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.