I have an extensive background and education working with students who have disabilities. And although I have been out of the "Special Education" classroom I have continued to work and identify students who have special needs. I also continue to read. I am what some might call a Teacher Nerd.
I have been fascinated with how the brain works and learns since I could remember. I read articles, short ones, on anything having to do with reading, learning, special needs, brain development, etc…
Last week a colleague of mine asked if I wanted to jump in on the ESE workshop offered by the county. Teacher's need to re-certify every 5 years and this year I need to include 20 ESE hours. I won't go off on the conversation of what I think about this but you may get where I stand by the time you read this blog.
So, off I went to this ESE workshop to apply for 6 out of the 20 hours needed. I had no idea what to expect. However, I was not surprised to learn I was in a basic 101 course on working with the different disabilities that float in and out of our classrooms every year. One would think I would have been bored. After all, what could I learn in a basic 101 class that I didn't get from my Bachelors or Masters in Special Education. Even the presenters I think were wary that they could keep my attention.
Well, I really enjoyed it. Politics change education constantly for funding purposes. And disability labels have been updated and become more socially correct. For example, when I graduated from college my specialization was Mental Retardation.
Okay, pick your jaw up off the ground. We would never accept that label today.
By the end of my first year teaching, it had switched to Mentally Handicapped. By the 3rd year, it was changed to Cognitive Delayed. Today it's called Intellectually Disabled (InD), Do you see the change over a period of 26 years?
This background brings me to a question we were asked to answer at this workshop. Why do we feel that there are more children diagnosed today? Is there an increase in disabilities?
I know I hear parents and teachers always saying they didn't hear about a lot of these disabilities like we do now. I know I have sometimes pondered it myself. Is there an answer?
We were given a bar graph showing the disabilities and their "numbers" by decades. And all of a sudden it jumped out at me. All this time it had been so obvious.
See, the jump in diagnosis is not because we have more children being "born" this way. We actually see jumps in the diagnosis when policy changes. For example, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was first signed into law in 1975 as Public Law 94-142. This is when we first see the increase in children diagnosed with disabilities because for the first time they are guaranteed a free and public education. In 1990, IDEA replaces PL 94-142and PL 99-457. In 1997, there are amendments made to include financial assistance for the support of the needs of toddlers and infants. We see another increase when IDEA is reauthorized in 2004 and 2015. Slowly certain disabilities lose numbers and others increase. This is attributed to the reclassification of disabilities and what quantifies eligibility. Now children who may have been classified as InD are now likely being reclassified to other disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some children who were thought to be Emotionally Behavior Disordered may now be serviced through a 504 as an ADHD student. Throw in the No Child Left Behind Act and Free VPK and we also have added more early intervention programs that are able to identify children with special needs.
So yes, we have seen an increase of children with disabilities in the mainstream classroom because we are better able to identify more clearly and earlier. And after all, all children with disabilities have the right to a free and public education in their least restrictive environment, which for most is a regular classroom setting.
This is why ESE hours are being asked of every teacher renewing their certificate. Including us veterans of ESE who can still have an AHA moment in a 101 class.
So I am into my second week of my class. By my class I am referring to my post-grad class. This semester I am taking Assessment in Literacy. It is part of the required coursework for my Reading Endorsement. I have already been pushed outside of my comfort zone. Or as I would have said in my previous post this summer…I am stretching myself again.
Last semester the challenge was to start a blog, this semester… MAKE A VIDEO of myself. UGH! I had to video myself introducing my bio, personal and professional, plus give feedback on that weeks reading and what I hoped to learn this semester.
Roughly 10-20 takes later. Yes! 10-25 takes. Between the testing of the bells, the custodians cleaning, and my bumbling tongue it took close to 25 takes.
Let me start by saying I should have recorded myself much earlier in the day when I looked as good as my picture on this blog. An after 4pm First Grade teacher looks mighty tired with bags under my eyes.
Keeping fingers crossed that this was the first and last video for this semester.
So I will keep my Learning Logs up to date for all of you who want to read information on Assessments in Literacy. You should expect to see a blog once every 2 weeks and I will tag it Learning Log.
Until then, I need to resume the extensive reading homework.
Today was the official first day of school!
It is always a joyous day filled with excitment and jitters.
Here is a peek at my classroom that greeted 18 new First Grade students today. I created a slide show with tags on where you can purchase some items. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.
