Sunday, September 25, 2016

Week 6 and I'm still standing upright...

I'm not gonna lie. Week six about did me in.

Not the kids. Myself. I had so much self-doubt this week about things that had nothing, really, to do with teaching. More about how I felt about the way people communicate, and how my passion doesn't line up with reality sometimes.

Such as, I want so badly to help every single kid succeed. I want every single student to allow me to help them. But the fact is, some of them don't want to be helped. Some of them are simply content to maintain the status quo. Some of them simply don't care half us much as I care. And yet, there's still a part of me that thinks I've got to at least try to see if somehow it's our fault in how we present the material.

But as a student teacher, especially as a push-in student teacher for Special Education in a high school setting, I'm powerless to really do anything about that. Sure, I can encourage all I can, but I have no real power to make changes that need to be made for a student. And that is beyond frustrating because I'm a fixer.

I don't like being told that you can't save all of them. I don't like being told, "don't even try with that one. You'll never get anywhere. He's a lost cause."

I don't think anyone is a lost cause. Ever. I don't care how many times that kid has rejected all efforts. What if there's that one time that kid wants to try and we don't encourage him to? What if there's that one time we finally make a breakthrough?

See, maybe I'm too much of an idealist. I know it's a character flaw of sorts. As an INFP, that's how I perceive the world and attack it.

But that's also, I think, what makes me a good teacher. I can't be dispassionate about anything I believe in. And education is one of my greatest loves.

The entire week was so emotionally exhausting that I was more than happy to come home for the weekend. But it wasn't all bad. I had a very good evaluation on Thursday, when I taught a money math lesson. You can find my lesson plan here: Money Math Lesson.

Here's the rubric: Money Unit Rubric

And here's the money scoot game I used: What's in Your Wallet?

The students loved the SMART board game: Money Review Game

It made me feel really good that my clinical supervisor gave me a good evaluation and she seemed to really be happy with the activities I chose. Lesson planning isn't a weakness of mine by any means. It's probably my favorite part of teaching. I've often considered designing curriculum, or at least writing it. That's why Special Education appeals to me, too. I like figuring out activities and lessons that will engage students effectively.

On Friday, since it was homecoming, we cooked tailgating food: walking tacos and caramel dip for apples. The students did such a great job cooperating with the cooking. And it was all delicious!

Since it was homecoming week, the school had something extra going on with assemblies everyday. It really messed up our schedule, and I got more lessons in flexibility. The final pep assembly was pretty fun, though, if I must say so myself. The theme all week was The Hunger Games. In the last assembly, the teachers did a skit where they fought to win the hunger games. Weapons were things like swimming noodles and giant stuffed animals.

I think I'm over the hardest humps in this placement. I'm looking forward to this last week of teaching full-time. The following week (my very last week) I get to observe other teachers before moving on to my elementary school placement. In some ways this secondary school placement has flown by. In other ways, it's taken a long time.

I'm mostly frustrated at how tired I feel at the end of the day, and how much homework I have. It's not allowing me to get my other writing done. I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to balance it all. How will I meet my writing deadlines and teach? I don't know yet. It's something I'm working out.

The teaching itself is going great. I love being with the kids and I'm dreading telling them goodbye. One thing I'll be focused on this week is figuring out a good goodbye activity for my last day. Makes me a little teary-eyed just thinking about. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Student Teaching Week 5

This week had so many ups and downs. More ups than downs, but what a dramatic week. I'm pretty sure I'm headed for an even more dramatic week next week because of Homecoming. The students will be on the ceiling. <sigh> 

I learned several important things this week. Some had to do with teaching. Others had to do with politics in the school. And some lessons had to do with myself and how I feel about certain things. I recognize a level of frustration that surprises me a little bit. The frustration comes from being "only a student teacher," in which I'm powerless to initiate change in areas that need to be changed.  I'm only a guest. And I must mind my manners. 

Not that I wouldn't mind my manners. I definitely would. I just don't have a voice as a student teacher. And that's as it should be. You can't have student teachers running willy nilly all over the school initiating change. Someday when I'm a "veteran teacher," I'll share my frustrations. But for now, I bite my tongue and carry on in silence.

The greatest success I had this past week was surviving my first evaluation. I was tickled that it went as well as it could. No one's perfect, and nothing is, but I can't think of anything that could have gone smoother. Even a student with autism, who returned to school after a week of being absent and sick, was engaged and cooperative. Whew!

My lesson was "Honey, I Love You." It was about the benefits of, and cooking with, honey. Here's the lesson plan: Honey Lesson Plan.

I got the idea to teach about honey in Special Education Life Skills because it was National Teddy Bear Day on Friday, September 9. I couldn't figure out anything age-appropriate for teddy bears, but I did know bears love honey, so that's how I arrived at the idea. To hook the students, I decorated the room in teddy bears at the different honey-tasting stations. 

Basswood Honey Station

Yellow Sweet Clover Honey Station
Dark Wildflower Honey Station
But, we had a fog delay which canceled our morning Life Skills class on September 9, and I had to move the lesson to Monday, September 12. Boy, was I happy to learn that September is National Honey Month! Whew!

You can find my PowerPoint/Slide Show presentation here: Honey I Love You.

The quiz I created can be found here: Honey Quiz. Passcode: Bright.

We followed up the honey lesson by making teddy bear pancakes and topping them with honey. My students did a great job!

We also made honey lemonade and used honey bear bottles to drink out of. 

The rest of the week went well with my student with autism. He was disrespectful several times. I finally told him that the next time he was disrespectful there would be a consequence. The teacher and I agreed that if it happened again we would call his parents. He really hates how I make him close out of all the Mario Brothers sites on his Chromebook.
It's hard for him. He's used to getting his way. And as a Mom with twins with autism (now grown) I understand his frustration. But, I also know how important it is to teach this student how to interact appropriately with others. The mistake I see too many parents and teachers make is allowing the student with autism to have a tantrum. There's a difference between a tantrum and a melt-down, and I'm fortunate that I can pick up on that fine line. 

Basically, a tantrum is a fit a student has that doesn't harm himself/herself. A meltdown? There's no stopping them from hurting themselves. Tantrums hurt others deliberately, too. Meltdowns don't. There's nothing deliberate about a meltdown.

I had some great breakthroughs with this student. I was able to help him with after school homework without a meltdown. That's super hard for people with autism -- to do something outside the normal routine. I was really proud of him. And I chalked it up to a win for my student teaching experience, too.

I think working with students with a diagnosis of autism is one of the most rewarding parts of my experiences as a student teacher. I also enjoy working with kids who have emotional issues. But with all these kids, it's always two steps forward, three steps back. 

One of my students broke my heart this week. He got in trouble and got an in-school suspension just when we were making some great progress. This student has such a rough time of it. Let's just say that he has virtually no home base. No foundation. No adults in his life to guide him or nurture him. I was just getting him to interact in class and this happens. (He hides his face a lot. Yes, this is a high school student.) Broke my heart. We can help them and help them, but then society's boundaries are just too tight for them, and they are unable to navigate them. The consequences of him being isolated outside our classroom were devastating and will put us back to square one.
And yet, in spite of all the frustrations of this week, I'm still looking forward to the day I have my own classroom. I'm still determined to live the dream of being a certified teacher. I want to be the change that helps students. I don't know if it's possible to help them enough to make a major difference or not. But I still can't help hoping that maybe I can help just one. 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Surviving Week 4 of Student Teaching
This was my first week of solo teaching. Which, in Special Education is sort of a misnomer because you're never flying solo, really. You have paras around and the kids with emotional disabilities have their mental health aids with them. But it was my first week being without the supervising teacher feeling like she had to stay in the classroom. Which is another misnomer because high school special education teachers are rarely in their own classrooms anyway. They're usually out and about in other general education classrooms helping calm behavior kids, in IEP meetinsgs, etc. That's what I'm not sure I'll like. I want to teach, but these days, high school special education teachers do a lot of social work.

The most fun thing I taught this week was how to scan QR codes. I taught the students how to add an extension to their Chromebooks that allowed them to practice this skill. I love the model of Chromebooks they are using because of the camera that rotates. The students were all issued the Lenovo N22 11.6" Chromebook. Not a Cadillac by any means, but it's impressed me on several levels. First, I didn't think I'd like the idea of using all things Google, but I have to admit, the ease of communication with students is awesome.

The case the school issued, the Maroo work-in cases, allow students to use the Chromebook while strapped into the case. This helps protect the cases. Students aren't allowed to remove their computers from the cases.

Originally I was supposed to be evaluated on Friday for the first time by my clinical supervisor. However, we had a fog delay of two hours, so my Life Skills class got cut by 2/3s which meant there wasn't enough time for the lesson. To prepare the students for using a QR code to access an online quiz, I needed to teach them how to scan one the day before.

They'd never done this before and had a blast. I made four QR codes that linked up to funny memes that made them laugh. So hopefully, on Monday when I have my evaluation, they'll remember how to use their Chromebooks to access the quiz. It's hard to know whether they'll generalize this skill or not. Even if they don't, it won't take long to refresh their memory.

One thing I'm nervous about is that a student was absent all week who is the most challenging and he'll likely be back Monday when I'm being evaluated. Should be very interesting! But this is what I signed up for, right?

I am having anxiety dreams about being evaluated which is ridiculous. I dreamed that I had to crochet a square into a grid (I haven't crocheted anything in over 30-some years) and then I had to click whether or not I was willing to be a recreational director. Say what?

