Saturday, January 6, 2018

In Special Education: Love is What Matters Most

   There is one thing that I believe almost more than anything else, special education matters. I have been a special education teacher for 34 years and have never doubted that this career was my calling. Thirty four years later plus the four in undergraduate studies, and I have never forgotten any of the precious children that walked through my classroom door. Each one has offered me insight to the human connection and beyond!
   My very first "student" was Jonathan. He was a four year old autistic boy. I was still in high school. It was believed by Jonathan's special education teacher that he needed more human involvement beyond that given by his parents and teacher. She developed a program to give Jonathan more time to learn about himself and the world around him. She interviewed and gathered five student volunteers who would work with Jonathan one night each. My night was Friday evenings.
Raun and his mom, Suzi.
Raun and his dad, Barry

    We were trained mostly by reading the novel, Son-Rise, written by Barry Neil Kaufman. Barry Kaufman wrote this book in 1976. The year I began working with Jonathan was 1978. Against all odds and all professional advice, Barry and his wife, Suzi, refused to stop loving, trying, or hoping that their son, Raun, would leave the safety of his quiet, autistic world and gradually share his life with their family. Barry Kaufman recorded their journey. Their steadfast love and tireless work ethic gave Raun back to his family. This is truly a story about love, and family. Jonathan's story was about love and family too. Jonathan's parents were devoted to him. They converted their home into a haven where Jonathan could feel safe, happy, and loved. As I entered Jonathan's home, there was a tire swing between the living room and kitchen. It was there that I would greet Jonathan every Friday evening. Jonathan showed me what my calling was. My original plan was to become a registered nurse. Jonathan taught me that there was a different career that I belonged in, special education.

   Early on in my career, I learned that in special education as in all education, love is what matters most. If their isn't love behind what we are teaching then their is little chance that the student will gain progress. Special education requires  tenacity, dedication, and persistence with a foundation of doing what you know is right in your heart. It is not for the weak of heart. A special educator must be gentle, yet firm and fair.  Repetition and routine go a long way in building new skills. Practice really does make perfect!
   There is one thing about Special education that is bothering me  lately. I guess, that this "thing" is happening throughout all of education, really. This "thing" is called paperwork. This is my opinion about that. I believe wholeheartedly in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students. IEPs are after all kind of like road maps that direct teachers and special education providers on the right path when working with new students. IEPs make sure that that students receive all of the services that they need. IEPs protect the child. I also believe in data collection. I believe that the data shows us how the child is doing and takes us to where the child needs to go next. I believe in progress reports, because parents absolutely deserve to know how their child is doing. I even believe in some testing! Again, I believe that tests can be like a road map to tell us where the child and the teacher need to go next! Tests should really be for the teacher to see how well his/her teaching is reaching the students. If the lessons are not reaching the students, then the teacher may want to review his/her delivery style. That's it! This is where I believe the paper work should end except for the occasional incident report or field trip form!  Lesson plans are really for the teacher to guide their lessons. Teachers should have them of course, but should be allowed to write them in a way that makes the most sense to them. Administrators should ask to see lesson plans during observations, but the teacher's creativity and thought process should be allowed to shine on the lesson plans.
   I saw a quote recently from "Kindness is Magic" in Queensland, Australia. "Over-planning kills magic." I agree with this quote! My favorite thing to do is to plan amazing, interesting lessons that make memories for the students! Too much paperwork takes away from the time teachers have to plan highly-effective, creative lessons that are aimed at the student population.Too much paperwork limits the time that teachers have to go above and beyond to do what they love best...create magical lessons! I want to bring the magic and the love back in to education!
   Teaching is fun, and can be so magical! Special education matters. That one "thing", paperwork, matters too, in moderation.  It's important to remember though, that above all however, let us not forget, that every child matters. Every child matters with no judgement;only acceptance. If Barry Neil Kaufman, Raun Kaufman, Jonathan, and all of my current and former students have taught me anything: In Special education, love is what matters most.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Happiness is a Special Education Classroom

         I must admit, I have been procrastinating about writing a new blog post for some time! Most of what I have thought about writing lately isn't really blog worthy!  So, I decided to write about the things that bring me joy!  The things that make me happy as a special education teacher. My happiness comes from being in a special education classroom. I have never regretted my career choice. I won't lie, being a special education teacher is a very difficult job!  I wouldn't trade this difficult job for anything. I am in it for the kids! So, let me begin with the number #1 reason why I love my career choice.
1. The students! Just thinking about my students now and way back over thirty years ago, makes me smile. Kids are honest and are so good about being genuine. They say what they think, and they behave how they feel.  Sometimes they are like tiny puzzles that must be figured out. Eventually through trial and error each child is understood. The child realizes that they are cared for, somebody gets them!  When this happens, the teaching becomes magical! I love seeing them everyday!
2. My co-workers. I adore my para-educators, aides, and personal care assistants. When we all work together a beautiful thing happens. We become a school family! No one works in special education for the money! It's always all about the kids. Where else would you find a caretaker willing to change jobs just to follow a student? When a classroom works right the students feel safe and trust the adults in their classroom. This is when real learning can take place. 

