kid. An annual review would happen for a kid in the early Fall, to ‘get it out of the way’. Then the same kid would get ANOTHER annual review close to Summer so meetings didn’t ‘pile up with all the new kids come Fall’. Did people not know what “Annual” meant?
It was an equal inconvenience to everyone, so I can’t even say ‘Typical Amazons’ here.
Mrs. Bankhead looked to the Speech Therapist. “Miss Skinner,” she said. “How about you go first and review Jaden’s progress towards annunciation and vocabulary acquisition?” Translation: How good was a four year old at pronouncing words and how was he when it came to learning new ones.
“You see, Mom,” Miss Skinner started, “based on the results of Jaden’s latest Language Development Survey, or L.D.S. for short-”. I tuned out again. My first I.E.P. meeting I was a nervous wreck. This was my one hundred thirty-seventh such meeting.
It probably wasn’t, in actuality. I didn’t keep track of how many of these boring meetings I’d attended in my life, and that kind of normality, that lack of importance, was a good thing. I could do these in my sleep now. Yes, an I.E.P. was a Federally accountable document, but it really was just a kind of promise: A promise to pay attention to a kid, to keep track of where they’re at, to not give up on them, and to change up strategies if the current one wasn’t working. It’s literally what any teacher that hadn’t completely given up on their career would do anyways.
The rundown of Jaden’s speech ended and the narrative was passed to the Occupational Therapist. “Jaden is now using a tripod grasp to when delineating…” Standing on the chair so that I could lean on the conference table, clenched my jaw and bit my tongue.
Trace! Don’t say delineate! Just say ‘trace’! For all the fancy buzzwords that my colleagues were throwing around, they might as well be saying “Bounce the graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish”. All of these people were so nervous around an average working mother. They were all so eager to prove how much they knew and what experts they were in their field. But if Mrs. Roberts didn’t like something, they’d be pressured to the point of obligation to go along with her opinion.
From her own seat across from me, I could see Mrs. Roberts’s eyes start to glaze over as she smiled and nodded. She had almost no idea about what these experts were talking about, but didn’t want to admit what she didn’t know. All of these people were talking, but none of them were really communicating with each other.
Everyone was so afraid to slip up and look stupid in front of each other for fear of personal embarrassment or how it might come back to bite them. One of the things I liked about having a goatee was that it let me smile, ever so slightly, without giving myself away. Socially and psychologically speaking, meetings like these might be the closest thing that any of these Amazon women experienced to being a Little.
Bankhead broke me out of my revery. “Mr. Gibson? You’re up.”
I could have rattled off a string of fancy technical terms. Done the whole alphabet soup of educational buzzwords. “Your child is making A.Y.P on his I.E.P. in accordance with I.D.E.A., N.C.L.B., and R.T.T.T. Now if you look at this data chart based on the latest developmental diagnostic survey…”“
I smiled and stood up in the chair a bit taller. “Okie dokie,” I said. “So about Jaden, Mrs. Roberts-”
“You can call me ‘Mom’,” she interrupted. “Everyone else has. It’s alright.” I never, ever called an Amazon “Mom”. Didn’t want them getting any ideas.
I slid a folder across the table. “Jaden’s doing fine,” I said. “Here’s some samples of his school work. He knows his letters, colors, basic shapes, numbers, and animal sounds. He’s even learned some sight words and we’re working on basic arithmetic using hands on manipulatives.” I suppose
In truth, Jaden probably didn’t need an I.E.P. In ten years, maybe five percent of my students had. Technically, my students were all “Developmentally Delayed”, a catchall term meaning that three and four year olds weren’t acting “developed” enough for their parents, but it was still too early to label them with any particular learning disability. Chances are they’d grow out of it, but it was my job to nip it in the bud, so to speak.
That’s what it meant for my class, at least. They somehow weren’t living up to Amazonian standards, as ridiculous as they were. Most of my students just needed time, a tiny bit of attention, stimulation, and adults willing to push back on certain undesirable behaviors. I’d had more than one parent all but admit that they pulled strings because public pre-school was less expensive than daycare. “I think he’s got a good head start for Kindergarten, next year,” I said. “I think he’ll outgrow his D.D. label very soon.”
