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.

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

 

 

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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.


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

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

Musings from an Education Advocate in Our New America

lord-of-the-fliesI can’t be mute on the subject. I can’t, also, stand idly by and sweep this under the rug.

I want to listen and really hear you. I genuinely do. But I’m not sure if ‘agreeing to disagree’ will cut it anymore.

I want to remain active and loving, mindful and passionate.

I want to stand up and voice my concerns, nay my outrage! But I don’t want to halt the conversation. Stay silent, be complicit? Stay silent, be respectful?

Perhaps, it’s too early, still, to remove emotion from our interaction. Perhaps, we shouldn’t.

This is a twist, a turn, in a topsy-turvy world where up is now down and down is round. And I’m spinning, just trying to keep up with it all. How do we start to make sense of these new rules?

What do I say to you?

To you — the teacher, the parent, and especially the student. You are still our future, right?

To you — the supporter, who believes he will rescue us.

To you — the non believer, who questioned him every step of the way.

To you — the holder of the “purse strings”, the upholder of the Writ to our way of life.

To you — the revolutionist, who is shaking things up for better or worse.

To you — the ‘yes man’ who is interrogated under the guise of due diligence yet affirmed in compromise.

To you — the woman who may become my boss, who may have good intentions but who falters in execution.

Maybe we are an island now. Tide in, tide out.

Maybe we are stuck. Would Dante agree?

Chin up. Move on. Stay strong. Press on.

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

This Holiday Season Take a Note from the “Mensch on the Bench”

mensch-wisdomEvery year it seems that from Halloween till New Years the days just fly by, I feel like I’m a teeny, tiny hamster spinning a gigantic wheel ’round and ’round with no end in sight. I suspect you may feel this way too.

With all the stressors this fall, including the travelling, present-buying, annual family get-togethers and even the post-election turmoil (I’m still in shock!), I thought this gentle reminder from our good friend, The Mensch on the Bench, was in proper form.

A mensch is a Yiddish word meaning ‘a person of integrity and honor’ – a person who does good by and for others. It’s an aspirational word and a standard I am striving to attain both personally and professionally as an example to my students, their parents, and my colleagues. I even hope to be a mensch to the person who honked at me this morning as I was getting on the 101 or the lady who jumped in line at Starbucks. Hey! No one said living life as a mensch was gonna be easy. I’m definitely still learning.

This holiday season, whether you’ve got an Elf on the Shelf or a Mensch on the Bench remember to take a moment, laugh, breathe, and be grateful for your family, your friends, your country,  your apartment, your house, your car, your metro card, the dollars in your pocket and even your chocolate stash.

And perhaps channel your inner mensch and do a good deed for others in this season of thanks, giving and gratitude.

Happy Holidays, from this joyful mensch to you and your joyous loved ones.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

A Development-First Approach to Learning

be-you-tifulAcceptance versus tolerance. What to change versus what to keep. How to improve without losing the core of what makes you, you? We pose these philosophical questions to ourselves and often think the answers will reveal themselves as time goes on and life continues. And as our confidence in our own abilities improves, so does our interpretation of ourselves.

The Current Problem: Teaching to the Middle

In education, we struggle with these thoughts as well. Standardization has proven incomplete to assess the whole child and although we’re trying (ie: Common Core) we haven’t been able to agree on a better path of testing.

The classroom is about averages. There is a standard-bell-curve approach to teaching. We know there will be some kids who dip below while others excel in that subject. Mostly, however, we teach to the middle.

But what if we could approach the classroom just like we approach our own self-development?

Currently, the system is set up so that once you turn five, you are automatically moved forward, up the educational escalator, until you’re 17/18. We agree that retention is not a viable option anymore due to its negative social implications, yet we also agree that not all students are ready to move on to the next grade even though they are the “right” age.

This herding issue creates major problems during formative years as well as after graduation. For example, a student may naturally struggle in peer-to-peer play but excel in reading or vice-versa. Yet we move that student to the next grade level, not because they are truly ready to transition but because we want them to be with their initial class. We are afraid they will be left behind. A spiraling-effect ensues, thus creating a student who struggles in multiple areas.

A Real Solution: Measuring According to Development instead of by Age

On the educational escalator, we fail to place emphasis on development and by doing so we fail to embrace a whole-child approach to teaching and learning. Teachers, parents, and other students have a profound effect on a child’s social-emotional development, which helps a child’s cognitive abilities. Transitioning when the child is ready developmentally versus transitioning when the child is a certain age makes more sense.

Turning six doesn’t automatically mean she’s mastered all areas of development and is ready to be successful in first grade. Heck, turning 36 doesn’t mean I’ve automatically mastered how you’re supposed to be in your 30’s (whatever that may look like).

The range of development, the spectrum of differences, is a concept we learn to accept when we have more life experience. When life has kicked us around a bit and we’ve had to learn the hard way.

Our educational system is a reflection of our culture. In our culture, we place so much emphasis on achievement by a certain age, when in reality we may hone those social-emotional-physical-cognitive pieces of development at different ages.

And that’s ok!