3. The special education related service providers are third on my list! I love the team of professionals that share in the education of my students. The speech people, occupational therapists, physical therapists, autistic support teachers, job trainers, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, and special education consultants. These people run from school to school, class to class, and student to student all day long, yet enter the classroom with a big smile ready to see that certain student who they mean the world to.  My kids (students) know right down to the minute what day and time each of their service providers come to see them. They all have their very own special unique bond with each student. Their expertise with these students is very helpful in helping the student to become more successful.

 4. The cafeteria employees and maintenance personnel are fourth on my list!  I adore the cafeteria workers and the maintenance people. It just often seems that the cafeteria people and the maintenance people are the first to lend a helping hand when my kids or even a specific student needs a helping hand. Mrs. B. would often take the time out of her day to allow a certain young man to sweep the hallways with the giant broom. Mr. R. made the dreams come true for a student who wanted to help out in the cafeteria. I thank these unsung heroes because in the eyes of my students they are true heroes!

 5. The creativity of teaching is my fifth love! Yes I love lesson planning! I love figuring out ways to deliver instruction to my students in a way that they will understand it and remember it! I love the art of teaching! Sometimes when teaching, I feel like an actress or maybe a cross between am actress and a comedian! I do whatever it takes to bring a point home! I love hands on learning: building, digging, pouring, imagineering; yes I meant to say imagineering!  Imagineering is a product of making our imaginations come to life! There is also a kind of fine tuning that takes place everyday, I have to blend each activity carefully to a time of day that will benefit the students the most. Unfortunately, not all of our work can be "flashy" or "Fun"! So, we ease into the morning after breakfast, with our daily news, followed by social circle, followed by a full morning of English language Arts, and three different reading classes, all before lunch! To break this up we have a "brain break" with our friends at Go-Noodle! After lunch we have math, social studies, life skills, and science! It's during the afternoon when I turn things up a notch after a long morning of learning! It's in the afternoon when we sometimes bring our lessons to life! It's in the afternoon when good ol' imagineering takes place! Needless to say, I find the teaching part of teaching fun!
Just a little Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/ Kindness Party

6. The sixth thing I love about Special Education is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan)! Maybe I'm crazy, but yes, I love the IEP. Writing them is not so much fun! I however appreciate their value. I believe that every child is different and not just kids in special education, but all kids. The IEP really does bring the best of education to each child to meet his or her personal needs. If it's on the IEP, then it must be followed.

7. Last on my list of things I love about special education is bringing the world to my students. I never, ever want my students to feel like they can't make a difference in the world because they most certainly can! I love doing service projects with my students because then they see for themselves the differences they can make in other peoples lives. In the past my students from two different schools have raised money for author Jena Ball to be able to publish her book "The Not So Perfect Club." We met with Ms. Ball, Marty Keltz (TV producer for the "Magic School Bus" series, and with students also helping Ms. Ball in Iowa, through SKYPE. We also raised money after the earthquake in Nepal to help rebuild damaged schools. Finally, we raised money for Special Olympics in New York State. Our current service project is, "Letters for Life". We make cards and send them to our "Little Warrior Buddies". Each student has been matched with a child to send cards monthly. The children all have very serious medical problems. My students adore their monthly matches! The "Little Warrior Buddies" post pictures of themselves with their cards for my students to see. Some of my students have received cards back. It has become a nice friendship. We also make and send cards by request. If you know someone who needs a pick-me up, message me and we will send them a homemade card. We are hoping to reconnect with the students in Nepal to send cards to
them too. Who says that we have to speak the same language to appreciate a  new friend! It has been heartwarming to see the responses of my students when they know they are making a difference in someone else's life. The truth is though that those we are trying to help are making a difference in our lives too.