I have been cruising a nautical theme now for years. I like to stick with nautical in general and just add some pizzaz to it. Last year I added the flamingos. They bring a nice pink brightness to the room. This year I had to add some beach shack vibe with my "shiplap" fadeless paper. Yes, I may have watched a little too much of Chip and JoAnna Gaines this summer.
New this year is the decor on the front of my classroom door. I had seen a picture on Facebook and asked my local monogram store, Leisa Lovely, to make a vinyl sticker quote for my door. Last year I had ticky tacked all the individual letters and over the year the kids moved them or wrinkled them. Now, I don't have to worry about it. It looks great and I don't have to worry about it being ruined. A big kudos and thanks to Leisa for letting me be her guinnea pig for this idea. It's been a hit with just 24 hours.
Another new item is the idea to upcycle the pages from my Lilly Pulitzer agenda. I knew I wanted to save some of the pages to create a fun bulletin board, when at the last minute I decided to make the letters and laminate them. I also used a few pages for background accent.
I hope you enjoy the tour of my new room.
The biggest question I get lately is… WHY? or HOW? in reference to going back to school.
I understand the conundrum, I already hold a BS in Special Education with an emphasis in Mentally Impaired. I hold a MEd with an emphasis in Behavioral Disorders. I am certified to teach special education K-12 and regular education Pre-K-3rd grade. I have received training and continued education in various areas from ADD/ADHD, ESL, Vision Impaired, Orton-Gillingham etc…
Why in the world would I want to go back to school?
Well, for one I am a life long learner. I love to learn and keep up to date with latest in best practices in education.
I am also a firm believer that as educators we need to stretch ourselves and re-invent ourselves periodically. In the work force, most people move from company to company or climb a corporate ladder. In the professional world outside of education you are given bonuses, incentives, and promotions. The lack of these are a contribution to the reasons we lose good teachers. I am not going to attempt to say I have a solution for this.
I can hear some of you non-teachers right now…you are either on the side of… "Teachers are amazing and I could never do their job." OR You are on the side of… "Why do you gripe you get the summers off?" (By the way the latter is a myth…we are not contracted to work summers, therefore we are not paid for our summers, but yet most of us do some sort of work during the summers in preparation for the following school year.)
It doesn't matter what side you are on. The truth is we are professionals, who went to college, who took one or more certification exams, who have to keep attending continuing education and continue to re-certify every few years, to maintain a job whose pay has not kept up with inflation or the economy. I won't get into the fact that more is thrown on our plates, and that my counterparts in public schools have the added pressure of test performance for their students.
So, I digress to why I am back in school. As teachers we need to continuously keep ourselves fresh or we will become the stereotype of what people gripe about. We need and should pursue teaching other grades and not become conformed to just one grade. We have to take the risk and try something new. We have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. There is great reward in learning YOU CAN!
A few years ago I was asked to switch to 1st grade. My co-teacher asked me why I wanted to do this? I had been in pre-k for 3 years and it was a solid team. I looked at her and said, "Because I can." I have taught middle school, high school, pre-k, and now 1st. I will keep moving. It is good to see and learn what you are capable of. We aren't going to be given promotions or bonuses, we need to move ourselves around. It is up to us to dictate how we grow ourselves in our profession and personally.
What can you do to stretch yourself? There are a lot of Professional Developments around us and opportunities to attend conferences. Take them when you can. If your school or district has money ask to go. Learn something new that will make you want to freshen up your classroom and rejuvenate your plan book. GO back to school and certify in a new area.
Back to answering the question, WHY?
Because I can.
Because I want to learn more, be better, share what I learn with my colleagues, and take my students to a new level.
With some patience, sacrifice and support from my family. My children are learning you're never too old to go learn something new. It's kind of fun to be in post graduate classes while my daughter is a college student and my son is finishing up middle school. If anything they have learned, if mom can go to college, work and keep us alive then we can do it too.
NOW, how will you stretch yourself in the coming school year?
The end of the school year is like the end of a book. And in this case it is the end of a great book. On my Facebook post I wrote how I was having a hard time putting this book away. I loved getting to know my 22 characters. And like a good book I want more. I want to know how these characters develop and where their journey will take them. I think every teacher thinks about this. It's one of the biggest reasons we love when our students come back to visit and tell us where they are or what they are doing. I tell my students and my parents… once you are a part of my classroom you are a part of my family.
