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

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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!”