“He’s even starting to use the potty at home!” Mrs. Roberts chimed in. Her eyes unclouded now that she finally felt like she was able to contribute to the conversation regarding her child.
“Oh yeah,” I agreed. “Not counting nap time, he’s very consistent.” I felt, more than heard my colleague’s hold their breath. I was a Little telling an Amazon that her son wasn’t quite potty trained yet. “He’s four,” I said. “He’ll grow out of it. That and there’s no nap time in Kindergarten.”
Mrs. Roberts was all smiles. “I know, right? What is up with that, anyways? No naps in Kindergarten?” I gave my best what-can-you-do shrug and smirk and felt the tension leave the air. “Thank you so much for that, Mr. Gibson!”
“You’re quite welcome.” Mrs. Roberts was what I called a second-year-parent. The majority of my students came to me when they were three and left when they were just about to turn five. Two years.
Most of their parents had never seen a Little in a position of authority. If I had a dollar for everytime I’d heard a crack about “babies teaching babies”, I’d make more money than the Superintendent.
I’ve had parents who’ve openly talked about putting me in a playpen, or taking me over their knee, or offered to let me sit in their lap, or asked where the “real” Pre-K teacher was. I ‘d be halfway to retirement if I got a bonus for that. That was my first year with any given parent. For some reason they just couldn’t wrap their head around the idea that their child’s very first teacher was a Little.
By Fall of their child’s first year, I was an incompetent who was going irrevocably damage their precious boy or girl. By mid to late Spring of their second year, I was a miracle worker who’d whipped their kid into shape. First they couldn’t stand me, then they didn’t want to leave me.
“I’m gonna miss Jaden being in your room, Mr. Gibson.” Mrs. Roberts gushed. “I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m nervous about Kindergarten.”
I smiled. All reassurance. “Don’t be. Jaden’s grown up a lot, and he’ll do a lot more. Just wait and see.”
“I still can’t get over it,” she went on. “When he didn’t potty train at two, I thought he was...was…like a...like...a....” She stopped. Clearly, she didn’t like where this train of thought was going and who it might offend. At least she was cognizant enough to watch what she was saying in front of me. Progress.
“Not every kid potty trains at two. They’re called late bloomers because they do still, in fact, bloom.”
Mrs. Roberts leaned over the table a bit. Much more at ease. “Still, I gotta know, for future reference..how’d you do it? What’s your secret?”
My secret? I made the kid change himself. Peeing and pooping yourself isn’t nearly as fun when you’re the one who has to clean it up. Especially if you’re made to do so and you’re missing play time. “If I told you that, I might put myself out of a job.”
That got a laugh from just about everyone assembled. “Mr. Gibson is really good at motivating his students,” Miss Winters, the physical therapist said. She was only at this meeting to officially dismiss Jaden from P.T. Kid didn’t need any help with his gross motor skills at all. “He really makes a connection with them.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Mr. Gibson is very good at getting into the mindset of his children,” Mrs. Bankhead said, not even looking up from her laptop as she typed away at the meeting’s minutes.
Miss Sosa nodded. “He is very empathetic. We’re lucky to have him.”
From there, the meeting went back to auto-pilot. Academic goals were presented and read.
“By the review date, Jaden will recognize and read thirty Dolch Sight words.”
“Jaden will add and subtract using manipulatives with sums and minuends up to twenty”
“Jaden will write his first and last name correctly with legible handwriting.”
And so on and so forth. Fairly advanced stuff for a kid who hadn’t gotten into Kindergarten just yet, but a kid’s need for an I.E.P. would only be re-evaluated every three years, so I made the goals to.
“To be clear,” I said, “these aren’t the ONLY things that we’ll be working on. These are just the goals that I’ll be collecting data for.”
“Of course, Mr. Gibson.” Mrs. Roberts reached out and shook my hand. Another satisfied customer.
After that, minutes were read, papers were signed and I was able to walk out of the meeting room and make a bee-line for my personal sanctuary.
