Friday, April 10, 2015

Expecting interventionists to, you know, intervene

The “I” word in today’s A-Z blog challenge post, interventionists, maddens me.

Imagine you’re a teacher, or a parent and a titled someone at the school tells you that your student needs to see an interventionist for, say, math. You would likely assume that the interventionist-type person will “intervene” and “help” your student “understand” the material. You would probably not include the “air-quotes” in your assumptions though, because you would be so THRILLED that a “certified interventionist”, or “specialist” as they are sometimes called, has been assigned to help. But you have made some outrageous assumptions about how schools use interventions, my friend.

When I worked at TCS, we had three great interventionists.  They regularly worked with kids who had reading problems and math problems.  Working with the kids usually means they pull the kid out of their regular class in which the kid is struggling to give them one-on-one or small group help.  The students loved and appreciated them, and they were a godsend to classroom teachers.

Except when they weren’t allowed to intervene, which was most of the time.

Mr. Cohen, our wonderful math interventionist, was constantly pulled from intervening to cover classes that needed a sub.  By the end of the year, he told me he’d spent a total of three weeks working with struggling students.  Kara, our reading interventionist, and department head had the same problem.  Not only was she regularly pulled to substitute, but she was also the fallback ISS babysitter.  Rather than helping students, she had to sit in a room with budding criminals and make sure they just sat there silently.  Both of them quit at the end of the year.

CISD has created a huge layer of bureaucracy to keep interventionists from “intervening” and specialists from “specializing.”  Got a kid who’s out of control in your class?  You have to provide three weeks of painstaking documentation about every single disruption and how you as the teacher intervened.  Plus, you must have it BEFORE you can even TALK to an interventionist.  (If you listen carefully you can hear the collective SMACK of hundreds of palms hitting the foreheads of readers across the country). “Why,” you ask in bewilderment, “does it take so long for interventionists to intervene?” The truth is, and I say this without an ounce of snark, because too many schools see interventionists as intervening between the teacher and the student rather than with the student and his or her area of struggle.  To schools, interventionists specialize in helping failing teachers, not helping failing students.

So what are these “specialists” doing while they wait to get those three weeks of documentation from anyone?  Your guess is as good as mine. I know I see them in the teacher’s lounge a lot, clearing out the fridge.  Maybe that’s where they intervene because teachers tend to be a doughy breed.

I teach a test prep class for students who haven’t passed the STAAR, our state’s high-stakes test. When I discovered that some of my students are reading at the third grade level, and they’re 15, I contacted our reading interventionist to let her know these kids needed her help.  As the teacher, I’m supposed to bolster their test-taking strategies.  If they can’t read the material, whatever I do with them won’t help them read or understand the test.  So I figured the best thing I could do was “reach out” to the specialist.

Big mistake. Her reply was staggering.  “Sorry, I don’t have time to meet with students.  But I can meet with you and go over some strategies that you could use.” 

It’s a shame this woman has “no time” to meet with students since she has “no classes to teach” and this is her “area of responsibility.”  I suppose I should be reassured that she has no time to meet with me.  It means the school doesn’t think I have failed my students. Yet.

On the bright side, I regularly see our “reading interventionist” wandering in and out of the teacher’s lounge. At least she’s intervening for someone, because that staff birthday cake won’t eat itself.