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

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.

Is it Okay to Question the School?

question marks

“Do I have the right to question the school’s authority?, asked one of the parents I recently counseled through the IEP process. “Absolutely“, I replied, “Not only do you have the right, as the parent you have an affirmative duty to question any person who holds themselves out to be an authority on your child’s education.

When I work with a new family seeking answers about their child’s grades, behavior, or social-emotional needs at school, more often than not, there comes a moment during our session where the parents sit across the table from me and sheepishly ask the inevitable: Do I even have the right to question the school on this matter?

YES, You Have the Right to Ask

Yes, yes, and yes.

You have the right to question the teachers, the administrators, the principal, the vice principal, the aides, the school psychologist, the administrative assistants, the bus driver, the OT, the PT, the SLP, and the list goes on.

You have the right to seek answers about why your child is not doing well in school. You have the right to seek answers as to why your child is not making friends or why his math test score was a 48% versus an 82% at the beginning of the year. You have the right to seek answers regarding her inability to comprehend the reading homework or why there is so much homework in the first place.

You have the right to know.

How Did We End Up Being Scared to Ask the Tough Questions?

After so many years of walking parents through the Special Education system, helping them navigate the ins and outs of legal code, jargon, and school politics, it dawned on me: I don’t know how we, as a community, became so afraid to ask the school “Why?”.

My theory stems from the “Seen But Not Heard” Generation.

Our grandparents were from the Depression era, where basic survival was the primary concern. Children were better seen and not heard, as the saying goes. Our parents are a product of this generational influence. This is also where our parents (The Baby Boomers) got their panache for stocking up on 2 for 1 can good sales, just in case. The Baby Boomer generation was raised to follow in their parents footsteps of compliance but eventually evolved into a cohort who began to question their government, their parents’ choices, and authoritative power in general. Then Generation X came along and in recent years began having children of their own.

We are still comfortable questioning our government, the media spin cycle, and the private financial sector (especially post 2008) but when it comes to education, we collectively seem to think that our job is to find the right school for our children, and once that job is done we let the school lead the way.

As parents, it is your job to find the right school fit for your child’s needs. However, the right school may not be the best school.

Parents are Afraid to Upset the Balance of Power

I find that parents have expended so much time, money and energy into finding what they deem the right private school or public district, that when there is a problem it often goes on longer than it should because the parent defers to the school’s perceived authority. It hurts to admit that we’re wrong sometimes.

There’s also the issue of facing teachers and other parents day in and day out while the issue is being resolved. How can I maintain effective working relationships with my child’s teachers if I’m doubting their expertise? Will the other parents still want to schedule play dates with my child?

At the root, our questions are based on the fear of not being liked or accepted into the group. But the true answer lies in how we approach the conflict.

The answer is simply to be nice.

There’s no reason be combative or litigious when advocating for your child’s best interest. Ensuring your child has the best (or, rather, appropriate, as the law says) education does not beget rudeness or inflammatory remarks, which can turn personal fast.

You are there to help the school help your child.

To do so effectively, requires active listening, open communication and collaboration. As an Advocate who firmly believes in Wraparound Support and collaboration instead of litigation, I know I get further with honey than with vinegar.

Take my advice: See the school and its players as real people who sincerely want to help your child; they just need you to show them how best to do so.

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!”

 

ECI: One of the Best Kept Secrets for New Parents

ECIEarly Childhood Intervention (ECI) is one of the best kept secrets for new parents. Here’s how to get your free, state-funded services and supports from Birth to 3 years old:

Birth to 3 is All Free, For the Most Part

State-supported programs, like the Regional Centers, provide free SLP, OT, PT, Specialized Infant/Toddler Center Based Programs, and In-Home Child Development Programs from birth to 3 without too much fuss because the government has designated these three years as the most needed in terms of a child’s development.

Here’s the “For the Most Part”:

Let’s be clear: there are, of course, a few things to be aware of when it comes to funding. In the state of California, for example, regional centers are contracted through the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). There’s no charge for diagnosis or assessment but once your child is eligible for services you must first exhaust “generic resources”, which are defined as: “a service provided by an agency that has a legal responsibility to provide services to the general public and receives public funds for providing those services… local school district, county social services department, Medi-Cal, Social Security Administration, Department of Rehabilitation and others.”

