Dear Students… I promise

Dear Students,
Here it is, my promise to you, my promise to every student that will walk through my doors. It’s a promise I never thought I would have to make when I decided to become a teacher but now it seems like the most important thing I can do. It has nothing to do with teaching you algebra or making sure you know how to use your schema well. It has to do with your well being and safety. When you walk into my classroom I want you to feel safe, I want you to feel loved and be able to talk to me. I want you to know that when you are here, I am 100% here for you! I am here to listen, to talk, to walk you through life. I want to promise you that no matter what I will protect these things. I will open my arms to hug you even though I am told to limit touch. I will bring you snacks and let you nap in the back of my classroom if life just got in the way last night and you couldn’t sleep or eat. I promise to listen to you with an open mind and never think the worst of you. Even if you have shown me 100 times that the worst may be what I get. But I hope that through all of this I can show you how much I care, and how much I want you to be happy and loved.
If you are struggling I want the first place you turn to be me, and not for a gun. I never want you to think that is the only or best option and I want to help show you a different way. And if I don’t know how I want to be able to point you in the right direction. I want you to feel safe inside of our school and I will always fight for your safety to learn above all else. You should never worry about if you are going to walk out of school at the end of the day, you should only worry about if you will forget your homework. I have worked with students where school is the only place they feel safe when home is filled with yelling and “daddy pushed mommy down the stairs” or where home is no place at all, but a new hotel room each night. For you dear students school deserves to continue to be a safe place, where for 8 hours a day all you need to worry about is algebra, and maybe if you are gonna see your crush in the hallway there is no excuse for you to worry about your safety above all of that.
And for my students who have a hard time expressing themselves, or who are unable to regulate your emotions in the same way that other students do, school still deserves to be a place where you can learn that where we can teach you how to cope with the stress that comes with being 16 or 17 or 18 or 25 because life is full of stress, and bullies and anxiety. Life is going to continue to show you ways it can be difficult but we can get through it together, but we have to be given a chance. I will always give you that chance.
I promise to fight and keep you safe, and I will promise to fight to ensure that you don’t think turning to a gun is the first or best option, I will fight to give you somewhere else to turn, someone else to talk to. I promise to guard your life like it was my own, praying that I will never have to guard your life, with my own.

Rae

 

 

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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!

 

 

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 ❤

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!

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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I live for the good days!

 

I live for the good days, they may be few and far between and of course they never come for the whole class, over even two people on the same day. But whenever 1 person has that rare, beautiful shining day it makes the terrible days. Which of course come for every single student on the exact same day.

The days when you are not sure you are going to make it through the blow after blow that come from seemingly all directions when all the kids are having break downs over the fact that they are not at home with their dog or because I won’t let them eat the glue cap or the marker or the magnetic letters, Hell because I won’t let them eat anything except food, or because god forbid I won’t let them eat lunch after taking only 5 pretend bites and pouring your milk on the floor so you could avoid drinking it. And yes these are all reasons that we have had break downs in the last TWO weeks.!

But goodness gracious on the good days they are full of love and sweetness, when you can see them light up after learning something new, those are the days you know for sure you are where you are supposed to be.

I know, I know but how do you get through all of those bad days, holding out for a good one? Because those good days are like the perfect good morning hug, the full body, arms around your neck, feet off the floor kind of hugs. If you can’t get through all the bad days waiting for one persons good day this job probably isn’t for you, because hell those breakdowns come multiple times a day and the good days come much much more rarely.

Today was one of those days for one of my students, she has not had the easiest transition back into school, well really she has been the reigning “Queen of the hotmess” in our classroom, full of breaking eye glasses, spitting on teachers, throwing chairs and a whole hell of a lot of “fuck you Ms. Kelsi’s” but today on week 3 day two she had what we like to call a GREAT day! A day where her entire behavior chart had smiley faces, and that thing is broken down into 15 minute periods so 26, 26 15 minute periods and she was a great listener and kind friend through all of them!

You know what happens when you have a GREAT day in Ms. Kelsi’s SpedTacular classroom. You get to pick the dance at the end of the day, of course she chose the “Whip Nae Nae” you get about 15 hugs an Ms. Kelsi is going to tell everyone that will listen that you had a great day. Because my lovely little Queen of the hot mess you deserve to know how well you did, and better believe you just gave me the “good morning hug” feeling and I need to hold onto that as long as possible. Because who knows what Week 3 day 4 is going to bring!

My life is Spedtacular!

Welcome to Spedtacular Me! I am a special education teacher in an elementary school, I teach in a self contained classroom my students by definition have an intellectual disability of some kind they range in ability level and disability about as much as as they range in personality. I love being able to spend my life with them and I frequently share quotes on facebook and I have been told they are people’s favorite updates so here I will share more specific stories about my students, their lives, their disabilities, how other people perceive them and of course my life as well. I am working on writing a book about this topic so I will share some pieces of that as well. Welcome to my world.

 

Happiness Is A Snow Day!

Happiness is a Snow Day!

A day when you woke up planning to, give that test and finish those literacy lessons and fix my CLO’s before my unscheduled observation

A day when you suddenly have no plans at all

A day when you wake up without an alarm at 5am to check if Snow Santa has dropped enough white beauty onto the streets to cause the Superintendents of the world to allow us and the children to stay off the street.

A day when you get to turn off your alarm and sleep until your hearts desire. . .but normally you are so excited for the free day that you can’t even go back to sleep and now you are up an hour before your normal school alarm would go off.

A day when you get to trick your pedometer into thinking you have completely changed professions by walking 1000 instead of your usual 8,000 by dinnertime.

A day for you. . completely off the books, a day of Netflix binges and bad food,

A day that I hate to break it to your children, we, the teachers need it so much more than you do.

From Denver with Love, Enjoy Your Snow Day!

 

<3Kelsi Rae 

An Open Letter to the Bad Kids. . .

This goes out to the student who sat down today and with a straight face told me, ” I am a bad kid.” When I asked why he thought that he told me that is what the assistant principle said. This comes after the assumption that this student took his Ipad home, because there was a picture of his mother on it, when in fact he was just smart enough to figure out how to Google his mothers name. Something the administration couldn’t figure out, when this fact was pointed out to them they refused to apologize to him, 10 year olds don’t deserve apologizes do they?

This goes out to you. . . because someone has to tell you

I want you to know that you are smart, and funny, and most likely way to witty and creative for people to handle. That you are an outlier not because you are bad but because they can’t hold you down, you do not assimilate to the classroom culture and you shouldn’t let that discourage you. Keep it up.

I want you to know that you can do the work in your classroom, that sometimes you just want to demonstrate the little power that you have in anyway that you can, While this may seem like a show of strength to you, by not doing your work you are only hurting yourself. Demonstrate your strength with your knowledge.

You need to know that compared to most of your suburban, educated, mostly white teachers you are a foreign entity. The stories you tell about the life you have to live outside of school probably astounds them. No matter how many classes you take on being culturally responsive, when you watch a 10 year old take care of his little brother and sister day after day, walk them to class, make sure that they get picked up. When you hear the stories about the 6 extra people living in your apartment it is hard to handle, and some people handle it better than others. Some people see your potential your grit, and resiliency that you show just for showing up at school each day and producing some work. Some people see how these skills will make you more marketable in the work force, some people will hone these skills with you and teach you how to regulate all of the many emotions coursing through your brain at anytime.

But some people will see a problem to be fixed, they will see a situation that must be diminished and overcome. They will see you as a deficit already, at 10 years old they will wash away all of your potential. And because of that they will write you off, they will call you a bad kid and keep a running record of your grievances in their mind. They will let your get away with not doing the work, not because they care about your situation, but because they think that is all you can do.

Accept this challenge! Rise to this occasion, to prove them wrong!

When those few teachers yell at you and sit you down one on one and make you do the work. When those teachers allow you to sit in their rooms for hours on end when you have been removed from another classroom. When you think that teacher couldn’t be any harder on you, just know it is out of love.

These are the teachers that know what you can do, they yell at you because it isn’t acceptable for you to not do the work they won’t accept anything less than the best from you, because to allow the circumstances outside of school to affect would be doing all of your amazing qualities a disservice. They are yelling and not taking your shit because they love you.

They know just when to give a little to not push to hard, but to still get the most work done.

My worst fear is that you will adopt that label of a “bad kid” as the truth. As I have already seen you doing as an amazing 10 year old. There is absolutely nothing inherently bad about you, sometimes you make bad choices, but someone has to teach you why they are bad, the choices you make are not you!

I want you to know that SI SE PUEDE! No matter what anyone, even yourself tells you. You can do this. You can overcome a system that was never designed to benefit you. but at its core, at the root of it was designed to keep you out of it. This system is yours, you are the future.

And the only thing Bad about you is how Bad Ass, you are going to make this world when you show everyone what you are made of.

❤ Kelsi Rae