As Queen Anne Elementary grows we find ourselves with more teachers, more students and more fun! This year I had to move out of my beautiful and light filled office to a classroom (#204). As sad as I was to see my cozy space go I'm super excited about the new space. I'm calling it the Learning Lab.
The Learning Lab means a lot of different things to me. I crafted the idea of a Learning Lab a long time ago when I was in graduate school. I had this 'dream', a philosophy or an idea that no child should feel singled out. No child should feel embarrassed to get extra help or pulled from class. I have talked to many adults about how when they were young they felt embarrassed that they had dyslexia and went to the resource room.
I think the Learning Lab is a place where kids get small group instructions. Where students discover their passion. Where there is warmth from adults and help if you need it. It's a place where it is safe to make mistakes. Where other kids don't make fun of you for struggling with something. Instead they celebrate your accomplishments and support your struggles.
The whole point of the Learning Lab is to include lots of learners. If you receive Tier 2 instruction (see future blog post) you get to go to the Learning Lab. If you get IEP support you go to the Learning Lab and if you need a calm place to talk you are also welcome. On behalf or the Learning Lab department I'd like to welcome you! Feel free to stop by and see us!
All the best,
*who shares her room with Mrs. Minas, Mrs. Cooper, Mrs. Francisco and Ms. Lorentz
This is my favorite time of the year. It is also my busiest time of the year. There are many blog posts about back to school. From fresh school supplies to advice on friendship. My world of back to school looks a little different. I'm going in today. My first official 'paid' day is tomorrow. Today I will pack up my office in room #308 and get ready to move to room #204. I will meet with my new co-teacher, Kari Minas (Welcome Kari!) to discuss schedules and case loads. I will review IEPS and connect with our new teachers. I will begin the planning process of accommodations that your child may need in his/her new classroom.
I'm excited to see your kids again! I have missed them and I have so many great things in store this year. If you have questions or concerns regarding the back to school process for your child please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
At this level of education we don't typically do "transition IEP" meetings but I am always happy to schedule a review meeting with you and your new teacher.
Welcome back Explorers!
It has been a day. You know, one that leaves you wanting a good book and a hot bath. Here's what I have to say when it is all said and done. I love the people who pioneered special education before me. They were onto something big!
My kid has a disability and she has access to everything all the other kids with two feet have. She rocks a unicycle, runs laps, skis, hikes, pogo sticks and other means of activity.
What if your kid had a disability that no one could see on the outside? Would you want him/her to do all the other things kids do? Lets say they can't hear. Should they still be aloud to watch movies? What if they couldn't see? Would we deny them access to art? What if they had Tourette's? And shouted odd phrases that made others uncomfortable? (My friend had a student who use to shout "I have a chicken in my pants") would we kick him out and put him in a classroom made for one? Or, would we teach tolerance? Would we teach that people are made differently?
I had a student earlier say, "your arm hurts- maybe we should amputate." Obviously, I recognize this as a fifth grade joke but...
Another student earlier this week told someone that the dog was "retarded". Sure, I know what he meant, but it isn't okay.
I had a hard day. My students, and all others have rights. First, they are human.
If you have an IEP (individualized education plan) you are guaranteed to have instruction at your level. You are guaranteed access to the curriculum. This is all under a law that we call FAPE (or, free and appropriate public education). It simply states that everyone, regardless of disability or ability has the right to be taught. Pretty cool, eh? In having that plan you also get trimester updates as to the progress of the goals and objectives. Kinda like a report card.
This year I was particularly interested in the progress of my students. Maybe it was because it is our second year in our building and things seem to be settled down. Maybe it is because I have Muriel Lorentz, my instructional assistant, who I rely on to give my students added instruction. Maybe it is because I love your kids and I want to see them succeed!
I was overjoyed and proud when I wrote those progress reports. I did the testing, the analyzing and then the writing. ALL of my students have made progress toward their goals! ALL! Some have even met many of their objectives and goals! These kids have worked hard. In some instances they have worked harder than other kids.
