it’s august 


Summer is almost over. I feel the pressure of the coming year. At times I am excited and so ready to get in there and start setting things up and organizing. Other times I am reminded that these lazy hazy days of hanging out with the cats, reading, biking, staying up as late as we want…all of it will end soon and my time will be controlled by work. At least I will be done with my own classes. This last class I have had to take this summer, while very interesting and useful, is killing me. I am hating having any of my time controlled by reading and writing papers for class. But I am in week 5 of an 8 week class. Almost there. 


I have been working on my schedule for the year going on the little bit of information I have. So far it is an ok schedule. I have also been trying to get a head start on lesson planning so that when the school year comes I might not have to stay so late all the time or spend my entire weekend writing lessons. 


I am excited to go back. See my kids. Meet the new ones. Start the year in a familiar room with so much more knowledge under my belt. But I am not counting down the days as I did to summer. Instead I occasionally glance at the calendar and see that the time is getting shorter. For the next few weeks it will be a fight between my driven self who wants to prepare and have everything start perfectly and my summer self who wants to do whatever whenever and not be held to a schedule.


Yay for August.

appropriate education 


I just read an article entitled, “Am I providing ‘appropriate’ special education” * and this is something I have been thinking about often lately. As I worked with my mentor and team of mentors my work with my students improved and I moved away from struggling with behavior all of the time and moved towards teaching. For the first time in my two years teaching students with EBD I started to actually teach, to follow units of study and observe growth and learning in my students. I was most successful in the area of math. I found units that focused around first grade standards, bought the units and taught them. I began to create my own units on the Civil Rights Movement and its ties to what is happening in our communities today. But literacy, what I feel may well be THE most important thing I should be teaching, was something I continued to feel completely lost with. 
I had many of the same students for two years and hardly focused on developing their reading skills. This feels shameful to me. I try to comfort myself in realizing that you can not teach something that you have very little skill in teaching but sometimes I feel that is a very weak excuse. 


Last week I was trained in the districts new literacy curriculum. It felt like such a relief to me to see a curriculum that walks through reading instruction, phonics and writing and has it all laid out so clearly. I learned that I will receive all three grade levels of the curriculum that I will be teaching next year which was also very exciting. This will be the first full curriculum I will receive that I have been trained in for elementary school teaching. Part of what was so hard about teaching literacy over the last two years was that I had a ton of (what felt like random) books to access to teach various aspects of literacy but none of them seemed to walk me through exactly how to teach the scope and sequence of learning to read and write. This new curriculum makes me feel like I have a path to follow and one that it is safe for me to stray off of a bit here and there, including things of importance to my specific students while still progressing us through. I have started getting excited and telling myself that my goal will be to progress ALL of my students AT LEAST two reading levels on the F&P (Fountas and Pinnell) next year. Perhaps this does not sound very challenging to some or rigorous to others but if I move my students at least two F&P levels up next year I will have taught more literacy in one year than I have my entire time teaching elementary school students. That will feel miraculous to me!

Returning to the article though, I think about the words ‘appropriate’ and ‘rigor’ and I feel overwhelmed. In the article as in every place special education and differentiation are discussed it is stressed that we teach first to the grade level of the students and then differentiate during our small group instruction. Okay. Well, what if you have 2 kindergarten students, 3 second grade students and 2 first grade students and that is your entire class. Which grade level do you teach when you stand up in front of them and teach to the whole class? And don’t tell me that I should only teach to small groups all day because it was amazing to see my class work together and learn together when we finally got to that point last year and I see way too much value in that to give it up. 

So, seriously, how do others who have a self-contained classroom with multiple grade levels within the class teach to EVERY grade level? Perhaps I am missing some magic answer. 


