Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning

I'm not sure how it's happened that the first week and a half of school has happened and I haven't had a chance to blog. Keeping up with my three year old and my six month old paired with the beginning of the year exhaustion has left me with lots of blog posts running through my head and very little time to sit down and put them on paper. This year I'm running our local screening and working with a variety of students and classes throughout the building but I do not have my own caseload. I love working with different students in different grades, but my heart, especially this time of year, belongs to kindergarten.

If you are not a kindergarten teacher it is impossible to fully grasp the monster that is the first month of kindergarten. These teachers are taking babies- children who until a few weeks ago spent a blissful five years with their families, in day cares or preschools, napping in the afternoon, eating delicious snacks, playing games, and giggling with friends. Suddenly they are in a class with twenty plus other kids also competing for the adult's attention. They are expected to do whatever this adult says even if it makes no sense to them whatsoever, and they can't just wander around and play with whatever they see. If they want to speak they have to raise their hand, if they go anywhere it has to be in a line where they have to stand behind some kid who walks too slow and somehow not step on his feet. They have to walk in this line over and over again to practice for this thing called a fire drill- which is crazy because there is no fire but all the adults act like there is one and get really grouchy if they talk- even if they are simply pointing out that there is no fire. While practicing the fire drill they can actually see the playground and breath the fresh air but they cannot go running freely towards the slide. Even though it is RIGHT there. If they do the adults get crazy mad. They have to eat on a schedule. They can't nap. They have to stay in one room unless an adult says otherwise. They can't tell the teacher about their brand new shoes or their baby brother's birthday next week or that they don't like the color orange whenever the thought pops into their head. There are bells and signals and songs and books and directions and directions and directions. Their little worlds are completely turned upside down. Let's not forget that some of them barely speak English and are doing all of these crazy new rituals in a foreign language.

In a month the kindergarten classrooms will be smooth running machines. They will look like what we think school should look like. But the first few weeks? Those babies are having their worlds rocked. For those of us who get to pop in and out of the classrooms to help it's cute and entertaining. For their teachers- well, I hope they are all enjoying large glasses of wine and being pampered at home every evening. They are introducing students to their school careers, patiently and kindly setting the tone for their school journey. It's messy, exhausting and extremely important. Every one of those teachers should be given a full body massage at the end of September.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How We Talk About Kids

I'm trying to recreate a document I saw in the very beginning of my teaching career. It listed negative comments teachers frequently say about kids and rephrased it in a more positive manner. Reading over it one felt like it was a list of very obvious phrases that we should not have to be reminded to use or not use, but it was helpful to have in writing. I want to find it or recreate it to give to new teachers who are struggling with how to positively phrase a child's actions and characteristics in meetings. I've been Googling around trying to find something, somewhere that will have it- there have to be examples out there in the great wide internet that can give better phrases than I can come up with. I've typed in "positive talk about kids", "discussing children positively" "positive language for discussing students" and a great many other searches that use some variation of that language.
I've found-

nothing.

Many articles have popped up on how we talk to children, but I haven't found anything on how we talk about our students. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge advocate of using positive language with students, but we should not stop there. We shouldn't be using very positive language with our class and then going into the teachers' lounge and saying, "OMG that kid is driving me nuts! What is wrong with her?" or coming to meetings to discuss whether or not a student has special needs and saying, "He's so lazy. I just can't get him to do anything."

Even the phrase "He's super low" places an unnecessary judgement on the child. Anyone in the room who hasn't met the student yet immediately applies his or her preconceived notions on what 'low' means to this child and starts to mentally categorize the student. This can change how other people view the child when they meet him, and how they assess him.

Instead of wide reaching statements we can be specific with what we notice by looking at the students behaviors.
"He benefits from directions being repeated."
 "She often requires lessons to be retaught in order to fully grasp the concept."
"She needs reminders to keep her hands to herself during whole group lessons."
"He has difficulty remembering to raise his hand during lessons."

I need your help. What phrases do you often hear used negatively about kids (He's lazy, she's a hot mess, he drives me crazy...) and what are ways we can phrase it more positively?


Saturday, August 9, 2014

August Dreams

The other night I woke up in a cold sweat. I had to take a moment to get myself together and realize it was just a dream. In real life I was not responsible for developing a year long word study curriculum based entirely off of the songs from Frozen. 