   I am beyond happy that I chose a career where I get to meet some of the most fascinating people in the universe! I value each and every one of them. My life is better because of the children I teach.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Letters for Life

     One of the most crucial yet most difficult skills to teach is writing. The task of just thinking about writing often overwhelms students and can cause them to shut down. My life skills students all have difficulty with handwriting, reading, spelling, and organization. So, when it comes to writing my motto is: "slow and steady wins the race." 
    In the beginning of the school year we talk a lot about topic sentences. Next we move on to three important detail sentences. Currently we are working on three types of topic sentences: number, feeling, and fact. Next we will add the conclusion sentence, then voila...we have a complete paragraph. We of course work on our spelling, capitalization, and grammar in conjunction with writing a paragraph. My students are doing great with their writing and I couldn't be more proud of them. I have heard very little whining through this whole process. 
    Since I am a "Life Skills" teacher I wanted to come up with a way to connect my students writing with the real world. This is how our "Letters for Life"project began. My goal was for my students to make cards and write letters to anyone who was lonely or needed cheering up. Sometimes just getting a card and knowing that someone cares can make a world of difference to them. Cards of kindness, I like to call them. 
   Somehow, I stumbled upon a group called, "Little Warrior Cards." It's a group of people started by moms who send cards to children who are sick or disabled. I asked for 10 children's names and addresses to match them to the students in my class. Our first cards went out near Christmas time. Each of my students has been assigned a child to send cards to once a month. Once the child receives heir card, his/her parent posts a picture of their child with the cards. My students love hearing how their "Little warrior Buddies" are doing. I consider this a win-win situation. My students are able to practice their skill at following directions (to make the card), their skill at writing both handwriting and paragraph, kindness skills which we practice everyday, and postal skills.
Their new friends are now connected with a student who will send them cards once a month. I cannot say enough good about our "little Warrior Buddies" and their parents. These parents are dealing with a critically ill child every day, yet still spread so much kindness themselves. The children who are dealing with diseases and disabilities that no one should ever have to face do it with such grace and bravery. One goal for this group is to spread the word that childhood cancer needs more money for research. Their ultimate goal is however to to bring happiness to their children during their darkest hours. I admire this group and their efforts so much.
     In conclusion, I'd like to add that if you know someone who could use a little pick-me-up I know the best people to bring joy to them. Simply message me with their address, approximate age, and likes at: You can find the page under: Educational strategies and activities, followed by service projects, "Letters 4 Life" or simply go to the contact page.  My students and I thank you in advance.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The No-Excuses Homework Supply Bag


I have an incredibly ironic secret to share with my fellow teachers. I despicably, vehemently, despise giving homework to children!   It's my belief that children are in school all day working hard. When they go home at night they should be outside playing, participating in sports, joining after school clubs, eating dinner, spending quality time with their families. Kids need to spend time just being kids. These are the things that may give them interests in life-long hobbies and many positive memories. Right? 
    So, even though I am not a staunch believer in lots of homework, I am a believer in a little bit of homework to give children a responsibility and to also practice skills so that there is more time in school to do the bigger lessons. I teach Life Skills to children in 7th-12th grade. Is it cruel to give homework to special education students? I say no!
     I decided that instead of working on spelling day after day in school. We could work on spelling two times a week in school and use the other days for heavy duty ELA lessons. My theory you ask? What good is spelling if you can't write a sentence! I want to make homework as painless as possible with an almost guarantee that ever student will bring their homework back to school everyday. 
   My plan: We made no-excuses, take home homework supply bags filled with everything necessary to complete home work at home. We had a blast making the bags with duct tape! Initially, I had visions of duct tape stuck in my hair or kids tangled up in it! Thankfully how wrong my vision was! The kids had fun and so did I! Since it is so ridiculously easy to make a no-excuses homework supply bag, I am sharing this fabulous invention with you.

Steps to Making a No-excuses Homework Supply Bag:

1) Buy the materials:

  • Several rolls of colorful duct tape. I bought mostly solid colors with a few printed rolls to accent the bag.
  • Gallon sized plastic bags with zippered locks.
  • Supplies that your students will need for home work:I filled ours with pencils, pens, erasers, colored markers, crayons, colored pencils, and a spiral notebook. It's best to purchase the supplies during the back to school sales, when the prices are low.

2) Lie the plastic bag flat on the desk in front of each student. Tape the bottom with excess tape on both sides so that the bag doesn't move while the kids are adding more tape.
3) Allow the students to choose their own colors. I had my kids use solid colors and then add the fancier duct tape for fun! We put duct tape on the first side of the plastic bag in strips.  We then flipped it over to do the same to side two.

4) Next we embellished each bag with the printed duct tape.
5) Since we are a life skills class who uses an assembly line on other projects, I chose to practice our assembly line skills to fill our no-excuses home work supply bags. The kids did a great job!

