Just Take It One Day at a Time

one dayLet’s be honest. Not all of us want to go back to school. Sure, the new supplies make it a little more fun and seeing our friends everyday is a big added bonus but, all in all, the lazy days of summer are much more appealing than the structured confines of the classroom.

Students: I get it. You are not alone. Even teachers have a hard time going back to school.

Transitions are challenging. Nerves set in and our minds start wonder, “Will this year be better or worse than last? Who will I sit with at lunch? What if I just don’t get algebra?”

That’s why this year my classroom theme is: Just Take it One Day at a Time.

Whew. Just saying those words – speaking them into existence – helps calm me down. See, teachers worry too: What if I can’t reach every student? What if this classroom is not the right fit for me? What if the lesson I planned is not perfect and my students refuse to do it? What if I’m just not a good enough teacher?

The wonder of the ‘what-ifs’ can send anyone down a shameful spiral of negativity and fear. It’s okay to be afraid of the unknown; it’s a natural reaction to newness and change. I think the key is to take that fear and flip it into excitement.

It may be a just a trick-of-the-mind or a-flip-of-the-switch — a small change in wording, however, can lead to a big change in outlook.

Students, Teachers, Parents: Your job this year is to Just Take It One Day at a Time.

I’m certainly going to try.


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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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“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

GenX Teacher Mixes Tech & Teaching

When I was a kid in the 80’s, our school’s technology consisted of Schoolhouse Rock, Mrs. Frizzle, Reading Rainbow and, of course, the classic — Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Oh and let’s not forget the typing test on our version of 1:1 Tech (ie: a couple of Macintosh PC’s in the actual computer lab) where they put a makeshift cardboard cutout over the keys so you couldn’t cheat your way to 40 wpm.

Image result for old macintosh PC

It wasn’t until college that I had an email address and not until after graduation did I get my very first cell phone.

There’s no question that the advancement of technology has changed the face of education in and out of the classroom. As a GenX Teacher, I’m inclined to use a complementary mix of tech and teaching. In fact, I’m pretty pumped that I can pre-teach explanatory writing on Quizizz, assign an informative article on Achieve 3000, re-teach paragraph format on Kahoot, assess on Accelerated Reader, and require homework submission via Schoology.

It’s definitely a different world.

That’s not to say I don’t see the value in teaching without tech. In fact, just today my students were struggling to grasp the concept of Cause and Effect. We had done the videos and assigned the online tutorials, but there’s nothing can replace engaging classroom discussion and good, old-fashioned teaching.

Teaching is truly an art.

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The Behavior Kid

behavior-modification2Distraction to self and others. Disruptive to whole group instruction. Externalizing aggressive behaviors. Functional Behavior Assessments.  Behavior Support Plans. Behavior Needs, Issues, Problems.

This is just some of the educational verbiage to describe students who exhibit behavior in the classroom. Behavior needs contribute to being off-task, and if a student is off-task they are not getting their mandated instructional time.

Instructional Time is Lost! 

That instructional time is such a double-edged sword: behavior needs often prevent students from accessing curriculum, and if students are not accessing curriculum then the school is out of compliance.

I very much wrestle with this issue. As a special education teacher, I am helping students fill in those skill gaps in creative and accessible ways while at the same time teaching students how to self-regulate their own behavioral needs. This is a tall order. One that often takes time away from pure academic instruction.

I think where we struggle in our education paradigm is expecting students to have already learned the behavioral tools before they come to school while also expecting teachers to focus only on content.

But that’s not what really goes on the classroom.

Classroom Management & The Behavior Kid

The reality is that when there is a student who is being disruptive to the class the instruction stops. Period. The instructional minutes for the students who are not being disruptive as well as the student who is experiencing the behavior need are lost.

Simply put, academic teaching is gone for that moment and replaced by behavioral teaching.

Good classroom management is an art form, one that I’m still learning. I’ve noticed that if there’s already an effective system in place then we can reduce those lost instructional minutes to a minimum. If not, the behavior of one student can engulf the entire class time.

Too often, though, a “good” classroom management system looks like this:

He gets a warning, again. He does it, again. He gets ‘kicked out’, again. Sent the Vice Principal’s office, again. Written up, again. Has detention, again. Parents called, again. And then he’s in class tomorrow, doing the same thing.

Even with a new educational focus on being less punitive and more restorative, the student is the one who is missing class time, and therefore missing class material.

He’s now behind on the lesson, behind on his homework, behind on his ability to  understand the material. He’s also the one ostracized by his peers for not fitting in. He’s the one talked about at the teachers meetings and discussed at length in a professional development workshop at the school.

But the question why is he ‘acting out’ is barely ever addressed.

The Function of Behavior

The function of behavior is the root cause of the behavior itself. Why is this student acting this way? Why do we, as adults, act a certain way?

Answer: To get something or to avoid something.

Perhaps the work is too easy and the student is bored. Maybe it’s too challenging and the student is struggling. We have to get past the externalizing behaviors and uncover the reason why.

And there’s always a reason.

Is Self-Paced Instruction the Answer? 

The more comprehensive or “windy road” approach to behavior takes a team of administrators, psychologists, behavior interventionists, parents and teachers to uncover the reason why. This is more time than is allotted in one class period or even one school year. This is a long-term solution to understanding the whole student.

The problem is that education does not afford time to its students nor its teachers. There is pressure to learn the material before the test, pressure to eat lunch in 25 minutes, pressure to meet the goals, the benchmarks, to be successful NOW!

This go-go-go  mentality is partly an American cultural influence, partly our educational systems’ focus on test scores and moving on to college at the ‘right’ age, partly parent/home/family pressure to do well in school, partly parent and teacher buy-in that this is the way it should be.

But, perhaps, this should not be our status quo.

We should afford our students the opportunity to access the curriculum at their own pace through self-paced instruction. As an adult, that’s how I learn new material. Yet, our school-system requires that we must meet certain standards each year to go on to the next.

If you’re a student who is not ready to go on, why do we require that you must?

This is the larger question at issue. We should not be punishing our students who are clearly not ready to work in a group, adhere to simple turn-taking tasks, to move on to the larger class, or to go to the next grade level?

Learning a new skill takes time.

If we slow down, alleviate the pressures to move on and move up, and provide students with the tools to manage their own behavior we can then begin to help them learn academic content.

All in all, self-paced instruction may be the answer for some students. It’s now up to our students, parents, teachers and administrators to ensure this option is on the table. Our ‘behavior kids’ are showing us they are not ready to operate within the context of how our school system is currently set up. Instead of requiring them to do so at all costs, let’s listen more closely and find a way to help them learn at their own pace.

I believe individualized learning is the wave of the future. Maybe our ‘behavior kids’ are just ahead of the curve.


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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