Pink Hearts & Bear Claws

pink heartIt’s hard being a kid, especially in middle school where up is down and right is wrong and social rules are ever-changing. I truly feel for my middle schoolers – I do; I wouldn’t want to go back.

For Davis*, that’s also the case, except he still has to muster his way through the next two and a half years of strife and confusion. His struggle is three-fold: (1) social cues alone are hard but couple that learning curve with autism and it becomes even harder; (2) transitioning from elementary school to middle is one of life’s BIG changes and comes with the need for greater emotional maturity, which not all of our students are ready for; and (3) Bear Claws – oh those coveted Bear Claws, a symbol that you are Top Dog with the most Class Dojo points and a chance to win free dress and front of the line lunch passes.

It is EVERYTHING in the social jungle that is middle school. Unfortunately, today, Davis did not earn a Bear Claw.

His day started out just fine, earning points for completing morning work, station rotations and fulfilling his classroom job. But something went awry after break and the points slowly kept slipping out of sight. He was neck and neck with Angel* when all of a sudden, Angel got double points for doing EXTRA WORK and SHOWING INDEPENDENCE. Poor Davis just couldn’t bounce back.

It was all too much.

And he just snapped.

“TEEEEAACCCHHHHEEERRR!!!”, Davis wailed in his Level 4 voice. “I NEED A POINT!!!!!! YOU HAVE TO GIVE ME A POINT!”

Of course, a Level 4 voice would never warrant a point; that would incite anarchy. Instead, he was issued a Warning, shortly followed by a Needs Work aka negative point.

Davis was down. But not out. Not yet.

With the help of my Amazing Aide, Davis sat on the stoop near the door and explained his side of the story. He argued his points like a well-seasoned attorney, citing all the evidence of the inherent unfairness of the point system in general and why he deserved a Bear Claw for his efforts today.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed and Davis was finally ready to rejoin the class. He took a few final Lazy 8 Breaths and strolled back to his seat. Before he resumed his rightful place at the corner desk, closest to the board so his wandering thoughts could be redirected to the lesson at hand, Davis, a kid whose struggle was real, took it upon himself to teach this teacher a lesson she’ll never forget.

Right there, in the midst of our planner and Remind.com end-of-day routine, Davis, with tear-stained eyes and a sniffily nose silently stood in my bubble space and placed a pink heart sticker directly on my heart.

He gave me his heart, with all of his heart.

I stood there for a few seconds, shocked yet honored to be a part of this moment.

His simple act of kindness was a keen reminder that even though he did not earn the Bear Claw today, Davis’ heart would always be in the right place.

*Names changed for privacy

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Christine Terry is a Special Education Teacher and the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services. She combines her teaching credential, psychology and law degrees, and a whole lotta chutzpah and heart to serve students and families seeking academic, behavior and advocacy support. Learn more at TerryTutors.com


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“Patience Young Grasshopper”

Now or later

I love baking. It’s calming, soothing, brings out my creativity and character.

Like tonight, I realized I forgot to pick up bread at the store and decided to try my hand at making it myself. I let the yeast meld with the warm water while I sifted the flour with the egg substitute. Then I added a little salt, some spice mixture and olive oil. Into the oven it went for 17 minutes.

I waited.

As the smell of fresh, homemade bread wafted from the kitchen to my dining room, I peaked inside the oven, poked a few holes to let the steam rise, and put the timer on for three more minutes.

I waited some more.

I waited till I could see the dough turn just a slight brown, knowing that the olive oil seeped through the bottom to create a crisp crust. Taking it out of the oven, I let it rest.

I waited again.

Would it come out all soft in the center? Would it taste good? Should I put butter and jam on it or date syrup?

Finally. It was done.  Not exactly as I had envisioned, more like a scone than a bread, but still, deliciously satisfying.

Waiting is anticipation.

Anticipation is full of a range of scenarios, strategies, emotions, what-ifs, hopes, nerves, and dreams. There’s so much more to the art of waiting than we acknowledge because, in our go-go-go culture today, we do not value waiting. Everything is at our fingertips. With the tap of the “confirm” or “send” or “delivery ordered” button I can buy, watch, and eat most anything, which makes it even more difficult to hone the art of waiting.

Waiting is a skill. A skill that is intended to teach patience. A skill that is becoming harder and harder to teach.

