07 December 2010


In spite of snow days and reschedulings, I finally made it through my first round of parent-teacher conferences. Now, I know I only had a couple parents to talk with, but I am very fortunate to be working with some great parents this year. Parents who want the success of their students, and parents who have the mindset to work with the teacher (me) for that success. It i reassuring for me when parents walk away from a conference with a smile on their face, and giving me permission to challenge their child to reach the expectations I'll be setting for them.

I know this is not always the case, but for now, I am glad that it is.

02 November 2010

Visualization vs. Application

As an athlete, one of the strategies coaches would tell me was to visualize myself making the play in games.  This is an effective tool since it brings a certain level of familiarity to a stressful task/performance and alleviates some of the anxieties associated with it.  
This strategy has followed me through life, and I found myself with a clear vision of what I wanted my first teaching experience to be.  

However, as an athlete I knew that once I stepped onto that field, events would not transpire the way I had envisioned.  If we get everything we want, then life becomes a meaningless pile of accumulated uselessness.  If being a Special Education Teacher was easy, then everyone would do it.  But it is not easy, and I knew that.  I knew it was going to be difficult, it is a lot of paperwork, that sometimes you get on the good and the bad side of parents, and that sometimes you struggle with students' learning or behavior.  I worked as a para-professional for over five years, so I knew all this coming in to this year, and yet I was still caught off-guard.  

I can't say that it is any one thing that has caught me off-guard, but the combination of things.  What has been unexpected to me, is needing to become a 1:1, and in-turn feeling like I've had to put the other students on cruise-control and ignore them in order to work with one.  What I did not account for was not having a time during the day to plan or collaborate with others in my department or building.  I do not want to fail my students, but I am only recently feeling like I'm coming out from being behind the 8-ball.  I am finally getting the help that is necessary for student success. 

I am not making excuses, and when I threw an interception in a game I didn't complain about it, but made sure that the guy was tackled so I could get to the sideline, evaluate, and fix the problem.  It is not what has happened to this point in the year that will dictate the way this year progresses, but the way My team and I are able to respond to these adversities, critiques, and obstacles. 

Something that is coming up, is that I am going to have to alter my leadership style to a certain extent.  However, I will save this topic for another post.  Thanks for stopping by.  Feel free to comment or follow.

07 October 2010

October Reflections

Good afternoon,
Thank you for taking a minute to check out my blog.  I have a little bit of time to reflect on my first 6 weeks as a teacher.  I want to touch on the good things that have been going well, the things that are still causing stress and not going so well, and end with looking forward to the next couple months and the holiday season. 

I was fortunate to step into a classroom that had a majority of returning students who knew what was expected of them, who knew the building, and who had a working program in place.  I have two 8th grade students who have been able to go to their GenEd classes and perform well there.  I also have a 7th grade student who came in the first day and jumped right into his visual schedule and routines as if it was business as usual, and he has been amazing all year.  My most difficult student had newly transition to where I am from the elementary school and we have had some success helping him learn the boundaries and expectations, and getting some of his old systems and activities in place in the new setting. 

My team has been amazingly helpful in putting together new things for the students to be working on, and in keeping them headed towards meeting their IEP goals.  We have even been able to create activities that challenge students who seem to show mastery over last years curricula.  I am so glad that I have been able to mesh with my aides in the way I have, and be able to openly brainstorm ideas to see what may or may not work with students.  In addition to my immediate team, the entire TFMS building staff has been incredibly supportive of me as I'm trying to get students to be challenged and successful this year to prepare them for either the HS next year or for more success here next year.  The parents, have been a positive factor in transition being smooth for me, and for their child transitioning to getting used to me this year as well. 

Needs WORK:
Though fortunate to not step into an empty class with no materials, I am still having to weed through the materials and equipment in the room, and decipher the organization of items I have stepped into, and see how to get it to work for me.  It has proven to be a work in progress.  I also feel like I am finally going to be heading in the right direction with my most difficult student.  I think some positive things are finally getting set into motion, and we should see some changes soon. 

Over the course of the next couple months until the Christmas Break, we will be adjusting and solidifying new and old behavior plans, slowly evolving an extensive visual schedule into a simpler, more differentiable one to handle more activities and flexibility.  We will be looking at what students are doing, and how we can continue to challenge them towards new heights.  We have had some rough days, but even on those days we have seen some positive growth from all of our students, and we will continue to pull the best our students can give us from them. 

29 September 2010

Survival of the Fittest... or Diversified

I remember the old General Motors commercials when they were hyping their pick-ups and their cars were not fairing so well; their slogan was something like "Do One Things Well."  This they did; their pick-ups have been the #2 selling automobile in America as long as the F-150 has been the #1.  But of these two car companies, Ford did not need or take any bailout money to make it through the first part of the current recession.  Why?  Ford had already diversified.  They had the Explorer, the Escape, and the Taurus which where the best selling (domestic) autos in their respective classes. 

What does this have to do my Life on Special Education? Everything.  I tend to get restless if I have only one plate spinning at a time.  Since I have finished my Master's in Education, I have been trying to figure out what venture I will add to my pot next.  I'm thinking that this next venture will be consulting with parents to help them create a proper home environment for their child(ren) with special needs.  This will be the first of many other consulting services that I'll probably be doing over the years. 

So, the question is, how do I take the next/first step and get started?  And the answer is that I'm not sure yet, but I'm researching around, and I'm gonna figure this out before too long. 

23 September 2010

Intricately Simple: Behavior Modification

I have been teaching for four weeks now, and have been referred to as the behavior expert several times.  Maybe this is because I am the Life Skills Teacher, or maybe it is because of how I have been able to have relative success with the severe behavior students that I have in my class.  Either way, i think it is a flattering, but presumptuous term for me.  I do not consider myself to be an expert on anything at this point, but I know that I enjoy the challenge that behavior modification presents. 

To oversimplify behavior modification into one sentence, I would say that it is to hold out until you get the behaviors you want from the student.  

There are a varying number of factors that play a role in implementation:
  1. Why is the student engaging in the behaviors?
  2. What causes the behaviors?
  3. How long has the student exhibited these behaviors?
  4. Were these negative behaviors reinforced intentionally or unintentionally in the past?
  5. Where did the student learn these behaviors?
  6. Can the student be redirected, or do they need to be removed when the behaviors arise?
  7. Are the behaviors a result of their OCD, or are they in somewhat control?
  8. And the list goes on.
Behavior modification required one to be fearless in the face of raging students, and patient enough to outlast the tantrum until the student gives in to the expectations that were set in front of them. The biggest detriment to behavior modification is inconsistency on the part of the staff member implementing the program.  You must be willing to wait for EXACTLY the behavior you want, and nothing less.  This is not easy, but it is simple thing to do.  If anyone has watched HITCH, the 90-10 Rule is a great illustration of behavior modification. Hitch is soft and steady in his tone, but rigid in his expectations. 

As I mentioned before, behavior modification is intricate, but simple.  So stick to your guns, hold the line, and never back down!

