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.


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

Advertisements

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.

 

Summer May Be Right Around the Corner but It’s Not Too Late to Start the IEP Process

IEP

Navigating the IEP Process with TerryTutors.com

 

Alrighty, we’re headed down those sweet but chaotic last few months of the school year — 10 weeks to be exact, but who’s counting.

Although this school year is winding down, there’s still time to get an evaluation and possibly an IEP or 504 Plan in place, ready to go for the Fall.

If there’s something your child has been struggling with and it’s been a consistent issue all year long, then maybe there’s something else happening: a learning difference, behavior challenge,  social skills need.

A report card can only shed so much light on the issue. As a parent or a provider, we owe it to our kiddos to uncover the real reason they are struggling in school. This means going the extra mile and seeking out an answer through the evaluation process.

The first step is to:

1. Write your Request for an Evaluation Letter. An Initial Request for a Referral for an Evaluation letter starts the IEP process, alerting the school that you believe your child may meet the eligibility requirements to receive Special Education services and supports.

Note that if your child attends a private school, you can still ask for an IEP from either (1) the public school district where the school is located, or (2) more commonly, the school district where the child’s home resides.

Secondly,

2. Document everything. If you talk to the Principal, your child’s Teacher, or School Psychologist then followup with a Thank You email to verify your conversation and timestamp your efforts to put the wheels in motion. This is not to be litigious, but rather just good practice. The Advocacy rule of thumb: If it’s not written down, it never happened. Be understanding but be persistent.

And make sure to:

3. Educate yourself on what the law says. The district must legally comply with the federal laws of FAPE, IDEA, Child Find to name a few.

It’s a tall order. Having been on both sides of the table, I know firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to serve and meet each student’s individual needs. Don’t let the process discourage you!

Review these helpful resources to help you navigate the system:

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.

Inappropriate Behavior May Be Masking a Learning Difference

2012.7.Class-ClownIf you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?

If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:

It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.

You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’

The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference

When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs

What’s Going on at Home?

Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?

Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.

Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.

Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.

We need to change that.

Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.

behavior is functional

What’s Going on at School?

The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?

Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.

School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.

When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.

It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.

A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.

We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.

This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.

We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.

What’s Going on Internally?

Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.

A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.

I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.

Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School

Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate.  We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.

To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.

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 students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”