Working on the Spectrum (Part 3)
As a child with Asperger’s growing up, I was incredibly lucky. My mother kept the house dark and quiet and in perfect order at all times. We watched little T.V. and only occasionally listened to the radio or records. The rooms typically had dark paneling and the kitchen was full of wood cabinets. Mom loved brown, it seems. Further, she pretty much let me do whatever I wanted, and wasn’t all that concerned that I spent most of my time in my room, reading and making lists.
In high school and college I pretty much never went to parties and I certainly avoided sporting events with a few exceptions, so I was almost never in a situation where I was overwhelmed by noise and movement. When I did start attending the occasional party, I was in graduate school, and those were therefore mostly low-key affairs. If I were going to hang out with anyone, it would be someplace like Starbucks. Keeping it all low-key. Even my past jobs were low-key, whether they were in hotels or in a cubicle.
So for the longest time I didn’t experience a great deal of sensory overload. If I did, I just avoided those places. For example, when working as a substitute teacher, I simply avoided taking middle school jobs. I avoided middle schools because I discovered early on that I couldn’t handle the loud talking and constant movement.
There are probably situations I have been in that were just too much for me that the average person would have wondered what the problem is. I can hear a single person whispering across a room, and that distracts me from my teaching. So I’m pretty strict about interrupting class with unnecessary talking. And it is with this issue, where my periphery senses dominate and I can get overwhelmed by too much input in a way I had never realized before that I ran into problems with the last job I had.
My wife and I decided a little over a year ago that I should become a special education teacher. That meant getting alternative certification, and that meant signing up for Dallas ISD’s Compass Program. According to Dallas ISD and the Compass Program, there was a great need for SpEd teachers. I thought that the fact that I have Asperger’s and the fact that my older son has autism would make me a good SpEd teacher. My experience as a substitute teacher all of the previous year further supported this idea, since I really enjoyed the SpEd classes, and I was able to get the autistic children in particular to do what I asked — something the teacher’s aides were always amazed to see.
I entered the Compass Program with the intention to become a SpEd teacher. They had me taking online classes for SpEd, and though through the summer school teaching program, I was teaching a regular class of regular kids, I was assured that what I was learning was generally applicable. The classes were of course small, and there was a teacher there who was supposed to be helping me. My problems with teaching already began during training.
I want to share with you an email I ended up having to send to the coordinator over me at the program:
As you know, I have autism. It’s one of the reasons I want to become a special education teacher. The majority of children in special education are on the autism spectrum, and because of the nature of autism, I believe I would be particularly effective in helping these students precisely because we have similar brains and thus similar ways of thinking.
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that particularly affects the brain and thus the way sensory information is processed, thinking, and social interactions. What to non-autistic people appears to be a communication disorder is in fact a communication difference, because we on the spectrum understand each other the same way non-autistic people understand each other. It is the differences between how autistic people and non-autistic people experience the world, including the social world, that results in the judgment by the majority that we have a disorder that is really a difference. And yet, given the majority are not autistic, that difference might as well be treated as a disorder, since it affects the way people perceive us.
A case in point occurred yesterday toward the end of the day. I was teaching math in my class and I was helping one of the students. I have a tendency, when concentrating on something, to lose contact with the world. It’s a feature of autism. Mrs. Sanders redirected me and said that other students were having problems and that I should reteach the concept. I looked up at her and immediately rushed to the front of the class and did just that. I immediately realized that she was right, and corrected myself.
At the end of class, she told me that if it annoyed me for her to redirect me, that she’d stop correcting me. It took me a second to figure out what it could be she could be talking about, then realized that I must have given her a momentary look of annoyance because she had broken me out of “the zone.” When someone breaks me out of that zone I get in from concentrating on something, I get an immediate feeling of sharp annoyance, but then get over it just as immediately (this has not always been the case, and it took me many years to this point). What I did not realize was that I was still showing that annoyance. It is part of the communication disorder aspect of autism. I sometimes have expressions that non-autistic people misinterpret and misunderstand. To the autistic mind, relevant fact should have been that I immediately took her advice.
As a result, I tried to explain that I wasn’t actually annoyed and that she was right to redirect me and that I appreciated it. I also told her I had autism, and that I couldn’t really control certain behaviors like my facial expressions. She seemed incredulous that I couldn’t control certain things, but I had thought that we had smoothed things over.