Just like our 24 hour news cycle and our quick social media replies, the quality of what we are saying, what we are doing and what we are portraying and projecting has been replaced with knee-jerk reactions. We are choosing to react instead of act on our own volition.

What can we do about it? How can we change? How can I change to be more artful, more intentional about waiting?

Well, I am learning that slowing down does not mean I will end up last in the race. In fact, it means that I will remain steady and steadfast to the cause. Steady is not boring. It does not mean I have given up or giving in. Steady means that I am stable and stability can bring consistency and appreciation to those aspects of life I may have put aside for a chance to run the race.

As I take this summer to recharge and reevaluate, I vow to also help myself learn to slow down a little more, be a little more intentional about my words, and when I’m ready — after waiting for the right moment — take action.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Middle School Kerfuffles

middle schoolAs school winds down (3.5 days and counting!), I’m thinking about my first year of teaching. Not only was it my “signature” year but I received my induction into the world of middle school. Yikes! It was a year of firsts… and lasts. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when teaching middle schoolers.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my 6-8 graders was that conflict, especially at this delicate “tween” age, is a part of their everyday lives.

Every look, every whisper, every walk down the hallway can potentially be a game changer for better or worse. Peer influence is at an all time high. It is the MOST important aspect of their day.

I guess I had forgotten that or maybe blocked out my own “tween” trauma of junior high.

As their teacher, however, my goals are in direct conflict with their line of thinking. I am MOST concerned about closing those skill gaps through content while attempting to find fun ways (ie: projects they like to do but will rarely grace me with their true opinion — that Ms. Terry does actually design cool things for us to do) to solidify those missing pieces of the learning puzzle.

Day in and day out, my hormone-laden teens and tweens, walked through my classroom door filled with internal and external conflicts.

Restorative Justice, differentiated instruction, rotations, unit plans, project-based learning, soliciting the help of administrators, colleagues, and counselors — I feel like I’ve run the gamut trying to implement best practice when the reality was that — as is true in middle school life – my day will never be without conflict.

And that, in itself, is the conflict.

So do I love it or leave it?

I love seeing a student begin to internalize the perseverance needed to be successful. I love building upon that newfound growth and challenging them to move forward in school and in life. I will, however, be leaving behind some of my first year learning curves (ie: novice mistakes) and replacing those with more consistent classroom management, more detailed unit plans, a more neutral tone, more relationship-building, more active listening and less reactive thinking, and more self-care.

I am looking forward to these precious 64 days of summer to rejuvenate and revive myself before returning for Round 2 of The Middle School Years.

God speed to all you Middle School Teachers. Now, I get it.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Conformity and the Common Core

standing in lineWe demand that our students raise their hands to ask a question, yet we require that they produce a self-identity reflection project. We insist that students stand in line before entering the classroom, yet we request that they think outside the box when answering that math reasoning question.

Conformity and the Common Core appear to be mutually exclusive. How are we supposed to teach students to think for themselves if we’re overly concerned with adherence to classroom management rules?

Put your backpacks away. Get out your pencil. Sit down. Wait for instructions. Raise a silent hand.

No, this isn’t the 50’s these are some of my classroom norms.

I’m not proud that I’ve had to conform to traditional behavior management systems in order to keep sanity in the classroom. That’s not what I thought I’d be spending 50% of my time on when I decided to become a teacher. In fact, I’m pretty frustrated that, after trying the new ways of running a classroom, still, at the end of the day it feels like I’ve made little difference when it comes to behavior.

On one hand, common core is about being creative, letting your students guide projects and lead learning. On the other hand, if the behavioral needs are too great the creativity gets tossed aside.

Now, I’m not a militant. I’m not perfect; my students are perfect; the system isn’t perfect — and I don’t expect perfection. But I was hoping that when I entered this profession, I’d get to be more creative and not just be a “stickler for the rules”.

The reality is that behavior outweighs creativity. If the classroom is not running smoothly, we cannot do fun things. Some would say the opposite. I was one of those, before I became a teacher. Conformity, fortunately or unfortunately, is required to move forward.

Hurry up and get with the game, cause I’d sure like to do some fun things. C’mon, kids 🙂


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Terry Tutors Annual Report: 2017

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

2017 was a wild one, for sure!

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

First Grade Wows & Woes

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

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

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

Creating Lasting Change Requires Consistent Self-Care 

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

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

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

2018 Resolutions

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

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

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

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com