If they’re still within that 0-3 age range, however, you may be able to address the concern early enough to help your child in the long-run. If you’re concerned there is a delay in the areas of cognitive, social/emotional, physical, adaptive, or communication take the following steps* to find out for sure:

  1. Do Your Homework: Understand the Timeline, Process and Procedure for Getting and Maintaining Services, specifically the transition from ECI to the IEP process, as well as getting long-term services via The Lanterman Act
  2. Call your local Regional Center and request an assessment for the area of needs (CA Specific: DDS -Regional Centers)
  3. Know Your Rights and the Law
  4. If you find it’s all just too overwhelming or you need a little help navigating this system, hire an attorney or advocate, like us. (Terry Tutors: Education Advocacy Services -download our free advocacy PowerPoint)

The Caveat: Time is Not on Your Side

Unfortunately, the majority of the time parents do not know about Regional Center services or end up finding out too late simply because the child’s delay may not present until the age of 2 or even a little later. Since ECI services are only until age 3, oftentimes a child will “age out” before parents see real results. There’s still the transition meeting and potential IEP through the school district as well as the possibility of Lanterman Services (if the need is severe enough) but, for most typically developing children the need is minor (a God-send, for sure!) but because so, they are not eligible for subsequent services.

You Know What Your Child Needs

You’ve got that “Parental Sixth-Sense”, right! You know what your child needs.

That’s why I encourage all new parents to do their research, seeking out all opportunities for supports during these formative years. If you have even the slightest inkling that there may be a delay or need of some sort, I urge you to seek out help now so that you can set your child up for success in the future.

And if you need a little help along the way, I’m here. Reach out at http://www.TerryTutors.com

*California Specific 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!”

10 Special Ed Blogs that Make You Wanna Go “Yeah!”

special_education_blogsMy Twitter feed is on fire with some awesome blogs lately. There are so many resources out there in internet-land that I had to share a few of my favorites.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, need to find more education, or just want to talk about your frustrations then check out these gems in the blogosphere.

 

  1. Adventures in Aspergers
  2. Autism Father Blog
  3. Autism Hippie
  4. Firefly Friends
  5. Fusion Academy
  6. Innovative Speech & Language Pathology
  7. Love That Max
  8. National Center for Learning Disabilities
  9. The Center for Well-Being
  10. Wrightslaw

For more resources take a look at our LinksWeLove or Find Us on Facebook & Twitter

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.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Help Your Kids Find Their Dream Job

Dream jobI love what I do.

That could actually be the end of this post right there. I mean, what more really needs to be said, unless you want to know why.  If so, then read on my friends. Read on.

I had a lot of different jobs growing up: a sandwich shop, which lasted all of one week because I was skimping on the tuna (Side note: I later became a vegetarian), Starbucks, which I loved and hold near and dear to my heart to this day, and babysitting, where I was a natural. As the eldest of three girls, I was in charge and I liked it that way. It’s no wonder I parlayed those bossy aka leadership skills into owning my own company.

This little Venn diagram, above, really captures the essence of finding a dream career. It’s by combining these three areas that I created my dream job: working with struggling students and their families.

Here’s I how I did it.

Stuff I Love to Do

I love chocolate. Sadly, there were no openings for chocolate taste-tester when I graduated with my Bachelors in Psychology right after 9/11 or graduated from law school during the Great Recession (man, I have the worst timing when it comes to graduations!). I relegated chocolate to more of a hobby rather than a career, a decision that my waist line thanked me for.

Other things I love:

  • I love to travel.
  • I love to be independent.
  • I love cooking – throwing a little bit of this in the pan or a little bit of that in the oven and seeing if it tastes good.
  • I love knowing that I’m part of something bigger than myself, a movement of change if you will.
  • I love talking with people one on one. I get lost in big groups but a 1:1 conversation is where I feel at home.
  • I love to uncover the whys of things but then go a step further and figure out a possible solution. I’m not afraid of going outside of the box, in fact, I welcome it and have to be cognizant of sometimes pushing the envelope too far just to see what will happen.

Stuff I’m Good At

  • I’m good at strategy – anticipating both sides of an argument and being prepared to address each of those issues with reasonable solutions.
  • I’m good at administrative paperwork, and boy are there a lot of reports and forms and emails when you own your own business!
  • I’m good at the practicals of life. Getting things done with organization and care.
  • I’m good at seeing the potential in someone or an idea — a potential that may be hidden under a cloud of naysayers, sadness or frustration.
  • I’m good at navigating government entities, like schools.
  • I’m good at working with kids, and, in fact, sometimes I think I still am one. Or maybe that’s just my child-like innocence.

Stuff Someone Will Pay Me to Do

So here’s the big question: How I can prepare my kids (or myself) to find a career that will combine the stuff they love to do with the stuff they are good at? The answer may be as simple as: you can’t.

There may not be a traditional career out there for someone who possesses all the talents and gifts that your kids do. Yes they will find bits and pieces of their dream job by taking a traditional route but the reality is that nothing is perfect and no one loves every, single aspect of their job. Do I love billing? No! Do I make it a priority? Yes, because I have to.