But this morning Mrs. Sanders came in and started sniping at me about my being annoyed at her advice (not true, as I’d explained to her the previous day) and then started complaining that I never asked her questions like the other interns did their mentors (which is true, because one of the features of autism is to not ask anyone for help or ask questions — something on which I’ve been trying to work). That’s when I told her, “Mrs. Sanders, I need to talk to you about something while the students are having breakfast.” To which she replied, “This is my time.”
I insisted that we talk anyway. I then asked her, “What do you know about autism?” For some bizarre reason she immediately became combative and argumentative, and she told me she didn’t know anything about autism and didn’t need to know anything about it. I pointed out that she had been a special education teacher, and she just reiterated that she didn’t need to be told anything about autism. I told her that she did and that she needed to actually listen to me for a change because I have autism. I literally had to repeat myself about a half dozen times that I have autism before she actually heard what I was saying to her. When she finally said, “You have autism?” I replied, “Yes. I told you yesterday.” She then insisted I didn’t do anything of the sort, that all I’d ever done was talk about my autistic son. Not wanting to argue with her about that, I said maybe I misremembered, but that I was telling her now because it was important she know because she was misunderstanding my actions.
She then asked why I hadn’t told her three weeks ago. I told her that I was on the fence about whether or not to tell people because I have had some very bad experiences with telling people, including being fired from a job because, as they said, they had no intention of accommodating me (something I’d never even asked them to do). The situation that arose, though, forced me, in my mind, to tell her. I felt I had to tell her because she continued to misunderstand my social behaviors.
In fact, it’s becoming very clear that I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. If I don’t tell people, I’m in danger of being misunderstood; if I do tell people, I’m in danger of being directly discriminated against for having autism. And it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that it’s illegal to do so.
I thought I could manage to behave “normal” enough for five weeks to make it through this program without a problem. Then I would be able to get hired as a special education teacher where I would be allowed to do my job. It seems that was a pipe dream. I’m not really sure what to do at this point.
There is literally no way for me to be sure I have smoothed things over with Mrs. Sanders, because I literally cannot tell if I have or haven’t. I don’t know if she even believed me, since she said that in Dallas ISD they wouldn’t be accepting “any excuses,” as though having autism is making excuses!
Quite frankly, that statement was deeply offensive to me, because people with autism cannot help the way they think, act, react, interact, and experience the world any more than can someone who doesn’t have autism. What she said is literally like saying to a paraplegic that we won’t be listening to his excuses for his not running laps around the gym. I doubt that Dallas ISD would fail to follow federal legislation regarding a protected class of disability such as autism and call the differences and difficulties created by those disabilities “excuses.”
I hope that you can advise me about what if anything I should do moving forward. I do want to be successful in this program, but there are various issues that I fear stand in the way of my realizing that success. Many of them involve my being on the spectrum, but I do not think these are an issue given the position I seek to fill. And with the right kind of guidance and support, I can work through and around many of these issues. I know this because I have a long history of doing exactly this. But it requires people around me giving me support rather than treating me like I’m something less than human.
I have since learned that the people who all work for Dallas ISD are careful not to leave a paper trail — or electronic trail — of their misdeeds, so my coordinator didn’t email me back. Instead, he simply assured me in person everything would be fine. And in fact, everything did turn out fine insofar as my coordinator passed me through the program, despite my difficulties.
One thing that didn’t happen, though, was my getting a SpEd class. No one would hire me for a SpEd position, and when I did in fact manage to get a regular 1st grade class, I was actively blocked from taking the position and placed in another school, in another regular class. And although there was a SpEd class I could have potentially taken, having gotten a call for an interview, I couldn’t take it because the program placed me. In the end, it felt very much like a bait-and-switch had taken place. I was baited with the potential of getting a SpEd class, then placed in a teaching position nobody wanted to even apply to take.
Somehow, with my training in SpEd and my Ph.D. in the humanities and my Master’s in English, it was someones brilliant idea to give me a 4th grade elementary school math (and, barely, science) class at Bryan Elementary. I actually didn’t mind it, though. Math has definite answers, and I had no definite opinions about how to teach it, so I was less likely to get in any trouble teaching it. I had a few problems with a few who were a bit on the chatty side, but I was actually making some progress with them (and with myself, learning how to deal with such a classroom). I thought I was having a rough time, but I now realize I was probably having a pretty regular time, especially given this was my first time teaching at this level and this topic. I also had a lot of help from the math specialists right next door to me. He was a true gift and a wonderful person.
