Aug 26, 2012

Week 1 Notes: Challenges of the New Job

This is how crazy my brain feels! Flickr Image Credit: caffeina

Honestly, I am so busy that I don't have much time to stop and think. There are so many things to do in a new job. I've been trying to prioritize, but there is just so much to learn that it's hard to know where to begin.

First and foremost, I want to build relationships with kids. But I also need to build relationships with my new co-workers.  I need to contact parents to start building relationships with them, because no teacher can do good work without the support of parents.

Running a close second in the race for my attention are things like finding supplies (which I largely have to pay for myself), writing lesson plans, figuring out how to use my new laptop and other technological stuff, and keeping up on paperwork.

On top of all that, my family needs me. My kids started school. They have new routines, homework, and extracurricular activities that are starting up again.  I am at my wits end trying to figure out how to get it all done. My brain is running non-stop, and it seems like no matter how many hours I put in towards finishing my To Do lists, nothing ever gets done. I am flying by the seat of my pants, every day, which is thrilling! Exciting! And very, very stressful.

Now that I've got one full week under my belt, I can tell you a little bit about my new responsibilities. I've discovered that I really have three distinct roles:

For one hour a day, I offer learning supports to a few kids who have struggles in specific areas of learning. They also have some behavioral challenges that stem from a wide variety of reasons-- personal/family situations, health reasons, or other psychological factors. I am their advocate when they attend classes in general education settings; I must offer them instruction in their areas of struggle to help them improve; and I must monitor their progress in reaching specific learning goals.

For one hour a day, I teach English to a small group of boys with severe behavioral challenges. I plan the lessons, and try to teach reading/grammar/vocabulary/writing while also modeling appropriate behavior, reinforcing appropriate behavior, and trying to ignore inappropriate behavior. It's a tough crew, and I am not yet comfortable in the role of a behaviorist. I had a huge snafu with curriculum: the book I ordered didn't come in time for the start of school so I had to look for something else to teach. I planned several lessons for a second book, only to find out that they'd read it last year. They requested that we read the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire, so I am madly writing lessons for that book now, and trying to get my hands on copies of the book for them to read aloud or read along with while I read aloud. I know from experience that problem behaviors are more problematic if kids don't have anything to do in class, which is why I am spending hours and hours trying to make sure I have something for them to do. Our program is so new that there is no set curriculum, no set plans...we are creating as we go. It is exciting, yes...but so, so tough.

The rest of my day is spent either in structured study hall with 1-2 of the kids from the behavior focused program OR supervising/collecting data about kids who had a severe behavioral challenge in their regularly scheduled class. If a student refuses to work repeatedly, cusses at a teacher, or does something that is really interfering with the ability of a class to function, instead of being kicked out of school or suspended, they come to my room. In my room, they must do some problem-solving. They must think about and acknowledge what was inappropriate about their behavior, make a plan to make amends and/or do things differently next time they are in a similar situation, and complete any schoolwork that they missed as a result of their behavior. While they are in my room, we are documenting their ability to problem-solve, monitoring their behavior, and trying our best to give the student the skills they need to succeed back in their classroom. If they can demonstrate that they've got things under control, then they can go back to their regular classes. If they can't, then they stay with me until they can.

It's only been a week, but I can tell you this:

  • There will never be a dull moment! 
  • The team I work with is extremely talented, dedicated, and supportive.
  • Deep inside--underneath all of the bravado, anger, and talk--there is a kernel of goodness inside each of the boys I've met so far. I see it already and just hope that they will show me the chink in their armor that will let me in. 
I don't know how to be a proper behaviorist. But I know how to care. Hopefully, they will sense that, and tolerate all of my lack of expertise, all of the unknowns and unplanned lessons. Some day, I'll get it together. And so will they. I believe.

Aug 19, 2012

Random Phone Pics

All summer I've read posts on other people's blogs with random photos from their phone. I could swear I saw a couple from Tara at Me and the Mexican and maybe more from Tracy at Latinaish...but I can't find the links to those specific posts :(   If you find them, or any others, please post them below because I want to give credit where credit is due for the idea I am about to borrow!  If you want to share some random pics from your phone on your own blog, feel free to link up in the comments.

I plugged my phone into my computer and realized that I hadn't transferred any pictures in a loooong while. Here's a photographic sampling of how we spent our summer:

Rest stop on our way home from traveling to Chicago-land.

After their eye exam, they tried on un-needed glasses that they thought were 70s styles. Vision: perfect. Fashion sense: hmmmm....

At our local 4th of July parade!

My All-Star at batting practice before a big tourney

A new Costco opened near us. I thought things there were cheap there!?! Prada bag = $1016.99

Tennis lessons! A vision in orange (what you wear is just as important as how you play, right? :)

Both daughters at swim lessons. The afro is in the sunny spot :)

Both girls conquered the diving board for the first time ever! One in, one on, and bro climbing up the ladder.

The view I had for 14 years from my old desk. This is the window sill that held my family pictures. It was hard to say goodbye, but I am thrilled about my new space!

Allergy testing for my son was no fun. But he is NOT allergic to anything...YAY!

Art Camp: proud of the panda!

You're never too big to enjoy swinging at the park!

Sisters. My fave pic of the summer!

Famous! He is on the jumbo-tron!

Aug 15, 2012

Crashing Dreams: Featured on BlogHer!

Featured on"Crashing Dreams: Parenting in Reality" is a post that first appeared here on empatheia.   I shared the story of my struggle to keep my kids' feet firm in reality. Is that the right way to parent? Or should I let them dream about being professional athletes (which is not exactly realistic.) I wrote the post because it was such a hard situation; very emotional. Parenting is so very, very difficult sometimes.

Soon after I published the piece,  it was featured on Multicultural Familia, an online magazine to which I contribute. 

Now, that post was picked up by BlogHer!  I am excited to have my post featured on such a huge, thoughtful and thought-provoking site for women. I hope that others will discuss the complexities of parenting I wrote about...I still don't have any answers and can use all the help I can get!  Visit, follow the conversation on Twitter by following @BlogHer and @BlogHerCultures,  or visit the BlogHer Facebook page to share your thoughts.

Aug 12, 2012

Newness: The Job, Teen Behaviors & Changing the Status Quo

View from the roof of my new school!

In less than a week, it is the official start of school. I'm running around like a crazy woman trying to make sure everything is ready--kids have school supplies, I have lessons planned, and we have the groceries for packing school lunches. The new job gave me a heap of paperwork to fill out for insurance, payroll and all that other stuff. I have a new email address, access to a new-to-me student information management system, and a computer that is very different from the machine I have at home. I got a tour of the building last week and found out where to get copies made. I have a mailbox in the office that actually had mail in it! The little pieces of the new job are starting to come together, but the big picture won't really form until I meet the kids. Soon!

Another rooftop view. Loved that my new principal let us go on the roof!
It has taken a while for me to really understand what my new job is all about. I worried that maybe some of my new co-workers thought I was daft because I keep asking questions and feeling confused. But the questions and confusion are slowing to a trickle--especially after a 2-day training I attended last week. Now, I get it. I understand what I am supposed to be doing and know that I will have lots of support and lots of freedom to figure out how to best do it. It's a good feeling.

This morning I had time to catch up on my Google Reader feed, and found an article that directly relates to the new job. I've written about this issue before here on emapatheia: Bad KidsSpecial Education, Suspension, Criminalization of School, Dropout Rates, and Race; Civil Rights in Education; Imagine: White Students Suspended Disproportionately More than Blacks. Here is a piece from Education Week discussing more data about Black students and suspension--this one relating to Special Education.


