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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Tonight I compiled data on one of my students for his IEP meeting tomorrow. I have looked over his academic goals and data and I know I want to refine the focus of them in order to work more intentionally on them and progress him more quickly.
I looked at his behavior data too. What struck me about that data is how well he has been doing over the last two weeks as he has been taking his meds. It is pretty phenomenal, the difference. Cursing has gone from a daily occurrence to nonexistent. Instead of being off task, angry and hurtful towards others often he is helping adults, offering to support his peers so that they can be successful and completing the majority of tasks (both academic and non-academic) on time.
I then got the idea to insert the same timeframe of data for another student whose placement in my program I have questioned all year. The results seem clear to me. This student has hardly dropped below 70% in positive points. I feel like this is undeniable evidence that this student should NOT be in a federal 3 setting.
I looked at data from all of my students and there’s been a lot of progress for most of them this year except for one. His data is very discrepant from the others and I’m starting to think maybe its not working for him in this setting.
You’re missing out if you don’t know kids like mine.
And I don’t mean “know” in the sense that they go to school where you teach or in the sense that you see them playing at a park by your home. I mean KNOW. Like spend time with them. Through the good and the bad.
You are missing out if you don’t get to love someone like my students.
Just reflecting this morning on how this week has been and how warm and full my heart has felt with my students. In a week that is typically so hard to get through because it’s the one right before break I have enjoyed my class so much. I am grateful to be able to teach them and learn from them.
It all takes time but the time is so worth it.