While I was at Bryan, I decided it would be best to let the principal know I was on the spectrum:
Dear Ms. Anderson,
We haven’t had a chance to talk since I started at J.N. Bryan Elementary, and there is something in particular I think it important that you know about me. I have Asperger’s syndrome, meaning I am on the autism spectrum. I have already told Ms. Singleton and Mr. Williams and explained what that means, and I wanted to make sure you knew as well.
Autism is considered to be a communication disorder, though I would actually consider it to be a communication difference. I can communicate perfectly clearly with my autistic son, and he with me. The difficulties come about when we try to understand or make ourselves understood to non-autistic people. In my own case, these difficulties are not necessarily severe, but I can sometimes find myself in awkward situations because of a misunderstanding brought about by my tendency to take things too literally, my attention to detail that sometimes comes at the expense of seeing the big picture, or my own tendency to go on and on about a subject in which I am interested as I fail to notice everyone else has tuned out a long time ago.
Autism is sometimes called a personality disorder, but that’s not exactly right, as many of those difficulties come about because of communication issues. The way I sometimes inquire about things or discuss them can make me come across as arrogant, when in fact I believe myself to be anything but arrogant. But I know I have come across that way to many people. I also tend to become very focused, which is hardly a problem until and unless I am interrupted, at which point I feel a strong, involuntary flash or irritation, which I have been told gets expressed on my face momentarily. Of course, I then immediately assess the situation, figure out what the new social situation is, and try to figure out the correct response to it. I can thus come across as unwilling to comply or annoyed that I was told to do something when in fact I am willing to do what I’m asked or told.
I can also sometimes take a few seconds to process a given social situation. While most people can adapt to social situations in an instant, it can take me several seconds to figure out what a social situation is, go through my set of known social rules, and figure out what it is that I ought to do. If I either cannot find a known rule, or if I have conflicting rules, it can take me a while to respond. Also, I sometimes find myself in conflict between my tendency to take things literally and my conscious knowledge that people engage in word games, use metaphors, and say things in polite ways that often mean the opposite of the literal words, meaning I may be at a loss as to what action I should take.
My Asperger’s also seems to make me have a radically egalitarian view of people, which can sometimes be a problem in a hierarchy. What that means is that I have a tendency to treat pretty much everyone exactly the same, regardless of who they are. I have to keep in my conscious mind that there are people above me in the school hierarchy who have to be treated differently for precisely that reason. It’s simply not natural for me to do that. And of course failing to “respect the hierarchy” can make me seem arrogant or even rebellious. So if it seems that I’m not giving someone the respect or deference they deserve, I don’t mind having it point out to me so I can correct it. I have had to literally learn social rules in the same way my students have to learn math, while for the typical person those social rules are practically automatic and were learned almost instantly. Of course, when that happens, it’s much easier to make errors. Knowing that, I’m always open to correction.
And that’s the main thing to understand with me, that my social awkwardness and various other personality quirks are not intentional. There are a great many things I cannot help happening in the moment, even if I am conscious of many of these things in an intellectual way. So I don’t mind having incorrect actions on my part pointed out. I just hope that it’s understood that much of what I do is not intended to be anything other than good. I just may not be getting things quite right. Because what makes sense to me may not make much sense to anyone else.
The good thing is that most of these difficulties do not affect my teaching nor my interactions with my students. Whatever problems I have typically involve the adults rather than the students.
If you would like to talk further about my Asperger’s, I’m always more than happy to have that conversation.
In Dallas ISD they have a thing called “leveling.” That’s where they just randomly move teachers around to wherever they please, with the excuse of having more need in one place than another. So I got moved to J.J. Pearce Elementary, an inner city school, to teach both Texas and U.S. History. Now, if I was incompetent to teach math, that was nothing compared to my incompetency to teach Texas history. Having grown up and gone to school in Kentucky, Texas history wasn’t exactly on the agenda, so I knew practically nothing about Texas history except what everyone knows from U.S. history. I would have three classes of Texas history and three classes of U.S. history.
When they moved me, most of my students cried. The ones who cried most were the three I had had the most trouble with, but was slowly reaching. It occurred to me that Dallas ISD was lying when it said it cared one whit about these kids.
