Posted in Teacher Talk

a round of applause for teachers who made it!

i am hoping that by now, all of my colleagues in education can successfully say that they have survived the school year! although i am teaching summer school, i’m pleased to say that i survived my first year in a new school, and in a new role. recap starts in 5….4….3….2….1…

  1. i transitioned schools. the tension amongst administration was getting pretty heavy at my previous middle school. less focus was on the needs of the kids, kind of thing. so after three years of giving it my all, it was time for a much needed change. i went back to my roots. elementary school. the little kids. the impressionable little people who make you smile, give  you hope, and are quick with witty sayings. not to say that these things don’t occur in middle school. but the tone of this specific point is geared towards the elementary kiddos.
  2. i ended up teaching an SLS class. for those unaware, SLS stands for specific learning supports. in this role, i am responsible for not only targeting IEP goals for each student, but teaching common core standards to the same population, which consists of 3rd-5th graders. i’ve never done this before. i had qualms. throughout the year, my students and i managed to iron out every wrinkle that was thrown our way. added bonus: i will have the same set of students next year and up until 5th grade. that’s just how it works. i loved them so much that i even agreed to teach them during the summer. i know, i know. but it’s only for 20 days.
  3. this school year, i was given an assistant. talk about a relief. i was excited when i found out, yet very hesitant. here’s the thing. i typically am uninterested in working with a paraprofessional and it’s due to the ghosts of paraprofessionals past. this time, it was no different. so it’s safe to say that after single handedly teaching a class of 9 students with individualized educational plans, while implementing common core curriculum standards,  i managed to come out unscathed. not too bad for a first year at a new school in a new role.

now that i am no longer considered a “fresh fish” of the school, i have also learned a few things. these are things that i have known mostly, but have seen it on a different level. if my observations can help out the next person, then my job is done.

  1. special education teachers: please continue to advocate for our kids! the impact that special education has within a school system still needs to be defined, modified, etc. in addition to their parents, we are the best advocates for our students!
  2. speak up: this is a no brainer but something that i struggle with at work. now, don’t me wrong. it’s very unnecessary to be “that guy” or “that girl”, but there is always a professional way to get your message across. be diligent about that role and act accordingly.
  3. use your resources: be it the colleagues around you, social media groups, what have you. no one person is an island. i was truly able to benefit from my service providers this school year. the occupational therapists, speech and language professionals, social workers, and psychologists. teamwork truly made this dream work. hoping for another win, in this department, in the fall!

say there, educator pals. did you make it through a tough school year? or just make it out of the school year unscathed, although tension was afoot? care to share your story? 

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Posted in Teacher Talk

a camping we will go…

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i am returning from a recent camping trip with some of the 5th graders from my school. as part of their graduation activities, students are able to experience an overnight field trip before transitioning to middle school. every single thing about this is understood from my perspective. while i don’t necessarily remember this happening for me in elementary school, i certainly remember the time i experienced away camp when i was in middle school. as i think back on my own camping adventure, i remember not liking it very much. i just wasn’t into it. sleeping outside in a sleeping bag (not fun), pitching a tent (kind of fun), and making s’mores (best part) were all of the things that happened then, and as i learned, are still happening. while the trip is over and the memories have been stored, i’ve come up with a few reflection notes to share. along with these notes are a few funnies:

  • the space was desolate, which i would imagine is the environment for most campsites. but with this particular location, one wouldn’t know that there was even a camping ground nearby. like, you could truly miss it. you will also miss the majority of your phone calls, due to lack of cell phone reception. next go around, i will be better prepared.
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imagine driving through this in the dark….
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nothing but gravel and hills…

slight funny: the camp facilitator, who has a house nearby, has the perfect set of tools should there ever be a zombie apocalypse. i drove to the camping ground and ended up with a nail in my tire. when i pulled up to his garage, he had all of the handyman goods, plus some. i even heard that he shared with his lady friend that should there ever be an actual zombie apocalypse, she would have to go first. her survival skills are at  0% and she’s very okay with being the first to go. after hearing this, if ever i wondered if conversations about zombie apocalypses ever existed, i officially had my answer.