One in Four Black Students With Disabilities Suspended Out-of-School

Students with disabilities are suspended about twice as often as their peers, a new analysis from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found.
Analyzing data that districts submitted to the federal Education Department's office of civil rights, researchers found that the rate of suspension for students with disabilities was about one in 13, compared with 7 percent for students without disabilities.
Most alarming, they said, was that one in four black students with disabilities was suspended at least once during the 2009-10 school year. That figure is 16 percentage points higher than for white students with disabilities. (Nearly one in six African-American students without disabilities was suspended from school during the 2009-10 academic year.)
Some of these students may have an explicit need for help with their behavior outlined in their education plans, which should warrant counseling or appropriate therapy, noted Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Civil Rights Project's Center for Civil Rights Remedies.
Read more at Education Week
I read this and am proud to be a part of a program to change the status quo in my new school. Our goal is to teach kids with behavioral challenges and disabilities the skills they need to be successful in any setting. We will work hard to adjust our adult behaviors, so that suspension--both in school and out-of-school--is an absolute last resort. Our goal is to reduce the number of times students are referred to the office for disciplinary measures. Instead of punishing kids with behavior issues and treating them like they are "bad kids", our focus is on their knowledge and skills. They aren't "bad kids"--they are kids who are lacking the necessary skills to succeed in a classroom setting. As teachers, is it our job to teach the skills necessary for reading, writing and math...but it is also our job to teach the behavioral skills necessary for academic learning. We can no longer assume that every kids just knows how to study, knows what it means to be "responsible" or "respectful". Those are very vague terms. My job now is to listen to kids who have struggles, help them problem-solve, and teach them (and re-teach them) the skills they need to be successful. 

Programs like the one I will be working in are found mostly in elementary schools, but I haven't heard of many at the high school level. It is very, very exciting to be a part of something I see as ground-breaking. The focus is largely on behavior, and realizing that even though teenagers are in bigger bodies, their behaviors are sometimes not that different from little kids when you think about the why of it.  We watched a video in my training last week to talk about that point (see below.) Maybe it will look familiar to some of you with toddlers!?!  The point was to think about human behavior as having a function: usually to gain or avoid something. Instead of looking at the "bad choices" kids make, we look at their behavior as a form of communication. Instead of saying that a student is "bad" or has no self-control, or that his home life is to blame, we use their behavior as a clue: the student is lacking the skills to  communicate more effectively. That outlook--it changes everything! The kid isn't "bad" anymore, they're trying to tell us something! The way they're telling it isn't necessarily the most effective way, so we need to figure out what they're trying to tell us and teach them a better way to do it. As a society, we seem to understand this concept with kids like the toddler in the video below, but not so much with teenagers. The behavioral approach is used frequently these days with kids who have Autism, too. Why not with teenagers--the most historically misunderstood people on the planet? My new job involves trying to figure out the function of teenaged behavior and teaching more appropriate ways for teens to communicate. Does this make sense to you? I hope so. It is exciting and different and challenging and cutting edge... I am not sure how it will go, but I am looking forward to finding out!

Here's the video from my training. Can you tell what this toddler is trying to gain or avoid through his behavior? (Watch! It's pretty humorously obvious :D)

Aug 5, 2012

Dog Days are Over

It's just about official in my world: SUMMER IS OVER.

At least for me.

Today I take my daughters to spend a week with my parents so that they can attend Girl Scout Camp at the same place where my sister and I spent summers when we were kids. I hope they love it as much as I did! Girl Scout camp had a huge impact on my self-esteem, my appreciation of nature, and my ability to work cooperatively. I'm excited that my daughters will have the chance to experience the same environment.

My son will be spending his last week hanging out with friends, attending his junior high orientation, and going to basketball practices for his newest traveling team. That's right: junior high. My baby is growing up (which is so very bittersweet.)

And me? I will be brainstorming ideas, trying to envision my new routine, breathing through the anxiety of my bittersweet life change: a new job. I will attend a 2-day training where my goal is to soak up as much information as I can about my new district's protocols for working with kids who have behavioral challenges. I will be trying to contribute, but HOLY COW it's hard to contribute when you don't even know how the system works yet. So far I have felt like I have some ideas, but don't know exactly how they fit in with everything else...I am still learning. I have been teaching for 14 years, but those years have been in a very different program. In a lot of ways, I am a new teacher. I keep having to tell myself that even though I'm new, I have a lot to offer. My experience is definitely related to the new job, I just have to get familiar enough with everything and believe that it will all come together.

I'm re-learning that life lesson: the more you know, the less you know. I know a lot of stuff, but I don't know how to make a copy, where the teacher's lounge is, what the bell sounds like, or even what my new school email address will be! I don't know the names of my new students, how many of them there will be, and what my every day routine will be like. The unknowns make me a little anxious.

But at the same time, I am excited. I've been looking at some strategies to use with kids that I don't think have been used before at my new school. I am excited to see how it all works out. I'll try to fill you all in soon. For now, I'm just hanging on...reminding myself to breathe....brainstorming a whole lot of possibilities.


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