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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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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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

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

Get Out of Your Seat and Up On Your Feet

5wsYou know that one class– the class you can just have the most fun with because the behaviors are under control and the kids get along, not only with each other but also with you?!  Well, I’ve been lucky enough to experience that class my first year teaching, and we got to start off the semester with the all important 5W’s and 1H Questions.

Now, if you’re as excited as I am about teaching this series then you are either (a) a teacher yourself, (b) a person who loves lesson planning, (c) a journalist, or (d) a person whose thirst for knowledge cannot be quenched by a mere textbook but whose desire for project-based learning keeps them up at night writing rhyming clues for the detective scavenger hunt. If you are any of the above, read on —

We have a five-week grading period and so I often plan long project-based lessons to adhere to this timeline. This is helpful for grading, progress monitoring and reporting, and general structure to the framework of the year. We began this five week grading cycle with none other than Good Charlotte:

Great for middle school, by the way!

Next, we delved into Clue and a new game, Suspicion. both of which are who-done-it games that bring the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions to life.

Then, we added some graphic organizers to solidify our understanding along with a reinforcement assignment on MobyMax.com, my favorite skill-building online program.

Finally, we’re headed out to complete a detective scavenger hunt, courtesy of Good Sensory Learning.

This is one of my favorite unit plans I’ve done. It’s been a blast to see the students really enjoy learning through play. Thought I would pass it along for all those who love to get “out of your seat and up on your feet” with project-based learning!


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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.

Keep up with the latest and greatest 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 with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com