And I only passed out once from holding my breath and biting my tongue

Yesterday morning I had an IEP that I had been just dreading. (An IEP is a yearly meeting for a student with special needs where progress on goals, results of current testing, and setting future goals are discussed). Do you remember my sixth grader with Down Syndrome who sometimes has "accidents" at school? It was for her. Let's call her Greta this time.
 
The meeting had potential to be very contentious as we were recommending a different school/program for her and the parents are adamant about keeping her here. We only have a resource room here, not a self-contained classroom for the mild to moderately cognitively impaired (which is what she needs). She's been getting by with a full time one-on-one aide, but next year with four different teachers... she would end up full time in the Resource room! And that's good for nobody.
 
I hate leading the kind of meeting where you know at the outset that no one is going to get along. For days and weeks I had imagined an impassioned screaming match, with upset parents poking us in the eyes with pens or paperclips. I wanted to be sensitive to these parents: they are still in a kind of denial about what Greta can and can't do and I haven't felt like they've come to grips with the kind of education her future necessitates. You know... like they want us to make sure that she knows her science and history when she clearly has bigger fish to fry. Functional skills, anyone?
 
So there I was yesterday morning, feeling like I'm walking some kind of tightrope: trying to keep the peace, stay calm, stay objective. I wanted so badly to communicate to the parents that we care a great deal about Greta and aren't just trying to kick her out, and at the same time be assertive about what the team feels is the best placement for her.
 
In fact the meeting didn't turn out to be the World War III that I had imagined. Yes, the mom threw a silent temper tantrum (thinned lips, head down, brows furrowed, and body turned away from us). Yes, the parents made not so subtle accusations against me as well as the classroom teacher. Yes, there were tears from mom. Yes, there was shocking information presented at the meeting (such as she won't be able to get a high school diploma in the state of Michigan because she wouldn't be able to pass Algebra II and Chemistry). Yes, it was VERY tense when the principal explained that the only way they would be able to keep Greta here is if they took us to court. But ultimately? The parents agreed to go visit some different programs next week. A victory... of sorts.
 
So after a TWO HOUR meeting (a personal record in my four years of holding IEPs), we adjourned.
 
The mom pulled me aside afterwards and said: "I really appreciate the way you handled the meeting. You've grown a lot too this year".
 
Wait a minute... was that even a compliment?!?

On Becoming a Professional Hoop-Jumper

One of the reasons why I am still an untenured teacher after four years of teaching is because we move around a lot. I was certified in Michigan, then taught in California for 2 years; I've been teaching in Michigan these past two years, and next I'll be teaching in Texas for who knows how long?
 
You might be able to imagine that it caused some major headaches (and even tears!) when I started teaching in California and had to deal with countless hoops to jump through to get my California teaching license. I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say that two years wasn't anywhere CLOSE to enough time to complete the endless list of requirements.
 
But at least California let me start teaching before I started hoop-jumping. I just got off the phone with human resources in Texas they were all like: "Oh by the way, you can't step foot in your classroom until you get your Texas teacher certification". What??? Why wasn't I informed of this earlier? You mean I can't start hoop-jumping once I get there? The lady hinted that I might want to get that started soon since it can be a long process.
 
I am so sick of each state having such a GOD COMPLEX. Here's been my experience.
 
CA: "We are soooo special. We really can't trust Michigan to do a good job training their teachers. I mean, we have English Language Learners here. What's that, Sarah? Your Hearing Impairment certification equips you to teach ELL as a language acquisition expert? I don't understand. You had better just do what we say. Also, you have to go through a rigorous mentoring program called BTSA (don't worry, it will only take 80 hours on top of your day job to complete!). Because as a Michigan teacher, you just might strangle your students, and we want to make sure you're not doing that. Because we are the best state ever and we have to make sure we weed out those whackos from the midwest...."
 
TX: "No, no, no, you can't even start being a teacher out here until we give you a special piece of paper saying that you are qualified. You already have piece of paper from Michigan, you say? Well, you probably just colored a coloring book in college to get that. Or maybe you sang a song. In either case, we need to make sure you pass our basic skills test, for one thing. Michigan basic skills are SOOO much different than Texas basic skills. I mean, can you even add? Texas is special. You have to do special things to teach here or else you're going to screw up our students..."
 