14 September 2010

Staff Meeting

I got the privilege of being at the focal point of this morning's staff meeting.  I have a difficult student who was turning into an Urban Legend because none of the staff or students have had a chance to see or meet him.  My class has taken on the characteristics of a petting zoo where people wanted to come and see what the fuss was about.  However, I would not have people in my classroom when a student is having trouble expressing themselves.  In the staff meeting I was able to field some answers regarding possible concerns about student and staff safety with an aggressive student, and what to tell students regarding this particular student. I've gotten good feedback about how the meeting went, which is good.  I'm just glad I was able to convey an understanding that this particular student is not a "bad kid", but a child who is missing the appropriate means of expressing himself. 

07 September 2010

Sir! Yes Sir!

The problems I had last week with a student, have not disappeared, but they are more in check today.  Today is done, and my most difficult student was not my most difficult today.  Why?  The answer to this is easy.  He did have a Behavior Intervention Plan, he does have materials to work on, and he does have a schedule in place, but he did last week as well.  What is the difference?  The strategy of implementation.  I was able to have a very simple question answered after the students went home on Friday.  This question was a matter of strategy when dealing with this particular student.  Do I give him time to adjust, or am I a Drill Sargent on the expectations?  The answer made me happy, because it was to be a Drill Sargent.  Today was MUCH better than last week! 

03 September 2010

Week One in the Bag

One of the biggest things I can say about taking over a classroom for the first time is that communication is everything!  I am expecting to have a completely different week next week because of a single understanding that I have now, as opposed to before the school year began.  That understanding was simply how hard to push a very... very difficult student.  in my eyes, the plan can be flawless, but without a clear strategy, there is no clear understanding about implementation.  My question was whether the behaviors he was presenting was a matter of him needing time to adjust to an increasingly familiar place (new school), or if it was a matter of direct, immediate, and absolute behavior modification from the outset.  in other words, do I give him space, or do I become his drill sargent.  Drill Sargent I can do... Letting a student (regardless of diagnosis) bite me and scratch me to the point where I'm bruised and bleeding I do not do well.  Next week will be a better week.  A long weekend, a renewed strategy, and hopefully one more body to help manage the other students in the afternoon.  Next week can only be better. 

25 August 2010

Tech Kick-Off

Finishing up my lunch break during the tech Kick-Off event.  It is an amazing thing that the Snoqualmie Valley SD was able to get a technology levy passed, and i think that the commitment to the students will payoff in a big way over the next few years.  Considering the ranking of this district, I feel very fortunate to be in a school ranked in the top 15 in the state of Washington, and on a community that understands the importance of investing in their child's education. 

I'm excited to get this year started.

05 August 2010

Education Reform, Like Democracy, Starts at the Bottom

Certification Update: I am currently waiting for my Institutional Recommendation to be mailed out to me from the University of Phoenix.  Once I have that in hand, I can apply for my Arizona Teacher Certification and my Washington State Teacher Certification as well.  But I'm just waiting. 

It is in this period of waiting that I have been thinking about this process I have undergone in order to become a teacher.  Do I think that an individual with ONLY a Bachelor's Degree should be able to teach?  Absolutely not!  DO I think it is necessary for someone to be unpaid for up to 7 months (much like my scenario) in order to become a teacher?  No.  I think that there can be a differentiation in the paths taken to become a teacher.  In the same way that businesses look for education OR experience, I think your time working in schools should factor into your certification process.  I have seen too many kids in college who want to be teachers go from school to more school to teaching without working in the schools.  In this scenario, I think it is important to have an internship period where the student is immersed in an education setting.  This would work ideally for students who are able to do their certification in a one year program.

What is the result I'm looking for?  I have a friend who had to turn to working construction to support his growing family.  I had another friend who did the quick school route and burned herself out in a year and has not returned to teaching.  I have another friend who used up all his financial reserves to make it through the education portion of teaching.  These are quality people, and they would be great teachers if the process prepared them to be more than just broke.  This year, one of the counselors at the school I was working in introduced me to a kid who was going through his certification classes, because the counselor knew I was doing the same thing.  This kid walked into the school library all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  He had a kid at Disneyland smile on his face, and he walked in like he stepped into Yankee Stadium for the first time.  I was busy working with my student who has Cerebral Palsy, and  when asked for advice, I said simply, "work in the schools." 

HYPOTHETICAL MOMENT: Let's say you have a teaching certification program, that schedules its classes in the late afternoon to evening, and requires its students to work as aides and para educators in the schools in the area during their time in the program.  What happens to those students and those schools?  Let's start with the students.  The students will gain a better understanding of what they are getting themselves into.  They will also learn first-hand how to create APPROPRIATE relationships with the kids they work with.  The kids in the schools will LOVE to be around younger people, and they will be surrounded by COOL people in college; something to look up to... someone to want to be like.  The schools will have an influx of youthful energy that not only wants to be there, but is constantly learning how to do their jobs better, and educate better.  When these students have been working in schools for one or two years, then they should not be forced to be unpaid for 3 months, plus a summer vacation, plus their first month working as a teacher... they will be better equipped to step into a classroom, and they will have had the opportunity to build a relationship with a school, faculty, student body, and district. 

Now, prior to this year, I will have worked in schools for 5 years.  Not only do I know how to work with kids and their parents, but I also understand the ebb and flow of student learning throughout the school year.  I explained this in an interview I did this year.  A Seasoned educator knows how stressful the beginning of the year in only to hit your groove in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas Break.  Then you have to redo your class expectations in the New Year, and you start to get grooving again in time for Mid Winter and Spring Break.  By the time your routine is down pat, then you have kids checking out mentally because it's almost Summer.  Then you have to hope that the teachers before you taught the students what they will need to be successful in your class next year, and that the students retain any of it. 

Education reform is to be done from the bottom up.  The trouble is that it is becoming a political platform for those at the top. 

03 August 2010

Stir Crazy

I am definitely going crazy as I am forced into the Waiting Game once again. I'm waiting for one more piece of paper from the University if Phoenix so I can submit for my Arizona Teaching Certificate, and once I get that, I'll have to submit for my Washington teaching Certificate also. Waiting, is making me go NUTS!!! I feel like there's so much I could be doing to get ready if I didn't have to wait.

-- Post From JB's iPhone

17 July 2010

Full Benefits Package

I have a HUGE package of materials to go through for the benefits that I get as a teacher. What is best about it, is that I will be able to make sure my kids have double coverage to be able to take care of anything that may arise. I also am looking forward to the TRS retirement plan. Lots of stuff to do. I think I'll spend Tuesday and Wednesday at SVSD summer school and up at TFMS checking out my new classroom. I'm starting to get a bit excited.

-- Post From JoeB's iPhone

16 June 2010


I'm slowly trying to figure out the best way to organize my new classroom and even the access that I want to make available to the parents of my students. I do mot want to create too much change in the classroom at once, but I know the classroom will be much different (in appearance and in concept) by the Christmas break. I can't wait to see what that means.

-- Post From JoeB's iPhone

10 June 2010

Job Hunt: Finished Already!

What a great day.  I was offered the position at Twin Falls Middle School yesterday after my follow-up interview with the principals.  I was able to see the school, and some of te teachers that were there.  I was able to meet the teacher who I will be trying to replace, and also one of the classroom aides.  If you read yesterday's blog post, I discussed my conundrum of trying to figure out how to handle stepping into a new position versus staying at Tahoma.  By the time I had talked with the principals, toured the school, and saw the classroom, my mind was made up.  However, I wanted to take a day and make sure it would work with my family's needs for this next year.  If I waited for another position, I may not find one as good as this one.  I will post about the position later, but I have accepted the position to be the new Life Skills teacher, and I was able to do this quicker than I thought possible.  I feel good about the decision, and though I will miss the Tahoma students I've worked with, I am excited about starting anew. 

