It has been a long while since I updated the blog. Partly because I have been busy transitioning from classroom teacher to resource teacher.
Since my transition began this summer, many parents, teachers, and friends have asked me a few common questions:
Are you happy?
Do you like it?
We all live lives before children and after children. My life before my children was dedicated to the field of Special Education. If you are new to this blog then you might not be aware of my history so here is a Cliff Note version.
I graduated in 1992 from the University of Central Florida with a BS in Special Education, concentration in Mental Retardation. YES! We were not politically correct and that is how my actual diploma reads. I went to work with OCPS as a self-contained combined classroom of 6th and 7th-grade middle school students for Trainable Mentally Handicap students. YES! It was a TMH classroom. YES! I was in the old Home Economics classroom...stereotypical too.
The following year I was moved to a portable classroom aka a trailer. Here I taught a Varying Exceptionalities classroom of English Second Language Learners. YES! I had students who were learning disabled and students who were autistic.
Mid-year we accepted a transfer to Nashville, Tennessee for my husband's job. At this point, I moved to a high school where I taught a self-contained classroom called CD1M aka a classroom with varying exceptionalities ranging from TMH to Autistic to Severely Mentally Handicap. YES! My classroom although indoors was located on the Vocational Wing between Auto Mechanics, Culinary and Beauty School.
Soon after I attended Vanderbilt University for my Master's in Education with a concentration in Behavioral Disorders. At the same time, I was awarded a position as the youngest Itinerant Special Education Teacher through the county office. Modern day we would call this a Specialist in Special Education or a Staffing Specialist. YES! TODAY we have one per school... back in those days, I had 12 feeder schools I had to manage. CRAZY! My job was to help with teacher trainings, develop protocols and hold lots and lots of IEP meetings and 504 plans to do what was best for those children with disabilities.
After my daughter was born I took a job as a Transition Specialist still at the county office. Now I had 8 feeder schools and helped the same students with planning their transition from school life to community life. I worked with vocational schools, community colleges, and community members to help aid these students in transitioning to their next step.
Now comes the life after the child.
This is when I transitioned to mommyhood. And I became a mommy entrepreneur. YES! I did. I contracted with daycares, pre-k programs, and private schools to teach Spanish. As the years traveled and another child was born I substitute taught, taught Spanish, tutored, even dabbled in photography.
And then... the opportunity to return to the classroom came around. I have loved my years as a "regular classroom" teacher, however, I always yearned to get back to "my kids". And finally, the opportunity presented itself. I am thrilled to be back aiding my team of teachers, helping them find their students' success. The students I work with now are nowhere as severe as the students I have worked with in the past. But I get a chance to show these students that the world is theirs and that they have a success to chase and rise to. I get a chance to work with students who need just a few strategies and some confidence to succeed. I get the joy of watching some of my more severe learning disabled children bloom into an incredible bouquet.
SO, the WHY... because Who wouldn't want this job!
Are you happy? I am thrilled. I love what I do.
Do you like it? No, I love it.
They say the days are long and the years are short. These words are usually shared when speaking of one's own children. But if you are a teacher your own children are all the children who have passed through the doors of any classroom you have taught in.
A good teacher builds a family with their classroom from August to May. I work daily to make sure "my children" know that we are a family and we respect each other and we take care of each other.
I don't take for granted that my students will respect me. I work hard to truly earn their respect because I earned it not because mom or dad said they had to.
A good teacher knows when "their child" is happy or sad. You know when "your child" is afraid or is doubting themselves. You learn the looks or "that face".
If you have been following my blog posts for the last few years you know I always write about my class at the end of the year. This year, the end of the year has a different meaning (stay tuned).
"My kiddos" cried A LOT! In fact, they started 30 minutes before our end of the year mass began...and for some, they cried the whole mass...and then cried some more when we hugged goodbye. One dad that I ran into at the grocery store said... "In case you're wondering our daughter stopped crying just 15 minutes ago." That was 3 days after the last day.
As much as those little ones are impacted by the relationships built in our one year in 1A, so am I. In fact, I wonder often about some of my little ones for years.
I could take you back to 1991 and tell you about Antwain. My first year teaching and this 7th grader stole my heart. I wonder if he made it out of poverty, I wonder if he is employed or homeless. Crazy right? Or I could take you to 1993 and tell you about Jose. He was a part of my Varying Exceptionalities/English as a Second Language classroom. He learned to write his name as an 8th grader that year. Huge celebration and accomplishment.