How I Combined the Stuff I was Good At & Loved to Do and Got Paid to Make a Difference

After two degrees and mounds of debt, I set forth on a quest to combine my passion for advocacy with my love of education. I fell back on the “Stuff that I was Good At & Stuff I loved to do” skill set, and began privately tutoring students struggling in school. I quickly realized that their poor grades was often a symptom that something else was wrong: a behavior challenge, learning difference, social skills need, or family dynamic concern. In response to this overwhelming need, I added Special Education Advocacy, Family Coaching, Coordinating Care, School Placement, and In-Home/At-School Behavior Support to my repertoire thus creating a One-Stop Comprehensive In-Home & At-School Support Service for the Struggling Student. I founded Terry Tutors on the premise that collaboration is the key to a student’s success story and made it my mission to bridge the gap between home and school support by providing short-term, direct intervention services with an end goal of teaching The Struggling Student to self-advocate and navigate their own educational and life plans.

My story is one of practical problem solver who needed a self-sustaining, meaningful career that utilized her talents, education, and desire to change the world. The thing that gets me out of bed is the feeling that I’m doing my part to make a difference – to evoke real change. Money, Power, and Titles only provide interim fulfillment.

So instead of asking our children what they want to be when they grow up, we should be helping them identify what they love, what they’re good at, and how to combine those talents to get paid in the real world.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

My Student Attended Her Own IEP & Loved It!

IEP for aspergers child11 Years Old and already CEO of her own IEP!

I was so impressed when my student’s school suggested that she attend her own IEP Meeting. As meetings go, IEP’s have the reputation of getting contentious rather quickly and losing sight of the real reason why parents, psychologists, teachers, learning specialists, principals, advocates, and attorneys are sitting at the round table in the first place– the student.

Humanizing PLOPs, Goals & Services

But something amazing happened when my 11-year-old student sat in the big chair between her learning specialist and her mother, and joined the conversation. Instead of a heated debate over standard deviations, we were able to humanize the plan of action and include her in the review of all of those Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs), Goals, and Services.

Our “adult speak” had to be tailored to her “kid level” of understanding. By doing so, it made all of the attendees that much more cognizant of what we were saying and how we were saying it. We asked for her input, addressed her concerns, and clarified her job to continue to work hard and work towards her very best.

It was probably the most honest, quick, and productive IEP I’d ever been to, and I have my student to thank for that.

Student “Buy In” & Self-Advocacy

My student felt important because she got to attend her own IEP, a key component to her “buy in” and, ultimately, her ownership over her own education. It was just as much a lesson for me as it was for her, and it got me thinking: taking into consideration age and appropriateness of course, perhaps having our students attend their own IEPs should be the best practice.

After all, what better way to meet her annual self-advocacy goal than to learn to advocate at her own IEP.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Everyone is Special. There is No Normal and That’s a Good Thing

special40 years ago a public school’s Special Education program resembled more of institution than a classroom. Today, with the inclusion model in full force our Special Education programs seek to mainstream even the most severe children.

Extra Attention Paid to Special Students Takes Away from Rest of the Class?

Some educators and parents disagree with the inclusion methodology because there will inevitably be extra-needed attention paid to that one special student while the rest of the class waits for the teacher to get back to general lesson.

I understand their point. Inclusion looks good on paper but it doesn’t always work in practice. However, that argument is too linear for today’s classroom because the times really are a changin’.

There are More Special Ed Students in General Ed Classrooms Than Ever Before

The push and pull of the special education spectrum is ever-changing, and today’s classroom includes a greater number of Special Education students than ever before.

The National Education Association agrees:

Over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent. Three out of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom. In turn, nearly every general education classroom across the country includes students with disabilities. Each school and school district must determine the best way to conduct programs and figure out how to pay for them.

This trend isn’t ending anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is that with new diagnosis, new cognitive neuroscience research, new identified learning disabilities, and new psychological re-classifications (like the updated DSM-V, which does away with Asperger’s and instead diagnosis Autism with various severity levels) there will be more kids in the general education classroom receiving special education services.

This is not a bad thing because it means science, psychology, and education are beginning to merge, pinpointing how each individual learns best.

The More We Understand How Best Our Students Learn, The More We Realize There is No Normal

Was there ever really a “normal”, per se? Our education system seems to think so with its “normalized ranges” and standardized testing. The term normal has been replaced with the softer “grade level” and “developmental” verbiage. Although the nomenclature has changed, our generalized viewpoints have not. Our education system still believes there is a normal standard of achievement.

But normal is a variance. It is not concrete. It is not a one-size-fits-all ideal.

So the quicker we understand that each of the 32 kids in the class learns differently, the quicker we can get on with helping them identify and use the best tools and strategies to understand the lesson respectively.

Normal never was but different will always be. And that’s a good thing.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.