09 June 2010

Job Hunt: My Conundrum

Today I have a follow-up interview with Twin Falls Middle School.  It is supposed to be more casual, and get a chance to walk around the school and see the classroom.  It is quite exciting.  However being one of two candidates considered for this position is exciting, I am conflicted.  IF (and this is a big "if") I get this position, do I take it, and relax the whole summer knowing exactly where I'll be next year?  I will have a chance to start anew in a new school in a new district where no one knows me or my family (much like when I started in the LWSD years ago).  I will have an opportunity to be known strictly as a teacher, and not as an instructional assistant or a paraprofessional.  I will be able to become the teacher I want to be. 

On the other hand, I have put A LOT of work into the kids in the Tahoma School District, and if given the opportunity, I would like to see them through to their finishline.  So this is my conundrum, but only because I'm not in a position to choose yet.  Once placed in that position, I am sure I will make the right decision for me and my family, whatever that may be.  The kids at Tahoma, I will miss, if I do not end up there, but I will keep in contact with them and check up on them.  My real hope is to be able to choose, and not be forced into a decision.  That is my hope.

07 June 2010

Because I said so: Instilling Intrinsic Value

Working in secondary schools I have experienced the entitlement mentality of the society we live in played out in the attitudes of today's youth.  With two kids of my own, my wife and I often discuss how to teach them properly and build a proper work-ethic within them.  We live in a society that does not value anything that is good for us physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  However, I am not blaming it.  The society is a reflection of its people.  I am not going to sit here and blog about the troubles that we have, because we already know what's wrong.  I want to give you a solution to consider. 

As a parent, I am going to do something that could revolutionize child-rearing for Americans.  I am, with the help of my wife, going to take responsibility for the growth and development of my children mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  We are not going to count on the schools for mental and emnotional development, we will not depend on organized sports to develop our kids physically, nor will we leave it in the hands of the Church to grow our children spiritually.  I believe in the usefulness of these three institutions, but we have lost sight of the most important institution: THE FAMILY. 

The family is at the heart of our society.  Consider the state of our society and the state of families.  How broken and shattered are we as we watch the divorce rate slowly rise above 50% and beyond?  What is a child's first glimpse of what it means to be connected to another but in a family?  What is a gang, but a sense of family that someone gets from outside of their biological connections.  There is a definate formula for families that aides in the proper growth of children.  The constants of this formula are love, stability, security, and trust.  Everything else is a variable.  When one of these constants is missing, then the family unit becomes off center.  The more that are missing, the more off center and dysfunctional this family becomes.  Most commonly, families have been missing trust and stability, which means that there is a 50% chance of survival. 

I am not going to make an argument for or against gay marriage.  But I will say that I have worked with some kids who will take two moms or two dads who want a family over their current situation.  I worked with students who spend more time at their friend's house in order to feel the family connection they are missing in their home. 

How do I practice what I preach?

We have a natural inclination to assign value to things, and to people.  This guys is better than the next.  This lady is prettier than the others.  My dad can beat up your dad.  The problem comes when we do this with our children.  There are two important "why" questions that children ask that we are answering in the wrong way.  When they ask why they have to do something we've asked them to do, we say, "because I'm your father, and I said so."  When they ask why we love them, we give an infinite number of responses.  This is backwards and damaging.  Whatever the reason is that we give them for why we love them or show them affection is the reason that they will begin to think gives them worth.  Therefore, when we tell them to do something, we need to have an infinite number of ways to explain why they need to do what we are telling them to do.  When they ask why we love them, our response simply needs to be, "because I am your father, and I said so." 

If there is nothing our kids have to do to earn love and affection, then there is nothing they can do to lose love and affection.

03 June 2010

First Interview in the Bag

I feel very fortunate to have had an interview before finishing my student teaching and before getting into the unknown limbo that is the summer months.  On Tuesday I had my first one, at Twin Falls Middle School, which is in the Snoqualmie Valley School District.  It was for a position in their Life Skills Class, which I think is like a self-contained Special Education classroom. I don't know if I rocked the interview, but I feel pretty good about it, and the program sounds like a good situation for a new teacher starting out.  I was able to learn that the class consists of four students with Autism Spectrum Disorder; two of them spend most of their time in the general population, and the other two spend most of their time in the Life Skills Classroom with their one-on-one aides.  In all honesty, I hope that this position works out; it is a brand new school (build in 2008) in a district that has just passed a technology levy. 

On the other hand, there is a position that I also applied for in the Tahoma School District, where I have been working the last couple years, and am currently finishing my student teaching.  The position will split its time between the Personal Academic Instruction program on the Satellite Campus and the new Special Education Math classes at the high school.  Tahoma is a great school district, and on of the better districts in the area.  For this reason, I know that if I am able to somehow get into this district, it will be a hige blessing. 

I hope to be able to land some more interviews, especially if Twin Falls or Tahoma do not work out.  It would be nice to know what I'll be doing in September before the end of June.  I'm just ready to get moving on this teaching career that I've been working towards for over four years.

26 May 2010

Do Unions Make Education a Socialist System?

DISCLAIMER: I have only been in education for five years, and I don't fully understand unions, or the intricacies of the education system.  Even though I plan to move into administration in the future, The following are the views of someone who does not claim to have the answers, nor do I claim to be right, but as a new teacher in the coming school year, I have some questions, and the effectiveness of a system can only be made better if we are able to discuss it openly. 

My first expereince with the local union was my first Para Professional position I held from March - June 2005.  When filling out my paperwork, I was told I had to signup for the union, and I had to pay them from my measly paycheck.  My question was simply "why?"

For the next few years after that, the unions that I have had to become a part of have been relatively quiet; working in the background, keeping the places I work safe and clean for me to do my job the best I can.  This is what I think a unnion should be; a big brother that tells the upperclassmen to leave me alone so I can concentrate on school and not getting my lunch money beaten out of me. 

I have found a couple articles about unions, because I didn't want to be completely shooting this post from the hip.  The first article is from the Economic Policy Institute, on "How unions help all workers."  This article points out how unions give all workers - union and nonunion - better fringe benefits, medical insurance, pensions, and base wages.  On this I will agree.  Fringe benefits like paid leave, and a secured pension are things that young and new teachers may not consider as important until after they should.  The article points out the incluence that unions have on helping nonunionized workers in the same industry.  However, this may not apply to education, because it is all unionized. 

The next article is on Education Oasis, and is simply called "On Unions and Education."  As far as I can tell, the author is illustrating how education unions are slowing the education reform process, and taking drastic changes out of the hands of radicals.  She explains how reformers are from far off of the frontlines of education; they deal with the theories and not the application.  She says how unions are necessary to reform because they give the teachers the voice needed to be heard. 

The last article is a short one on Change.org asking if unions deserve the bashing they receive.  I will let the author explain their thesis in their own words:

But lots of folks out there seem to think the problem with the achievement gap isn't the poverty, the broken families, the guns and drugs in the streets, the minimum wage laws that make an honest job a path to poverty, the overcrowded classrooms and underfunded schools, the low-quality teachers attracted by the low-paying teacher salaries, the junk food and junk culture in the great middle-to-low socio-economic swath of America.