Yes, inclusion can be a very helpful way to have this happen. Ideally each student would attend their mainstream class for the large group instruction time and then return to my room to learn their differentiated material in small groups. Yes, that seems to be the perfect picture of how this should work. But then you are faced with reality: students who can not handle their mainstream classrooms and a lack of enough adult support to go with all students into their mainstream classrooms and support them while also supporting those who may be having a crisis back in the self-contained classroom. OH and one of the big ones, different grade levels teach academic content at very different times that NEVER match up to my students’ schedule.

So, unless someone comes up with the magic answer, my plan for next year is to teach the kindergarten literacy curriculum to my entire class. I chose this grade level because the students I know I will have next year all read at a pre-A level. Why not start from the ground up? And then as my students make progress I will look at each one’s grade level material and begin to weave that into our daily small group lessons. But I just can’t fathom sitting down with my second grade students who I have taught the last two years and presenting them with work that is far beyond their ability level and have them run out of the room or tear it up because they know they are unable to do it. I would much rather build their confidence so that I can present that work eventually. So, will I be providing appropriate and rigorous lessons? I really hope so. But like Dr. Pamela Hill says at the end of the article, 

“We must also ask questions of ourselves. Are we challenging our students? How much growth are they exhibiting? Are we providing the most appropriate program for each of our students? 

Be vulnerable and be willing to change. This is what we ask of our students. We need to model that we are willing to do the same.”

At least I know that I have got that part down.

* I am not sure why I can not get the link to the article inserted above but here it is: 

http://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/am-i-providing-appropriate-special-education/education 

another year gone by

Another school year under my belt. Another summer break to relax, rejuvenate and prepare for the coming year. 

My mentor sent me an end of the year email and reminded me just how far I have come this year. When I responded to him I thanked him for all he has done for me. I know that without the experience of working with a mentor team and without him leading the group I very well could have walked away from teaching. Because that is what I was close to doing back in the fall. 


My last meeting with the mentor team was an opportunity to reflect on the growth I made this year as a teacher. I am proud of how far I have come. I am starting to feel like a competent teacher, the way I felt when I taught early childhood ASD. 



The last couple of days with students had their ups and downs but I tried to stay positive and remember I wanted to enjoy my students. We had some dance parties, cleaned the room, played math games, took a nature hike (and saw a snake!), watched movies and enjoyed one another. 


Yesterday I packed up Room 262, where I had started the year, and moved things down to my current room, 130. Next year, for the first time in two years I will start in the same classroom I’m ending in. 

singing test

The end of the year is crazy and hard. We are all tired. Students want to be done but at the same time worry about summer and its lack of structure and sometimes lack of consistent meals. 

For me its been a bit of a roller coaster these last few days. A couple of my students regressed and have decided that climbing out the windows is something we do again. One of my students went out into the woods instead of transitioning back to my room. When found he told the adult he was “looking for a creature to hit in the mouth.”

Its frustrating to have fun things planned such as making memory books and watching movies and to still have students running from your classroom or getting angry and tearing things up. But I know that its really because of all their mixed feelings about the end of the year that they can’t just sit and enjoy things. 

Today one of my students was particularly angry. Pretty much everything he said was hurtful or just plain negative. He threw his fidget spinner (those damn things!) across the room at one point, tipped his chair over a few times and got in a fight with almost everyone. I even tried having him talk to his mom but he also yelled at her. 

At the beginning of the day though he asked if we could have a “singing test” today. I have no idea what he is thinking about. But he talked about having a singing test all day. At the end of the day I told him it was time for him to sing. He got a marker from his desk held it like a microphone and told me what song he wanted. I found the instrumental version and he lit up. He danced and rapped, full of happiness. Then all of the students requested 7 Years. I put on the clean version and they all sang the whole song (mumbling through the parts they didn’t know). 

I love these kids. I might need a break but I do love them and I am going to miss them!

the moment that made today worth it

Or the two moments…

The best thing that happened today was while we were watching the Odd Squad movie. My kindergarten student came back from his mainstream class and after about 10 minutes new characters came on the screen. “They’re from Odd Squad!!”, he said repeatedly. Finally I said, “This is Odd Squad!” and he said,”I thought it was Spiderman!”.

