“My Brain Hurts When I Write!”

scary story map“My brain hurts!”– “My fingers are stuck.” — “I don’t have paper.” — “I don’t have any sharpened pencils.” — “I lost my eraser.” — “It’s too noisy.” — “It’s too quiet.”

Oh excuses.

For every surface excuse, there is an underlying reason. Usually, I find that when it comes to students and writing the excuse tends to hide feelings of inadequacy. Writing seems to be too serious, too much at stake, and too big a task.

The cure?

Focus on creative writing, and feel free to put on a little soft music for those that need some white noise in the background.

Creative writing is very freeing. For beginners, there are few rules and this “break the rules” façade is liberating to young writers who struggle with perfectionism, writers block, or confidence.

Also, I find it’s helpful to incorporate some tech accommodations, like text to speech, voice recorder, or computer use instead of traditional paper and pencil. If it works for you, go for it! Yes, I agree that paper and pencil makes those synapses grow stronger and feeds the brain like no technology can, but for new writers it can be a daunting, overwhelming experience to look at a blank page and hope for the best. Instead, opt for easing that transition with technology.

As a teacher and a tutor, I’m a big fan of sentence stems, like these Expressive Language Prompts, which do the trick because they are simple enough to get a conversation going. Once a conversation is flowing, the writing will follow.

A few examples of where to begin:

A-Z Story, where every new sentence of the story starts with the next letter of the alphabet.

Backwards Story, where you write the ending first (think ‘Memento’ but for kids)

Talking Pet Stories

Fractured Fairytales: think of a well-known fairytale and then modernize it, such as changing the ending, add a prequel or sequel, add new characters.

Halloween-themed Scary Stories, like these:

So, take a few tips and tools to let your story flow and writers brain grow. Happy writing!


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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Conformity and the Common Core

standing in lineWe demand that our students raise their hands to ask a question, yet we require that they produce a self-identity reflection project. We insist that students stand in line before entering the classroom, yet we request that they think outside the box when answering that math reasoning question.

Conformity and the Common Core appear to be mutually exclusive. How are we supposed to teach students to think for themselves if we’re overly concerned with adherence to classroom management rules?

Put your backpacks away. Get out your pencil. Sit down. Wait for instructions. Raise a silent hand.

No, this isn’t the 50’s these are some of my classroom norms.

I’m not proud that I’ve had to conform to traditional behavior management systems in order to keep sanity in the classroom. That’s not what I thought I’d be spending 50% of my time on when I decided to become a teacher. In fact, I’m pretty frustrated that, after trying the new ways of running a classroom, still, at the end of the day it feels like I’ve made little difference when it comes to behavior.

On one hand, common core is about being creative, letting your students guide projects and lead learning. On the other hand, if the behavioral needs are too great the creativity gets tossed aside.

Now, I’m not a militant. I’m not perfect; my students are perfect; the system isn’t perfect — and I don’t expect perfection. But I was hoping that when I entered this profession, I’d get to be more creative and not just be a “stickler for the rules”.

The reality is that behavior outweighs creativity. If the classroom is not running smoothly, we cannot do fun things. Some would say the opposite. I was one of those, before I became a teacher. Conformity, fortunately or unfortunately, is required to move forward.

Hurry up and get with the game, cause I’d sure like to do some fun things. C’mon, kids 🙂


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Being a Good Teacher is Really Hard

_MG_7334Law school taught me the importance of considering both sides — hearing both arguments. When I started my nonprofit, I attended several IEP Meetings as a Parent Advocate. As I sat on one side of the table, I realized that I knew the law but not the reality of the day-to-day implementation of this legal document.

How do these goals really play out in the classroom?

So I got myself a job as a 1:1 Aide in a Moderate/Severe elementary classroom. I was only going to stay one year, assuming that’s all the research I really needed. One year turned into three — you never stop caring for your students, wanting to see them exceed their goals, and learning about the realities of working within the system of public education.

As there is always more to learn, I now find myself at the helm of the classroom wheel — the teacher.

Being a good teacher is really hard. 

It’s only been three weeks and every day I find myself planning lessons, changing lessons on the fly, ensuring I meet state benchmarks, attending professional development meetings, going to extra trainings, instituting a behavior rewards system, revising that rewards system, figuring out which seat works best for which kid, looking for engagement and interaction from my students, making sure each child’s needs are met, cleaning out my inbox, learning how to teach curriculum, changing up the curriculum to better suit my students in the moment, preparing for IEPs, making sure my Word Wall is growing, and building relationships with my middle schoolers, their parents, and my colleagues.

In the last 15 days, I have gone through a Story Hill of emotions. I’ve doubted my choice to sign that contract, had to step out of the room to catch my breath, questioned my 5:30 am alarm clock, eaten the extra cookie and gone to bed thinking about what I could be doing better.

With all of those requirements, pulling at my time and attention, I’ve been thinking a lot about what really makes a good teacher good?

Although I’m brand new to this role, I get the sense that checking off all of the “to-do’s” don’t necessarily make a teacher a good one.

I realize that I’m just one part of my students’ lives, but I hope that at the end of this year, my first year of teaching, I can say with certainty that:

  •  I walked into that classroom everyday, turned on the lights, and made it a welcomed space for thinking and learning;
  • I had conversations and community circles that helped me learn how to tailor those lessons for that individual kid;
  • I advocated for their needs at the IEP table and thought about how to write those goals in a way that will challenge my students one step at a time;
  • I listened to what my students wanted and gave them the dignity of choosing how to get there;
  • I took care of myself so I could, in turn, care for them;
  • I recognized our differences and similarities, connecting and teaching in a culturally responsive way;
  • I helped them increase their lexile level and celebrated those tough and triumphant moments;
  • I taught my students something new that will stick with them throughout life’s journey; and
  • I was a person who they could count on.

Teaching is hard because relationships are hard.

That’s what I’m really building – meaningful relationship with each of my students who have various challenges, learning differences, needs, hopes, and dreams.

If I can be a person — as a teacher, an advocate, a mentor, a role model — that provides a brave and safe classroom space, a “Hi, how are you?” in the hallway, or a note of encouragement on a paper, I will have done my job well.

As for being a good teacher, I hope I will be able to work towards that challenge. Maybe that’s the true test, in and of itself.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

To the Kid who Doesn’t Want to go Back to School

I hear ya! I’m not a fan of early mornings or homework either.

But when it comes down to it, school is not about the bell schedules or even the grades.

‘Um, what!?’, you gasp.

 

School is a Microcosm of Our Society

Your school represents a small city, a way of learning how to navigate the bigger world around us. Social norms (standing in line, pleasantries, forming groups) are learned behaviors. The ability to challenge yourself and challenge others is a skill, one that school is helping you learn. This Social-Emotional Learning piece of becoming a well-rounded adult in our society is at the heart of your six-hour school day.

Think about public schools, charter schools, independent schools, home school, self-instruction, and private tutors — these all present a different way to learn the material. There are so many ways to learn and so many teaching styles to learn from. It’s why even the state allows parents to choose the way they want their children taught and who to teach them.

Going to School is Really about Self-Discovery

Going to School is more than just learning math and reading and then taking a test to see how well you understood those subjects (or, in reality, how well you take a test).

Going to School is about expression, social norms, working together, developing your EQ (Emotional Quotient), challenging yourself, challenging others to see a concept in a new way, inspiration, inspiring others, grit – seeing failure not as the end but, rather, as part of your success story, discovering new talents, fostering independence, and using education as a ticket to stability and security.

You can learn anything from any book. Heck, you can learn anything from YouTube!

But going to school allows you to learn about yourself.

So I get it. There are lots of not-so-great things about going to school. But I urge you to consider looking at school in this new way. It can be an adventure, a journey of self-discovery. And who knows what you may find during that quest.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Life is like a Box of…

Pralinen

Tests.

Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add undergrad, grad school, and professional development to that number and I can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we make a contingency plan: If I fail this test, I will have ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to take a course in the summer.  Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay our timeline, it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to each fear and a realistic contingency plan in place, I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset: This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it! I try to help my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com