  • exposing kids, despite the demographic, to something new must happen…often! i must admit, i was very worried about this trip. it’s my first year at this particular school. i don’t teach 5th grade. at my very best, i’ve managed to establish a rapport with some of the kids in passing. with this in mind, there were two reasons why i went along: a female chaperone was needed and i wanted to experience the kids experiencing something new. during the trip, there were behavior challenges (kids are away from home, away from school rules, etc.) and loads of redirection. add to that loads of questions about the unknown. however, the exposure gained from the 2 1/2 day experience alone, and as it should be in most cases, outweighed anything negative that occurred. some of the students were ready for the full on camping experience, while others were hugely upset about the lack of cell phone usage and wifi. despite the odds, everyone was ready to absorb something new, which is pretty much a huge part of the deal. my point is this, in order for the kids to experience something new, we (educators) need to conquer our fears of  the “what if” questions (“what if they misbehave?”, “what if someone says something inappropriate?”, or “what if they aren’t engaged?”) and just go for it! get our students the exposure that you either received as a kid, wanted to receive, or that they simply need. oh, and don’t forget your backup plan to address those “what if’s”.
  • conquering your fears: it’s really great to see this happen with the kids, because let’s be honest, as adults we are learning how to achieve this goal as well. from the minimum experience (going on a hike for the first time, touching a spider) to the gargantuan (encountering a wolf spider, rock climbing, and learning in the woods with insects), fears were conquered. as a colleague once said, and i’m not sure if he received the quote from someone else, “one cannot follow what one has never been taught”. a daunting task indeed, but if they don’t know any better, how can we expect them to do better?

Disclaimer: Sleep at your own risk, even if you are a chaperone! I fell asleep early and was the victim of a toothpaste and baby powder prank. In the end, it was all fun!

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I’d like to thank the Living Classrooms staff for showing us a great time! I must admit, none of this could have happened without the assistance of wonderful educators and guides. these ladies knew every insect that was encountered, the contents of every lesson they presented, and the patience and sternness to deal with a group of 13 5th graders. It was my first time learning about the program and I recommend it to educators in the District of Columbia. It’s time to get our kids involved with nature! 

Posted in Teacher Talk

a message to my self-contained teachers…

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photo credit: i saw this on IG. feel free to tag the source!

i attended a professional development for my district last friday. the target was for teachers who, like me, teach in a self-contained environment. the focus was to provide multiple ways of engaging students with disabilities in solving math problems with area and perimeter. the entire session had my attention, from the beginning to the end. i know this is rare for some educators. let’s be honest,  professional development days can sometimes be summed up as a waste of time away from the classroom.

but this particular professional development had all of the components of greatness; respect of time, informative and engaging content, and an opportunity to create products that could be implemented in the classroom. it was at that moment i realized how in touch my instructional coach is with her teachers. i also made another realization that day. looking around the room, i couldn’t help but notice that the number of teachers providing service to students with disabilities in my district (emotional, behavioral, cognitive) is fairly low.

throughout my teaching profession, i’ve been exposed to many different classroom environments. from early childhood to elementary, middle school to high school, and even an intermittent with high school. add to that the elementary and middle school special education years. recently, i’ve been exposed to yet another classroom environment that gives new meaning to the hard working educator. this is the self- contained classroom. this is the classroom where students with disabilities, across grade levels, are being taught common core standards based on goals provided in their individual education plans (iep). for this reason alone, i’ve had colleagues ask me if i indulge in a cocktail or two. that was pretty funny.

regardless of the age of the students, if you’re a self-contained teacher, know that i salute you. i am also one as well. in my years of teaching, i’ve heard comments like, “self-contained classes are so much easier because they have fewer students”. i’ve even heard that we have it easier because we don’t have to “meet the rigorous demands of general education teachers”. while the purpose of this post is to not disregard the efforts of any educator in the school system, because i salute us all. rather, i wish to debunk a few myths about self-contained teachers. if you or someone you know can relate, check it out. by all means, feel free to add on:

  • while it is true that a self-contained classroom has fewer students, there is one fundamental thing to remember. these are students with individual disabilities who have been deemed unable to be instructed in the general education setting. so a self-contained classroom is not easier because of low numbers, teacher friends. in fact, think of it this way. a class with 9 students is like a general education class with 18 students. maybe even more. in addition to adaptive living skills that must be addressed, there are also occupational and communication goals that must be enforced per student.
  • there is an unwritten belief that because a student may be deemed “hard to handle” in a general education setting, he or she should immediately be directed to the self-contained class. now, imagine if that were how life really worked. say, for example, you were performing on a job and you had a couple of days where you were being a bit lax. without providing an opportunity to get a bit better, you are demoted and sent to work with coworkers in a capacity you had not been exposed to previously. for the rest of your professional career at this particular job, you have now been labeled. in being reflective, how does that make you feel? now, imagine that for our students. before recommending that a student is sent to a self-contained class, be sure to consult, collaborate, and create! consult with someone other than your inner teacher self. collaborate with special education teachers and service providers on ways to turn weaknesses into strengths. create a measurable plan with specific goals and interventions in place. if the plan persists, consider revising. we don’t want to be so quick to label a student based on a bad day, or experience, that we may have had with them.
  •  on the contrary, self-contained teachers are not the direct focus of a school. administrators typically don’t focus on the self-contained classroom when it comes to data driven instruction. let me be really clear with this one. there is a bigger focus on the data being provided by the general education teachers, as opposed to the data being provided from the special education teachers. it can be a bit of a slippery slope, especially with most schools adopting the inclusion model.  the truth of the matter is that many of the students in this population are meeting us (the teachers) where they are in terms of cognitive processing. this is not to say that they are unable to learn new material, and rigorous material at that. what this means is that even the smallest gains demonstrated need to be acknowledged. it also means that these students should be exposed to a more hands on, visual, approach to learning. dare i even say more field trips. in time, i have witnessed amazing gains with students with disabilities. i know that i am not alone here.

in my experiences, i have seen general education students access more opportunities for  exposure than self-contained students. why is this happening? the more gradual the exposure to things that are new, the more one can get adjusted to it’s impact. after all, is this not what teaching is about? exposing students to something new, or a different way of achieving something they may or may not have done before?

let’s talk ramifications. when we fail to include every child in the learning process, the results can be scary. scary in the sense that one of the following can happen: an inherited sense of hostility towards new things, a serious lack of trust, and a sense of detachment.

while i salute all of the educators invested in truly educating the youth, i just want to send a special salute to my self-contained teachers. we’re in this together.

for my self-contained teachers who teach in an inclusion model school, is your administration familiar with the population of your class? does he/she know them by name? are these same students afforded the opportunities that many of their general education peers are afforded/provided?

where are we, nationally, with self-contained educators? how are things in your district?

Posted in Uncategorized

on teaching abroad….

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photo credit: teach and explore flyer

last month, my cousin posted a flyer on my facebook page. he said that he immediately thought of me when he saw the flyer. what he didn’t know, what most people don’t know, is that i’ve actually considered teaching abroad.

i’ve been teaching for 14 years. each year has brought about many changes, many grade levels, and many positions that the younger me never saw coming. it has all been rewarding. i have enjoyed the relationships that i have been able to establish and sustain with parents. the opportunities to have classroom projects funded. all of those things. it’s not as if i’ve found myself in a teaching rut. i truly enjoy what i do.

so when it comes to taking this teaching career on an international level, i’ve come up with a list of pro’s and con’s. i’m wondering if any of my teacher pals are able to relate:

allow me to present my pros:

  • visiting more than one country: if i’m lucky, i usually get a passport stamp during the summer time. it’s the only time in my teacher/teacherpreneur schedule that will allow me to detach from work and enjoy myself.  i’ve not worked summer school for four years and running because of this, and its worked. teaching abroad, however, will afford me the opportunity to travel to more than one country per year. i’ve witnessed many friends, who teach in dubai, travel to germany, amsterdam, and a host of other beautiful places for very low prices. all because they were teaching in dubai.
  • the exposure to something new: i love teaching. i can agree that this would be a population of students whom i’m never taught. but i stand to learn something about their culture on a firsthand basis. the edibles, the music, the nightlife, etc. imagine that! even more, friends and family could join me on a vacation (and maybe decide to stay for a while)!

and now, the cons:

  •  distance: marriage is not a factor here, but friends and family will definitely be missed. this is not to say that i’ve never traveled or that i am overly committed to social gatherings with friends. it’s just that when and if i’m ready, the planning process will definitely be a game changer.  i have observed a few educators make this work. for example, i’ve a friend who is married and has been teaching in dubai for nearly two years. two of her children live with her and her oldest lives with her husband in the states. in those two years, she has traveled home once and he has traveled to visit her three times. they have also traveled to egypt together on a family trip (see the pros list). he now resides with her, as they are expecting their next child. so, clearly, it can work. but what about the people other than your significant other? mothers, fathers, siblings. if it’s not feasible, how often can they realistically come to visit?
  • my dog: don’t laugh. i’ve become quite attached to my puppy. i’m a new animal owner and so far, so great. can she come along for the experience? these are things that i wonder.
  • the empty promises scenario: it’s that unconscious thing that friends do when they promise to keep in touch, call often, visit, etc. those things typically fade after the first month, if they even have an opportunity to get started. the reality is that life happens and in that process, things come up that even the best plans have to get canceled.
  • what will happen to my business? i have a small educational consulting business in which i have developed and established partnerships with great families and businesses. what does that look like on an international level? possible sabbatical? perhaps i can retain international clients? ahh. decisions, decisions.

i know that i can do a mere google search and find all of the answers that i need. but i’d rather hear first hand experiences, the yeas and nays. as a traveler, i enjoy visiting countries, mingling with the locals, and even seeing some of the schools. but traveling abroad on a temporary to permanent basis is much more different than traveling for a few days.

any teachers out there educating the international youth? how are you liking your experiences? what are your pros and cons?

 

Posted in Uncategorized

On Black History Month….

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image credit: thelookofambition (IG)

it’s february 1st, teacher friends. that means for the next 29 days (thanks to the leap year), you are charged with infusing black history month into your curriculum with your students. so, the question on the table is, how are you going to teach your students about black history?

allow me to offer up a few pointers….

  • step outside of the box: we know the stories of harriet tubman, martin luther king jr., sojourner truth, frederick douglass, etc. but do we know about wendell scott, matthew henson, jane bolin, and dr. charles drew?
  • read something different: skip the typical reads for black history month and try something new. the illustrations alone are sure to generate conversation amongst the kids.
  • there is so much to black history month that 28 days is not enough. find ways to keep the communication going year round. it’s truly okay to go beyond the month of february.
  • act out scenarios from novels. bring black history month to life with a dance interpretation, misty copeland style.

this is my charge to you!

how do you plan on implementing black history month into your lessons?

Posted in Uncategorized

Space Shuttle Challenger: 30 years Later

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photo credit: NASA

 

january 28, 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle challenger. i didn’t intend on doing a post about the event. however, after reading a few reflections on twitter, i had a few of my own to share.

there are many people with no frame of reference to the challenger, let alone one of the coolest decades ever. reagan was president (i was young, this was cool). after school specials were IT and programs like d.a.r.e. stood a chance in the world. but for those of us who were around, certainly we can recall the horrid events as if it were yesterday. if you just so happened to be watching live, it is probably a memory that you haven’t forgotten.

i remember things very clearly. i was in 2nd grade, attending catholic school in takoma park, md. my teacher at the time, mrs. dougherty, was excited about showing us the live footage of the launch. after all, we had studied this for roughly two weeks, we totally bought into her instruction, worksheets, and videos. in hindsight, she was pretty great with building prior knowledge and scaffolding.

as we prepared to watch the challenger launch, we were so quiet. one tends to remember things like that, especially when the environment is usually the opposite. we participated in the countdown. we watched in amazement. in a matter of seconds, everything changed. ms. dougherty’s facial expression went from excitement to stillness. something bad happened, that we all knew. we just didn’t know what exactly. after regaining her composure, she did what she felt was best for her class. she turned the television off, we had a heartfelt discussion, and instruction was resumed.

it’s been 30 years and i remember it all like it was yesterday. i now fully understand the emotion that was displayed by ms. dougherty. it made sense that we watch the live report of the launch. it was a moment in history. but it was at that moment she knew that she had lost one of her own, a teacher, a colleague. she also knew that many other individuals had lost their lives. everything that happened after that moment on that day is a complete blur for me. truly. now, the plan was not to become a teacher. and it wasn’t ms. dougherty, or that experience that led me to teach. this post is simply about remembering those events at that time.

what is your memory of the space shuttle challenger?

Posted in Uncategorized

A Snow Day Win!

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a page from The Snowy Day by ezra jack keats

i love my students. but a snow day? on a friday? for a teacher? it’s possible that i love that a bit better.

you don’t have to be a teacher to know about the book the snowy day. but if you’re a teacher, chances are you’ve read the book, completed activities, and have read additional books by ezra jack keats. the snowy day is a book about a little boy named peter and his experiences on a snow day. i don’t have to go outside, like peter, to enjoy my day off. not at all.

if you are on the east coast and in the eyes of the storm, you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. trust me on this one, teacher pals. so with all of the lesson plans and things that we know must be done during these days off, we still choose to wait until the last minute to get them done. i am not here to judge.

this time around, i tapped into the adult coloring phenomenon. yes, i could always do a number of things around the house. but i am choosing a different route.

say, teacher pals. what do you do during snow days?

 

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i’ve gifted this book four times already!
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my debut!!