Second best thing…?

Watching my kids dance ❤️❤️ I wish I could share the video.

compassion 


I was listening to a podcast the other morning on the way to work and I had to keep pausing it as I tried to write down what I was hearing. It was a conversation between Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg. Sharon was talking about empathy and compassion.

Sharon stated that empathy is the resonance, the sensing of stress or difficulty and it can lead to many different things. Empathy can lead to overwhelm or blame but it can also lead to compassion. 

She said that compassion implies a stability of attention, that we are not going to fall into it or get overwhelmed. It implies a balance of caring for self and other. Compassion implies wisdom or intelligence understanding that its not all up to me. 

I was really struck by this conversation and I feel that it strongly resonates with the work we do as teachers. There are the days that empathy overwhelms me. The days when I throw my hands up, have no idea how to proceed and begin to shut down because the job seems impossible. I know that many people I work with have most likely gone down this same path. This can happen for so many reasons but primarily I think it is happening because many walls have been put up based on fears and avoidance. It is not that the teachers do not have empathy for their students, its that they lack the mental health background needed to meet these students’ needs. On top of that their perceptions of the children and of what is happening around them are clouded by biases that they are not yet even able to see or admit to. So now we have these adults who are acting out of empathy as well as misunderstanding and lack of specific skills. This does not mean they are not good teachers. It does not mean they don’t care for their students but it does mean that they are overwhelmed, often blaming others and having a really difficult time seeing and admitting to their own racial biases and exploring how those biases are effecting what they do from moment to moment.

I think about myself and my own practice. I know that I want to explore my own biases. I want to do better by my students and I know that it is not about them and their need to change but about me and how I show up each moment. Am I willing to open myself up? 

I also know that when compassion arises from my empathy that is when I am in the flow. That is when I use reflective listening, acknowledging students’ feelings. Its when I stop trying to control and instead I begin to co-regulate with a student. Its when I let go of everything else, when I trust that my colleagues have the other students and I commit myself to the moment with the one student in crisis. 

I wish I lived in compassion more often. It feels amazing to be there and to see your impact on a student. I know other teachers feel compassion. I think our school needs to find a way to tap into our moments of compassion and use that as a way to bring us all together, as a way for us to begin to open up and be vulnerable and start critically examining why we as individuals and as a community are not living in compassion more of our days.

evidence based

Tonight I went to a gallery walk of evidence based practices for autism. I went to support a coworker and ended up getting some ideas for my classroom and seeing ASD and ECSE people I had not seen in some time. Overall it was a pretty good event. It made me think though. There is nothing like this for our district’s EBD programming. 


When I taught early childhood autism I felt like I was part of a community that extended beyond my team at my school. I received updates through an ECSE listserv as well as through an ASD one. I continue to receive those emails but nothing has been added since I changed what disability category I teach. This really frustrates me. And perhaps enough for me to do something about it next year. EBD teachers should know one another. They should have opportunities to get together, share ideas, share stories and provide support for one another. This has been coming up often for me. Mabye now that I’m done with school its time to take a step towards making it happen.

Some ideas from the night-



Five Point Scale calming bottles. These were a make and take so I made and took. I think I might make these with my students near the beginning of the year next year. 



I also spoke with an occupational therapist who is doing groups with the zones of regulation. She inspired me to spend some time this summer planning to implement zones in my classroom next year.



A Zones book is their first lesson paired with video clips of characters representing the different zones..


My Many Colored Days

Finally I spoke with a guy who works with middle school students and he had an emotional check-in/check out sheet that I think I could tweak to meet my students’ needs.


He also uses Greatness Receipts which are a lot like brag tags. I think my students would enjoy brag tags. He lets them put all Greatness Receipts earned into a drawing at the end of the week to win a prize. I’ve always been interested in trying out the brag tags. Maybe next year is the year.