Over the years I have been in and out of the classroom. In 1995, I left the classroom for the first time. I moved into a position that would be referred to today as a staffing specialist. I had 12 schools I serviced.
In 1998, I started working privately with students so I could be a mom to my girl.
In 2002, I found myself back in the classroom and in a new city. I started by working in pre-k and subbing in K-8 classrooms.
In 2004, I left again, this time to be a mom.
In 2009, I found myself back in my own classroom. And I have been there for the last 10 years. Albeit, three different classrooms. The last 6 years have been in my 1A room. The longest I have ever been in one room or one grade.
Now, in 2019, I am leaving the classroom again. I have mixed emotions. I love having my own classroom. I love bonding and building relationships with my students. Relationships that continue for years. Look at my FB and you will see students from the '90s and even students from the millennium from my subbing days. Some students have even become colleagues. Come by my classroom door and you will see students from all grade levels eager to show me their progress or achievements. Over the years I have gone to their birthday parties, 1st communion, graduations, funerals, etc...
God must give us teachers hearts made of elastic so it can stretch to continue to fit more kiddos in it.
Now my heart will stretch further to fit even more kiddos. Now I will continue to build children up. Now I hope I can make a larger difference. I am headed into a new role at school. I will be heading back to my roots and working with those students who need the most support. I will be working with children across several grades. I will be supporting my colleagues to do what they do best as teachers. I am excited, but I would be lying if I didn't admit I will miss the littles coming in every morning thinking I was the Queen of Ever After and that I am just 15 years old. LOL!
Have faith and encouragement in the face of rejection. Feel blessed with every acceptance.
It's that time of year.
You remember the day when you waited and hoped for the big envelope and dreaded about getting the small white envelope.
Today's generation opens an email or goes online to read the big congratulations or the denial.
I am reminded of where our family was 4 years ago as I scrolled through Facebook posts and heard from friends about their child's acceptances and rejections. I am relieved that I have 3 more years to go before we start the process all over again.
It is heartbreaking to see your child's heart broken by rejection. As a parent, you want to do what you can to prevent that feeling. But the truth is that there is grace and gratitude in failure. It is a perfect time to see how your child will bounce back. It is an opportunity.
Think back to when your child was learning to walk. You encouraged them to let go of the sofa or table and step towards you. And when your child fell, you applauded and told them great job. And then you encouraged them, or even picked them back up and dusted them off and asked them to do it again.
Now, go back to the day you taught your child to ride a bike. You encouraged them to ride, you probably held the bike as you ran down the street. And then you let go...and you let them ride. You applauded again. Even though you likely saw said child topple over and skin a knee. But you encouraged them to get back up and start peddling again.
Here is a secret...there is something for everyone. There is an opportunity for anyone who wants one. It may not be at their top choice. But that is not the end of the world. It may be a hard fought battle for some and it may come easy for others. There is no shame in delaying school, transferring schools, starting at a community college, going to vocational school, or more importantly not knowing what you want.
I have been talking with lots of friends and relatives lately about this college acceptance round. I asked Terri, "What was it like for you in 1988 to apply to college?" Terri quickly chuckled, " I asked my dad how far away I could go from home and he told me Gainsville, so I applied to UF."
If only it were so easy now.
It seems that when it comes to college some parents lose their minds. Notice, keyword, parents. Yep, we are all guilty of pushing our own college we graduated from...even though we likely wouldn't get in now. We push the "name" school. We push the "this school is known for this ______ major". When what we need to do is not push. We need to be the parent next to the bike letting go. We need to let our children tour, look, decide. We need to be listening and helping with a variety of options. We need to be guiding them. And of course, providing them with a financial spreadsheet showing them the ever-growing cost of college.
Your child's college choice is not a reflection of who you the parent are. This is their experience, not ours.
If the process seems difficult you can always look for help from a variety of places. Your school may have a good guidance department, or a college and career center. You can talk to those who have gone before you. Of course, there are also college consultants who specialize in this area.
My personal mom and educator advice when looking at schools is to find the fit. A good fit means it has what your child needs to be successful. KEYWORDS NEEDS!
