It’s nobody’s favorite option. And it’s certainly not consistent with the civil liberties that we all espouse as our given birthrights—the ones we started out so proudly reciting like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and all those other ideal platitudes. But then again, hucksters and business executives and shrewd bullies of every respectable stripe can make you believe that “up is down” and “down is up” by the time your race is run and the fighting spirit has been properly beat out of you.
I like to call it—the price of doing business.
And as a Special Education Teacher coasting through the last stages of my very uneventful career, I learned to live by the motto— “Inflict no harm” ahead of all the others. I did this party because it was the appropriate thing to aspire to and partly because I was determined to survive and not ruffle any feathers.
Especially, because the paper work was a nightmare should I let my guard down and not be diligent enough.
So, in general, I felt good about myself and my career.
Except, of course, in the case of those inevitable, extenuating circumstances that crop up at formal meetings. In such cases, all bets are off, and I am solely at the mercy of superior forces beyond my control.
Before I go any farther, please allow me, for the sake of time, to list but a few low-light cases that readily come to my mind throughout my checkered career involves meeting outcomes.
For starters, there was the supremely uncomfortable meeting I sat through where all of us assembled professionals had to intervene for the Mom with my then student who watched pro wrestling on his bedroom television all night–which in turn had deleterious effects on his attitude at school the next day.
So, we all voted swiftly and decisively; forcing the kid in question to remove his TV. Simple solution. Mom was happy and the kid did less pro wrestling signature moves in school. But I felt very queasy afterwards, worrying that we had encroached so far into the matters of the kid’s home life.
Another meeting involves me, the Principal, and the case manager, along with the desperate parents, into forcing their less than competent, impulsive daughter enrolled in my class, to have her tubes tied so as to NOT produce any children of her own. Talk about awkward!
Turns out, the decision to proceed with the tube tying was arrived at and carried out so efficiently by the team, with time leftover, that it was arranged to have the school nurse tie go ahead and tie the student’s tubes down then and there IN the conference room as the school year was almost over and it saved the family the trouble and extra expense. Talk about your one roof shopping!
But that was then and this was now.
So here I was, well past the middle portions of my life and career, finally being asked to take my final plunge in waving away essential personal freedoms for one last student before my retirement—while attending a meeting, chaired by Dr. Jasmine Jurgens herself (Freemont Counties most prestigious Harvard graduated professor) with several of her county underlings from the group home where the student in question lived.
The student in question on this current occasion was none other than 21-year-old Bobby Babinski, living at the Freemont Acres Group Home for Differently Abled adults.
What made Bobby stand out, besides his qualifying disabilities and profoundly erratic behavior issues, was the fact that he was his own legal guardian still attending school while already living in a group home away from his parents.
This meant that we staffers, as the expert members of the student’s team, had to tread very skillfully when it came to steering young Bobby strongly in the direction of where we felt he needed to be—for his continued funding at the group home; and for his own good of course too.
There was the usual mélange of adults sitting around this long rectangle table for Bobby’s annual review. The principal, the behavior specialist and the lad’s teacher of one year—yours truly the author.
But there was also a computer tech specialist, and for some odd reason, a sales executive for one of the tracking device companies being offered at the meeting.
Oh yeah, and there were several school legal experts thrown in for good measure plus a Case Manager for the county named Ms. Paula Parkdale who was being patched in speaker phone from the nearby airport before she flew out of town for a luxurious vacation.
All these players were tightly packed around said table with elbows uncomfortably drawn in close together, like distinguished sardines with little T-Rex arm reaches, all vying for the most prominent seat with the best angle for feeling the most comfortable with the daunting prospect of a 2 hours plus meeting looming directly ahead.
And while it is possible that their invitations may have gotten lost in the mail, it was conspicuously noted that neither of Bobby’s parents saw fit to showing up. Truth be told, this fact provided all of us gathered, great relief as we could glimpse a better played out meeting with less delays and decisions that were more favorable for us the professionals who were solemnly sworn to make something out of this young man in the little time we had left.
All of us had taken time out of our busy schedules for the sole purpose of reviewing Bobby’s past years annual goals and then to discuss, and hopefully agree on, the new goals as well as tabling any other concerns the team might have for another time.
And as the teacher, my part was rendered very perfunctory. Heck, I wasn’t even completely sure how scientifically sound the old goals for Bobby were any more than I knew what the graphs and rationales for the new goals I drafted really represented. But my language in writing the goals sounded very above board and it was supposed to be in my realm of expertise so everyone bought it.
For example, goal wordings like “Bobby will demonstrate a decrease in sensory defensiveness by tolerating stimuli with lessened behavioral overreaction for 80% of trials in a 3-week period, 2 prompts or less” made for a much better presentation than merely saying what I meant like “Bobby will stop being a jerk for most of the time in the next 3 weeks without staff having to bug him too much.”
By the time I had read all of my expected content, I looked up from my drafted copy and felt the undeniable approval of everyone in the meeting, with the exception of the airplane bound Case Manager Paula Parkdale who had some equipment malfunction on her cell phone end and complained that she couldn’t hear me clearly.
As I expected, young Bobby still sat there glassy eyed and trancelike as I summarized his life’s worth and future.
The trick at these meetings I knew by experience, was to simply get through it–and then I could make ANY thrown together IEP make sense and look brilliant later thru creative teaching techniques and flimflamming the statistics.
To this end, I needed to be just credible enough so that no one would even care to question it and be content to bask in the boring familiarity of it all.
And, despite my best charisma and summoned enthusiasm at key moments, (“why don’t you tell us about that great project you submitted Bobby?”) it was obvious that the members assembled (and the long-distance Paula Parkdale) were all very impatient and would be providing only cosmetic interest in what I had to say until the bit that they cared about was on the agenda.
At one point, young Bobby himself even had to be nudged by Dr. Jasmine Johnson due to nodding off.
Because the real, unofficial reason—indeed the proverbial unspoken ELEPHANT in the room (which in no way refers to Dr. Jasmine Jurgens who DID loom rather large), which would take up the bulk of the time, was the PRE-meeting strategy and solution for coming to a consensus on how best to curb young Bobby’s recent track record of breaking curfew at the group home and eloping away from his bus driver’s due to volatile moods stemming from being too sleepy and then the rampant impulsivity that followed his being woken up.
The bottom line was that the Bobby’s team and the county at large, had invested a lot in his future and didn’t want his negative behaviors to spoil the privileged placement he still enjoyed at such a highly covetable county run residential program.
It should also be noted that Bobby was at a top of the line, modern, state sponsored group home and his master bedroom was HUGE.
In fact, the group home facility was the envy of all the group staff and visiting dignitaries who beheld it as each one secretly wondered why THEIR own master bedroom couldn’t be that suite, (I mean sweet).
Therefore, the unanimously agreed upon solution by all members, was to get Bobby to agree on a tracking device in order to monitor him and to provide better accountability while he exercised his independence.
Failure was clearly, NOT an option.
The meeting started with Dr. Jasmine Johnson reassuring Bobby that no one at the meeting wished to see him fail, and that everyone believed whole heartedly in him–but that there was a big waiting list of other uniquely abled clients that would love to live at a place such as the one he was lucky enough to be a part of with the best master bedroom in the county.
At first young Bobby was rather reticent and suspicious.
After all, there was no food or drink or candy to be found on the table. Plus he had been dragged off the computer in the classroom to come to this meeting, which didn’t sit very well with the lad either.
And, as any young man would feel, Bobby deeply resented being surprised with the unexpected news that the team felt he couldn’t be trusted and needed some security device.
But when Dr. Jasmine Jurgens spoke, she wove a spell of Harvard trained elocution techniques that mesmerized all those assembled around her. When I say this, I mean the lady could read a service contract manual and the impeccable sounds of her spoken words would elicit profound “oohs’ and “ahs.”
She was most lethal when launching into a LONG syllabic descriptor word like “renunciation” or “Provocation.” And afterwards, each succeeding pause would profoundly seal the effect of each word being targeted like a bullseye directly on her audience. “Josh we feel it is not only efficacious but very remunerative in the long run if you agree to the team’s plan for you.”
At this point Bobby looked hurt and blurted out, “Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course, we do Robert,” assured Dr. Jurgens, but at this point I believe we need some confirmatory collateral in order to keep your bed guaranteed at the group home.”
Bobby looked slightly rocked by the confusing weight of her words. Dr. Jurgens continued: “We have no intention of forcing you to do anything you are not excited about Bobby. And since you are your own legal guardian, naturally we will need your signature and consent. But first I want to see a show of hands from the staff assembled to make sure that all of us 100% unanimously agree on the efficacy of procuring a security device to assist you in making better, more sound decisions.”
So now it was time for the team to vote. And while I felt deeply conflicted over the nature of how this meeting had transpired and the possible heavy handedness of it, as a life time teacher that needed to cement his position towards the finish line, I found myself acquiescing due to the proximity of all those heavy hitters assembled around me.
Truly, I sheepishly admit, I have always been one of those timid souls that, if a huckster decided to rush a sales job on me, I would fall right in and sign on the dotted line for the sake of alleviating the awkwardness.
Jasmine Jurgens nodded her head exaltingly as the raised hands were counted.
Out of the conference call speaker came Paula Parkdale’s impatient voice, “What happened? I have to be on a plane soon.”
“We are all of one accord” called Dr. Jurgens loudly into the speaker.
Now it was time to sell Bobby himself on the right tracking device to fit his needs.
Dr. Jurgens naturally did the honors here too.
“Bobby what we are looking for is 100% reinstatement of liberties as agreed upon by the team at your annual meeting next year, if you try out one of these products.”
Suddenly a spotlight seemed to beam down from nowhere on to the old cedar table top as boxes were passed out.
Bobby, who no longer appeared sleepy, was presented with 3 tracking device options—each one considered pretty state of the art.
“Are you sure I only have to do this for a year?” queried Bobby.
“You have my most aboveboard and sincere assurance that this is so, promised Dr. Jurgens.
Once the details of the app’s and special feature were addressed and passed around, it was truly amazing to see how quickly the information seemed to perk up young Bobby’s flagging spirits and cause him to instantly reconsider the cards that were dealt him.
This was the second phase of the sales pitch, after hearing Dr. Jurgens speak. The pure modern gadgetry of the devices would do all the convincing necessary to make young Bobby love his new choices which would, in turn, distract him from the hard facts of reducing his freedom and independence as an adult.
In short, he would forget he was in any kind of trouble at all.
The first was called PROJECT LIP SERVICE. This came in 3 cool colors, lime green, lemon yellow, and orange orange. It also had a great lightweight ergonomic design that impressed Bobby when he lifted it.
It was also water resistant, which Dr. Jurgens proved by dunking the device into the picture of water.
ANGERSENSE was the second. The special feature touted with this one was that it offered a real-time map for tracking purposes along with an instant alert when the owner was in an unfamiliar place. Additionally, ANGERSENSE products all come built in with a one click alarm button, which alerts a predefined trusted group of people regarding a lost child, along with a live view of the child’s location & direction to the child for the team to share. It fits perfectly on attaches securely to any garment pocket or belt. It also comes in radical shades of enticing sherbet colors including one that has strobe lights on a fidget spinner that could be pulled out during down time.
When Bobby heard that the ANGERSENSE model was used by Justin Beiber’s specially trained security entourage to better monitor the superstar during his troubled period, this made a very strong impression on him.
The final one, whimsically called GADZOOK GADGET, through At&T, was basically a watch that allowed his inner circle of staff and family to be notified if Bobby were to go outside of the boundaries. It too has buttons preset into the coordinates and came with cool emoji motifs.
