Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hearing from the Experts...

When I first wrote A CHILD LEFT BEHIND, it was to express my frustration at not knowing how to do for my son what I've done rather successfully for hundreds of children over the past ten years:  Teach.

As I continued to perform the show, I saw that the show was advocating for both teachers and parents who shared the same concerns and frustrations - caring people who were looking for help or answers.

One of the benefits of performing this show has been the many wonderfully caring and insight professionals who have not only helped me but numerous others to best support those children on the Autistic Spectrum and I consider it a privilege that they have given their time to participate in a special talk-back after my last show at the Santa Monica Playhouse.

On June 20th, the Santa Monica Playhouse, will be hosting a trio of very special guests to participate in a Q&A "Talk-back" after the show.  This will be a great opportunity for parents, teachers, counselors and all those interested in learning more about Asperger's Syndrome and how to best support those children on the Autistic Spectrum.

Some of the panel that night will include:


Fran Goldfarb, MA, MCHES, is one of the first family support faculty. Ms. Goldfarb has played a role nationally in the development of this LEND discipline, and currently chairs the AUCD LEND Family Discipline Workgroup. She is a board member of United Advocates for Children and Families and served as a member of the North LA Autism Taskforce supporting the CA Senate Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders. She trains teachers and school administrators on autism as a member the LA County Autism Spectrum Alliance (LACASA). She is the founder and co- Leader of the Los Angeles Asperger Syndrome Parent Support Group. Most importantly, she is the mother of an adult son who has Asperger Syndrome.

BETH BRUST                                   

Beth Brust is an award-winning author of 13 children’s books and numerous articles that have appeared in national publications including the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union, Highlights for Children and The Horn Book. A graduate of Stanford University, Beth taught writing courses for seven years at UCSD Extension. When her younger son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in third grade, he began attending The Friends’ Club in Carlsbad, California. Founded by Dr. Cynthia Norall, The Friends’ Club teaches these children the social skills they lack naturally. This led Beth to co-write with Dr. Norall QUIRKY, YES—HOPELESS, NO: Practical Tips to Help Your Child With Asperger’s Syndrome published by St. Martin’s Press. It is the only book about Asperger’s Syndrome incorporating an expert’s and a parent’s point of view. QUIRKY, YES is reader-friendly and won the San Diego Book Award, “Best in Education,” and is now available in German. Visit for more.

DEBRA MUNSON           

Debra Munson’s professional experience includes over 20 years of instructional opportunities in primary, secondary and college level learning environments in the United States and overseas. She has collaborated with medical professionals, school districts, and government entities to increase awareness and improve educational services for special needs children and their families. With a degree in special education (emphasis in child development and speech and language), Debra launched her private practice in Holland, Michigan. For 15 years, she was sought out by parents of children with undiagnosed speech disorders and unspecified social struggles. She learned from them and with them, growing ever more intrigued by the mysteries and challenges presented by Aspergers Syndrome. Debra’s contribution to one child’s success was cited in the book, My Child Wasn’t Born Perfect. After moving to Santa Monica, California two years ago, Debra expanded her career focus and began studying brain wave optimization. Recently becoming certified as a Brain Wave Technologist, she is eager to apply that technology to help those who struggle with invisible and often overwhelming challenges.   

For tickets and information, please visit: 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Teaching Matrix

It was my first day of substitute teaching and as I sat alone in the teacher's lounge - soaked in my own flop-sweat after a morning that could be best described as arduous.  As I tried to regroup from two hours of pure hell and confusion, I sifted through the LA Times "Help-Wanted" trying to find what I was going to do for the next thirty years of my vocational life, I was suddenly introduced to the matrix....
No, not THAT Matrix, THIS Matrix.....

It was found in this book and it changed my life - at least my professional one. 

 As I looked at the Matrix, I could see each "Problem child" I had encountered on that first morning of teaching could be placed into one of the four squares of the Matrix and hence I could take the appropriate action to give them what they needed to help support them and lessen the conflict in my classroom.  It was  like Orpheus had stepped into that small teacher's lounge to say, "The time has come to make a choice, Mr. Anderson. Either you choose to be at your desk on time from this day forth, or you choose to find yourself another job...."

Unlike all those other pedagogical vomit-fests of teaching rhetoric - books whose only purpose was to cut away trees and staff development hours, this book actually had something to say.  And not only that, it was said it in a clear and precise way that read:


That was it.  The whole crux of the book spelled out as plainly as that.  YOU can change your class environment,  your students, your school but it starts with you NOT them.

Inside Ms. Karns great book, she explains that ALL students act in ways that benefit them.  Even if it doesn't seem like it - there IS a reason as described in the Matrix below.

So I pushed aside the help-wanted ads, scribbled some notes onto the back of some realtor's flyer, advertising "Every teacher should be able to afford a home!" and realized if I was going to be a teacher, I was going to adopt this philosophy as my own.
If only Neo had posted this on his wall....

As a sign from the education God himself (or herself) I was finally approached by an older teacher who had been peeling a hard-boiled egg in silence.  He walked up to me and pointed to the book with his egg-covered fingers,  mumbling, "You can take it if you want, it's been sitting there for weeks..."

So I tossed the help-wanted and the realtor's flyer into the trash, grabbed the book and to this day - some twelve years later - I still read this book on those days when I forget that one important teaching truth:  I am the cause.

Keanu Reeves, as NEO, once said he didn't like the fact that he wasn't in control of his life - no one is.  But at least with this 
Matrix, you will have a better chance.  

Alan Aymie is a critically acclaimed writer, performer and educational activist, living in LA with his wife and three children.  He is currently performing his critically-acclaimed, A CHILD LEFT BEHIND' - currently running at the Santa Monica Playhouse.  For more information, you can visit

Teachers Must Speak Up....!!

The following was published in the LAUSD Daily Journal in 2012...

Teacher Turns Disgust at Publishing of Value-Added Rating Into Solo Play

As a stage, film, and television actor for 25 years, Alan Aymie understands that his performances may be reviewed by professional critics, whose opinions are published in newspapers and on websites. Through the years, he has learned to appreciate the good notices, and keep in perspective those that are not as favorable. 
But as a fifth-grade teacher – employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District since 1999 -- he never expected that a one and two-word review of his classroom performance would appear in print and on-line.  When The Los Angeles Times in 2010 published value-added ratings of elementary school teachers in the LAUSD, Aymie, graded average in English Arts and below average in Math, was livid.
Several of his angry colleagues reacted to release of the data with protests, comments on social media sites, and even by canceling their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times.  Aymie took more time with his response; he wrote a solo play, entitled “A Child Left Behind,” which ran this year at the Beverly Hills Playhouse from mid-April through August 14th.  The show will be performed in September on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the Ruskin Group Theater Company in Santa Monica (310) 397-3244, and is also scheduled to run in Ojai next April at the Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio. 
Combining his experiences in the classroom, anger over the release of the ratings, and the challenges of being the father of a son with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that causes significant problems in social interaction, Aymie, who is in his 40s, created a work that the LA Times reviewer wrote relayed a message of “simple, truthful power.”   
This was his second solo show; previously, Aymie wrote “Child’s Play,” which depicted the true story of his attempt to succeed as an unmarried father. 
The latest piece begins with Aymie (called the “Narrator” in the text), a schoolchild in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, being punched out by a young bully.  He arrives home with a black eye, bloody nose, and a fat lip.  Looking at his injured son, the narrator’s father decides to teach the kid how to box.  He also gives him a bit of advice, which over time will assume greater significance:  “It doesn’t pay to speak up.”
Next, the action moves to Los Angeles, many years later, where a demonstration is underway against Sacramento-imposed budget cuts to public education.  The narrator lets the audience know that “a small army of us is marching in front of the LAUSD.” 
From there, “A Child Left Behind” weaves in such scenes as a white teacher interacting with African-American and Latino students in the classroom; tense exchanges between the same teacher and “Principal Jones” about the former’s less-than-stellar performance rating in The Times; and the narrator and others trying to understand and work with a child who has Asperger’s syndrome. 
Aymie has created room in the text for a number of caustic asides about the difficulties teachers face today, inside and outside the classroom, especially the misunderstandings, slights, and humiliations.  But these things are nothing new to the profession. 
Not so the publishing of ratings in the newspaper, as we hear in this speech from the Narrator, which reflects the feelings of the fictional character and the real life teacher: 
“But the one humiliation I have never suffered as a teacher is being called a bad one until the LA Times publicly called me out by name by stating ‘These graphs show that Alan Aymie’s value –added rating based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Test….blah-blah-blah…..BELOW AVERAGE!?  The LA TIMES…This was not the Park La Brea News or some “How would you rate your stay?” local B&B comment card, this was the 4th LARGEST NEWSPAPER in the country telling the whole world , “Hey!  He’s no good!”  And to make matters worse they wanted me to publicly respond to their “assessment” but I had nothing to prove.  Besides, it doesn’t pay to speak up.”
*                                           *                                       *
 Alan Aymie
You’ve heard of the person who knew from the age of five that he or she wants to be an actor, or better yet, a star?  Aymie isn’t one of them.
He was 25, working in a miserable sales job, when he was asked to give a speech, after having won an award – for sales, no less.  The prospect terrified him, and he reached out to friends and family for advice.  One suggestion changed his life.
“My cousin said to take an acting class to get over my fear of public speaking,” said Aymie.  “I loved it. “  It’s one thing to follow the script when selling a product, but quite another to speak witty, sexual, or profound lines written to entertain.  “Wow, I can say this stuff?” is how Aymie describes his initial response to acting. 
The company promoted Aymie to Baltimore, where he didn’t know anyone.  He enrolled in the University of Maryland to obtain a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater, and began auditioning for various roles, both to practice his craft and to meet people.  For his first show, he was cast as a waiter in Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy.”  Another production in which Aymie appeared, “Marat/Sade,” performed by the Maryland Stage Company, won several awards as was reviewed nationally in Theater Week.
While living in Maryland, Aymie worked in equity theater, film and television.  In Washington DC., he performed in several productions of Shakespeare’s plays, including the role of Puck in a production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the famous Folger Theatre in Washington.  He was also cast in three films: “Foreign Student” (with Robin Givens), “Guarding Tess” (with Nicholas Cage and Shirley MacLaine) and “The Firm” (with Tom Cruise and Ed Harris). 
How many people are there like Alan Aymie, who arrive in Los Angeles with the intent of working full-time in the entertainment business and end up going into teaching to supplement their incomes?  The LAUSD alone may have hundreds of such employees within its ranks.  
The immediate reason Aymie moved to Southern California, in 1994, was to study acting with the legendary Sanford Meisner, who died in 1997.  He had applied and been accepted to Meisner’s program.  Over the next years, Aymie picked up acting jobs in theater, film, and TV, but he needed additional revenue to pay the bills and have something left over. 
That explains why he decided to become a substitute teacher.  After performing in that role for a few years, Aymie was given the opportunity in 1999 to join the faculty of Hyde Park Elementary School, which had a mostly African-American student population. 
He liked the job immediately.  Full-time teaching gave Aymie the chance to directly impact young lives in a way that not even a matinee performance of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” could equal.   “What I liked most about teaching was the feeling that I made a difference,” he explained.  “Every day I had the opportunity to make a difference.”
After a brief detour from teaching, Aymie returned to the profession in 2003; first at Hyde Park, and then moving to Carthay Center Elementary School, where he has taught fifth grade for several years.  One of his greatest joys each year has been writing and directing a play about early American history for his students to perform. 
“Being from Boston, I love teaching about the Revolutionary War,” said Aymie.  The play, which covers the period from the Boston Massacre to the Constitutional Convention, ran for three performances last year.  Each time it was staged, “I was pacing in the back, nervously,” added the writer/director.
Aymie said that with massive budget cuts and what he described as increased scrutiny, it’s not as enjoyable being a teacher today as at the beginning of his career.  Back in the early 2000s, for example, he didn’t have to purchase pencils and paper for his students. 
Yet one thing hasn’t changed, and that keeps him tethered to the job.  “The kids are still great,” he said.
Plus, where else would he find material for successful solo plays? 

By: Tom Waldman

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Child Left Behind.... LA Times Review

Theater review: First-rate education in 'A Child Left Behind'

July 10, 2012|By Philip Brandes
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As the title suggests, Alan Aymie’s “A Child Left Behind” at the Beverly Hills Playhouse takes critical aim at the ways under-resourced educational institutions fail those they’re meant to serve -- in particular, disadvantaged and special needs students.
Directed by Paul Stein for the Katselas Theatre Company, Aymie’s heartfelt solo performance draws on his teaching experience in some of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s poorest-performing elementary schools, and skillfully interleaves it with the learning challenges faced by his son diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
Aymie uses these personal and professional narratives to address the problematic legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act: equating learning with one-size-fits-all standardized test performance. He also takes issue with his own below-average rating in a teacher value-added analysis conducted by the Los Angeles Times. While he glosses over the ratings’ methodology, Aymie is not out to point fingers or mount a self-serving defense -- there’s enough blame to go around, and he’s poignantly honest about his shortcomings as a teacher and a parent.
Ratings notwithstanding, Aymie proves a first-rate educator here, making a cogent and compelling case that when it comes to educating children, numbers don’t tell the whole story. The piece aches with vivid descriptions of life behind a teacher’s desk in an underprivileged community where the celebrity parents are gang leaders, and advancing to sixth grade is a bad career move for youths (if they live long enough).
By strictly theatrical standards, the show’s strengths are admittedly more pedagogical than dramaturgical. Aymie invokes too many movies and TV shows as facile emotional shorthand, and attempting to act out every moment exceeds his performance agility and distracts from the simple, truthful power of his narrative. Despite his self-confessed longtime fatalistic attitude that “it doesn't pay to speak up,” it’s a good thing for us that he's changed his mind.