Nope. They seem to think it's all the fault of teacher unions.

Is it possible that unions are being misunderstood in their fight for the equality of the grunt soldiers on the frontlines? 
Something esle that this article says about unions is, "So that's my prejudice: unions protect the working class from the owning class."  The idea of protection is a two-way street.  If I am being "protected" from the upper class, then the upperclass is, in turn, being protected from me.  How does this translate?  Unions are able to keep the middle-class from finding wealth, and by doing this, they keep the wealthy from finding the middle-class. 
Consider that an employer with a high demand for a particular position may be willing to pay more for the right person to fill that place.  The employee may get a signing bonus, and they will have high expectations placed on them to demonstrate that they deserve their bonus and new salary. 
Consider a veteran employee who is being surpassed by the rest of their team; they are not attending the conferences that the others are, and their skills are falling behind their peers.  They will be required to improve their skills and demonstrate that they are more qualified than those behind them in order to maintain their job. 
Consider someone who shows themself to be an invaluable asset to a company through their ambition and drive for success within their first year of employment.  What if someone with great potential was passed over because someone else happened to have been around longer than them, but may not be the best for the team? 
Take these situations, and impose a Teacher union into the equation and you have two scenarios I've experienced and one that I would like to experience - a bidding war.  My brother was able to negotiate from a temporaty contract position into the position he wanted because he had options, and because there was a demand for his skills and proven abilities.  I do not have that option.  An administrative team cannot add someone who will fit perfectly into their school's environment and collaborate with the learning team because someone with seniority decided that they wanted to work the position.  This doesn't sound right, and it sounds like Affirmative Action. 
Unions have their faults, and they have their advantages.  But the problem with a system that creates a wage floor, is that it also creates a wage ceiling.  So which is worse?  If I don't mind making the minimum, then why would I try to excel? 

24 May 2010

Itching to be Done!!!

I am down to my last the weeks of my student Teaching Internship.  This means that I'm 75% done with it.  I have submitted an application to ten surrounding school districts, and am just itching to get the process moving towards next year. At this point, i have applied to the following school districts: Bellevue, Federal Way, Highline, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Northshore, Renton, Snoqualmie Valley, Tahoma, and Tukwila.  I'm excited to move to a new city and find a new rental home.  I'm excited to organize and arrange my own classroom, I'm excited to start doing what I've been in school for.  I'm ready.  Ready to connect to students, ready to spurr learning, ready to manage behaviors.  I'm like the annoying football player in the coaches ear saying "Put me in coach!  I'm ready!"  Well, I am.

12 May 2010

Teaching Style: Stick to my Guns

I have been told by people that I would make a great teacher.  The question in my head is are they just being nice? And why would I?  Consider the following post a mission statement of the kind of teacher I will be.  I am smart enough to know that this post can be taken in a negative way.  I do have a stubborn streak in me, but I am willing to indulge both sides and points of view as long as others are willing to see mine as well.    Please read the whole post and even the other post that is referred to at the end, it will give you a clearer idea of how I am focused on student success.  The following is a discussion question for my LAST MAED class! 

Provide an example of ineffective instructional decision-making.  Using your example, describe what you would do to make it effective.

I would have to say that I experienced this in a situation I had earlier this year.  I have only been working with SpEd kids since 2005, and as I've learned more and more and worked with them more and more, I have had a knack for not diagnosing their disabilities, but creating a plan of action to head them towards their IEP goals.  I had an administrative/logistical mind.  Anyways, a new student arrives to the self-contained SpEd class at the HS, and I am hired earlier this year to help work with him; me and another lady.  We don't have much info on him, and he's from out of the district.  We did not have a lot of information on him, and the information we did have on him, I was unwilling to take as completely true; if the program he was in was so good, his single-mom would not have moved him to my district for our schools.  So, we were told that he does not walk, he may not walk, and he has a short attention span.  The scientific side of me wanted to test to see if these statements were true, but only one was.  That statement was that he does not walk. 

So what was at the root of this student's disabilities, and what will it take for him to be successful?  The teacher I work with (who is younger than me, but I didn't see that as an issue) felt that the important thing was to get him heading towards his academic IEP goals.  She and the other lady that worked with the student spent time trying to get him to write, and count, and stay on task, but he would not; he would hit them and pull their hair.  I didn't see this student as a case for academic growth... not yet.  He was a behavior student, and I treated him as such.  They told me he does not walk, but that didn't mean he couldn't.  We started going on walks in Oct, and I wouldn't let him fall to the ground and crawl like he's been used to.  By November he was walking upstairs by himself, after Christmas he was walking down and upstairs by himself.  In January he was out of his braces and in tennis shoes, in February we were walking around the track, and before I left in March to do my student teaching we were walking with 15 and 20 pound weights.  Now he does not bring his wheel chair to school, and rides the bus in a seat, and the other lady still working with him said he's much easier to work with. 

Where is the ineffective instruction decision-making?  It was how to get this student to be successful.  The teacher disagreed with me, and she and the other lady tried to get me to deviate from what I was doing with him.  I'm not trying to say I was right and they were wrong, but I think my process was more effective, because I saw behavior issues that they did not, and I chose to address those first. 

Here's a posting I put on my blog from back in January: http://lifeonsped.blogspot.com/2010/01/he-just-responds-to-you.html

27 April 2010

The Inside Track

My student teaching situation is a bit unconventional.  I am interning with two teachers in two different classrooms, on two different days.  One teacher meets with her kids everyday, and the other meets with hers only every other day.  The everyday class is an Alternative Education class where the students come and go throughout the day and work on getting credits from independent work and custom-made curriculum.  These students have been suspended or expelled at some point in the district, some have behavioral issues, and some have emotional behavioral issues that stem from learning disabilities.  The other class is the Special Education Transition Program for the district.  The students there are 18-21 years old, and they are learning to live and work in the real world; they will also discover what level of independent living they will be able to manage in the long run. 

I've been spending my student teaching constantly changing gears from one class to the next, and back again.  But what makes my experience so unique is that both of the teachers I'm working with are going to be retiring at the end of this year.  THis doesn't mean I will be able to easily step into their classes when the positions become available.  In fact, both of their positions would be too difficult for a noobie eacher like myself to handle in their first year.  What is unique is the conversations I get to have with both of them.  I am able to chat with these two educational sages and they get to reflect on their careers and tell me what they would have liked to have accomplished, what they wish education could be like, and what positions are not yet posted that are available. 

The last thing is the inside track I am  wanting to talk about.  These two ladies have connections I can only hope to gain over my educational career.  I was telling one about the districts in the area that i have applied to so far (Issaquah SD, Lake Washington SD, Renton SD, and Snoqualmie Valley SD) and with each one, she mentioned someone who she had a connection with who was not a teacher, but a director of this, or the chair of that department.  I don't want my first position to be from a favor; the first teaching year is supposed to be hard enough.  But in conversatios with the other teacher, she mentions positions the district is looking for that it hasn't posted yet, and the people that may go for it, and what kind of person the ditrict is looking for.  Information is a weapon, and something that I can use to my advantage. 

The quesion then become: how do I get this information to work for me without taking advantage of favors that ma not be necessary to call in?

