Amazing Things!

I have tried to explain what it is like to work with people with autism many times. I have tried to explain the beauty and the struggle, the different way that they see the world and the ways that it makes me a better person to have them in my life.

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Here was my post for Autism Awareness Month Last Year.

I have tried to make people love them and care for them like I have and every time I seem to come up short. I do not have autism and how can I expect to explain what the world is like for them when I don’t truly know.

Explaining differences in learning styles to children is something that can be done really well or really poorly, children are fairly flexible and welcoming if they are just sat down and explained things if they get the chance to live life with someone that is different then them they will come to understand the differences in people aren’t bad or scary, but can be beautiful and help to teach us so many new things about the world.

But often times as adults we are scared to talk about the differences, we have grown or been taught to fear the things that make us different, to look at the kids that learn differently then our own and to put them in a box as “abnormal” we pick out differences to make us more comfortable, to find our place. But that leaves us to afraid to talk to our children about the beauty in the world, the beauty in uniqueness and how to be a friend through it all.

In comes Amazing Things Happen, a beautiful video made to show kid things from a kid perspective to help understand students with Autism. I would love to show this to inclusion classes at the beginning of the year and have a discussion about all of our differences.

It shows the ways to be a friend and the way that you can grow together!

Take the time, watch it ,spread the word because when we work together,

Amazing Things Happen!

Here it is!

-Rae

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Fortitude!

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Fortitude:

Noun

1. mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously 

What does it look like to have Fortitude when you are not truly facing any adversity, or danger but you are just not content with where your life is at the moment? What does it look like to have the fortitude to stick with your commitments in order to see personal and professional growth?

Almost a year ago my husband and I made the decision to move across the country to a very small town that happened to offer career growth opportunities for both of us. He would be working on developing a marketing department and I would be starting a job in a school where they essentially had no special education program. I would get to design and implement the new program .

We have been here about 9 months and as is always the case, that hasn’t gone exactly to plan. We are both still doing those things for our career, I am just discovering that I don’t want to be the person to design and implement a new special education department, I don’t want to be the person that has to change an entire downs mind about special education. I don’t want to be the only person in the entire town that understands why we need to have a special education program or deal with the teachers and parents that just want to fight me. I have been finding myself dreaming of other places, dreaming of my students back in CO that made my life so much more rich. Dreaming of a place where I felt involved and needed, a place that isn’t this place.

So what does Fortitude have to do with any of this?

Well this may not be the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but it is the thing I am having to push through the most. I have always had an end game in mind, something I was working towards and when things got hard I just thought of my goal. But here, this has no goal. Maybe to set up a successful program, that may or may not fall apart once I leave. Maybe, to experience something new, but mostly my end goal as I see it right now is to leave.

So Mr. told me the other day to have fortitude, to stick with the commitment we made and see it through at least this school year. So here I am, finding fortitude.

My point here is, fortitude doesn’t have to mean that you are facing the hardest challenge of your life, or even that you have been forced to face adversity in any one else’s mind. It may be the most basic problem and yet it can really affect our lives. So what would happen if we all made Fortitude our mantra and gained the stick-with-itness that I try so hard to instill in my students everyday.

What if we all used Fortitude throughout our everyday life and had the strength to follow through, work hard, fight the battles that no one even knows we are fighting. What would happen then?

I guess I’m about to see. . .

-Rae!

 

What’s the big deal with the Circut?

So I have seen them around, at Micheal’s, Hobby Lobby, Amazon. Pretty much any craft store ever. Mr. H at one point was even receiving a commission from his job to sell more of them. But up until this year I never really thought twice about them, or really understood what they were. I thought they were just a fancy laminating machine, and my 20 dollar laminator from Amazon does just fine, so I thought, why would I need that?

But then I wanted to make words to put on my new classroom door, and I started researching the best ways to do it and I came across a million Circut articles, videos, blogs so I started looking into it and thought. 400 dollars, yeah no thank you!

And then a magical thing happened I was looking in my school store room for something and looked up to the back corner where no one ever goes . .. and there it was, a Circut expression 2 waiting for me! So I took it down to the secretary and asked about it. Her response was

“Oh yeah someone donated that and I don’t know how to use it, take it home and figure it out if you want.”

So that’s how I ended up with a borrowed Ciruct to play with and see, what’s the big deal with them anyway?

Now let me just tell you the first night after I got my mat and vinyl in the mail, there were mistakes, angry faces, cussing and eventually giving up after completely ruining one piece of vinyl and thinking to myself. This thing is not worth the trouble. I could just cut it out my damn self.

But after a good nights sleep, round two went much better than round one and we came out with some beautiful words to adorn the front of my classroom as the students enter.

Be Kind
Work Hard

 

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Because they are simple enough high school students can’t make too much fun of them and they still hold meaning for all my K-12 students.

Will this experience lead me to invest 300 dollars in my very own Circut. . . I think not.
At least not as long as I have one from the school to use!

 

 

How Do I do this again? The Scheduling Nightmare that is Sped Life!

I did this last year, right?

I made a schedule for myself, the students, paras, it had inclusion time, academic service minutes, and everything else you could ever need. .. like you know lunch breaks. On it right?

How did I do it again? How did I make a schedule that fit all the grades schedules, so I am not pulling from any non-negotiable times so that students still feel like a part of their class? But are also getting the academic and speech, and behavior, and OT times they need in order to be successful? Did I give my para’s meaningful work to do not just busy work right?

How? How did I do this? Did it really get done or did a magical scheduling fairy appear and do it for me and then wiped my memory clean so I felt like I did it myself?

I would take a magical scheduling fairy right about now because I am on draft four of my schedule for the year and I just feel like crying! How in the world is it all going to get done in the time allotted? How?

Other people in the sped world, do your in-service days get destroyed by the beast that is scheduling as well?

How do you do it? What makes your schedule run well? Or do we all wipe our memories clean after this every Spring so that we are crazy enough to do it again every Fall?

If you have a formula that works and doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out or your eyes go crossed from staring at your spreadsheet all day. .. PLEASE let me know!!!

-Rae

DIY Pinterest Teacher!

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I have always wanted to be a Pinterest teacher, the teacher that has the perfect room that somehow stays clean after 30 students live in it day in and day out. But it turns out that 30 students or 16 students with special needs in my case can make it pretty easy to turn into an Amazon prime teacher; even easier with that two-day shipping! Like what is this magic?

But this summer I came across this stool at a yard sale for 2 dollars

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I couldn’t resist the idea of a DIY teacher stool project.

So I turned to trusty Pinterest and began looking at people who are actual Pinterest teachers and set to work copying their wonderful work.

The post I found most helpful and the stool I decided to try and recreate came from One Artsy Mama, and you can find that original post with all the supplies and goodies you will need here (.http://www.oneartsymama.com/2016/08/thrift-store-challenge-babanees-inspired-painted-stool.html?crlt.pid=camp.8BUAsF5KNkB4)

I set to work cleaning and lightly sanding the stool before applying my first coat of paint to the bottom half of the stool. I used Folk Art Gold paint and let me tell you, the first coat was ROUGH! I considered starting over with a new color. But after the second coat, it was looking much better, and I set into starting on the top half of the stool.

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After I finished painting and letting it dry I knew I wanted something written on the top along with my name.

I have a shirt with the saying

Be like a pineapple
Stand Tall
Wear a crown
And be sweet on the inside!

I decided that this cute saying also carried an important meaning for my students about self-confidence and so that is what I wrote on the top.

I used the transfer method found here, (http://angelamariemade.com/2016/11/how-to-easily-transfer-a-design-onto-wood/)

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I LOVE the way that the finished product turned out. It is ready to enter the classroom in a few weeks!

And at least for this week, I am finally a Pinterest teacher, take that my Amazon prime addiction!

-Rae ❤

Must Have: Read, Reread, Write Strategy for Older Students! **Freebie**

If you are like me you are always looking for easy independent work for my struggling students, to reenforce strategies we work on in reading group. I have spent hours searching the internet for a reading comprehension packet that was both appropriately scaffolded; but also contained grade level content for my students that need work on their reading comprehension. Every time I could find reading fluency packets, or reading comprehension packets that were way too hard. Or I was stuck with packets that were appropriate but had content for younger students. So after attempting to piece together other peoples comprehension strategies and finding things that actually worked at different grade levels.
 I decided to make one myself.
Enter, Read, Highlight, Reread, Write!
During guided reading groups I use re-reading and color coded highlighting for my reading comprehension groups all the time.  I have found that this ensures the students are reading the text multiple times and also helps their brain locate and remember the important details to include in a written response question.
Many of my students that struggle with reading comprehension are able to immediately recall details and facts about what they have read but are unable to locate it to use in a written response answer. They have not been explicitly taught memory strategies to help them locate and recall important details after a delay.
For many students, explicit instruction is key for improving skills and independence.
These packets are placed in my student’s independent work stations so that they can practice these skills outside of guided reading group instruction. I have used guided reading time in order to teach and enforce the reading, highlighting, rereading strategy so that students are familiar with the strategy prior to independent work time.  These packets include both fiction and nonfiction texts and help build scaffolded study skills and reading comprehension strategies for students while utilizing grade level content.
As students become more familiar with the strategy I may include texts at their instructional level and request that they use a written response question to identify the key points to be highlighted. Effectively increasing their independence and working towards removing the scaffolds I have in place.
Because once they are independent they can use this strategy for ANY text they are given in order to identify and recall key details.
Here is a preview of the second-grade packet, I hope this strategy proves as valuable for your students as it has for mine!
            
This NO PREP preview will be available for FREE on my TPT store, you can find that here, www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart , so that everyone can try this strategy out, then full reading comprehension packet will be available soon, organized by grade level for easy use!
-Love Mrs. H

All the things I didn’t know teaching was. . .

 

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When you decide, hey I am going to become a teacher, you think of the little smiling faces, the children, you think of reading lessons, you think of addition and subtraction, you think of hugs and bubbles in the hallway, and watching little people grow up into bigger people

In my case I even thought of the terrible behavior, the hitting, spitting, cussing, and crying. I thought of the ways I would have to teach them things that most students learn inherently, they ways to speak to each other. The ways to treat people with kindness and communicate your wants and needs. All the ways I would help the world see my students for the wonderful people they are. I thought of all the things that I would teach my children and the things they would teach me. I did a residency year so I had been in the district for over a year already so I think I was more prepared than other new teachers but I still walked into that first year as a teacher only to be blown away by the things I did not expect. . .

  1. The politics, the teachers union, the disagreements with the district, the school board, the superintendent and the instructional superintendent’s.. . all the politics Teacher-meme-05-political-view-on-teaching.jpg
  2. Speaking of politics, why was my worth, my salary, always up for political debate. I was not prepared to be so frustrated with people who have never taught or in some cases even been a student in a public school continually telling me that my job was worth less than I was already receiving. Essentially telling my students that they are worth less
  3. The nights up thinking about my children, wondering if they got dinner, whose house were they sleeping at tonight. Did student Z get to speech therapy on time? Did student J make it home on the bus okay? The amount of time outside of the classroom that I spend just worrying about them.
  4. Also that fact that I started calling my students, “my children” I have no biological children but every year I gain a few more of “my kids” and I will do everything in my power to know I love them just that much.
  5. The amount of work I would do outside of the classroom, that wasn’t “teaching” I was prepared for the weekly staff meetings that for a special education teacher, rarely, were applicable to my teaching life. But I was not prepared for the hours spent at home researching the new teaching styles, ways I could reach a difficult student, ways I can improve my teaching practice. The hours that I was not worrying about my students, I was  planning for my students.
  6. Being a boss. . . so this may be a little unique to the special education world but I walked out of grad school and into supervising 12 students and 3 paraprofessionals full time. Now I knew I would be supervising these three paraprofessionals and I walked in with their beautiful schedules in hand ready to kill it at being a boss. But then relationships happened. . . and I realized that I was managing one woman who had been a para almost as long as I had been alive, one girl who got the job because her aunt worked at the school and had never worked in special education before, and one girl, my age, who wanted to be an art teacher. How could I offer advice to the woman who could have been my teacher? And I quickly learned that the other two would be more drama than the students. . . It took me a few months. okay, maybe a year to figure out the balance of being a friend, a boss, and a teacher. . . okay maybe I am still working on the balance but we are figuring it out.imgres.jpg 7.How much I would live for the good days! I wrote a blog post about this earlier explaining in detail how much a good day can mean in the special education world. The smallest things can make a huge difference because, without the little things, there would be so many reasons to stop being a teacher. But with the little things, by becoming excited when Suzy read 5 words correctly today when last week she only read 3. Sharing the joy with a student when they didn’t hit anyone for an entire day, and then an entire week. Cheering as a student begins to speak more clearly, or communicate their needs in any way.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Now, these little things may look different in a general education classroom but they are still there, all of the little things those students bring to your life, the reason that we think about them at night. The reasons we care about them, the reasons we continue to do what we do. When the politicians tell us it is not worth it when the salary means you cannot buy a house in your own city when you watch little people have to deal with things no one should ever deal with. Remember the little things, remember why you started teaching think back to hugs and bubbles in the hallway, think about the smiling faces and when a student accidentally calls you Mom. Because no matter what things come up that we didn’t expect these are the reasons I am a teacher!

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This is an Instagram post from that first year teaching when we were celebrating one of those little things!

Let’s go back, back to schoooll!

How many teachers change room every year? This is my first year having to change classrooms over the summer and it has me spending my days dreaming of classroom decor! How will I set up my space, my tiny space! How will I use the walls to enhance student learning and of course look cute!

In my old classroom I had both a sign language and braille alphabet hanging up on the walls, they were there for students in my classroom to understand the differences in how some of our students communicate. I had one student who was blind and wrote and read in braille, the braille alphabet helped many adults in our classroom to help teach him. The sign language alphabet sparked more thought and admiration from my other students than I could have ever imagined. I would find that students would stare at the hands the shapes on the wall, studying them much more than they wanted to study their letters on the page in front of them.  When students were unsure of their answers they would stare at those letters and sign their answer instead of saying it out loud. I loved the discussions about sign language we would have and the ways they grasped onto it as a form of communication.
So now as I am moving into my new classroom I wanted to be able to display these two languages again for my new students, to see the ways that the visual representations of language help students grasp onto language in a way that letters don’t for them.  In order to show these languages and also save some space since my wall space is very limited, to achieve both of these things we came up with an alphabet that contains all three! And here it is!
 
These visuals will be displayed as part of my word wall in my classroom! I am so excited to be able to use them as conversation starters and as visual cues for language for my students.
I can’t wait to do a “classroom tour once my little room is all set up! I can’t wait to show you the ABC’s in their . place and our little speech/OT corner.
We share a room in my school myself, Speech and OT. Speech and OT are online services at my school,  we are in a remote location and this is the best solution to still meet our students needs. I want to create a classroom that really shows a shared space, so I am developing a speech and language area, complete with posters and speech and OT visual cues. So that my students feel connected to more than just their instructors and the computer, I want to create a classroom experience for them.
 
I can’t wait to set these up so that the students remember that they are using multiple parts of their body when they are speaking. That they are active participants in the activity and that it involves more than just their voice.
These back to school set up ideas are available at
teacherspayteachers.com/store./my-spedtacular-special-heart
I can’t wait to share this year with you!
-Mrs. H

Watch Them Grow with Growth Bins!

Hello from “Teacher Summer”. . . where we spend all of our days drinking margaritas and lounging on the beach, while we laugh at our friends that are still working. And we never spend our days in teacher trainings or anxiously trying to plan how to move classrooms in two days before the students come, we never start back to school planning in the middle of July right? No, no that would mean we work during the summer. and that could never happen. . .  right?

Now Welcome to Real Teacher Summer where at least part of our days are spent thinking about, planing and anxiously awaiting next years students, and if you are like me, you are trying to get some of your back to school planning done on those amazing free days you get. Enter my new multi-syllabic word flash cards!

This year I am  moving into a new position and as a result I am going to try something new. I have been teaching a self contained special education classroom for students in 3-5 grade for the last 3 years. This year I am going to be teaching intervention and resource room students with mild to moderate disabilities in grades K-12. Yep K-12 terrifies me as I think, how will I meet all their needs, how will I put students in groups, how will I help students in such a wide range succeed. Then I found a blog about IEP boxes, you can read the original post here, http://www.thebenderbunch.com/2016/06/iep-tubs.html

She was using these tubs as she called them for an elementary classroom, actually a self contained classroom but I thought this could help with some of my anxiety and allow me to hit multiple students in multiple grade levels during overlapping times and still be working directly on their goals. So this summer I have been building these boxes. I am going through each students IEP goals and finding different activities to hit these goals and still keep students organized. Within each student’s box will be a classroom timer like these ones.  Which I guess are really kitchen timers I got on amazon for 14.00 for a pack of three.
Many students will be working independently on fluency or in partner pairs with another student or myself of an aid. They will be using these timers for self timed, math work, fluency work, or just to set a timer for how long their independent work in their My Growth Bins. For some students the time .set on these timers will grow throughout the year so they can increase their independent work time, for some students it will simply be a way to keep them on track.

The actual work inside each bin will vary depending on specific goals for each student, many of my students in the middle grades are working on fluently reading multisyllabic words, and so I created easy to copy and use flash cards, for these students. These cards contain 2, 3 and 4 syllable words and are scaffolded to included words broken down into syllable and ones that are not in order to help reinforce the strategies students learn to read these words fluently, and then allow them to show growth.

 Here is an example of the flash cards broken down into syllables. I have these hole punched and laminated for easy reuse from student to student.

The students other work varies from math practice, to social skills, and WH questions, and reading fluency and comprehension work. All work that they are able to complete independently for the first 10 minutes or last 10 minutes of our group.

Each student will have a bin that is color coded, without their name on it, this helps some of my older students especially feel less self conscious about the work they are doing. They are able to focus on their own work without being worried about having their name and therefore grade  or age attached.

I use the color coded system in all aspects of my classroom from data binders too graded work and displayed work for multiple reasons but this is a big one. Future blog posts on the color coded life to come!

I plan to use these during overlapping time for each grade level, the way my schedule is set up there are a few minutes where I will have a variety of grade levels in my classroom at one time. This allows me to easily progress monitor goals, make sure that they are working specifically on goals and increase independence. If you are looking for a way to help your students reach these goals please check out my “Growth Bin” products here, http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

You can download the multisyllabic words flash cards for FREE here http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

And follow me on Instagram here @my_spedtacular_special_heart_    for more spedtacular ideas!

I hope you find something helpful to use with your students, whether finding a way to differentiate in an general education classroom, a resource room, or a self contained classroom all students need something a little speducatular!
-Mrs. H

School of the Special Hearts (The Lucky Few)

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People spend a lot of time talking about my “special heart “when they here what I do for a living. And then they double that when they here that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE what I do and who I do it with.

I spend a lot of time annoyed with the people who just don’t get it! They don’t see the beauty, the love, the pure joy that comes with spending my life with children who have disabilities. Sometimes it feels like they are living in a black and white world and just don’t see the color that is all around them because they spend their lives on the outside of my little world with these students. How could you not love them, and want to spend your time teaching and learning from them.

But then I read the book “The Lucky Few” by Heather Avis and it was like I was staring into the face of someone who just GOT IT! She was saying all the things I feel and she was preaching it to the world. She was shouting the worth of her children and all children that are born with down syndrome or other special needs for the world to hear. And the world needs to here it.

That doesn’t mean either of us were born “getting it” at one point or another the idea of spending our lives with children with a few extra chromosomes terrified us; Heather talks about how much life with her children, “wasn’t her plan” she just wanted a healthy baby as all new parents do. But that was not that plan God had for her and once she said that first yes to adopting her daughter she was diving head first into a world that holds so much beauty.

She looks at her relationship with God in new light around every corner of this book. She sees his hand in the darkness in the loss of the ability to have children and the beauty in the gift that he gave her through the children he provided. Because she just had to remember he’s got this. He knew she would be one of the people that “gets it” she would take the lives of these beautiful children he made, and yes I totally believe he made them with that sneaky little extra chromosome on purpose, and she would show the world just that. That they were created, that they were no ones accident.

With each of her  yes’s she learned a little more about herself and about the kind of heart that God has for her and for her children. She continually said yes to the hardest things he was asking of her and gained a beautiful life from those yes’s. She learned something new with each of her children.

I think one of the most beautiful things I learned from Heather was from her struggle to bond with her middle child Truly. If you know anything about this family you know that sassy miss True is the only Avis child that does not have down syndrome. She has the typical number of chromosomes but more than makes up for that with her amount of sass.

Heather shares the struggle she had to bond with this little girl with all the will power and beauty. To most people they would say oh a “normal” baby that would be the easy one to love and fall in love with. I love that she shares the struggles here just as much if not more than with her two children with down syndrome. In this light you can see how much you have to learn from all different types of children, they all open your heart and pour something different in.

Heather opens her heart to God and repeats over and over, “Yes, you got this. . . Yes you got this!” And because of that she has walked into the life made for her. I hope that even when I am staring into the darkness, facing what seems like an endless amount of NO’S, I can continue to repeat, “Yes, you got this!” And walk forward into the space that is given to me!

The Lucky Few the people that get to spend their lives learning and sharing with something with down syndrome are just that so lucky. It took one of what I like to call the “best good morning hugs in the world” The full body, wrap their legs around you, lay their head on your chest, good morning hugs that in my experience children with down syndrome are the absolute best at giving. It took me one of these hugs and I just knew. I was meant to be a part of this

The Lucky Few.

Heather Avis’ book comes out on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21st 2017. (How perfectly fitting right?) It is available for pre-order NOW! Go, buy it! Welcome yourself into the BEST club!

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