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

One Year Later: What Marriage Equality Means for Kids Today

Roughly one year ago, lovewinson June 26, 2015, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of marriage equality, elevating marriage to that of a sustained right for everyone. If you wish to marry a person of the same or opposite gender, you can and it will be recognized as a legal, consecrated union in all 50 States.

So one year later, how has this ruling affected kids?

Kids were Always Quick to know that #LoveWins

Children are not born into this world with judgments of themselves or others. Prejudice is learned and can be unlearned. For kids growing up in same-sex households today, the debate about marriage equality has never been about religion, bias or hate but, rather, will they be treated the same and given the same opportunities as other families.

More people today personally know someone in their family or friend circles who identify as LGBTQ, thereby making this ruling hit home on a personal level. Even in the wake of the tragic Orlando night club shootings where the LGBTQ community was targeted this past month, people have not shied away from supporting this community.

Children are quick to simplify the crux of the issue: we should all be treated the same. One 4th Grader wrote:

 “Why gay people should be able to get married is you can’t stop two adult’s from getting married because there grown and it doesn’t matter if it creeps you out just get over it. And you should be happy for them because it’s a big moment in their life. When I went to my grandparents wedding it was the happiest moment.”

SCOTUS Agrees with Our Kids

In the same vein, Justice Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion in Obergefell v Hodges, explained that by not having unified marriage equality in this nation demeans the structure and integrity of the family relationship, and in particular, places children in these family structures at a disadvantage: “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that a child who is raised by a same-sex couple is any less loved or cared for than a child who is raised by an opposite sex couple. In fact, the law has proven time and time again that it does not matter a parent’s gender, just as long as the child is raised in a loving, supportive home.

“As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. And hundreds of thousands of children are presently being raised by such couples. See Brief for Gary J. Gates as Amicus Curiae 4. Most States have allowed gays and lesbians to adopt, either as individuals or as couples, and many adopted and foster children have same-sex parents, see id., at 5. This provides powerful confirmation from the law itself that gays and lesbians can create loving, supportive families.” ~ J. Kennedy, Obergefell v Hodges [Citation pending]

Children who were currently being raised by same-sex parents played a major role in the explanation for why SCOTUS chose this time in history to extend the definition of marriage to same sex partners. The thousands of loved and supported children already being raised by same-sex parents spoke volumes in favor of federally embracing the already successful family lifestyles happening in today’s social fabric.

Equality for All Begins with a Child’s Understanding of Love

One year later, our country is still wrestling with tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. We can, however, rest comfortably with the fact that the highest court in the land believes that marriage should be an opportunity all people can enjoy and that kids are part of that equation too.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” ~ J. Kennedy, Obergefell v Hodges [Citation pending]

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

The Wonder Years of Our Times

wonder years kidsOnce upon a time, kids rode their bikes around the burbs, stayed out till dusk, and checked in for a family dinner at 6 before heading out to cruise the neighborhood again. The family down the block was the family you also barbecued with and there was bound to be another kid in your grade who went to the same school.

Everyone watched out for each other’s kids, growing up and growing old together.

Today, we wouldn’t dare let our children ride their bikes by themselves, let alone stay out till dusk canvassing the neighborhood. And although I’ve seen my neighbors and waved a friendly hello, I’ve never been to their house for dinner.

Things are different today.  Children used to have more autonomy at a younger age. In our modern era, yes, kids still have autonomy, it’s just in a different form. Instead of riding bikes to meet up with your friends at the neighborhood park, technology is their escape. As the tech debate rages on, our kids continue to rewrite history with their iPhones.

Life is lived on the web.

Instead of meeting up at Johnny’s house for sodas before dinner, our kids are group texting or chatting online, blogging about their day and YouTubing about their woes.

Living life alone, together.

I have to admit, although I love my iPhone, I’m a little saddened that I didn’t get to grow up in a time where it was deemed safe and reasonable for me to ride my bike to my friend’s house alone or meet up at the malt shop to gossip about my latest crush.

I realize that yesteryear wasn’t all peachy keen and as a society we’ve made great strides towards for the betterment for all. But I wish I could adopt the good bits of that Wonder Years time — holding onto some of the innocence for just a little bit longer.

There’s a strong nostalgic quality that suddenly takes over when I think about how my parents grew up and how my kids will one day grow up. Maybe it’s not better or worse, maybe it’s just different.

Still, I think technology has unintentionally taken away some of the anticipation, the not-everything-at-your-finger-tips, the waiting.

The wonder of the Wonder Years.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

Defining Self & Success

SuccessAs it stands today, education is geared towards teaching our young students the importance of achieving success. How we define success can make or break our students self-worth. All too often, success is defined according to our culture and in today’s society, success means having money and power so that you can be in control of your own happiness.

My New Definition of Success

As a well-educated and self-proclaimed “definer” of my own success,  I too adhered to society’s definition. The typical Type A student, I found myself always trying to live up to and then exceed my own expectations, attempting to outdo my last triumph and climb the ladder towards the next goal that would reinvigorate my self-worth and value to others. But it seemed the ladder never ended and that if I chose to, I could climb forever.  Only recently, did I begin to question the definition of success I adopted as a child. Through age, experience, and honestly the fact that I was just so tired of my never-ending climb, I  began to realize that my definition of success hinged on control.

And then I realized that control was an illusion.

The fact is I have no control over anyone or anything, except my own behavior, choices and actions. That’s it. After the initial shock wore off, it was oddly reassuring to know that the weight of worrying about having enough money and power so that I could be happy one day had lifted. A new chapter had begun.

I no longer have to wait till I have enough to be happy, I can just be.

Collectively Learning Success Through Praise

Children learn to define success through praise. We were praised for taking our first step, eating our first solid food, and using the potty for the first time. Our basic definition of success revolved around our basic needs. As children grow, the adults in their lives praise them for different things, harder things like getting an A on a test. If you’re praised for getting an A, then achieving an A becomes part of your definition of success. And we, as a culture, unquestionably accept this definition.

But what if we began defining success less collectively and more individually?

At the core of education is understanding how we each learn differently. We’re all good at different things and we all struggle with different challenges. Yet, we are taught to define success in the same way.

The system of education is beginning to catch up with the notion of individualized learning, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and even brain-mapping. Most educators acknowledge the research but many cannot fathom how to teach 32 students in 32 different ways. Classroom practices will have to be redefined to accommodate this new definition of learning too.

Embrace Individualized Education Now

I’m afraid we cannot wait for the system to catch up with the student. It’ll be too late and another generation lost to the definition that an A means you’re worthy. The work of change must be done now.

It’s important that parents and teachers collaborate, looking at the whole child and honoring their strengths while redefining their challenges. How do we do this?  At home, you can begin to praise your child for achieving a B or even a C in that really hard subject. So your child’s strength is with words and not formulas. That’s okay. She will still be successful in her own right. At school, you can begin to praise your shy student for his thoughtful paper on the subject, even though he chose not to raise his hand to participate in the class discussion.

Redefine Your Expectations

I want to be clear: I am not saying to lower your expectations, but, rather, redefine them in accordance with your child’s individual strengths and challenges. Children want to please you; they will rise to the challenges you set for them. It’s our job, as parents and teachers, to make sure those challenges build upon each other in an attainable way.

Do we define a baby’s first fall as failure? No, we define it as learning. Expectation and failure go hand in hand. Some parents and educators shy away from exposing their students to failure at a young age for fear their child will think of themselves as a failure. Did the baby think of herself as a failure when she fell for the first time? Probably not because her parents reassured her that it would be okay. Then her parents helped their child up and she attempted to learn to walk again.

That’s exactly what we as parents and teachers should be doing with our students: redefining success and failure as, simply, learning.

The challenge is really within ourselves because until we can redefine our own successes and failures as learning, we cannot extend the same kindness towards our children. How we treat others is a reflection of how we see ourselves. That’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over again. Thankfully, that’s a lesson I’m ready to learn.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Am I to Judge?

a-funny-kidsAcceptance, collaboration, putting yourself in another’s shoes, admitting someone else may have a better idea. These are not just difficult concepts for kids but boy oh boy, are they difficult for us grownups too.

No Need to be a Critic — a Struggling Student is their Own Judge & Jury

Working with kids who are struggling in school gives me a window into each child’s values, belief-system and self-esteem. I’ve taken note — when it comes down to it, each and every kid who is not making the grade truly feels left out.

At the root of all the anger, anxiety, blame, tears, skipping school and bullying is a genuine feeling of inadequacy. No matter the age or the problem, they feel judged by their peers, their teachers, their parents and themselves.

Mindfulness Abates Judgment

It’s not without work that I’ve learned to be intentional about stepping back for a minute and recognizing my own inability to judge anyone. Really, who am I to judge?

This ability to learn to love myself and others just as we are comes from the expected variables, including age, life experience, forgiveness for past wrongs and most recently yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for a good five years now and the thing that my Type A brain loves most about it is the fact that there is no judgment. I’m not supposed to judge others (especially that one guy in the front of the room whose hot tree is like perfect every time!) and I’m certainly not supposed to judge myself.

That’s what I teach my students. No matter the diagnosis or the grades, no one is allowed to judge you, not even the harshest critic – yourself.

This is not to say a student shouldn’t strive for that ‘A+’ or try out for the lead in the school play, only that we all have different abilities, learning styles and gifts. Some subjects will be harder. That’s a fact. Withholding judgment is not a free ride to eliminate trying your very best.

Be Free from Judgment & Help Your Child Learn to Love Learning

The goal is to be free from judging the aftermath: Judging yourself as a parent for working late again, judging your child for getting a C on his math test, judging your spouse for not doing his share of the housework, judging that mom at the playground who always has your kid’s favorite bunny graham snack.

Learning to accept what is, opens the door to what could be.

By refraining from judging yourself as a parent, teacher or provider, you are giving your child, your student, the freedom to explore.

Isn’t that really what’s at the crux of the matter. We feel stifled, so we judge. We need the freedom to say let’s try this, instead of I must do this.

By giving ourselves that freedom, we are teaching our kiddos how to love learning. And that’s the ultimate gift.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.