15 April 2010

SpEd vs. Senate Bill 6 & Budget Cuts


Recent news stories in special education point towards the same ideas: Budget Cuts, and Special Education Spending.  The two seem in opposition to one another.  In one article The Florida Senate is trying to pass Senate Bill 6 where teacher pay would be linked to student test scores.  In the realm of Special Education, this is a horrific concept, because success for these students cannot be measure by test scores.  The ability to tie your own shoe or independently use the bathroom is not a question on a test.  Luckily, today Gov. Crist Vetoed the bill.  My Fox Tampa quoted the Governor as saying, "There must be more attention to their special needs."  He mentions how the bill ignored this population of schools, but that the bill, in general, was too flawed.  Common sense did win out, and this was a step in the right direction. 

This situation in Florida points to the notion that education reform is needed, but what will it look like?  It will not look like merit-based pay, nor will it look like federal mandates and across-the-board standards.  I also do not believe it will look like a model of business-like cut-throat pressures for success.  It is true that education NEEDS to be reformed, but it will look like a new education model that will not start at the top and make its way down to the students.  I have a hard time beliving my WA Senator in DC has any idea what will help the students in the schools in their own state.  What will work for one district, will not work for its neighboring district.  Therefore, Education reform needs to look like the democratic system in which we live and thrive.  Reform needs to start with the highly trained professionals we trust to enrich the lives of our children.  It takes a community to raise a child in the way that they should go... NOT the government.  The unions should push for influence, power, and respoonsibility of the teachers, not more money.  You give teachers the power to educate the children in the right way, and the parents will fork over the dollars to let their children be taught. 

But I digress.

The second article I was reading was talking about budget cuts in the recession economy and the overspending of Special Education Programs.  What was interesting in the article was the Federal mandates to provide Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all students, but they don't provide the funds to the districts so that they can do that.  We argue for more money and smaller classes through the unions, but what we need is the ability to hire the needed professionals to educate the children, and the proper environment that is conducive to learning.  How does this happen?  We need to change what we think about education.  Everything else in society is changing, but we're still trying to stick to the same ideas of what is considered to be "teaching."  Is it more important for a student to know the meaning of the work and recite it for a test, or to be able to find the meaning of whatever words they may come across on their own?  Is it more important for students to loathe dragging themselves through restricted learning methods that are intent on getting test scores, or should we get them to enjoy the learning process so that they will be more willing to step out and venture into the world and discover what it can teach them?  Asking ans discussing these questions will get us on the road to reform. 

01 April 2010

UPDATE - Shifting Expectations of the School Institution

I wrote this in a discussion with my classmates who were discussing the need for parental involvement; where it happens, and where it is hard to get it.  This was my response, which referred to an earlier post.

There is a reason I got into education, and there is a reason I want to get into education administration; the system is flawed. Now, every system is flawed, cracked and can be taken advantage of. However, I think that as society has shifted, education has not shifted fast enough to keep up, and that is normal of government-run institutions. As teachers, we, more than anyone, know what it takes to get student achievement. However, I have heard things that teachers need from outside sources, and I think we need to figure out what it will take for US to create a better system. I want to point you guys to a blog posting I made: http://lifeonsped.blogspot.com/2010/03/shifting-expectations-of-school.html

This illustrates an idea that I was kicking around with my CT the other week. If parents in trying areas have so much trouble helping their children, why not put the help where it is needed... with the students. following the atwork.wa.gov twitter account @janekuechle. She saw my blog posting and was hung up on my comment of "ineffective social programs". I'm not a politician who want to push an agenda of what level of government involvement is needed. My focus is solely on the children, and if we can redirect resources to create more effective programs that are run through the schools and follow the children, then that will help the overall state of our nations education. I know many paras (myself included) who worked two jobs, because they couldn't live off of just working in the schools. If you create social programs, dinner programs, tutoring programs that follow the student, and flow through the school, then people can make a better wage for themselves and families. Teachers can pick up extra hours without having to be a coach or leave their classes if they don't want to. Kids can be off the streets where it is safe, and be surrounded by positive influences for mor than 6 hours of the day. Parents do not have to use tech babysitters like TV and video games, and kids do not need to turn to gangs in order to find a sense of community or brotherhood or family.

I don't think parental involvement is likely to make a drastic change. Parents either care, or they don't about their child's education. If was can keep the kids fed, appropriately socialized, active, and tutored from kindergarten until graduation, then we will have changed the face of education in our country for the better.

30 March 2010

Changing Demographics = Changing Expectations?

My classroom discussion for this week is: What influence do differing demographics have on the following: Planning, Instruction, Classroom management, Assessment, Achievement, and Expectations?

This was my response: Before I start my response to this I want to share a link:

The link is a clip from a Family Guy episode. The humor is a bit rough, but if you can get past it, you can see why I thought of it as soon as I read the discussion question. In this episode, The [talking dog] has a job teaching in an affluent [white] neighborhood. He loves it; he makes corny content-related jokes, and does cooky performances that the class loves. It is a teaching utopia. Then he gets transferred to an inner city class where they make a reference to the movie "Stand and Deliver." He tries to do the same things he did in the previous class, and comes in excited to teach, but the kids, and their lives break him down until he comes in unshaven and looking like a hobo. This is a satirical clip, but it isn't until he drops his expectations that he creates some kind of connection with the students. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) we need to meet students where they are, and SHOW them how to get to where they want to go. I've watched kids give up under the weight of a teacher's unattainably high expectations. 2) We need to be flexible and creative in how we connect and engage our students. What works with one group may not work with another, and it could be the same class taught in the same day, but kids are different. I am not one to force kids to feel like a cog in the machine... those are the grown folks that go postal on their work places.

After sharing this with my wife, she asked me WHY expectations would be different?  One of the things that can be assumed is the idea of a normal family environment for students.  She pointed out that kids who live in rich neighborhoods may not have close relationsghips to their parents because they may be out working all the time, they may not have a healthier diet because a Venti Soy Chai latte in the mornings in not nutritional either.  The point I want to get across is this: as educators, we need to meet where they are... exactly where they are.  Id doesn't matter if they are different race, economic level, or academic ability.  Students will not achieve under low expectations, nor will they succeed under expectations that are too high for them to relate to. 

The bar cannot be set across the same level for all demographic setting.  If failure to one person is success to another, the bar cannot be set the same for both.  If minimal requirements for one is to just show up and for another it is to get a B, then the bar cannot be set the same. 

This is not a matter of where kids are, but how to get them to where they want to go. 

19 March 2010

The Needed Male Influence in Special Education

I wrote this posting after sitting through an Autism Workshop class on a waiver day titled, "Teaching Independence Through Structure."  What is most striking about the workshop is not anything in the content, but something that I already knew about working in Special Education.  Of the roughly SpEd staffers in this district at the workshop, only about 5 of us are male.  Of those men, 2 are paras, I am student teaching, 1 is the Jr. High Behavior Intervention Specialist, and the last 1 is the district Physical Therapist.  

Hmm... So I was sitting in a workshop that was discussing how to use structure to help students with Autism.  Structure; that thing that that I'm really good at, and that comes naturally to me.  Do is come naturally to me because I am a male?  To a certain extent.  I do not want to start making gross generalizations about gender roles, but this made me wonder is a male-dominated Special Education scenario would have an Autism workshop teaching how to be more nurturing. In my short experience, I've been utilized by SpEd classes and departments to create and/or add structure to a student that they recognized as needing it.  

Is it possible for a SpEd student to be nurtured into independence?  Does a breast fed child want to eat solid foods?  Is weaning a child a nurturing moment, or is it a necessary step in child development?  I cannot answer these for sure.  There are opposing opinions when we talk about getting a child to sleep through the night.  Do we let them cry it out until exhaustion makes them pass out again, or do we soothe them every time they wake and stir.  Or is it somewhere in between?  

I am not making the argument of nurturing or structure being better than the other.  I believe that true growth can come when students get a variety of opposing influences in their life.  Is this possible in Special Education, when the department in any given district is around 94% female?  Not that there's anything wrong with women in SpEd, but there is not enough of an opposing force.  There are the occasional tougher ladies, but there is still a motherly quality in the way they are tough.  There aren't any fatherly influenced in SpEd, however, nor are there any big brothers, uncles, or male cousins in SpEd departments.  Why is this?  

I am not an Alpha Male, but I feel like I need to  be one in order to offset the influences in the students I encounter.  I have to become someone I am not and tap into the very dormant Choleric side of my personality in order to help my students grow.  Why aren't there any Alpha, or even Beta, Males helping the growth of our SpEd kids?  The one time I almost burned out as a SpEd para, I was getting a "Superman Complex".  I was not able to fully concentrate on any particular student I was working with, because I had to continually swoop in to save whoever was having trouble with another student in the department.  Having to leave all the time told the student I was with that they were not as important, and I had to leave them alone without their accommodations or modifications.  

Why would any man want to be the odd-man-out in a SpEd class/department full of women where he has no one to talk with or relate to?  I had a 90-Day evaluation this year where it was assumed that my trouble relating to nothing but women was because I didn't have any Black people to talk to.  I was given a suggestion of the only two other Black staff members to talk with.  Feeling like the odd-man-out was not a racial thing for me, but a gender thing.  I am not throwing out the Race Card in this situation, but it shows how someone can be misunderstood and have their growth hindered when they are subjected to one perspective.  

18 March 2010

Shifting Expectations of the School Institution

After a brief conversation yesterday with my Mentor Teacher (MT), I discovered the purpose of my teaching career. Granted, teaching kids is always the reason teachers get out of bed each morning, but there has to be some over-arching drive to anyone's professional career. Film makers want an Oscar, music artists want a Grammy, executives want to become CEOs, but what do teachers want? The education system is too flawed to be content to just assimilate into it with the only conflict arising from teacher salaries and state testing. There is more needed to fix the education system than just paying teachers more.

Anyways, I was talking with my MT and she was talking about her philosophies on teaching, and the things she'd like to see. She told me her conservative nature that wants more natural competition brought back into the education system. However, it is her liberal ideal that I want to talk about. My MT said, that she wishes she could funnel all those funds that go towards those inefficient and ineffective social programs and put them into the schools. This additional funding would not be for academic programs, but social programs that are based around the student that would be with them throughout the school year. The school would live up to its expectations as an institution designed to better the lives of its students. The school will now be able to provide breakfast, lunch (during the school day), and even a dinner for those students who qualify and do not eat one a regular basis. The school can be the state-provided daycare for single parents, teenage mothers, or struggling families who have trouble getting by. The school will also become much like the combination of a Sylvan Learning Center and a Boys and Girls club after school hours. It can now provide activities and programs that are not school related, tutoring services, trainings programs, recreation spaces for kids to be safe in until they have eaten, done their homework, and need to go home and sleep. The kids are now not on the streets or in the woods causing trouble, and they will now have no more excuses to be unsuccessful now. This way the students are fed and have academic help, and all their parents have to do is be home at the end of the day to enjoy their children.

I do not have the logistical, practical, or other answers to make this work tomorrow, because this was a quick conversation, and I think that this is just in the brainstorming stages right now. However, there is great potential in this idea. There is a school facility everywhere throughout this nation, and there are kids in every school (even the rich schools) who need a little more than what is offered during the school day in order to be on even ground with their peers. This way, social services can concentrate on medical services and getting people working, and not whether or not the children are eating properly.

What are some of the negatives about this idea? I am very excited about this idea, but I will try to see both of its sides. The main problem with it is the amount of added administrative and bureaucratic overhead that will be needed to reallocate the funds from one set of organizations to the schools. How much of the extra funds will go to the added administrative and staff overhead needed to operate the additional services? Yet, I still strongly believe that if these kinds of questions can be answered, then this idea had great potential to be effective. This is something that I feel will be a productive time use of my time to develop and work towards.

16 March 2010

Don't Fight The Tech

I found humor in the errands I ran yesterday. Twenty years ago, if I said I had returned rented movies, bought some coffee grounds from the grocery store, and put gas in my car, you would assume that I would have had to interact with at least one human being. That was not the case yesterday, and it was the reason why I laughed at the stage society is in. I returned two Redbox movies to a vending machine, purchased my coffee at QFC's automated checkout stand, and paid for my gas at the fuel pump.

I do not want to make this posting about how technology separates us from human connection, because I do not think that is the case. In fact, technology expands our sphere of influence. One of my best friends is in Georgia, but staying connected is as easy as pushing a couple buttons, or talking on the phone. Whenever we see one another, which is only a couple times per year, we don't miss a beat. When I want to unwind at the end of a day I can play games online with others from around the world; its similar to a pick-up game of basketball from my couch.

This is the world kids live in today. Information is dispersed at the speed of thought. Mass amounts of information bombards kids' minds, and, at any given moment, they need to sift through it and make sense of it all while determining their own place in the world. How do we educators compete with this, and capture the minds of our students?

I propose that we do not compete with it. If technology has provided us a way to be entertained easier, to be informed easier, and to keep in touch easier, then why don't we use it to teach easier? Where does it say that teaching is static, and that it's only effective when it remains unchanged? Classes are now online, we can broadcast ourselves, we can podcast ourselves, and we can discuss in real-time at any time. Twitter, GoogleWave, iTunes, YouTube, Wikis, Forums, etc... The list is endless. How else do we expect to illustrate to students that learning is an ongoing process and can happen anywhere when we restrict it to in class or at their home desk? Why wouldn't they be able to jump on their phone, or entertainment device, at any given moment and have something class-related at their fingertips?

Problem: Student is absent during the explanation of a new unit or during a group exercise. Possibilities: Video/Audio Podcast of the lecture, Flip video or tweets from the student's group members. Sick student can participate in group discussions via webchat or web video, Twitter, or some other means. End Result: Student still receives participation credit, and is still part of the group exercise, and will not need to make up the project after school. This can be difficult to do for science labs, but I would allow it for only one missed lab per semester or year.

Problem: Student is stuck on a problem at home, and needs help in order to complete an assignment. Possibilities: Online whiteboards, GoogleWave, online forums, etc... The teacher could schedule a time a few nights each week to field questions, or respond to a request for help via Twitter. End Result: "I didn't understand it when I tried to do it at home," become irrelevant. Help is now always available to students, and they can have open discussions and brainstorm through the online forums.

There is no a single problem in education that can be fixed only be adding technology into the equation. Technology is just another tool that can be used the right way, or the wrong way. People have trouble understanding how to implement it, but I would venture to guess that these are the people who use pliers to tighten a screw or a monkey wrench as a hammer.

With proper respect and boundaries established, the days of a teacher lecturing at the front of the class, and punching a clock are coming to an end. Why correct endless essays by hand when you can do it in WORD, show the corrections and save paper by sending it through email? Why not improve upon the example you learned under? I have seen the tip of the iceberg of what technology can do for the education process, and the students therein. I am excited about what tools have yet to be developed. I am excited about educating and impacting lives. I'm definitely looking forward to moving education forward.

12 March 2010

Needed: New Expectations

If you were to make a graph of the appropriate closeness of a teacher to a student, it would be inversely proportionate to the academic abilities of the student. Therefore, the more academically capable the student, the more relational distance to their teacher. This could be partially due to the number of students in general education classes, versus a resource room versus a student in a one-on-one situation.

Consider how much a teacher knows about a student's family of home life. The ONLY pet-peeve I have of general education teachers is when they assume that all students are coming into their classes from the same starting point; that the only determining factor on student success is how the student has chosen to participate in class. Last year, I overheard a teacher complaining about one of my alternative education students in the Teachers' Lounge that this student was choosing not to focus or accomplish any work in class that day. I told this teacher that the student had been kicked out of their house the previous night and came into school that morning after sleeping on the train tracks. The teacher had no response, and I don't blame them.

After getting over my initial annoyance with the teacher, I realized that the education system is not conducive to teachers getting to know their students. The expectation is to teach the content, raise the test scores, enforce the school policies, and not sleep with the students. How are teachers supposed to touch the lives of their students when the high schools resemble university lecture halls more than classrooms? A teacher may connect with 5-10 of the 150-200 students that come into their classrooms throughout the day. You place more than 25 kids in a classroom, and the teacher becomes a ring leader in a circus managing what is going on in class instead of guiding the education of children.

We have placed the weight of raising test scores on the shoulders of teachers who hope to create a love of learning in their students. We expect teachers to raise our kids for us; to teach them what they need to know instead of how to find it for themselves. Teachers are expected to teach effectively without giving an education. The expectation needs to shift to think of them as educators who give students the tools to learn and succeed at life. We want teachers to give children the fish of data without educating them as to how to fish for knowledge. We want our children to be able to duplicate so they can pass the next test or quiz, but we do not want to open the world to them and let them discover, explore, and create.

I do not believe that class size is the answer, nor do I believe that it is a matter of funding. The expectations of what learning is, and what educators need to do, needs to shift. We have turned the school day into the drudgery of the work day. Students have become more of a cog in the social machine, when they need to learn who they are and how to grow into contributing citizens. I am not from the school of thought that believes ALL kids should be successful on the same level. I hated having a losing season, and still getting a trophy for participation. If students are always given false success, then they grow to believe that they deserve it, and the sense of entitlement grows inside of them. Students need to experience the joys of achieving real success, which means thet need to learn the lessons of real failure. Students will not be educated if we do not shift our expectations to cultivate learning instead of test scores.

10 March 2010

A Question of How

It's Wednesday of my first week of student teaching, and I'm seeing something that will become an issue for me in the future. Both classes that I am in and observing are not structured in a way that is conducive to a typical Teacher Work Sample. In one class the students are coming and going as they need to throughout the day. They come to class and they do their work without much external structuring or prompts. The other class I'm observing is a transition classroom where the stuents are out of the academic lessons phase and into the life lessons phase; this is where they learn to be independent and self-sufficient.
Therefore, the issues becomes a quesiton of how to create a Teacher Work Sample with pre-, during, and post-assessments within these untraditional settings. Do I interrupt their set of processes and force them into a learning model that they've either moved past, or that does not work well for them? How do I pick a subject when all the students are doing individualized programs that are customized to each of them? It's not a question of IF I'll be able to do this successfully. It's a question of HOW I'm gonna be able to pull this off.

09 March 2010

Technology At Its Best?

[Written 8 March 2010]

I woke up this morning with an annoying technological hiccup. For some strange reason, my district email was no longer being "pushed" to my iPhone. I knew this was bad so I went to my desktop to try and log in to my work email through the website. Since this did not work, my assumption, or rather my hope, was that my password needed to be reset, but I just reset it recently. When I finally got into a classroom and tried to login on a district computer, I was told that my account had been disabled. When I called the tech department, they told me that the high school deleted me from their system. Hurray for efficiency! So my first day is already screwy, and I have to wait for a work order to tell the tech department to fix this problem. This was all before 8 o'clock this morning.

As of 12:30pm, I was able to log into the district system, I was not able to access my email since I was deleted at 6:30 this morning. At around 1pm I was able to access my email, however, ALL of my pld info was GONE! So, now, once again, I have to wait for the tech department to fix it. I am never without a backup to my backup. It turns out that EVERYTHING is gone and unrecoverable. My emails, my calendar, everything. I have a backup calendar that I can repopulate it through my google calendar, but it is a headache, and my emails are all gone as well. This is not a good thing. usually, it is the exchange server that acts as a backup, but it deleted all my info, and I've had to scramble a bit to recover it all myself. This is why I am NEVER without a backup to my backup plan.

04 March 2010

Hurry Up and Wait!!

Waiting is a horrible trick that the inventor of time does to us all. It is Thursday morning and tomorrow is my last day as a Special Education Paraeducator. On Monday I start my student teaching internship, and in June I will be graduated with my MA ED in Special Education. It has been a long four years, but it has gone by quickly; from finishing my undergrad degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA to doing this two-year Master's program through the University of Phoenix. It has been a long road, but this last week has felt like it has dragged to a halt. If you believe that Hell is your own personal torment for eternity, then mine would be to have to sit and wait... and wait... and wait...

Am I excited to start my student teaching internship? No. For the first couple days and weeks, I am not doing much more than watching, observing, and waiting for my chance to jump into the fold. I am ready to get into it, and get things moving. This is my personality. One of my favorite things growing up was playing football, but I hated the start of the season. We didn't use pads, we didn't hit each other, there were no plays to learn or strategies discussed. All we did was run, and run, and talk about logistics. I'm ready to get things crackin' on the first days!

However, I know that things do not work this way. I read in my text that teachers who do course work on the first days of class have a harder time maintaining classroom management than teachers who take the first days to go over classroom rules, policies, etc... I understand this notion, and the class runs smoother, when the expectations are clear and understood; when behavior is not a distracting factor, then learning can occur. However, waiting is still my own personal Hell. It is painful, but necessary. So on Monday, I start my 12 weeks of student teaching, but it is still a process, and I will still have to wait. Time is a great equalizer; we are ALL subject to it.

26 February 2010

Letter From State Superintendent Randy Dorn

On February 23rd, partnership4learning.org posted a newsletter with a letter written by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. In this letter he says things like, "We know Washington is starting behind many other states, but we are up to the task the Obama Administration has set before us and believe that, with the political will and several critical reforms, our state could lead the nation with an education system that prepares all its students for the challenges of tomorrow." What he is referring to is the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant presented by the Obama Administration.

Now, I am not going to take the time in this post to express my political agenda, or look at this politically. I am from the school of thought that politics hinder the education process. I think we need to empower the teachers, and give them a clear ending point, and help them get there. Supt. Dorn does state a few elements that the grant/legislation will need in order to have success. The one I want to point out here is:

A significant portion of the teacher and principal evaluation system must include multiple measures of student academic growth. If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, we need to make sure teachers and principals are first, supported to address the diverse learning needs in our schools and classrooms, and then, evaluated and held accountable for the academic growth of every student.