So, when you look in your child's folder for their report card and you don't see their progress report please know:
I will send them to you in January! Yep, I'm late. I have written most of them but printing them out and getting them to you was thwarted by unforeseen circumstances. With that being said, feel free to email me over break and I will email you a copy or I will send them home the first week back!
Thank you for allowing me to teach your kids. Have a Fabulous Winter Break!
When you think of the word "Autistic" what brings to mind?
How about "Downs"?
What about "Quad"?
In our society we love labels. They are short, efficient and get the point across. The problem is when we start talking about people with labels it can quickly move into prejudice. I hear people say, "he is autistic" all the time. "She is a quad". I don't believe that these people mean harm but for me it is like fingernails on a chalk board.
In my professional community we have a phrase called "people first language". As an advocate for children I feel the necessity to share this concept with everyone. We are changing the way society feels about special education. Our communities are helping students and families, rather than shunning them. How many people do you know that are connected to someone with autism. A lot, I'm sure, because 1 in 70 children have autism. Yep.
The term "autistic" is problematic for a few reasons; much like the word "retarded". In its adjective form it describes a person. The problem with these descriptions is that it captures only a smidge of who that individual is. When we use people first language we put the person, well, first. The other problem I have with the word "autistic" is that I know many, many, MANY children and adults who have a diagnosis of autism but do NOT display typical symptoms and you may never know that diagnosis. Any really, why would you? It isn't important.
I have a thyroid disorder. Is that important for you to know to know who I am? I would never be considered "the thyroid lady". It is only one piece of my make up. I am a lot of things. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a runner, an advocate, a daughter, a friend, etc. etc.
The little child in your kids' class is a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, a bike rider, an artist, a math wiz, a reader, a friend, soccer player. He or she may also have autism but that is only a tiny part of who they are.
Here's your key...
has autism not autistic
has down syndrome not downs
has quadripelegia not a quad
has mental retardation (yes, it is politically correct to say that) not retard
When my husband and I became pregnant with twins we often joked about which twin would get the disability and what disability they would get. Sounds crazy?!
I am a special ed teacher. I became one because I love kids. I love kids who are challenged and quirky. I love the creativity that my job affords me. I don't have to use the 'district' curriculum to reach a kid... I can and often do, but I don't 'have' to.
Special education is a very confusing subsect of our educational system. In plain terms it means a student who requires specially designed instruction to access the general education system. Dictionary.com describes it as: "education that is modified or particularized for those having singularneeds or disabilities, as handicapped or maladjusted people, slow learners, or gifted children."
I have two issues with this definition. 1) we don't really use the word "maladjusted" anymore, nor "handicapped". 2) I believe that this definition is a little narrow. I do like, however, that they included "gifted" because many gifted learners also need specially designed instruction and... many 'slow learners' are also gifted. In the months and weeks to come I will continue to break down the definition of special education and also try to break down some barriers and ideas that often accompany the term.
Today I want to talk to you about my personal story. I knew, the way a med student diagnoses his own ailments that I would have a child with special needs. I knew when they said I was having twins there would be a very big chance of having a child who qualified for special education (cerebral palsy is common in twins citation here). My husband and I considered what it would be like to have a child with autism, with Down Syndrome, with CP, ADHD, LD and all the other acronyms. What we were not prepared for was the diagnoses that was given to our daughter.
I'm going to digress again....
When I was a young graduate from the University of Washington (college of education) I thought I knew what it was like for these parents who sat on one side of the table during meetings. I was presumptuous and obnoxious to an extent. I always felt bad for them ("must be hard to parent a child with autism." "Wow, they need routines and consistency to help their child with ADHD") and tried to understand, to be empathetic, to help in the best way I knew how. But honestly, I didn't know what it was like to have a child with a disability. I didn't know what it was like for them to hear those words. To write their child's health plan, IEP or IFSP (definitions to come). I will never know what it is like to be a parent of a child with Down Syndrome because I am not one.
My daughter was born with a disability. I know what it is like to hear a doctor say there is something wrong. I know how it feels to have your heart broken. What it is like to not know the outcome. What it is like to not know what the diagnoses means.
We found out while I was pregnant that something was wrong orthopedically; there was something wrong with her leg. We didn't know what it meant or what it entailed. Several tests and meetings with doctors later we found out it was called Fibular Hemimelia. This is a rare condition that I have been told happens in one out of 750,000 births. Needless to say we knew nothing about it.
Madeleine's leg was amputated when she was 12 months old. She wears a prosthetic leg, also called a prosthesis, or in our family: a leggie. Madeleine is a happy, healthy and very typical 6 year old. She loves to ride her bike, swim, climb and is very social.
The birth of Madeleine has not only made our lives better but has made my special education practice better. I can empathize with my families now. Madeleine's 'disability' is on the outside. You can see it. For many of my students the disability is on the inside and not so apparent.
I think special education is a very misunderstood banner. I tell people I teach special ed and they think I put in feeding tubes and clean up poop all day. They say, 'wow, you are a saint' or "sheesh, that must be hard". In reality I work with some of the most delightful kids. Ones who want to overcome their dyslexia, ADHD or understand why and what the autism spectrum is. Sure, I get refusals to work. I understand that the refusals represent fear, misunderstanding, confusion etc. I try to figure out what the behavior is saying that the kid can't.
I work like a physician. This is what I tell the kids. If you have a rash or a cough and you go to the doctor they have to figure out what it is that is making you sick and what medicine will make you better. My job is similar, I find out why the kid can't read. What is it that is getting stuck and then I find the right curriculum to help him read. Sometimes I have to try different things. Sometimes it doesn't work as well as I'd like but sometimes it is just what the doctor ordered. And a veil is lifted. And the kid figures it out. And he his self-esteem jumps so high and he feels like he can do anything, because he can. And then I sit back and say, "wow, my job rocks".
Is summer over already? Pretty close. QAE teachers are back to work in full swing planning for the fall. I'm reviving this blog. I'm hoping that this year as we are more settled into our new home that we will really hit the ground running. I have reviewed my student files and have begun grouping and scheduling. This is the first time in all of my teaching that I have started so early! Yay me.
If you know me personally you will know that I have kept a blog for many years. It has been my family blog and has provided me with great comfort and others with education. I'm nervously excited to share this professional blog with you. It is a work in the making as is my professional career. I'm nervous because I have strong opinions that can step on toes. I'm excited because I have strong opinions that I feel can change the world.
For the first post it is important that you get to know who I am as a professional.
My title is the special education teacher. Now I know that this has a lot of connotations to it. Special ed conjures up different images for everyone. Soon I will let you know what 'special education' really means and I will try to convince you that we all need to be classified as 'special ed'.
I graduated from the University of Washington, Department of education with my masters degree in 2005. In 2004 I had been doing family research for 3 years and my study was coming to an end. I realized at that time that my hiatus from education equaled a hole in my soul and it was time to return to the profession. I admit that I never wanted to be a general education teacher so I returned to get my masters in special ed. I was part of the "high incidence" program. Which just means that I work with students that have needs that occur often in people, learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder (both inattentive and hyperactive) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
I have always had a passion for students who learned differently. It is a challenge and a gift to figure out how to best reach a particular student. Those quirky learners are the ones who will stand out! Those are the kids that teach us and their peers something extraordinary! After working with many different kids I realize that we all have a bit of special ed in us. I realized that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and we 'categorize' to help us understand but not because it gives 'insight' into the child. A former professor always told us, "If you've met one kid with autism you have only met one kid with autism" disability manifests in everyone differently. It is important to look at the whole kid and not just thier disability.
I'm so wonderfully excited to be a part of such a great community as Queen Anne Elementary and McDonald Elementary. I've grown to love these students and see the precious gifts they all have.