In the dream I was working hard on blend sorts- between the Fr blend to Sn (Do you want to build a snowman?) 

The back to school August dreams have begun.

(Although if I did this I could probably make a ton of money on Teachers pay Teachers.)



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mommy Moments

As a teacher I get to experience both worlds- being a working and stay at home mom. I'm constantly torn between which is better. The guilt I feel for leaving my kids vs loving my job vs the stimulation they get in daycare vs quality time at home. 
The first three days this week felt idiolistic. Peaceful. Moments of almost three year old tantrums, but we lived. I really felt like I hit my stride. We can do this! Maybe I should stay home. Going back is going to be sooooo hard. 

And then...

7am- baby wakes up. Husband is already up with toddler. I love him. Baby is covered in pee because her diaper leaked. Quick bath for baby. 
8:00- husband has to leave. I hate him. How dare he go to work and leave me out numbered? It's ok- I can do this. Toddler sweetly eating breakfast.
9:00- toddler still eating breakfast. Omg she is the slowest eater ever. Baby fussy and needs a nap. Toddler doesn't want to be left alone. Must wash applesauce out of her hair before we can all go up. How does she possibly get so dirty from one meal?! Baby crying. Past her nap time.
Shamelessly hand toddler iPad so I can put her sister down for a nap. Ask toddler if she needs to potty first. Toddler, of course, says no. Demand that toddler sit on potty to at least try before I give her the iPad. Toddler cries on potty, baby crying louder. Toddler refuses to pee. I remind her that if she has an accident she loses her iPad privledges (she has a track record of hanging accidents during iPad play). Start putting baby down for nap. Baby closes her eyes, relaxes body- toddler screams, "I tinkled on the rug!!" Lots of crying. From mommy, toddler, and baby. 
Ignoring screaming baby haul toddler to toilet. Clean toddler, clean rug. Remove iPad. 
Return to putting baby down for a nap. Her body relaxes, I'm walking out the door-
Toddler comes to door, "Is she asleep yet?" 
Baby wakes up. Crying. 
Send toddler downstairs to build castle out of couch cushions. 

Let baby fuss (maybe she'll go back down? Nope, wide awake). Return to trying to nap baby. Her body relaxes, eyes close-
Phone rings. Toddler comes running upstairs- "mommy!! The phone is ringing!"
Toddler's voice wakes up baby.  
10:30 Give up on napping baby. Make more coffee. 
Sidewalk chalk turns into request for painting. Why not? I must have spiked my coffee. 

Feeling like great mom- we paint- everyone is happy- such peace! I just have to make it to nap time. Of course, before that is lunch- oh poop, we have nothing to eat for lunch. Like, just a heal of bread and peanut butter. But we ate the other heal yesterday. A good mommy would go to the store. 
We clean up, negotiate the leaving the house wardrobe. I even remember the reusable bags. I've so got this. 
Crap. 
I forgot wearable baby carrier. 
I'll just put the baby in one of the reusable bags.
Trader Joe's carts are not big enough to put a Graco SnugRide into the back basket. Well, now one is. If you push hard you can really wedge it in there. Of course now there are no room for actual groceries.
Luckily they have those cute "customer in training" carts. Perfect. Toddler ends up pushing all the groceries into my ankles the entire trip. But we have groceries. People keep smiling at us with the sweet, "bless your heart" look. Oh dear Lord, my daughter has yellow paint stripes in her hair. How did I miss that? Is that what she meant when she said, "Now I am prettiful?" It's ok. My shorts are covered in spit up. We make a nice pair. 


Trader Joes nicely gives my daughter about ten stickers and offers to help us to the car. Which I accept. Not ashamed. Plus I need help getting the car seat in wedged from the now bent shopping cart. Are you supposed to tip? I can't get to my wallet while holding the baby and toddler. Hopefully he'll take the baby's spit up on his shoes as thanks enough. Why do people get so freaked out by regurgitated breast milk? 
Back in car baby is screaming, toddler is carefully placing all ten stickers all over herself. 
Upon parking the car I find:
1) I am taking two spaces and I'm not going to put the screaming baby back in the car to fix it.
2) toddler is hysterical because if she moves all her stickers may fall off. 
They do. So the entire walk back to our house they are reapplied. I hate those stickers. 

It's only noon. Lunch and then nap. Please Lord, help me cherish the moment when my toddler looked at me and said, "thank you for cleaning up my tinkle" to help me through the rest of the summer. And help me remember the cleaning of the tinkle when I'm in long IEP meetings in October.  
Post nap baseball. I do love this age.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Squeaky Wheel part two: Thoughtfully Planning

Yesterday I wrote about the pitfalls of over committing yourself as a special education teacher. We end up hurting ourselves, our colleagues and our students when we give ourselves schedules we can't meet, even though our over promising comes out of good intentions. Sadly good intentions don't teach kids to read.

Here are ways to thoughtfully plan out your schedule in the beginning of the year to prevent overbooking.

1) Look at your schedule with all of your co teachers together. Bring them all to the table to go over your caseload. Look at who has the most needs and when those will occur. When everyone comes to the table together it's surprising how you can find creative solutions to sticky problems.

2)  As a team determine a contingency plan for when you are pulled in different directions. Will someone take your reading groups? How will you let your teachers know that you are dealing with a behavior crisis? Is everyone at the table comfortable with the contingency plan? Make sure you come to an agreement now so you don't have people feeling resentful later in the year.

3. Look at the students on your caseload who are likely to need extra help or crisis intervention. What can you do to be proactive about their behaviors? Do they benefit from check in/check out time with an adult? Can you schedule a daily walk with them before their most difficult period? Think about how you can be proactive with managing their needs to help decrease the need for reactive intervention. It can be hard to find time during academic blocks but remember that if you schedule in quality time you won't have to deal with changing up your schedule for crisis management. 

4. How can your team share responsibilities? Collaborate with the general education teachers so that you truly share students. If you are constantly talking and sharing responsibilities you will be able to cover for each other. Can you split a reading group so that if one of you is pulled you know the other teacher will still read with them. 

5. Decide what will be non-negotiable times with students- identify a sacred time when you are working with students on academics and cannot be interrupted. Talk to your team and determine what can be done if there is a behavior crisis during those times. Identify other people who can step in until you are finished. Put the plan for the student in writing and ask team to look at it ahead of time so they understand the  student's needs.   

6. Schedule yourself lunch. We are all tempted to forget our own lunch break or to schedule over it. Often lunch is the only planning we get during the day! You need that time to clear your head, catch up on emails, prepare for an iep, and plan lessons. Make sure you protect your lunch time. We make mistakes and drop the ball when we don't have time to breath.

7. Be willing to tell your team when something isn't working. If you are finding yourself having trouble getting to meet with certain students make sure you share your concerns! Your team can help you find new way to look at it or help divide the work load so that every student gets what they need.

Remember that we are human! We are awesome special education teachers but we can only do so much. Don't let the kids lose out because we can't recognize our own limits now. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Squeaky Wheel: How do you spread out your special education resources? (Part 1)

I One of the greatest challenges that faces any special education team, particularly those using an inclusion model, is how to distribute your resources to best support the students. What works one year won't always work the next as the make up of the classes changes. Every beginning of the year catches us with the same frustrating dilemma- we can't possibly be everywhere we are needed all the time. Until someone invents cloning we have to figure out where we are needed the most- and what "most" means.

Every special education teacher I have ever worked with always starts out the year over promising. We can't help it. We didn't get into this field for it to be easy- we got into it to help kids. So we want to be actively helping kids as much as possible. Before the kids have even walked in the door we've often created schedules for ourselves that include "eating" lunch while walking between classrooms (very professional behavior, choking on a sandwich while trying to chase down a coworker) and doing paperwork at night. It's easy in August to think there is no problem with doing our paperwork after school. We've just spent a summer full of relaxing and our big hearts feel ready to committ to late nights. We are teachers- we are ready to feel the burn! Bring it on in the name of the kids! I don't need a bathroom break anyway!

By starting off the year over-promising we not only set ourselves up for failure but we create future staffing problems for kids. It usually only takes about two weeks for us to find ourselves not making it to classrooms on time, running late to reading groups, skipping social skills groups, or forgetting about meetings. We aren't lazy or forgetful people. Our hearts want to be everywhere at once but instead we end up nowhere.We become frustrated with ourselves, frustrated with the kids that are interfering with our schedules, and we frustrate our co teachers. Everyone loses, especially the kids we are supposed to be working with. They aren't getting the planned support they need. All the planning in the world isn't going to improve a child's academic skills if the plans aren't being put into place.

