Looking Ready, Not Feeling Ready

I finally got my room in good shape for Back-to-School night this past Thursday. I saw a couple of parents and found out about some new kiddos we'll have on the caseload. Here are some pictures:

"Stepping to Success" is the theme of my room. I was hoping it would appeal to both kindergartners and eighth graders.

This is my "good work" bulletin board. I'm very proud of it :)

This is my desk. That's about as clean as it's going to get (and it's not even that clean!). Soon, the entire frame around my computer monitor will be buried in post-it reminders!!

This year, I am sharing my room with our Occupational Therapist who's in two days a week (that's her desk, behind mine). She'll be a fun "roommate"!

This is a small, almost closed in corner (see the green bean bag peeking out from behind the shelf?) that I use for a variety of things. It's namely for one of our students that often throws kicking/screaming/biting tantrums. It's also for one of our students to have some privacy as he readjusts his prosthetic leg. If nothing dramatic is happening over there, students can have a cozy place to read.

That's it from me. Have a happy long weekend everyone!

Road Rage

I have a long commute to school each way. It's about 53 miles one way and it takes me about an hour. It's been a blissful summer not having to spend that much time in the car each day! But with in-services in full swing, I've had to get back into the commuter routine.

Yesterday, as I was entering the ramp to merge onto the freeway, I had a tailgater following me. It's difficult not to get irritated with tailgaters. I can handle drivers who cut me off (I doubt they sit there and wait for me to get as close as I can before veering in front of me). I can handle those annoying drivers who are going too fast and who are weaving in and out of traffic (I can give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe his wife is in labor, maybe he's trying to catch his flight on time, maybe his hair is on fire). But tailgating is deliberate, purposeful, and just plain rude. Especially when I'm going the speed limit.

It occurred to me yesterday that what my little Corolla really needs is a backwards honk. Every car's horn faces forward. I've never heard of car where you can easily honk at the person behind you. It would be fairly easy to do a makeshift one. I could strap a backwards-facing bullhorn to the top of my car. I could find a way to program it with a super loud honk, or a really loud voice saying "GET OFF MY TAIL"

But the most effective way to get rid of a tailgater is to ease off the gas pedal and start going one or two miles slower. Boy that makes them mad. They get into the other lane pretty quickly after that. I guess it's not a very nice thing to do on my part, but it does get rid of them!

When "Sorry" Isn't Enough

Well, it's the first upset parent of the school year, and the school hasn't officially started! I've dealt with upset parents in the past, but it's never been my fault. It's been more like "We're devastated our child is deaf and we're taking out our grief on you". I can handle that.

But this time I can't help wondering if I am somehow to blame.

We have an incoming student who has recently been diagnosed with Aspergers. I went to his IEP at the end of last year, and the decision was to place him in Ms. A's room with a full time aide because another student (who has Autism) will be in that class too with his own full time aide. It was originally hoped that the incoming student could be weaned off of his aide so that the other aide already in there could handle both of them. This was our principal's idea, and I knew it was a bad idea at the time, but it's difficult to argue with someone who's main concern is budget issues.

Fast forward to August, and everyone is highly anxious about this situation. Poor Ms. A who was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of having two other adults in the room and two children who had very high needs. Both of the aides were nervous and thought it would be too much for everyone to handle. I'm a nervous wreck because it's my job to oversee the "weaning" process and make sure that by a certain date, our principal will only have to fund one aide for two kids.

So we convinced our principal that it would be in everyone's best interest to move the incoming student to a different classroom. Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief...

...except for the student's parents. And they have a right to be upset. Their son had already met Ms. A, and the parents had been talking up Ms. A. He had seen his name and birthday on the classroom wall. And now we're throwing a wrench into all of this, introducing unwelcome change.

I tried explaining that his new classroom teacher is fantastic (which she is), but it was hard to reassure his mother. I can't help thinking that if only we had made the more sensible decision at the end of last year, all of this unpleasantness could have been avoided. If only I had veto power over the principal--if ever I could choose a superpower, that would be it!!

Never Enough Time

Today marked the first day of Round Two of in-services. It was difficult being in school and not being able to work in my classroom. I thought I had been proactive about it by going in for a couple of days over the summer to set things up, but it turns out that a teacher's work is never done. I've been well aware of this fact for quite a while so I'm not sure why I thought I could get everything done before in-services started.

I've decided on a theme for my room. I found some fun border with cartoon-looking sneakers around it, so I'm going to expand on that with shoe and foot cutouts to make a "Steps to Success" room. I thought it would be appealing to my kindergartners as well as to my eighth graders. Anyway, I hope to post pictures of my room sometime this weekend after Back-to-School night.

Wow... I can't believe it's this time of year already!

Back to School Numbers Meme

I was recently tagged by Gina at Where's the sun to complete this Meme! The perfect post as I spend some time in New York with my sister and brother-in-law...

Back To School Meme
Completed in Reference to (Self or Child): Self

1. Number of years teaching or your eldest child has been in school (k through college) ? 3

2. Amount approximately spent on Back to School Items so far including clothes? $100.00

3. Number of Days until school starts in your area (+ or - if it’s started)? 6 weekdays till kids are in the building!

4. Approximate distance school is from your house? 53 miles

5. Amount of time it will take you or your child to get to school from your house by car or bus? 60 minutes

6. The actual or approximate number of students in the class you teach or your oldest child’s class? 16 on my caseload

7. The number of classes in your grade or your oldest child’s grade level? 2 Resource Rooms

8. The price to buy a full student lunch at school? No idea!!

9. Number of schools in your district? 57

10. Early dismissal days already built into the calendar? 6

11. Price paid for the most expensive back to school item so far? $30 for a visual timer

12. Time school day ends? 3:30
According to the rules, I now need to tag as many sites as my lowest number. So I'd like to tag these three teachers:

I Heart Ice Cream

I've just completed day two of our three day training: Capturing Kids Hearts. I wasn't really sure what to expect. They say that by the end of it, we'll have a more safe and caring school atmosphere among staff and among students.

Day one was best summed up as: Dr. Phil meets Joel Osteen; or, in other words: preachy pop psychology. There were also some team-building exercises which, though corny, did make me appreciate my colleagues as people and not just teachers.

Day two was about teaching our students to treat each other with respect and kindness. It was about empowering them to self-manage instead of playing the policeman. A lot more people were more comfortable with today's agenda because it took the focus off of ourselves and onto our students.

Not sure what Day three will bring...

Even if this training had turned out to be completely horrible, we still would have had the excellent food. We've had breakfast, lunch, and two snacks catered to us daily. Yesterday, they put out a make-your-own-sundae bar that caused me to chuck my dinner plate into the trash and knock people down as I ran to get in line for ice cream! Well, not literally, but I did think about it...

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry....

...for tomorrow, school starts!

Gymnastics in the Classroom

As I was watching the U.S gymnastics finals on floor in the Olympics the other night, I couldn't help but think about education.

As the girls did their floor routines, the announcers were dead silent until a mistake was made. Then they pounced all over it. They made comments like:

"And she steps out. Out of bounds. Another tenth of a point"

"And that, that is a disaster of epic proportions" [said after a fall]

"This is shocking"

"That's out of bounds"

"Because of that, a major deduction"

"Well, besides the misstep, she did a good job"

Now, I fully understand that this is the nature of competitive gymnastics, and I also know that the girls don't hear those comments as they are doing their routines. Nevertheless, it got me to thinking about how we talk to our students. As a special education teacher, I can tell that some of my students (usually those who qualified later in elementary school) have internalized negative comments to the point where they don't believe that they are capable of doing anything right in the classroom. Some don't know the feeling of accomplishment and success. No wonder they have such low self-confidence and self-esteem.

I think that my role as a special educator is to provide opportunities for my students to have success (and thus build up a CAN-do attitude) without lowering expectations. Success is cheapened if the task is too easy.

Tall Glass of Lemonade

In the beginning, we interviewed two applicants for the other Resource Room position. We thought both would do a pretty good job, but I was definitely leaning towards teacher number one. Our principal hired teacher number two, and I was a little disappointed, but got to work at establishing a good relationship with her. Then teacher number two accepted a different position.

Competition for teaching jobs in Michigan is really, really tough, so I didn't think we would have too much trouble hiring someone else. I wasn't looking forward to spending my time re-interviewing people, but oh well, right? But it turns out all my worry was for nothing, because teacher number one was still available to work, so we hired her!!!! Yay! I got my way after all!

I just love it when things work out!

My Acceptance Speech

When I started this blog in 2006, it was just a fun way to keep in touch with my family. My other purpose was to chronicle my adventures as a young teacher so that when I am old and gray I can remember what it was to be a twenty-something educator. And whaddayaknow? I discovered a whole cyber-world of other teachers out there who needed a place to vent, ramble, and reflect. Thank you, roller coaster teacher, for passing along this award to me!

I will spread the love by sharing the award with the following bloggers that I have come to admire and who I enjoy reading:

Miss Teacha at Confessions from the couch

The teacher and mother at Where's the sun?

The very positive high school teacher at Cal Teacher Blog

Mark Pullen (who makes me think) at The Elementary Educator

Trying to Make Lemonade

Two days, two phone calls, two opportunities to practice self-control in the panic department.

On the first day, my new colleague (the newly hired other Resource Room teacher) called me to say that she had accepted another position "closer to home" and "with better pay". I appreciate her honesty, and I surely can't blame her for choosing the higher salary, but the "closer to home" part is highly ironic: I have a 55 minute commute; she had a 10 minute commute. Hmmm....

On the second day, our dearly beloved school psychologist called to say that he was retiring. Although he was part time, he was the oil that kept our special education machine running. He will be hard to replace, not only because he was so fantastic, but because school psychologists are a RARE species in Michigan. We may very well be out of compliance soon after school starts if we don't find someone pronto.

Relational is Foundational

I go back to school on the 19th. The kids don't come back until after Labor Day, but we teachers have two weeks (seven days) of professional development beforehand. The first week, our district is shelling out 40 grand for us to attend Capturing Kids Hearts. At first, I (along with several others) balked at the idea. I mean, if you don't know how to care about kids, how did you get hired as a teacher in the first place? Isn't relating to children kind of foundational in your job as an elementary educator?

But then I thought about our staff and our decidedly negative school atmosphere, and I've come to the conclusion that the in-service may not be such a bad idea. If it helps just one teacher recognize that first graders do not understand biting sarcasm, then it might be worth the money.

I have already decided that this next year, my room (which is visited frequently by special education aides and other special ed. team members) will be a "no principal-bashing or others-bashing" zone. I mean, I realize that people need to vent when things are unfair or just plain ridiculous (myself included), but instead of focusing on what we cannot change, we need to focus on what we CAN do to make our school a less toxic environment, and to help each of our students succeed.

The Dread

Disclaimer: I absolutely love teaching and I am very thankful to have a job :)

The Dread is something that I have been fighting every year since I've been a real teacher. You'd think, going into year 4, that I would have a better handle on it this time, but I really don't.

For all of you non-teachers out there, The Dread is the feeling you get when back-to-school is imminent. It is not unlike the sword of Damocles hanging over your head. Or maybe it's an evil shadow blocking out the sun. It's whatever approaching doom looks like.

After my first year of teaching, The Dread came upon me about five weeks before back-to-school, about halfway through. It has been an exercise in willpower to keep The Dread at bay for as long as I can. This year, it seems to have hit about 2 or 3 weeks before back-to-school.

The thing about The Dread is that if you're not careful it can absolutely ruin what vacation you have left. It's all too easy to pout and sigh, and think of the complete loss of freedom right around the corner.

I'm trying to be pro-active about it this year. I'm going to cram in so much fun in the next two weeks that I will literally rupture the time-space continuum. I have so many novels to read, TV and movies to watch, crafts to make, sleeping in to do, and yummy things to bake that I just might implode from all the fun.

Meanwhile, here are moms in August everywhere...

Some Statistics For You

Probability of getting struck by lightning: 1 in 600,000

Probability of winning the lottery: 1 in 18,000,000

Probability of a student you taught 3000 miles away in California moving to Michigan and ending up at your school on your caseload: I have no idea. But it just happened to me today!!!

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