Tracy was laughing when she opened the classroom door for me. Not polite laughing, fake laughing, either. Full on belly laugh cackling. “Hey, Boss!” she said. “How was the meeting?”
Most of the kids were busy doing coloring worksheets. Social Studies. People in our community. Basic fun stuff. No sense in having Tracy run herself ragged in my absence, but somebody had to watch the kids. “Second year, parent,” I said. “So it went well.”
“What does ‘second year parent’ mean?” I heard. I looked past Tracy. Sitting at my kidney table, playing a match game with a couple of my students was a dark haired Amazon woman. Not a stranger. Not exactly what I’d call an acquaintance, either.
Tracy gestured to the intruder, not a hint of weariness in her tone. “Administration sent Ms. Grange over to help while you were at your meeting.” Janet Grange. Third Grade Teacher.
Time to go into action, and graciously get this stranger out of my room. I went over to my kidney table. “Thank you so much, Ms. Grange for taking the time to assist my students.”
“Mrs. Grange, actually,” the Amazon said. She didn’t sound particularly snooty about it. Most Amazons insisted that the shorter folks get their titles precisely correct. “And don’t worry about it, Mr. Gibson. My kids are out at P.E. so I had some extra time. This was fun. Tracy and I were just telling jokes about our husbands.”
Tracy? Joking about her husband? She never talked about her home life. Sometimes I legitimately forgot she was married until she started talking about Aaron...or was it Eric? I could never remember. “Oh really…”
“Tell him what you told me!” Tracy said, giggling just at the thought. This was weird. Tracy only ever let her guard down this much around Beouf. And we’d known Beouf for years.
Mrs. Grange smiled. It was thin. Polite. Maybe slightly embarrassed? “Nah,” she said. “The moment’s passed. Not really a joke. You kind of had to be here for it.”
I did my best to give a comically exasperated sigh and shake my head smiling. “Thank you again.” I said, wishing she’d take the hint.
“Before I go,” Grange said, holding up a piece of paper scribbled with my handwriting. “Can I ask you about this?”
Internally I froze. I’d been bored and working on math problems the other day at my desk. Nothing major. Just sometimes counting to a hundred and stopping there got boring. “Oh that?” I said. “Was just trying to think of a different way to teach greatest common factors.” If I couldn’t have been a Pre-K teacher, I would have wanted to be a Math teacher. Other way around, if I’m being honest.
“But why use a factor tree?” Grange asked.
“Because if I reach prime factorization of two numbers, I can re-multiply all the prime factors that they have in common to make the greatest common factor. That way I don’t accidentally miss something and I don’t have to go through listing each and every variation.”
Grange pouted her lip out. “Huh…” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought about it like that. I would have just listed all the factors, individually.”
Again, she wasn’t being critical, but typical me was nervous that this was some kind of trap. “Yes, but if your third graders don’t have their fact families completely memorized, they could overlook something and identify a common factor instead of the greatest common factor.”
“I know,” she said. “I’ve got stragglers in my class who think that the GCF for every even number is two. This is safer. Makes them think it through instead of just plain memorization. I like it.”
I smiled; I had to show appropriate gratitude. “You can steal it if you’d like.” Please please please! Just get out of my room so that I can let my guard down! Thank goodness she couldn’t read my thoughts.
“I don’t know…” she clicked her tongue. She put down the paper and stood up, really towering over me. I swallowed, feeling my throat go dry. “I don’t think I could explain it the right way. Think you could drop by my room in a day or two and teach it to my kids?”
This was a trap. It had to be a trap. There was no other explanation. “I’m not sure I have the time. My students don’t have the same schedule as the older kids.”
“You could go during nap time,” Tracy offered. “That should be fine.” I shot her a look. Why was she not reading me?! TAKE THE HINT!
Grange looked past me and to my Tweener assistant. “When’s their nap time?”
“Just after Noon.” Murder. I was going to murder Tracy. That’s what I’d have to do…
The intruder nodded. “Okay. So I’ll rearrange my Math block for just after Noon this Friday. How’s that sound, Mr. Gibson?”
I smiled. Big, toothy and fake. “Great,” I said. “Just great.”