By the end of the presentation, Bobby’s interests were plainly aroused. In fact, one could say that he looked positively transformed!
For each of the three products, he had changed his mind at least 3 times over, so swayed was he by which cool looking security phone he wanted most.
The prices didn’t matter whatsoever to him anyway because the group home was footing the bill.
In fact, Bobby wanted ALL 3 tracking devices, (“I want all 3 tracking devices!” were his exact words) if they would let him.
An indistinct chuckle filled the room at this notion.
Hearing words like “boundaries” and “curfew” certainly would have been expected to concern Bobby during the presentation, but if it did, we never could tell due to the excited tone in his voice and the broad smile which never left his face.
But in the end, it was the ANGERSENSE 5000 model that, while it was second in the order of presentation, was first in Bobby’s heart. Whether strapped to his belt or on his wrist; the cool sherbet colors plus the fact that it was used by Justin Beiber’s entourage—made this the clear winner.
Bobby was now talking as if this really WAS his meeting and that he liked nothing better than being in attendance.
“If you guys get me this cool looking one, I promise I will wear it and hang out where I am…..”
At this point, Bobby was abruptly interrupted by Case Manager, Paula Parkdale, who announced that if it was all the same with everyone assembled, she was officially signing off now because she needed to board her flight since the final votes had been counted and her work was done.
As the speaker phone was punched to the OFF position; all of us decidedly un-hip people who were physically present, went along with agreeing how cool the device looked for Bobby’s sake—with more than a little trace of guilt.
The deal now done, handshakes and words of congratulations spread like wild fire throughout the assemblage. The BIG objective was achieved.
And Dr. Jurgens could now wink at her colleagues when it was all said and done and walk away with a new signed plan.
As the staff began to rustle their notebooks and planners and put away their laptops, I looked up at the clock over the conference room table.
It read 10 minutes till 5PM.
We had been meeting for almost 2 and a half hours. I had told my wife that I would be out by 4:30 at the latest to get to the bank by 5.
Fear coursed through my frame like an ocean’s water current changing from cold to warm and back again as I pondered these ramifications.
This might be the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
Last week I had fibbed to my wife that I was still at my office typing away on reports when, in actuality, I was holed up at a nearby Panera’s having soup and munching on baguettes. I could list out a whole litany of other such offenses–The chocolate frosty’ s at Wendy’s. The extra 30 minutes running at the park, unaccounted for. The magazine gazing at Barnes & Noble. And the occasional newspaper readings at Starbucks while sipping cappuccino.
These past offenses flash backed quickly and then I was restored back to the congratulatory sounds of the conference room as the staff filed out of the school.
As I fumbled for my cell phone, I noticed the blinking GREEN light. It was a text from my wife. “Have you left yet?”
Something in the way she worded this, and the timing of her call, told me that she was angry. My married sixth sense was rarely wrong.
Suddenly I was looking back down on the conference room table at all the tracking device literature left that had won Bobby over and reigned in his reckless track record of freedom. While no one was looking, I quickly grabbed the brochure on the same product that Bobby picked—the ANGERSENSE 5000.
I decided then and there that if I was going to lose some of my cherished freedom and rugged independence, I was at least going to call my own shots when it came to the cool kind of device I had to be shackled with.
My wife would just have to deal with it.
AUTHOR’S SIDENOTE: In terms of follow thru, Bobby’s IEP meeting turned out to be decidedly less than successful. The county DID in fact pick up the same ANGERSENSE model that young Bobby had requested. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, it was returned less than 3 weeks later and a much blander, black and white tracking device, with only an ON and OFF button and a STUN setting for extremely disobedient situations, was substituted from the nearby Wal-Mart.
Bobby of course, felt initially angered and betrayed by the adult world in general, but the group home staff astutely took him out to Best Buy that same evening to purchase some DVD’s and video games, and he was soon easily redirected and pacified.