MI: "Hey, we made this teacher do THREE SEMESTERS of student teaching--one for each area of certification--which we can guarantee is more than any other state requires. Because Michigan is superior. So just let her teach in your state. Trust me."
 
My next move? Get Nationally Board Certified!!

The Final Stretch

After finally becoming an aunt, and after a fabulous long weekend spent in Washington DC with old friends, we're finally back home. Back home, and back to reality.... These days, reality involves our car dying--the entire electrical system seems to be fried. We drove all the way back to Michigan without being able to touch the blinker, or the headlights, or the AC, or the radio, or the windshield wipers because if we did the car would stall. On the turnpike! On long stretches with no shoulder on the side of the road due to construction!
 
I also came back to three more weeks of school (that's 13.5 days of school, to be precise), and three more Saturday classes. I know the light is coming closer at the end of the tunnel, but it sure seems like an eternity from here to summer break!!!

I'm an Aunt!!



My nephew, Romeo, made his grand entrance yesterday!

Next I'll Teach her the Poker Face

Have you ever seen school age children try to shuffle a deck of cards? It's comical, unless you're in a hurry, and then it's just maddening. I was playing my favorite game ("BLINK!") with a second grader today who insisted on shuffling. I watched her awkwardly try to move cards around by taking two or three cards at a time and put them in the middle of the deck. Finally I asked her if anyone had taught her how to shuffle. Then I tried to show her where to put her thumbs and her fingers and her index fingers so that it would work. It took her two or three tries before it kinda-sorta-kinda worked. It was all pretty funny, especially when cards went flying through the air at one point.
 
I'm not sure at what age you're supposed to master shuffling cards, and it's definitely not a goal in her IEP (ha!) but some life skills are worth interrupting academics for ... right?

Nothing but the Truth

I had two fourth grade boys in my writing group today. One is so ADHD, he has the attention span of gnat. Actually, a gnat's attention span may be an improvement. The other boy has Aspergers and struggles mightily with anything abstract. We are working on something their classroom teacher wants me to help them with: to write a personal narrative about truthfulness, or a time you were truthful.
 
My student with ADHD (we'll call him "Wayne") hasn't started his graphic organizer/thinking map yet. I tell him to draw a big circle in the middle of his paper and write "Truthfulness". I blink, and he's out of his chair, looking for a sparkly pencil grip.
 
I turn my attention to my student with Aspergers (let's call him "Paul"). Paul has written a first draft already. I read it over and it is all about the bass he caught with his dad. Something about a boat and a live well. I ask him to tell me what part of the story is about being truthful. He launches into a monologue about how the boat didn't have a live well and he decided to make one, and his dad said it didn't have one, and he felt something heavy on his fishing pole, and it was a mackerel, and, and, and, and....
 
I glance over at Wayne, who has drawn all kinds of tiny circles on his thinking map that are clearly too small to write his ideas in. He spends the next few minutes interrupting Paul and erasing.
 
I grab a blank piece of paper for Paul. We're going to write a new story together, one that's actually about truthfulness. I ask him to draw his circles. He's a pro at drawing circles.
 
Meanwhile, Wayne is writing things like "I don't lie" and "I tell my dad the truth" in his thinking map. I prompt him: "Can you think of a time when you told the truth when it would have been easier to tell a lie?". He responds: "I'll tell you the truth: I like racing cars. Do you know the speedway off of exit 140?". He launches into a discussion while I attempt to redirect his thinking.
 
I turn to Paul and ask him about a time when he told the truth. "I sleep in the morning and my mom kept waking me up and shaking me and I said no and she said go take a shower." He looks very hopefully at me, wondering if this is the answer I'm looking for...
 
Truthfully? I hate teaching writing!

When Your To-Do List is Bigger Than Your Motivation

I worked hard today. I plowed through much of my IEP paperwork. I was busy doing actual work during every minute of my planning time and every minute of my unexpected free time when some students went on a field trip.