At Rhoads I was to replace the latest temporary teacher in a string of temporary teachers. I was replacing someone who they had moved from a long-time P.E. position to temporarily take this class, and he had no idea where they would be sending him next. Don’t ask me why they didn’t just leave him there. Certainly I was the last person they should have sent into that classroom. So it probably shouldn’t surprise you that I sent the principal the same letter I sent to my previous principal.
All six classes I taught at Rhoads were an autistic’s nightmare. Just go watch one of those movies where some teacher or principle goes into some inner city school and straightens everyone out. How the kids behave when they first arrive in the school is precisely what I was facing. But I promise you nobody will be writing a movie about my experience there because when I left, they were as bad as when I arrived.
Around this time I was also actively trying to get recognition from Dallas ISD that I have a disability, meaning it would be possible to get reasonable accommodations (like not being in a classroom where I was overwhelmed by sensory input, causing me to have meltdowns, blackout seizures, and movement seizures). While I understandably had to get an official diagnosis — something I could finally do with my insurance — it turns out that Dallas ISD has a special panel which decides whether or not they are going to grant you accommodations, meaning somehow Dallas ISD is deciding whether or not they have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act. Which seems pretty odd, if you ask me. I don’t think private businesses get to have a panel where they can decide whether or not they can follow federal laws.
What then took place can only be viewed as a race. While I was trying to get ADA accommodations, the Principal at Rhoads was busy trying to establish documentation to get rid of me. Since that was obvious, I started documenting.
First official day at Rhoads. I was mostly showed around and introduced to my fellow teachers, etc.
First day teaching. Another teacher was there the entire time. I was told to get my Lesson Plans done by Monday.
First day by myself with the students. It is impossible to even begin teaching because the classroom is loud to the point of being completely overwhelming to my senses. The students refuse to acknowledge that they should do a single thing I tell them to do. They are constantly up. I put my classroom rules up, but nobody ever obeys any of them.
When I asked Ms. Dailey to model teaching my class, she said she couldn’t because she was not the regular teacher. However, if she has the lesson plans, she ought to be able to teach the class, especially given that she is supposed to be enough of an expert to be evaluating me.
My Compass Teacher Effectiveness Coordinator, Marilyn Dailey, came by with another Compass coordinator to sit in on my class. Their feedback was that I was completely ineffective, which of course I was having been thrown into a completely new set of classes, none of which had had a teacher the entire time, a month into the school year. After discussing the need to have Ms. Dailey come by the following week to provide assistance, I informed them both that I had Asperger’s, and how that was affecting my ability to teach — not the least of which included the fact that the constant yelling overwhelmed me because of my sensory issues associated with, in this case, hearing. Neither seemed to know what to do with the information. Ms. Dailey merely reiterated that she would be there the following week to provide some assistance.
I met with the Principal, Bridget Fowler, and the Assistant Principal, Tonjuana McKinney, about my inability to get my students under control and my confusion that resulted after Ms. McKinney told me to get the students into the class. I told them that I was confused because it seemed I was getting contradictory information. On one hand I was being told to get the students engaged in class, and on the other hand I was told to make sure I had my procedures in place and that I went over the classroom rules. When I get confused about what to do, I tend to just keep doing what I was doing. I ended up telling them both that I had Asperger’s in order to clarify what happened. I told them that my senses were being overwhelmed by the extremely high volume in the classroom, so I wasn’t able to think clearly. I told them about my sensory issues and that my natural tendency was to make an argument for whatever I’m doing or thinking, but that I was working on that, though sometimes that meant I would simply stop arguing. I also told them that because of my Asperger’s I had a tendency to not ask for help and to sometimes appear arrogant and bullheaded, when in fact I truly wanted help. They said they would try to provide me with help the following week, though that offer was quite vague on details.
Sent at 7:15 PM to Principal Fowler and AP McKinney:
I’m glad I had the opportunity to talk to you this morning about my having Asperger’s Syndrome. When I signed up for the Compass program, I had done so with the intention of getting a special education position. Among the reasons I wanted to do special education was the fact that I have a son with autism, I am on the spectrum myself, I have in the past greatly enjoyed the special education classes when I was a substitute teacher, and because I was creating a pathway to success for myself. Although I applied for every special education position for which I was qualified, I did not get one and Compass would not place me in one, so I ended up being placed by Compass at Bryan. I was not even allowed to interview for a special ed position that did come up shortly after I had been placed at Bryan. I had all of the kinds of difficulties I knew I would have teaching a gen ed class, but I was making progress and teaching lessons — when I was sent to you. In fact, I had made so much progress that about 2/3 of my students were openly crying that I was being made to leave.
As we discussed, my classes are very loud — and have been loud since before I arrived — and the volume can overwhelm me because of my sensory issues. In addition, when the students are constantly up and everywhere, that only contributes to my sensory confusion. I’m left overwhelmed and often confused about what to do simply because there is too much chaos. None of this was even remotely a problem at Bryan, and I had told Ms. Anderson I had Asperger’s mostly as a courtesy. I don’t keep my being on the spectrum a secret, but I don’t typically lead with it when I meet people, either. I believe with help that I can successfully manage and teach my classes. If Dallas ISD has a behavioral specialist who could help me with some of the issues I am faced with, that might be of benefit to me.
I want to improve and I want to be successful, but there are a number of things — especially involving social issues — which require a little more time for me to learn. The same syndrome that makes it extremely easy for me to learn a great many academic topics makes it much more difficult for me to learn how to deal with certain social situations. I will of course do each and every one of the suggestions I get from anyone who works with me, but do understand that it may take me a while to get some things, or to get them exactly right. I do understand that dealing with a disability such as I have can be frustrating, but I believe that if we work together I can become a good teacher for Rhoads.
Ms. Dailey, when she came in once and took over teaching the class, also could not get the class under control and stop talking. She also yelled at the students.
I was put on a Teacher Intervention Plan. I met with the Principal and Assistant Principal for an hour at the end of the day. I sent the following email:
I just wanted to recap what we discussed, to make sure I fully understand the content of our meeting.
We discussed putting me on an intervention plan that would last two weeks, starting next week.
I would email you both my lesson plans, which you said should follow the TE.
I would follow the TE script pretty much exactly.
I will also be working with Dr. Seamster, who will model both 4th and 5th grade lessons for me as I take notes.
You asked if there was anything I wanted removed to ensure I could get it all done in the two weeks, and I said that I hoped that I could but, because my Asperger’s makes my social processing especially very slow, it was not impossible that I would not be able to accomplish it in two weeks. You said that anything I could not accomplish in that two weeks, we would continue to work on.
Being on the autism spectrum means I need very concrete things to do/examples/etc. rather than general suggestions, because it is sometimes hard for me to go from the general to the specific/concrete. I am hoping that this will help me, since the suggestions are more concrete.
I am thinking that you might want to try to coordinate this with Marilyn Dailey, since she is having me do things, and you are having me do things, and I don’t want to run into a situation where one is undermining the other.
To which Ms. Fowler responded:
If you would like to ask Ms. Dailey for assistance with your plan please feel free to do so.
You need to go to Dr. Seamster about modeling a lesson. We suggested you meet with her about modeling 1–4th grade as well as 1–5th grade lesson.
The TE is a guide however it was suggested you look at for assistance with planning since you mentioned to the both of us that you are having problems with instruction in the classroom.
Although I requested on 9/25 to send a behavioral specialist, I did not receive any such help except coincidentally, when a behavioral specialist showed up the next day to observe several students in my class. I, however, never received any feedback or further contact from him.
Neither Principal Fowler nor Assistant Principal McKinney ever came in to talk to my classes to introduce me or to tell the students that they need to behave since was now their full time teacher. Both have sometimes stopped in when the class was most chaotic, but neither have ever addressed the classes as wholes about their overall behaviors.
To date most of my Blackboard training has been on Special Education, although I do not have a Special Education position, meaning I can neither do the trainings properly nor teach properly given the fact that my expectation was that I was going to have a Special Education position. I signed up with Compass to be a Special Education teacher, as per my application, yet I was not given such a position. It seems I am being punished for not being able to do a job for which I neither applied nor was being truly trained to do. Money is being taken out of my paycheck for training I am not properly receiving since I do not have the job required to even do the training.
Given that I have a recognized disability, I have never received any accommodations for that disability. Given the nature of my disability, that should have included placement in either a general education classroom with a calmer environment where I could have learned classroom management or in a Special Education classroom or as a pullout specialist for which I am continuing to be trained. There have never been any sort of reasonable accommodations for my disability. In fact, if anything, my disclosure has seemed to have brought on an effort to get rid of me (such as my being moved to Rhoads from Bryan, and the current effort at Rhoads to get rid of me using an Intervention plan as a pathway to that goal).
My experiences at Rhoads and elsewhere strongly suggest that nobody is in fact taking my disability seriously. They seem to think I’m making it up or something, or are at the very least ignoring what I’m saying about it. There have been no efforts on their part to ask me about my Asperger’s, to ask me how we could work together to accommodate me, or to in any way alleviate some of the problems I am clearly having. Instead, I’m being treated as though I do not have any sort of disability at all.
When I arrived, the students were already a month behind. The Principal and AP both agreed that I should speed through to get caught up. With the discussion 10/19 regarding the Intervention, I was then told that I have to be caught up. I am starting on the American Indians sections, thus skipping several sections, to try to get caught up.
While doing a training, a teacher, who is also the cheerleading coach, thought that “fetched a pail of water” was inferred from the song “Jack and Jill.” I may not have the best classroom management, but I’m not teaching misinformation to my students.
Dr. Seamster came into my class on Monday, October 31. I was supposed to observe her teaching my class the Wednesday before, but I could not get her to agree to any specific day and time until that Monday. When the students came in that Monday, they had already picked up their Do-Now and were getting seated and starting to work, but most were still talking. When she started, she immediately began yelling at the children to quiet down. Once she got almost everyone’s attention from the typical chaos by yelling at them, she then went around and quieted down another half dozen students who were still ignoring her. After she got everyone quieted down, she started the lesson. She had them do an activity that consisted of them listing character traits of good leaders. She then took the entire class out to use the restrooms, which took up the entire last 15 minutes of class. She may have taught 25 minutes at most. She then told me after she brought the students back — in time to switch classes — that I needed to get everyone quiet before I started class. I had previously been told that I needed to get the class engaged first, because then they would quiet down. So far I have not found success in either approach.
I have also heard several teachers yell at their students, and I have had several teachers come into my class and yell at my students. My voice projects extremely well, and the classroom in which I teach echoes, and my classroom is right across from Ms. McKinney’s office, so I’m sure I sound extremely loud to her. Other teachers have the luxury of being much farther away and not having a booming voice. But they are definitely yelling at the students by any reasonable definition of the term.
November 2, I was called into Ms. McKinney’s office to sign a letter saying I was still yelling at the students and that I could no longer yell at the students without being fired. First, this was two days before the agreed-to end of the two weeks, meaning they are in violation of their own contract. Second, I pointed out to Ms. McKinney that this was an attempt to make me accommodate to them, when the ADA makes it clear that it is they who have to accommodate me. She then said they had no proof that I had a disability and that I had to provide proof. According to the ADA, though, I am under no obligation whatsoever to provide proof. I nevertheless told Ms. McKinney that I had in fact been officially diagnosed with Asperger’s. She only reiterated that I had not provided any proof, but had only told them I had it. She also said they had not ever had to deal with a situation like this before. She also suggested that it was Dallas ISD which would have to deal with accommodating me, not Rhoads. As I kept insisting that they were going to have to deal with accommodating me, she said we needed to involve Principal Fowler. I agreed, and we went down to Ms. Fowler’s office. After waiting several minutes, Ms. McKinney came out of Ms. Fowler’s office and told me they would meet with me the following day.
I texted my wife that I needed the neurologist to fax my diagnosis to the school.
As I took my students to Specials, during which time I have planning, AP McKinney told me that I had a parent-teacher conference right then. I had not been informed that a parent-teacher conference had been scheduled, so I was completely unprepared to have it, and when the parents asked for documentation of their son’s work, I had to tell them that I had everything at home, where I had been grading them and entering grades.
Immediately after school, I met with Principal Fowler and both APs to further discuss the Reprimand Letter. I suggested that given the fact that not yelling was part of the intervention plan that it seemed odd that I would be getting a Reprimand two days before the deadline for achieving my goals. They said it didn’t matter. I pointed out that I had not yelled at the students at all that day, and Ms. McKinney agreed I had not. I also pointed out, however, that it took a huge toll on me to control myself every single moment of the day to avoid reacting to being overwhelmed by the constant movement and noise, with the result that I was completely exhausted. Further, I pointed out that I essentially let them run all over me just to avoid creating any conditions where I would raise my voice. I ended up signing the letter, though I continue to think that presenting it to me before end of day Friday is unfair and a violation of the contract we signed giving me two weeks. Also, I’m completely unsure their “solution” to my raising my voice could be to work on my lesson plans, which I of course did and got Ms. McKinney to help me improve. What I did not receive any help on was creating the conditions where I would no longer be overwhelmed by the classroom environment. That has still not been addressed.
During this meeting, I brought up the fact that I have Asperger’s, and that I had gotten an official diagnosis. Principal Fowler then presented me with ADA paperwork to fill out for Dallas ISD and told me that the school itself could not accommodate me, but that Dallas ISD had to accommodate me, that I would have to fill out the paperwork, and that there was a committee that had to decide if I was covered by the ADA. This of course raises the question of whether or not schools are a special category in the ADA law, since no private business would ever be allowed to determine if they were covered by the ADA in any given case.
This is what I attached:
While it remains my aim to become a special education teacher, at which I have little doubt I could be successful, since it is a completely different job with completely different teaching environments, I nevertheless hope to be able to be successful in the position which I currently hold. To that end, the following accommodations will likely be of help:
I have difficulty remembering long strings of verbal instructions. When possible, I prefer emailed instructions.
Understand that my short term memory problems means I am not purposefully not following instructions, but that I almost certainly in fact, especially in the moment and especially when overwhelmed by sensory input, do not remember those instructions. This means I have to be given instructions multiple times before it becomes part of my long term memory. New tasks will more often than not require more time for me to be able to successfully complete.
Instructions should be as clear and specific as possible. But also understand that my tendency toward literalism means I may not always apply instructions to different but similar situations to which most people would easily adapt those instructions. So I may not appear to be following your instructions, but I am in fact considering it a completely different situation.
It may not be a bad idea to provide me with a mentor, who can provide support, advice, and assistance.
I tend to do better providing a written response when possible.
Whatever support in getting students to stay seated and not yell would be appreciated. I tend to get overwhelmed by the combination of constant movement of many people, loudness, and bright lights. If and when I do get them quite enough to say anything, it takes me a moment to switch over to giving instructions, and in that moment they start talking, meaning I have to start over again getting them quiet enough to say something.
We can work out the details if and when necessary.
November 10, 2016. I was asked at the end of the school day by Ms. McKinney to go to Ms. Fowler’s office when I dismissed my students. There I was told that another teacher had reported me for child abuse and I was handed a paper saying I was to report to the Employee Relations Office. When I asked Ms. Fowler what this was about, she said I would be told when I reported in the next day.
November 11, 2016. I received a paper basically saying I was being put on leave with pay and that I couldn’t report back to work or set foot on the property at Rhoads. When I asked what this was about, the woman told me that she wasn’t privy to that information and that I would have to email someone to make a public information request to learn what the accusations were. I have never heard of a policy where the one being accused of something was prevented from learning what it was they were being accused of. Not, at least, in the United States.
December 2, 2016. Finally received documents from Dallas ISD. The accusation in the documentation is as follows: “Reported that teacher verbally abused a student and continued to do so as the student was removed from the classroom.” This is in reference to a situation where a male student had been beating up a female student with special needs and I had separated him and taken him out of the hall. I was telling him that beating up girls was unacceptable when the art teacher came by and asked if I wanted her to take him from the class. I agreed. I did tell him, as they left, that what he did in beating up a girl was unacceptable and that only cowards beat up women. Not once did I curse at the young man, as many of the teachers do at that school, which I know of because Ms. Fowler, in a faculty meeting a week or two after I first arrived, had gotten onto the teachers there for cursing the students. I never curse around children, including my own children, let alone curse at them. I would not at all consider chastising someone for their bad behavior verbal abuse, especially if cursing were not involved at all. This seems to have been a very convenient way to get me out of the classroom, since my request for accommodations made the pathway they were developing to get rid of me untenable. In the meantime, nobody had asked about the girl who had been beaten up by him, including the teacher who reported me. This suggests to me that the welfare of the children is not remotely what was under consideration here.
December 8, 2016. Received a phone call from Maria Alva. She told me she was from Human Capital Management and that I needed to send in an Administrative Acknowledgement of Policy and a statement in reference to the allegation. She asked me if I knew what the charges were, and I told her I only had a vague sense of what the charges were because I had only received a few documents from my document request. She told me that I was accused of screaming at a student that he was a coward and a future wife beater. She told me she would email the documents to me and that I could get them to her Monday, December 12, 2016. I received the email and filled out the forms.
Ultimately, this was little more than a witch hunt in order to get rid of me. When I submitted my list of recommended accommodations, it was clear that Ms. Fowler would no longer be able to continue to pursue the pathway she was setting up to get rid of me. So this conveniently came up, although I did nothing that I did not see on a daily basis from pretty much every teacher there. Actually, I saw worse on a daily basis.
In a follow-up appointment with my neurologist after I was put on administrative leave, she asked me how things had gotten since she had sent the letter confirming I had Asperger’s. I told her things had gotten much worse. She told me she wasn’t surprised. So apparently these kinds of things, where every effort is made to get rid of employees with Asperger’s, are not uncommon.
In the end, I was forced to resign. Thus, I will end this part with my resignation letter:
Dear Michael Hinojosa,
I am writing this letter to submit my resignation as a teacher in Dallas ISD, effective at the end of the 2016–2017 school year.
Even if the events that transpired leading to this decision had not occurred, it is likely I would have sooner or later resigned as a teacher anyway because the corruption that underlies the situation in question permeates Dallas ISD at every level.
I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to be a special education teacher, and I believed that my having Asperger’s syndrome would in fact prove a benefit in reaching autistic children in particular. I entered the Compass program because Dallas ISD had advertised that they had a shortage of special education teachers and the Compass program advertised that they would prepare teachers to teach special education. Instead, I received a bait-and-switch. Although the coursework for Compass required me to have a special education class to successfully finish the work, I was assigned a general education class at an elementary school, from which I was eventually moved and placed into another school, teaching a completely different subject (I went from math and science to teaching Texas and U.S. history). The supposed shortage of special education teachers never resulted in a special education classroom for me. Instead, I was placed in a school where it was incredibly obvious few teachers would have been able to survive, especially new teachers.
J.J. Rhoads Elementary School is a disciplinary disaster and it is abundantly clear that nobody cares whether or not those children are receiving a good education. There are at a minimum daily fights, students are allowed by the administration to continuously disrupt class, no training for breaking up fights was ever provided (though I was told I had to break up fights), and special education students were specifically targeted for punishment regardless of the situation. It is this latter which led to the incident in question, as a male student started beating up a female special education student, and I had to break up the fight. I guided the male student out of the classroom, in no small measure to get him away from the girl he was beating. When I was in the middle of chastising him, the art teacher came by and asked if she should take him. Since this situation had occurred before, where another teacher took the violent student away, I agreed. Unfortunately, the administration took this incident (a not uncommon one, given the fact that teachers yelled at students constantly, told them off constantly, and were known to even curse at students — something I find disgusting for an adult to do to any child) as an opportunity to get rid of me, which conveniently took place mere days after I submitted medical documentation proving I had Aspgerger’s.
The reason the administration at J.J. Rhoads Elementary wanted to get rid of me is because I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and they didn’t want to accommodate me. I let them know right away that I had Asperger’s, and I tried to explain what that meant for my being in the classroom, but to be honest, I don’t think they ever believed me. Nevertheless, one of the features of Asperger’s is sensory integration, meaning I can be overwhelmed by too much noise, too much movement, bright lights, etc. My classroom was always overwhelmingly loud, and because of my sensory integration issues, it made it difficult for me to even think. Further, students were always up without permission, and the combination of my strong peripheral vision and sensory integration issues meant that I was kept confused and distracted. When I tried to reduce the intensity of the lighting in my room, I was told I had to keep all the lights on. And nobody from the administration would provide me with any help with classroom management, although I repeatedly requested it.
I believe it would have been very easy to accommodate me, if Dallas ISD had any intention of ever doing so. First, if there was a single elementary special education position available anywhere in Dallas ISD, I should have been given it. That is what I was supposed to be trained for through Compass, and only by being put in such a classroom could I have even successfully completed the Compass program. Thus, Dallas ISD and Compass immediately set me up for failure by making it literally impossible to get my alternative certification, since successful completion of the program was made impossible by my assignment. This was made worse by placing me in a classroom in a school that would overwhelm a regular person, let alone someone with my kind of disability.
So even if I were not being pressured to resign because of the fabricated incident in question, I would have likely resigned over the Compass bait-and-switch, the failure of Dallas ISD to properly train me to break up fights (placing me and students in danger), and the refusal of Dallas ISD to make accommodations for me. As it stands, I am resigning precisely because of the incident that was fabricated in order to get rid of me so that Dallas ISD and J.J. Rhoads Elementary would not have to accommodate my disability.
As a consequence of all of the above, I am submitting my resignation, effective at the end of the 2016–2017 school year.
Troy Earl Camplin, Ph.D.