But I am well-prepared. Over-prepared, actually. I do have a bit of a time issue with my presentation. I've decided to tell the students we will discuss some of the material further in another lesson. Hopefully that will be acceptable to the evaluator. We'll see.

What I was hoping to do was tie the lesson in with National Teddy Bear Day. And what do bears love to eat? Honey, of course! So my lesson is on honey. Well, since I can't tie it in with National Teddy Bear Day now, I'm tying it in with -- wait for it, wait for it...National Honey Month! Winning! How blessed can I get with that?

:::goes to PowerPoint and changes Teddy Bear slide to National Honey Month slide:::

Fails this week:
  • Not getting any of my editing done on my book.
  • Second-guessing myself/confidence issues.
  • Teaching math is scary for me. I have a phobia about it that's absolutely silly. 
  • Got tummy sick over the weekend and didn't have time for any homework or book editing.

Successes this week:
  • More at ease with rowdy 11th grade boys -- able to direct traffic better and keep them focused. Starting to connect with them. Remembering their names.
  • Prepared an awesome lesson on honey I can be proud of
  • Learned to navigate several different online lesson planning sites
  • Solo taught with success
  • Held my tongue with staff when I really wanted to spout off
I'll save most of my pictures for next week when I let you know how my evaluation went. But here's a teaser: 

Taste test set-up for Basswood honey.

Oh! And another win this week? My first teacher name plaque! 

Makes it look sort of official, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Reflecting on Week Three of Student Teaching

This has been the week of self-doubt. Not in my chosen profession, but in myself. I'm too hard on myself, and I know that. I have to get over this "being human" thing. I want superpowers! Not in any area except being able to do my job as a teacher well and succeeding.

It wasn't all bad. Looking back I realize that I did make many connections and build relationships with the students in a deeper way this week. One student confided in me, but when I had to take what he said to his teacher of record, he felt betrayed. We worked through that, though. I was honest with him and explained that as a teacher, when students tell me certain things, I'm obligated to take those facts to the authorities. Amazingly he accepted it.

I also made connections with a student of autism and even had a breakthrough! He had an amazing rest-of-the-week after we made that breakthrough. That felt so good to me, and I tried to get him to recognize what that feeling of success felt like, too.

Another student of autism and I had fun exchanging puns and dry humor. And I was able to make a breakthrough with him by talking about, of all things, parasites. Love it. I love working with the autism students the best, I think. But then, when I turn around and work with the emotionally disabled kids I think I like working with them. Who am I kidding? I love working with students regardless of their diagnoses!

This week for social skills we played a Jenga game. I had questions on every Jenga piece for them to discuss. One of the students troubles me and I am still working on making a breakthrough with him. He is self-loathing and negative about everything. Breaks my heart. I try so hard to reach him, but he is hateful and pushes me away emotionally. Once in awhile, though, I see a glimmer of happiness in his eyes. It's fleeting, but as long as I see it once in awhile, I know there's hope. He needs someone to talk to so badly. I have questions for my supervising teacher about his need to be referred for counseling.

There are some things I'm perplexed about in this profession. One of them is that the Special Education teachers serve more as social workers than teachers. They are called upon all the time, and pulled out of their classrooms, to address behavior issues in general education classes. These are for students who have IEPs. This leaves their own students in their own classes with a paraprofessional. I don't like that the students, who need the consistency of a teacher's presence in a self-contained classroom, are always being abandoned. It's like they get punished, too, for the bad behavior of the other students.

That's where my self-doubt came in this week. I asked myself, "Do you really want to do this? It feels like all that special education teachers do is paperwork and social work. When do they really get to teach?"

I also felt that my cooking lesson this week could have gone better. But I was assured by my supervising teacher it actually went very well. My frustration stemmed from keeping everyone engaged. I finally was able to have every single student doing a job. We made muffins and smoothies. The results were delicious and the kids did a great job! I was very proud of them.

I'm also more tired than ever this week. I don't know if it's all finally catching up with me or not. But I can't seem to get enough rest. I can't seem to be able to feel rested. Even now as I type this, I can barely keep my eyes open. And at night, my legs and feet hurt me so badly that my restless leg symptoms set in.

I think Special Education teachers are the hardest working teachers in the schools. While other teachers clock out as soon as the kids load the buses, my supervising teacher and I work sometimes up to 11:00 PM on paperwork, project and lesson preparation and corresponding with parents. Not to mention shopping for supplies. I spent $75 just on supplies for two weeks of cooking lessons. And no, we don't get reimbursed.

I still love doing this, though. My enthusiasm is not hindered. But my body is shouting "slow it down, girl!" Thankfully this is Labor Day weekend! And while I have tons of homework, and edits to do for a book I've sold, at least I can curl up in the chair with my pets and stay off my feet for a bit.

Now, where'd I put those eyelid picks for propping open my eyes?

Can you guess my new mascot?

As soon as I get my badge, I'll announce my new school and position. So excited!!