    The next task I did to ensure homework completion was to sign my class up for Spelling City.  Spelling City is an on-line site where I can post my students spelling and vocabulary words. The best part for me is that since my students spelling lists are individualized according to their own personal level, I can easily add as many lists as I want. I was also able to print letters to the parents in both Spanish and in English so that the parents knew that their children can practice on their computers at home. I am notified of the time each student spends on Spelling City and see their progress. Better yet, the games on Spelling City are varied and fun! My students love it! A few have downloaded it to their cell phones!  No, I don't work for Spelling City. I just like to share helpful tools for my colleagues. So whether you send home spelling homework or another subject you should never again have to hear, "I couldn't do my homework because I didn't have any supplies".
     Now I can tell you that the "No-excuses Homework bags combined with Spelling City have made ten highly successful students in my classroom. We have a 90% success rate with homework and 100% on all of our spelling tests. I'm proud, my kids are happy. ELA is going great! In a very odd sense the No-excuse homework bags have seriously changed our classroom lives for the better! I hope this tool can work for you too!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SymbalooEDU Social Bookmarking Service Gets this Teacher into the Cloud!

     Three weeks ago I had never heard of SymbalooEDU. I went to a professional development class feeling not so tech enabled with my head literally in the clouds and left with a free social bookmarking service in the cloud! Clouds now have a whole new meaning to me! SymbalooEDU has changed my life for the better.
      With SymbalooEDU teachers can organize and share the best of the web with their students. To me SymbalooEDU is an amazing tool. To the right of this page is a sample picture of what SymbalooEDU looks like. SymbalooEDU is a free educational tool that gives teachers and students a way to save their on-line resources in the cloud with access from any technological device, such as: an iPad, iPhone, MAC, and/or personal computer. Each tile on the SymbalooEDU grid (actually called a gallery) is a website, app, or a resource. As a busy teacher who always wants to give their students the best possible lessons, SymbalooEDU is not only a life saver but also a time saver. Now with a click of a button, the classroom teacher can share websites with students and colleagues. There will no longer be gaps in instructional time while the teacher types in web addresses manually. Just one click and the whole class is together on the correct website. There will no longer be the worry of advertising getting into what the student sees. The best part is that all resources in the SymbaloEDU gallery are saved in the cloud. This means that they can be accessed by any device in or out of school.  SymbalooEDU resources automatically sync between a user’s ipad, iPhone,Mac, and personal computer.
   Again, please look at the sample SymbalooEDU picture above. Each color coded section which will actually have pictures or graphics on it from the website, demonstrates how each teacher or user can organize their SymbalooEDU gallery. This actually has a name called: a webmix. Simply stated, a webmix is a collection of links around a specific topic. My personal teaching gallery is actually made up of six webmixes: lessons, typing practice, behavior, presentations, teacher made websites, and music to teach by. Webmixes can be published for other teachers to find and use. Symbaloo EDU is very user friendly. I am not a strong tech person, but even I was able to quickly and easily add my frequently used websites to my SymbalooEDU gallery. It is very simple to search the web from the SymbalooEDU gallery. There you can find your favorite websites that you frequently use and place them on a tile in your gallery.
   Another great feature of SymbalooEDU is there is a tile where you can create or obtain lesson plans in the marketplace. There is even a Symbaloo basic certification lesson plan!
  Since I'm not an expert of SymbalooEDU my recommendation is to hop on over to to learn more about it. 
Soon you will be just like me: a teacher in a cloud! Best of luck.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Life: Two Questions Answered!

My son's friend recently asked me two questions to get to know me better. I decided to share them in a blog form because everyone chooses their own path in live for different reasons. My path from day one was special education. I have chosen to be an advocate for children who need special education services for very personal reasons. I love my career choice and even though I may gripe about the long hours of paperwork that goes along with this career, I do believe that the paperwork is necessary to give children the best education possible. The paperwork is simply the glue that binds all of the services together and keeps the team connected. I have never regretted becoming a special education teacher.

Question 1: Why did you go into special education instead of regular education?

"Hmm...My reason for going into special ed as opposed to regular ed is highly personal but not so personal that I won't share. I was a preemie back in 1961. I actually almost didn't make it because my heart stopped beating when I was only a few days old. I was saved. My story could have easily turned out differently. I could have been intellectually challenged. Thankfully I was not. I went into special education to help kids who were not as fortunate as me. I wanted to treat kids how I would have wanted to be treated if I were disabled. I believe that every kid is "normal", it's just that everybody's normal is different. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing kids happy and excited about learning. I love watching kids work hard to get to the next step in his/her education and then get it! I love coming up with new and creative ways to make lessons memorable to keep my students talking about what they have learned and experienced. Not every child learns in the same way. I love finding the key that helps unlock each child's learning potential." 

Question 2: What is your favorite holiday and why?

     "My favorite holiday is Christmas Eve. I love Christmas Eve because it is a true family holiday. Everyone is happy and together reliving Christmas's past and full of hope for the next day. I love reading Christmas books. When my kids were young we had a holiday reading jar. I actually wrote a blog about it! I love unfilled stockings and the smell of the air. I love Christmas Eve Mass as a family. I still remember the feel of my grandmother's smooth,  leather gloves as she held my hand in church. I hope my kids have warm memories too.#