When you have been teaching as long as I have then you know it is very rewarding to have students visit or keep in touch. I have students who now have children. I have colleagues that I taught. It's always so neat to see where these kiddos end up. You actually sometimes worry about those you don't hear about. I want to know if my ESL/VE (English as a Second Language and Varying Exceptionalities) students made it safely out of the projects. Or if my student I was trying to write a Transition Plan is still in jail or if he got out and turned his life around like he promised me. Trust me I look at faces of those who are homeless or come on the news because of an arrest. There was a time I worked with such population.
Unfortunately, I also have been teaching long enough to have gone to funerals for past students. It still breaks my heart that very early in my teaching career I had to say goodbye to a great kid who unfortunately had congestive heart failure. I just learned the other day that one of my all time favorite students (YES, we do have them), Sonia, past away 2 years ago. Some of the best stories in teaching I have from that girl. She taught me patience. She taught me to not take things for granted. She taught me how to laugh at myself.
You see, some of the toughest students or classes teach you something.
This year goes into my book of hardest classes. Likely, because the class before it was also tough, but in a different way. This class of 22 characters buried themselves into my heart. I learned that I still have a lot to learn. I stretched myself as a teacher more than I thought I could be stretched. I always knew I was a good teacher but now I know I can be great. They made me go there, to the other side of what I was comfortable with. They made me read more and learn more. And because of my 22 I will be a better teacher for the children who continue to pour through my classroom. Because of the 22 I learned to focus on taking care of me as well. I am useless in the classroom if I don't take care of myself.
So, if you are part of the 22 or perhaps part of another group that has come through my classroom in Orlando, Nashville, or Winter Park, I hope you will come see me one day down the path of life. I want to know you're okay and I want to know where you are.
And if you have never been a part of the Mazzotti class family then don't forget to find the teacher. You know the one. The one who made you feel like you were a part of their family. The one who pushed you to who you might be today. The one who made the difference in your life's journey. GO tell them you're okay and thank you. So to Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. Wilkes, and Mrs. Henderson, "Hey, I am okay!"
As I lay awake at 1 am unable to get the to do list of my school work and my classroom school work out of my head; I reflected on how I was built to teach. If I write about laying the foundation of a reader then I must also write about the foundation of a teacher.
I always knew I wanted to teach. I played school all the time. But, as I grew older I thought of other things that might be more adventurous or exciting. I started off as a Broadcast Journalism major. Three semesters later I switched to a Psychology major. I truly was fascinated how the brain worked and the connections emotional, biological, and environmental. Then, in 1989 I met my hubby. Soon after I met him he introduced me to someone I would come to love with all my heart, my nephew. Brandon was 2 years old when I met him. He was so much fun and had so much energy. Brandon was also born with Downs Syndrome. I knew the moment I met him I had to go into Special Education. I needed to learn how to help children like him become successful and integrated members of society.
In 1989 we were still very backwards in our politically correct terminology. My B.S. degree actually reads Bachelors of Science in Exceptional Education specialized in Mental Retardation.
My first job out of college was at Robert E. Lee Middle School (I know what you're thinking). I taught a combined class of 6-7th grade students who were labeled Educable Mentally Handicapped. I learned a lot about teaching then. It made me a very strong teacher. I literally had 0 materials to which to teach from. I had middle school boys predominantly and they were bussed in from the inner city. I had to really capture their attention every day. Did I mention I was teaching in an old Home Economics classroom that had been shut down and had asbestos?
I went on to teach at Lee the following fall. I was moved to a portable then. I had a class of approximately 18 students with Varying Exceptionalities (Learning Disabled, Behavioral Disabled, Mentally Handicapped, Autistic, etc…). Plus these children were also ESL/ESOL students. They spoke very little if any English. I think these early years were my formative years. I learned so much about so many disabilities. I learned how to multi-task and of course continue to perform with little supplies. But I would not exchange my years at Lee for any other assignment. I learned as much about myself as I taught those children. I learned that I had to make sure I taught these children how to survive in the real world. And I learned quick how to adapt to what life throws at you.
For some children that meant just even learning to write their name. They were 14 years old and incapable of writing their name. No one had taught them. Someone in the earlier years determined that these children were handicapped so there was no reason to give them any tools or teach them very much. After all what could they amount to be?
It is gut wrenching now as a mother to know someone gave up on someone's child or perhaps even the adults responsible for that child had also given up on them. I couldn't do that. I knew that they could be taught something. Even if it meant they could at least write their name and read signs like Exit or Emergency. It also meant trying to show those who were LD that they could totally take control of their lives if they took the time to capitalize on their strengths and address strategies to live with their weaknesses. Every life is a gift and has a purpose. Everyone!
To be continued…
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner