Terry Tutors Annual Report: 2017

6th birthdayIn just a few days, we’ll turn 6 years old! That’s right — we’ve graduated to “first grade” status and are well on our way to helping parents and students navigate their own educational journeys.

2017 was a wild one, for sure!

Last fall, I was given an amazing opportunity to jump into the classroom as a Special Education Teacher while also earning my Education Specialist Teaching Credential (Mild/Moderate with Autism Authorization). I am so grateful to add this very important skill set to Terry Tutors — teacher with a law degree is a unique combination that can only prove more worthy and beneficial to help families navigate the system.

First Grade Wows & Woes

As is common when entering first grade, though, the work gets harder and the stakes get higher. That’s exactly where we are.

This past year has been one of the most challenging because the work of being a teacher, a good teacher, is truly one of the most difficult paths I’ve ventured. Yes, teachers work just 184 days of the year and while planning for the next semester that may seem like a dream. 20 more weeks! I can do this! The reality, however, is that the act of teaching is an emotional undertaking coupled with logistical precision and passion for your craft. Each child’s academic growth, gain, and progress is at stake every single day.

I took that task seriously. Maybe a little too seriously.

Creating Lasting Change Requires Consistent Self-Care 

With my passion for change came a little self-defeat, realizing that I can never truly give my students my all unless I, too, am filled.

I always tell my students: the brain is a muscle and sometimes it needs to rest so it can come back stronger, ready to learn and work just a bit more — making those all important connections so we can glean the bigger concept. The way to make impactful, real change is also through rest. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

I realized that if I keep up this pace of working till midnight, working all weekend long, putting work above friends, family and time for myself, I’ll inevitably burn out.

2018 Resolutions

To ensure I can sustain my love for helping students, it’s my resolution to make 2018 Terry Tutors’ year of fulfillment by prioritizing self-care.  I vow to take time to continue my educational journey with passion and precision while also taking time for myself — grabbing a coffee with friends, reinstilling Sunday rest days, taking a walk in the park, going to yoga, and seeing that play in town.

I’m sure there will be times when the work is piling up and I’m tempted to make myself the last thing on the list, but it is those times that I must prioritize my students by prioritizing time for myself — if I’m not filled, cared for, and rested, I’m not my best self and cannot be their best advocate and their best teacher.

Here’s to 2018 — a year of reframing what it means to be the best.

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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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If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Cinnamon Rolls.jpgFall makes me crave cinnamon — its comforting aroma wafting through my home gives me a sense that the holidays are near and Thanksgiving and Christmakkah memories are right around the corner.

A Happy Teacher is a Better Teacher

It may seem unrelated but I found myself happily unraveling a cinnamon roll while happily grading papers and planning lessons.

I wondered: Are my lessons better, filled with more fun and creativity, because I’m happier in this moment? Maybe. Just maybe.

How Can I Bottle this Feeling of Contentment?

Becoming a teacher makes me think about my teachers.

Being a person in a position of power and authority can shape a child’s memories of school and help them learn to love or loathe learning, depending on who is standing in front of them.

This is not to say that we all have an off-day or two (ummm, like last Tuesday) but I wonder if I seem more content, more self-assured standing in front of my middle-schoolers Monday-Friday from 8:00-3:08 because I am feeling more content.

Teachers: We Need to Take Better Care of Ourselves

Too often we look at educators, their arms loaded down with bags of books, papers and snacks for the staff meeting, and think of them as martyrs. I often hear, “I could never do what you do.” or “Teachers do not get paid enough, that’s for sure. I commend you.” or “I’d kill to have so much vacation. I mean you work for it, but that’s the life!”

The sentiment and encouragement are nice (and yes, the vacations are lovely), but what I really want is for teachers to take better care of themselves. We can’t pour from an empty vessel.

As summer turns into fall, projects and papers and tests (oh, my!) are coming to a head. It is the season of 12-15 hour work days, day-light savings time, IEP Meetings, and no vacation until November 11th.

It’s a time of burnout.

Instead of just trudging through, I’m going to make a promise to myself — to go to that yoga class, to watch my favorite tv show, to try to go to bed before the clock strikes midnight.

Why? Because a teacher who values self-care is a happier teacher. And learning is just more fun when the person teaching you is happier to be there.

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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

 

 

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

Dear Little A

Little A ShoesDear Little A,

There are some students that will forever tug at my heart-strings; you are one of them.

Before we began our journey together, I felt so much uncertainty about nearly every aspect of life: career, family, friends, relationships, even my little apartment. See, I was taught that feelings sometimes get in the way of the work, and so I didn’t quite know how to express my fear and restlessness. Instead, I stifled it. Tucked it away, hoping that it would magically disappear.

But you, you are a child who wears her emotions on her sleeve. When you are happy, you show it with a grin and a knee bump or two. When you are sad, anyone within earshot will know it. We may never speak the same language, but I know when you are sleepy, angry, hurt, excited, frustrated, or joyful. I know when you want more swing, pats, music, blocks, peek-a-boo, eat, nap, walk, run, and spin. I also know when you are all done. Well, we all know that one — you are very clear.

Little A, you showed me what it looked like to live fully in the moment. You encouraged me to set high expectations for myself and my students. You reminded me that the data sheets will get done in due time. You taught me that success is not measured by whether we met or exceeded the benchmarks but, rather, by whether my dedication yielded just a small but positive difference in the lives of my students and relationships with my colleagues.

It is thanks to you that I continue to follow my passion, learning to help students blossom and become more independent, more expressive, more communicative, and more curious, just like you.

As I close the chapter on our school day adventures, I want to let you know how honored and privileged I am to have been with you for the big moments and the little ones.

You will forever be my Little A.

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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.

Keep up with the latest blogs, thoughts and resources. Follow us on Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube

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