 

Why is this actually blog-worthy? Well......... let's just say I'm generally not this productive at this time of year.....

Saturday, I Miss You

I'm taking a class this spring for my Masters of Curriculum and Instruction. It meets over the course of five Saturdays, the first of which was this weekend.
 
I'm lucky enough to be taking the class with four other teachers that I work with, so that made it a bit more bearable. I generally like going to class and learning new stuff, but I'm finding that it's easier to like that kinda stuff when it's in the summer and I don't have lots of Other Stuff going on to distract me. You know, like teaching...
 
Anyways, there have been a lot of complaints about this particular professor (let's call her Judy) because she assigns so ... much ... work. And, as teachers, we feel it is our indisputable right to be spoon fed and coddled when it comes to higher education simply because we are required to continue our education if we want to keep our teaching certificate. See? So it's only fair: if you're making me do this, then you had better be making it easy!!
 
So as much as people complain about Judy, I rather think she's ingenius. Instead of teaching us every Saturday, she's divided us into groups and given each group an article to read, summarize, and present to the class (complete with assessment activity). Brilliant! We all learn, and she doesn't have to teach! She also seems big into group work and presentations and projects. This may be fine for some people, but personally? I would just rather you lecture for four hours, and give me a test. Tell me what to memorize and I'll regurgitate it perfectly later, you will be so impressed.
 
But no....

MOM is "WOW" Upside Down!

It's the season to be thankful for mothers... And I'm sure that kids across the nation are busy making homemade gifts and writing sweet sentiments as a part of their classroom activities.
 
This year, I had the opportunity to see some completed "MOTHER" accrostic poems in a second grade classroom. I took the best of their responses to share with you here:
 
M om is kinda messy
O ften lets me take two cookies
T alks so much I think my head will explode
H ere was a rose and I gave it to her
E xpert at teaching
R emembers a lot
 
Haha! I'm sure those moms will be thrilled no matter what the kids say...
 
I was talking to one of our paraprofessionals who used to work with a third grade boy with autism. Students with autism typically have no tact and will just say it like it is. That is why the paraprofessional had to have a conversation with that kiddo about why "obese" might not be a good choice for the "o" in "mother" !!
 

Best Week Ever

It's called "Teacher Appreciation Week" and it's the coolest. There are treats in our boxes every morning (one time, a gift card!!). Between parents and the district, lunch is provided all week! Monday was Italian; today was soup and salad; tomorrow is Olive Garden and ice cream sundae bar (!!), and yesterday we had a chocolate fondue fountain in the lounge with lots of goodies to dip!!
 
It's so nice to feel spoiled...

Life List

Have you ever heard of a "life list"? It's basically everything you'd like to do or experience in this lifetime. And since I just turned 27 on Saturday, I thought now would be a good time to share my life list!
 
It's not complete, but here it is in no particular order...
 
  1. Go to a STOMP show.
  2. Ride in a limo.
  3. Take an art class (painting or drawing).
  4. Own a dog (working on it!!)
  5. Plant a vegetable garden.
  6. Win a free trip (to anywhere)
  7. See newborn kitties (will accomplish this on Saturday!)
  8. Spoil my grandchildren.
  9. See a play on Broadway.
  10. Go on an African safari in South Africa (so you-know-who will stop bragging that he's been somewhere I haven't been!)
  11. Write and publish a book.
  12. Own a house with a nice backyard.
  13. Early retirement ;)
  14. Host a murder mystery dinner party.
  15. Surprise my parents by showing up unannounced on their doorstep... in France.
  16. Learn how to work the sewing machine and then make stuff!
  17. Take a year off of life and travel with the hubby in a motorhome all over North America.
  18. Eat a greek salad... in Greece.
  19. Play a small role in a community theater/play house.
  20. Read "Les Miserables" en francais.
  21. Live really close to my sister.
  22. Have a reason to carry and give out business cards.
  23. Eat freshly caught fish.
  24. Go on an Alaskan cruise!
  25. Visit either New Zealand or Australia... or both!
  26. Eat an entire gallon of ice cream at once. Or, at least, as much as I can eat...
  27. Go on a short term missions trip.
What's on your life list?
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