And where do we go when we aren't meeting with our reading groups? We are putting out fires. We are often dealing with behaviors. We are working with the kids who are loudly getting our attention.

There are two problems here. One is that there are kids who need our help who aren't getting it, and the other is that we aren't giving ourselves time to proactively deal with behaviors. We are so busy putting out fires that we haven't left time for fire prevention. In both of these situations kids lose. 

So how do we plan out our time so we don't let down kids, our coworkers and ourselves?

The first step is simply to be aware that this is an actual problem. It doesn't have to be the nature of the job. 

This intro itself ended up being much longer than I intended, so stay tuned for part two with 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Planning for imaginary or real kids?

Early August is the time of year that most teachers start planning. We may still be dipping our feet in the pool but our minds are racing with "this year I am going to..." thoughts. 
This is great, it gets us excited and motivated to go back. We search Pinterest, plan our amazingly organized classrooms, plot the cute signs we'll make and reflect on what didn't work in the past and what we want to do better. 

One summer I started my lesson planning crazy early. I had the first six weeks planned out, all in line with Responsive Classroom philosophy. I snuck into school early and spent a week setting up my perfect classroom. I analyzed everything that went wrong the year before and made plans to fix it. This year, I was sure, would be perfect. I would be an amazing teacher. My kids would be respectful and love each other. They would dive into literacy and would make huge gains in math. We would be silent in the halls. During independent reading you would be able to hear nothing but their hushed reading whispers- the glory of an entire classroom immersed in their books.

And then the year started. The first day I taught them to raise their hands and one called out, "That's funny! My kindergarten teacher always said that too. I never raised my hand for her either!"

Another child started yelling, "Sonic, get down from there, don't let the teacher see you!" to her imaginary friend (who later would need to be banned from our classroom because he was such a distraction). A boy entered the room making farting noises with his mouth and when I asked him to stop he did it even more. Apparently it was what he did when he got nervous. And he was nervous a lot. Constant spitting noises from his mouth. Stress (caused by the teacher getting mad that he was spitting) only made it worse. With ten minutes of our first carpet time a boy slammed his hand into his face and yelled, "Why won't anybody shut up? I hate this place." Turns out he had no internal monologue. For the rest of the year we were blessed with his constant thoughts "OH MY GOD why is this teacher looking at me?" He had no idea we could hear him. That included when he used our classroom bathroom and provided a play by play of what was happening inside.

Needless to say, our year didn't start off as planned. All my careful planning, meticulous organizing, and determination to have the perfect classroom fell flat. And instead of rolling with it I got mad. I was mad that my kids weren't perfect, mad that my lessons weren't going as planned, mad that my plans to be so quiet in the hallway were useless. I was frustrated and grumpy. I didn't change for my class, I just wished they were different. I spent two weeks in tears from watching my ideal classroom fall apart. 

After a long two weeks I realized the problem wasn't them- it was me. I wasn't teaching the children in front of me, I was teaching an imaginary, perfect classroom and getting angry that the real students were getting in my way.

And so I stepped back and looked at my students, not my plans. I didn't change my long term expectations about what I wanted to achieve- we were still going to learn to read- but if we were going to achieve those high expectations I needed to change the game plan that was going to get us there. 

Instead of doing what had worked in the past I looked at the kids in my room. I took data on when their behaviors occurred. I took more time to build a classroom community. I re taught rules and routines in a way that engaged them. I rearranged my perfect classroom set up. I looked at their missing skills and taught those skills before I moved forward. 

It wasn't an easy year. It was tough and I fought hard for those kids to learn every single day. I started this blog that year to help me reflect on my craft. As hard as it was it would have been a hundred times more challenging if I had kept trying to teach my perfect class. By recognizing who my students were and changing my plans accordingly I made it so we made the progress we needed to make. 

So often we start the year with our perfect class in mind. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we are ready to quickly change our ideal plans to meet reality. Because once we do reality will often turn out to be better than those imaginary kids ever could be.







Organized Chaos

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree