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

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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

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

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