He goes on to explain a plan that offers support to teachers whose students to not reach the state standards as opposed to reducing their funding. He offers up a safety net that can benefit tenured and starting teachers alike. If you do not meet the standard you are given support, and if you do not succeed three years after that with the added support and training, then you are just not cut out to be a teacher. Clear and concise. I knew there was a reason I voted for this guy. Let's give teachers MORE training when they struggle, not LESS funding. Dorn says, "We need to make sure we are giving all teachers and principals the opportunity to grow and providing those who do not, an expedient way out of our schools." Amen.

Here's the link to the letter, and be sure to check out http://www.partnership4learning.org/

14 February 2010

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The light at the end of my tunnel is my Master's Degree.  I've been moving towards this finish for a little over four years solid.  My hope is that I'm ready for the end of this chapter of my life.  However, I trust that the light at the end of this tunnel is not a train that will level me.  I have had three friends who have finished their teacher certification only to not be teaching within three years after wards.  I don't want to go off into a tantrum about teacher pay, but I think a bit of a discussion on the process is necessary. 

I feel like I could jump into a classroom and I'd be able to survive.  Student teaching should be a sink-or-swim system with a mentor teacher in the same department.  That may sound harsh, but a do-or-die scenario with a paycheck doesn't bring this same ominous hype of needing to succeed and survive after spending three months unpaid in someone else's room.  You have their classroom management and not your own.  You have their organization, and not your own.  Then, after three months of being unpaid and coddled, you are thrown into the lion's den and expected to accomplish your caseload, classroom management, organization, etc... on your own. 

I FEEL ready... I just HOPE that I am. 

27 January 2010

"He Just Responds to You"

"He just responds to you." This statement is a cop-out to me. For some reason, I get a different response/reaction from the students I work with than anyone else does. Is it simply because some students respond differently to women and men? No, I don't believe that. Is it that men relate differently to children than men? No, because I've seen exceptions on both sides. What I DO think is that I do not take anyone's student evaluation as completely true. The Scientific Method teaches us that any phenomenon can be repeated. If it cannot be repeated, however, it is not true; not to me anyway.

One example is from a student I worked with at a junior high school acouple years ago. He was diagnosed with Angelman's Syndrome and was new to that junior high. We were told by his previous school that when another student in the area has a meltdown, this particular student (we'll call him Trevor) would get upset. In this classroom, we had several students who would have meltdowns, and Trevor would run to a corner and either cross his arms with a pouting face or he would have a small tantrum where he would need to be consoled. Even though this behavior was observable, why did I have a hard time believing that it was true? Here's why: When staff would eat lunches with the students, if anyone did anything funny, or to get a reaction, Trevor would try to mimic their behavior in order to get some attention as well. Back in the classroom situation, when another student was having a meltdown, Trevor tried again to steal some of that attention when I was sitting and working with him. I firmly told him to sit back down, which he did laughingly. He was attention-seeking, and it was a disruption in a classroom when others NEEDED added attention.

A more current example is a student I work with now who has Cerebral Palsy coupled with Mental Retardation. I was told that he has a short attention span. I was told this because he would not sit and listen to someone read him a story; one of his learning objectives is to perform a task for 5 minutes. The students I've experienced with attention issues have trouble even focusing on anything, even activities that they want to do, or enjoy doing. I do not believe that this student has an attention-span issue. Instead, I think he has learned ways of getting out of what he doesn't want to do, and that he has a restless body. This student (Let's call him Jon) will sit and listen to me read him books for the entire Sustained Silent Reading period (30 minutes). Other teachers have trouble getting past 3 pages with him. Why is this? Is my voice just that soothing? Does he just respond to me? No. If you believe a student has attention issues, why would you try to get him to focus with extra stimulation? I watch the other teacher try to read to him, and they do it with other books all around him on the table, and after a coulple pages, he either grabs a new book, or starts turning the pages in the one being read to him. This is why I was told he has a short attention span.

I worked with a student once who had to make a strong conscious effort to be still for 5 seconds. When I read to Jon, his table is clear of distractions, and I do not let him grab the books from me. This is who he will sit and listen to me read for as long as I am willing to read to him. My approach to students can be different; does that make others wrong, or me wrong? Of course not! There is nothing special about me or my methods. I just want to make sure what I was told about a student is true. Telling me that a student "just responds" to me is a cop-out for an inability to being a creative educator; at least it is in my book.

13 January 2010

Classroom Focus: Mr. B's Room is a Room for Improvement

One of the things that continually crosses my mind is how I will want to eventually run my own classroom. When I do get my own classroom; whether a self-contined oneor a resource classroom; I will want to focus to be on Continually Raising the Bar. This can be simply interpretted to mean that the expectations will constantly be raised, or one can categorize me as one who is succes-driven. At it's most basic, this mindset is meant to stave off stagnation and monotony; stagnation in student growth and development, and monotony in the tasks and excercises done every day.

The need for this to be a focus became apparent to me when I was a substitute paraeducation teacher in the Lake Washington School District. I worked in many different classrooms, and had the same scenario happen time and time again. The teacher tells me to have the student perform a task, or set of tasks, and without knowing the process or the presentl levels of the student, i ask them to show me what they can do. The student either performs the task independently, or they complete more of the task than they normally do on a regular basis. I would then witness the teacher's surprise and celebration as she watched the bar of expectation for this student being raised.

How does this happen? How do SpEd teachers not see the growth of their students? How do many SpEd students get coddled through a school, then have a jump in their ability when they go to the higher levels or change schools? Much like the students we work with, we come to rely on our routines and patterns. However, when we get caught in a rut of routine, it is the students that plateau.

There is something to be said of the business world, in that there is an insatiable thirst to achieve more, and do more, and to get more. I have often been told that I work myself out of a job. I take that comment as a compliment, because it means that I am helping my students gain independence and adaptive skills. It is the goal of educators to not be needed. We should move from being hands-on, to hands-off, to merely present.

one of the positive things i took away from my step-dad was that after every fooball game; win or lose; he would ask me, "what's the biggest room in the world," and the answer is The Room for Improvement.

11 January 2010

Loopholes and Technicalities

I've been waiting since August of 2009 to find out where I am going to be able to do my student teaching at this Spring. I sent in my request to do it in the Lake Washington School District (where I worked for 3 years), and in the Tahoma School District (where I grew up, and am currently working). I received a call before the CHristmas break where my University of Phoenix advisor told me that the LWSD rejected my request to do my internship there. The reason I was given whas that I am technically considered an out-of-state student since I am attending the UoPhoenix; this district is already having trouble placing it's in-state student teachers. It's upsetting, because I already created a placement for myself before going throught he university and the district.

Now, this is a large district in Western Washington with two 3A and two 4A high school. I think that my name simply came through the system as a number, and I was passed over like anyone else. I do not mean this in an arrogant way; I worked hard when I was there, worked with very difficult students; the teachers, admin, and district knows who I am. However que sera sera. As much as I did like working in that district, when it's as big as it is, it can make you feel like a cog in a machine. In this instance, that's how I felt.