1- Do you have a child with a disability? How good is their Office of Students with Disabilities?
2- Do you have a child who needs access to medical care? Does it have an affiliate hospital or is the wellness center easily accessible?
3- Does your child have food allergies? Does the college mandate a meal program and if so do they cater to a student with allergies?
4- Financially, what is the return on investment? This is a big one for me... what is your child looking at as a career...if it is teaching...a state school will work just fine. But if it's Petroleum engineering then we need to look more specific.
The facts are that there are many colleges, universities and state schools out there. There is a fit for every child. Keep it in perspective.
Aside from the popular rankings, you can find online, here is a website you didn't likely take into consideration: Colleges That Change Lives...yes this is a collection of colleges that do just that...impact your child's life. Check out this site www.ctcl.org.
Final words of wisdom for those of you who will be applying next year: Take a deep breath. Have faith that your child will choose well. Have faith and encouragement in the face of rejection. Feel blessed with every acceptance.
There are several different types of readers. One type of reader is what I lovingly call the bulldozer reader. The bulldozer reader usually is a high reader, who decodes really well, but plows through the passage or book with no regard to skipping words or stopping to understand vocabulary.
Sometimes when a child skips words it doesn't really affect their comprehension. For example, the child who reads the following excerpt from Harry Potter:
Harry repressed a snort with difficulty. The Dursleys really were astonishingly stupid about their son, Dudley; they had swallowed all his dim-witted lies about having tea with a different member of his gang every night of the summer holidays.
The bulldozer child will read it as such or similar:
Harry repressed a snort difficulty. Dursleys were astonishingly stupid about son, Dudley; they swallowed his dim-witted lies about tea with different member of his gang every night in the summer holidays.
The words excluded don't change the meaning of the passage. There are schools of thought that say that this is okay if they are comprehending what they read. However, usually, the bulldozer will do an excellent job of decoding these words but may not understand them.
For example the words repressed, astonishingly, dim-witted lies.
Not understanding the meanings of these words would absolutely change the meaning of the passage. It is then in fact as bad as omitting the words. So the passage now would read as follows:
Harry a snort difficulty. Dursleys were stupid about son, Dudley; they swallowed his about tea with different member of his gang every night in the summer holidays.
These are our students who read well, whose parents often push for them to read novels before they are ready, who the students themselves believe they can read chapter books or novels, and then fail an AR test or a comprehension test.
What should we do with our bulldozer readers?
We should scale them back. Bring them back a few reading levels. Find books of high interest that will help you teach them some comprehension skills.
Assess your student's comprehension level...this is different than reading level. A student could read above grade level but then comprehend 2-grade levels below where they are. The type of reading (fiction or non-fiction) could also affect the comprehension level. With non-fiction is more difficult to read.
Now that we have scaled back what they are reading it is time to concentrate on comprehension skills. Although, some assessments will tell you if your student is having difficulty with either implicit or explicit questions, teaching simple strategies to your class will help all. Literature circles are a great way to make sure students slow down to work on specific comprehension questions and tasks. Taking time to teach students how to look for context clues will help improve understanding of vocabulary that they skip over. Having students keep a Reading Response Notebook where they summarize chapters as they are read, a section with characters and notes on how they develop. Of course, you have heard me preach about the use of sticky notes to help students with comprehension too. When students make a connection to the characters or to the topic they are reading it creates a learner who is invested in the reading process.
Slow down the bulldozer, help them build a strong foundation in comprehension.
It's January, so everyone is on a health kick or cleaning out kick. Certainly folks are making resolutions.
As an advocate for those with special needs I encourage them to create a vision board at this time of year instead of making resolutions. I think I heard the other day that resolutions are only kept by 10% of the folks who make them.
However, vision boards are different. A vision board allows someone to be creative in different ways. A child, or adult, can choose any medium they are comfortable with. For example, I have created a vision board electronically and then use it as my screen saver. Looking at it every day reminds me of my goals and wants. But it also reminds me to give thanks for the blessings in my life.
Our students can benefit and learn to self-advocate more if they are self-aware. A vision board allows this to happen. It can be created on paper with magazine cut outs and pictures. It can be created with poster board, markers and drawings. Or let their little digital hands go crazy building one in Publisher or PowerPoint.
The most important step when creating a board with your child is to remind them to set goals that are realistic and attainable. Have them share why they are choosing photographs or words for their board. You may learn a lot about your child when creating a board with them.
You can even take it a step farther and create a family vision board where everyone places their goals and blessings on one board.
Make sure that the vision board is displayed somewhere your child will see it daily. Encourage them to revisit it and make decisions about their path. Show your child that paths change too. Vision boards can be rearranged, added to, and even have things removed. There are no rules.
My vision board for 2019 shows my family photos, I am reminded to stop and give gratitude for them every day. I have a picture of a couple at the beach...because not only do I LOVE the beach but want to make sure I plan to get there more often. The words on my board are reminders... family ( because I am grateful); joy (because I have learned to surround myself with people and things that spark joy); grow (because I never want to be stagnat); Learn and Lead (because if I do both I help those around me...a good leader is always learning); blog (because I want to devote myself to writing more and reaching more). The final photos are those of a boy talking to someone on a computer to motivate me to start this new method of reaching students via online tutoring. Teachers pay teachers, my webpage, the computer and coffee cup, travel image and the retirement picture were on my board last year. I have kept them on because it is still a work in progress. I happily have included them because I know progress has been made. For example, I have started copywriting all my creations and my account to start selling on TPT. I have revamped the webpage now that I have finished my certification. My computer and coffee cup are there to remind me to focus on my goals and do something to get closer to them daily. Travel...well you can never travel too far or too much. And finally the retirement picture because that's the stage we are in our lives...saving for it and working towards it.
Take a few minutes to sit with your child and ask them what their vision is. Giving them the tools to put it down on paper (or computer) will help them process and talk about it. For a child it could be achieving the next Karate belt, participating in a club, picture of playing outside, making friends, learning a new skill, participate more in a family chore etc...And don't forget to include gratitude pictures too.
Happy New Year! And cheers to improving our vision for 2019!
It has been a long while since I wrote here on the blog.
The month of November to the begining of December required extensive reading and writing on my part to complete my reading endorsement. I have been fascinated with the reserach on digital reading and the effects. I promise to devote a blog to that soon.
I wanted to take a minute and share how important it is to unplug sometimes and take a break for all of our students. My brain was numb from all the research I was reading and writing about. I had little to give elsewhere. Which is important to note.
As parents and teachers we tend to push our kiddos even when they have reached their numbing point. It is so important to be able to recognize the need they have to take a break. We need downtime and so do our children.
I am not talking about vacationing. I am talking about building in time in your week, your child's week, to decompress. This will look different for all children. Some of us have very active children. I noticed that my own teenage son was grumpy during the break and missed his workouts for volleyball, As soon as there was an opportunity to throw him to the gym he was happy again.
For some children they need just some time to snuggle on the couch and take your time to read, talk, or watch a movie.
For others a family game night be exactly what's needed.
When my daughter was younger she found baking was a great way to decompress. Now as an adult she enjoys painting.
Be careful, to not set up another "to do" or "must do" for them. What they do to decompress may look different week by week.
Why not share what your kids or you do to decompress? or unplug? I would love to read your ideas below.
Chances are if you are not a Reading teacher then you may not know what Elkonin boxes are or who Elkonin was.
D.B. Elkonin was a psychologist who pioneered the use of boxes to help students with Spelling.
Each box represents one sound. For a child who wants to spell cat...they would insert or "push up" a chip c - a - t as they sound out the word into each box. If the child was spelling a word with a digraph or vowel team then those 2 letters would be in one box. For example the word fish would be inserted f - i - sh. The sh stays together as they are a digraph. If they are spelling bee then they would insert b - ee. The ee are two letters but make one sound.
Elkonin boxes and their premise have been used to help with phonemic segmentation with students and to also assess phonemic segmentation. You don't even need the box... you could give the child chips and have them push one chip up for each sound they hear.
Elkonin boxes are an easy accommodation for a young student struggling with writing. Sometimes, students will hesitate to write for fear of spelling words wrong. Given a box where they can break down the words would be an appropriate accommodation for a struggling writer. It would also be an appropriate accommodation for a spelling test for students who need the visual help. It is an accommodation that can easily be reduced in use and removed as the child become comfortable moving from the boxes to perhaps using his fingers to tap the sound to eventually no accommodation needed.
For samples go to http://www.readingrockets.org/content/pdfs/writingpractice_inside.pdf
For more information visit Reading Rockets at http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/elkonin_boxes
For fun activities and ideas https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=elkonin&rs=typed&term_meta=elkonin%7Ctyped
How dyslexia introduced me to my passion for teaching...
There are several distinct times that I can remember knowing I wanted to be a teacher.
The one that stands out to me, and is one of the most vivid, takes me back to my freshman year in college. At the time I was at Loyola, New Orleans. I was a journalisim major. I had a work study job back then, working the desk at the all girls dorm. I was so lucky to have that first morning shift of 6am, not really! The only other people up at that time were the ROTC boys.
One of those ROTC boys had become a good friend that year. And he stopped by as he usually did at the desk to say good morning. This particular morning "Sam" asked me to stop by his dorm and look over his English paper. I remember telling him sure and we made arrangements to stop by after lunch.
As I came in that afternoon, I can tell you the sun was shining brightly into his dorm room. He sat at his desk with a worried look on his face. He was still in his ROTC uniform. He holds the papers and warns me it's bad. I was thinking how bad could it be? He slowly hands me the paper and looks up at me from his seat like a young kid, not at all the young confident man I am use to seeing run through the quad.
He warns me again. "Be honest."
I looked at the paper, and no joke, I was shocked!
don't know if my mouth actually dropped. I was looking at the writing that looked like it had been written by a 4th grader maybe even a 3rd grader. The writing was messy. Letters were reversed. Words were jumbled together. I could hardly decipher what he had written.
He says, "I have Dyslexia."
At this point in my life, I had no idea what Dyslexia meant. I just knew he was up an English creek with no paddle and coming to a huge drop.
I wanted to ask how in the world did he get through high school. I wanted to ask how was he going to get through college.
I remember looking at his face and thinking, "Wow...this guy just trusted me with a huge secret. What am I supposed to do with this?"
I slumped down, and sat on the floor and looked up at him and said, "Okay! Let's get started..."
I remember the sense of relief he felt. He was smiling again. He was grateful and unburdened.
I think back now, and think how much he would have benefited from a computer or any assistive technology. I don't think we had an Office for Student's with Disabilities Resource Center back then. I was clueless at the time.
As a mom and teacher today, when I tavel back to that day in 1988, my heart goes out to that young man. We have come a long way with accomodations, assitive technology, laws and regulations, research, etc... But we still have a long path to pave for our children. We still have many to educate and much awarness to raise about what living with dyslexia looks like and what the future can hold.
I left Loyola during my third semester. I also dropped my major. I came home and decided to major in psychology. Being around Sam made me want to know more about how the brain worked. And as things would have it, a few months later I changed my major one more time, the final time, to Special Education.
And every time I meet a struggling student, I say the same thing... "Okay! Let's get started!"
A few weeks ago, I shared some writing strategies. Here is one of them in action. We used post-it notes to help construct and learn about letter writing. What you need to know: This is a First Grade classroom. You can adapt this strategy to really any grade level and for any struggling writer.
Click on the link for the video, scroll below for the lesson plan.
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
Large Post-It notes
A teacher model represntation of using post-it's
We read aloud the funny and rythmic book by Doreen Cronin, Click, Clack, Moo. The story is about cows who write letters to Farmer Brown. They are complaining of the conditions at the farm. The chickens and the duck become involved in the negotiations between Farmer Brown and the cows.
After reading the story, we look back at the letters. We take notes of how a letter is written:
salutation, body, closing.
The teacher then explains how we will be pretending to be a farm animal and we are going to ask Farmer Brown for something. The children were instructed to think of a farm animal, what that animal might need or want, why they need or want that item, and what would the animal do if Farmer Brown doesn't provide the item. In the story, the cows threaten to not produce milk, and the hens threaten to not produce eggs.
Next, the teacher models for the students. First, the teacher writes, the salutation on one post it. Then, the teacher takes a second Post-it and writes the introduction and so forth with the help of the students. Next, the children discussed their farm animal and their plea in the group. Then, the student's were released back to their desks with 6 Post-it notes to begin writing. The teacher and the assistant moved around the room guiding the students. Finally, when the notes were in order, and had been edited for COPS (Capitlization, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling) then the students were free to write their finaly copy.
Do you have an idea for using Post-it's in your classroom? Share below.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner