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

The Joy of Spring Break, teacher style

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Remember that feeling the last day of school before a break, whether it was Christmas break, spring break, Summer break, or even just a long weekend.. . the anticipation of not learning for an entire week, for some students it means a week of relaxation and video games at home, maybe you are at a day care for the week, and yet for other students it means a week of being home a lone and maybe not eating consistently because normally you eat two meals at school 5 days a week.

This has been the biggest shift that as a teacher instead of a student, my students are stressed out by spring break, several have begged to stay here with me at school, ( because clearly I stay at school all week, you know teachers do live in their classrooms), they have asked to come home with me for the week, and one student asked my teammate if he could crawl in her suitcase and head to Chicago with her.

Now the spring break I remember meant either being at my friends house most of the day or remaining quite as a mouse while I often played games by myself, I grew up with a single mother and she worked nights so day times were quite in our house while she slept. but I was always excited about breaks, I always knew I would have more than enough food to snack on endlessly I knew that my mom would always be happy to see me when I woke up, I cannot imagine the stress that my students feel around spring break. To be so young and have to worry about such large things breaks my heart, If I could load you up with a suitcase full of food for the week I would!!

Now back to that anticipation and excitement you used to feel around a break from school, now imagine that now, imagine you were getting a week long break from work built into your year, no vacation days used no consequences  for not showing up, just a week where the entire company took a break, that feeling is infinetly better than the feeling as a child.

This year with grad school and teaching I was not sure I was going to make it to Spring Break, this week has been a major trial to get through, the students are in rare form, either because they are stressed about the break or excited, or a mixture of the two.

But here i am just counting down the hours until I don’t have to teach another thing for 9 days, no more instruction of the LEAP indicators, no more grading papers, I get to relax and then it is the last big push till summer which is full of testing, testing and more testing, so really your final push for instruction is over and now we have to get to Summer, just get to summer!

Hello March, please be damn beautiful!

February has been especially hellish for me! Denver has had record breaking snowfall and I hate the cold! I have been finishing the third quarter of my grad program and it seems to be especially terrible! Last week I had 4 papers due in 4 days. It is also hiring season for the public schools for next year! Luckily I was able to get a job quickly but to add insult to injury from everything else now everyone else gets upset because they have not secured a job for next year yet! So please please God le March be beautiful!

It is March, which means my birthday is in 6 days, I will be 24 years old! What is exciting about 24? I can’t think of a damn thing, except that I have landed my dream job and that I am getting married! These all seem like very adult things to be excited about don’t they?

Well welcome to March, I decided to do a protective style for March, my hair has been whispering at me to big chop or mini big chop, and I just can’t get myself to do it so away the hair went. I went with box braids for this month! They are medium length I like them well enough I hope that will be able to keep them in until the beginning of April, I plan to take them down and reevaluate cutting my hair over spring break, which is the first week of April!

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I ended up cutting some of the length off of the ends because they were just too heavy, now they are choppy and uneven and I think I like it even better that way.

Yesterday, one of my students was having a rough day with behavior! By rough I mean I had to pick him up from the office for group time, he was crying and had apparently pushed another student. This particular student happens to just own my heart! He is one of the 5 black boys at are school and he is one of the 3 that are continually fighting off the Affective Needs center ( which serves students with severe emotional disabilities) There is a high disproportionally to the number of black boys in these programs and I am doing everything I can to make sure this student is not wrongly labeled.

So yesterday he enters my group and asks to look up George Washington, Beethoven, Mozart, Abraham Lincoln and finally George Washington Carver. Now the first 4 I could understand, all fairly well known names in history. But George Washington Carver stumped me. why did my 3rd grade student even know his name, let alone want to look him up. So together we started dong some research, and we cam across this image

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Where there is no vision there is no hope. Now this was a big statement for this student, but we broke it down into student friendly language. We made a deal that whenever he was having a rough day, he would remember to look towards the future, have vision for himself, and that would bring him hope to change whatever is happening. I printed out the image and hung it above my desk. Whenever he is having a hard time he can come in and remember to have hope!

We had to check back in with the principle after group, when she asked him how he was going to turn around his day he turned to her and said, “No Vision, No Hope.”

I don’t think I have ever been more proud!

This is why he owns my heart.

So I had to remind myself, that even though February has been especially hellish, March is here, and spring is coming! I have to look to Mr. Carver and remember. “No Vision, No Hope.”

❤ Kelsi Rae

Dreams and Debt

Dreams

Do you have a dream job?

I don’t mean like I want to be a famous actress or a Kardashian ( is that really a job even?) But a job in your field that you could potentially actually obtain. Maybe the job that inspired you in the first place, the job that when you think of yourself, doing what you do, that is where you are doing it? (Does that even make sense) Well I hope everyone has a dream job, even if it seems impossible right now or far off from where you are in your career, but it is attainable. I believe that everyone needs to have positive mental imagery in order to keep moving forward in your personal and professional life.

Well I have a dream job, and my dream job i dangling right in front of me, I am a finalist in the interview process and I do my teaching demo next week ( the final step in the hiring process in my district) I worked in this school as an assistant teacher before I entered my masters program, I have been removed from the school in order to fulfill the requirements for my residency year and now that that is coming to a close, I am back applying for lead teaching positions. The position that I have envisioned myself doing all year, the thing that kept me going when I was at my lowest with mild/moderate education. I was not feeling fulfilled, I didn’t think I was truly making a difference and was unsure if I would last the entire residency year in the placement I had been given. I thought of this job, I thought of what it would be like if by some miracle the teacher left and I could work with my team in my school with those students. I got through the residency and now here I am applying for jobs, when I get the call, that job the one I had been dreaming of, is opening up. . it could really be a possibility for next year.

There is just one catch. . .

As a part of my residency program we are offered full tuition reimbursement if we meet certain qualifications after we finish. . one of which is to work in Title One school in this specific district. . my dream job is not at a title 1 school., not even close. . But the program I would be teaching is still one of the hardest to staff positions in the district, working with the students with the highest academic and social needs, but I will still not qualify for reimbursement. . So here I am stuck in a pickle.

If I was single I would say, done I will take the job, I was lucky enough to only take out a few thousand in loans and the district still offers loan reimbursement so those would still get paid for, I would have to pay my Mom back for the help she gave me. . and my mom is way less scary and interest ridden than the federal government.

But I am not single. . or at least I won’t be officially by the time my next job starts in August, I will be a married a married woman with a family of two to think about. So the pickle gets worse. . .

I know that my fiancé will do whatever he can to get me my dreams, just like he knows that I would do for him. So it is not about permission it is about commitment and compromise. We have to look at our finances and make sure that this is something we can reasonably afford to do. That on top of the new higher rent we will be paying and his existing student loan debt we can take on another large amount of debt. I have done the math for my single income and I believe I could do it.

But is that what is best for my family? Will that be the way that we are the most fulfilled in life and able to begin saving for our long future together?  Is it completely selfish of me to put this on my new husband to burden him with this debt so that I can what, be in a school I know? What if there is another school that I will do just as well at? Is it ok for me to ask for something this big? As much as I want this job, I want a happy marriage more, I want a life that we can say we are both fulfilled and please with the decisions that we have made as a couple. I want us to be able to tackle whatever comes our way together, and I don’t want to start our relationship off with resentment.

I don’t know if that would happen, he loves me more than money I know, And he wants me to be happy but I am just so torn on what is best. We are supposed to sit down and talk about it soon.

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But is this what American higher education has come down too. .Dreams and Debt?

Do they have to go together, even with this debt I will have less school loan debt than most of my friends that only have undergraduate degrees? How is that just in a world where a higher degrees is becoming more and more necessary that this is what it comes down too

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What can you teach Ms. Magisano?

This quarter I have been taking a culturally responsive pedagogy class, we talk a lot about the racial and economic achievement gap that is widespread throughout this country. We discuss growth mindset, and things like the school to prison pipeline. Over all this class talks about a lot of things that I would hope new educators coming into the field especially in urban settings would see as common sense, things like . . believing all my students can succeed, and identifying the value in having a multicultural classroom, engaging families of students from different backgrounds. And a big one is ensuring that you are nurturing the whole child it is true that sometimes my students come to school hungry, or unclean, they come to school off of four busses to get here, after waking up at 4 am to get their little sister ready for school. Sometimes it is true that one of my fourth grade boys is in charge of his household when his mom is at work until 10pm, he walks his 3 little siblings to and from school makes sure they get fed and to bed before taking care of any homework, , and we wonder why the homework doesn’t get done.IMG_0735

But most importantly, more important than all of these things combined, more important than all of the obstacles that face these children everyday are the things that these students can teach me.

They have so much knowledge that I just try to soak up, everyday I can learn something new from them and that is what gives me the fire to teach them as much academic knowledge as I can, so that they can go out into the world fully prepared to teach everyone what they know.

So this week I had my students do a project to tell me exactly this, what do they think they can teach me?

I know all of the wonderful things that they teach me everyday, I know that when they wanted to do their project in Spanish I learned just as much that day as they did. I know that when they are light up to tell me about the different ways they are so caring towards each other, the ways they show compassion and empathy, I learn a little bit more about the human race each time.

But what do they think they can teach me? Is it about their joy, their culture or family, do they realize I cannot speak Spanish as well as they do and I would love to learn? Do they know that I am an only child so understanding how to interact with siblings is something I have never had to learn?

So I gave them an open forum to tell me, they were able to write “What can I teach Ms.Magisano?” Color and decorate it and we are going to make a collage of all of the things that my children know. I believe that so many times teachers come into school believing this is a one way street, they do the teaching and the students do the learning, and so students get that feeling too. . . I want them to know that this is a two way street, we are working together in this journey.

Here are just a few oIMG_0737f their answers. ..

IMG_0735 IMG_0736 They did not think of any of these wonderful things that I cherish so much. But seeing how they think, they things that they value is equally as telling. I am a literacy teacher, so many of the responses were that they could help me with math. Lets be real, they probably could. And then there were some banks of knowledge I never would have guessed, I learned about the Freedom Tower in New  York, I learned how to change to oil on a motorcycle, from a 5th grader, Nice! And I learned some fun things too, like that Jupiter has it’s own rings and that I could use help with my hair braiding! It was one of my favorite experiences so far and I can not wait to see what else I learn this year and every year to come.

Take the time to listen to children, so often they are absorbing all of our knowledge sometimes we should simply sit back and let them teach us something, the world will one day be in their hands and it is amazing how much they already know about it.

Color Blind or Color Brave?

I grew up in a small town, and by small I mean white, and by white I mean, known for its white supremacy church and ideology.

I grew up knowing all of the minority members of my community on one hand, and by that I mean 2. Me and a boy in my grade and we were both the only black children of white single mothers, didn’t exactly scream cultural pride. I grew up trying to mute my association with the Black community, a community I admittedly knew very little about. This was not the fault of my mother, who helped me with all my self driven research projects, into the old negro baseball teams and deciding at age 13 that I was going to go to a historically black college which died as I got into high school and realized all of the historically Black colleges were states away.  She did all of my research with me and appreciated all of my curiosity, but she just did not have any personal knowledge, so I fell farther and farther from my black roots. I was one of 9 out of 1900 black students in my high school, and in college the only black students I knew either played football or basketball, And at this point I was already not comfortable enough around people that “looked like me” to approach any of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I dated black guys, the majority of guys I dated in college were black, but my real long term relationships have always been with white guys, as is my future husband. I can remember multiple occasions when the different guys I would date told me that they liked, or in some cases disliked the fact that I acted like a white girl. So thats what I became, the white black girl. If anyone even knows what that means? Well I do, I knew exactly what people would mean when they say it, and I internalized it. I became more nervous to enter a room of black people and disappoint them, than to be the only black person in the room.

So now I have entered a grad program that repeatedly tells us about being culturally responsive and we look and look at data and discrimination, and the disporpotionality of minorities in drop out rates, and the school to prison pipeline and suspensions. And now I am here, wanting to be color brace.

So what does this mean to me? I need to embrace the color of my skin I need to be the person that will stand up for what I believe in. I don’t want to hide behind the “i don’t know” response.  I don’t want to live in the “white black girl” stereotype. I have made changes in my life to do these with the people around me, when I am offended by an off hand comment I now call people out on it, I hope to educate people about how things are perceived and not accuse or castrate people.

I need to think about how I am going to represent myself in order to create value in the diversity for my students, and for the people in my community at large. I don’t think being color brave means saying everyone is the same, I think it means, everyone is different, and that is wonderful.

When I think being color brave I can remember being in high school reading Huckleberry Finn, as of course, the only member of the black community in English class, being asked in front of the entire class why does the word Nigger still offend black people? The class continued to tell me that, we needed to just get over it because it doesn’t mean anything and it hasn’t in like 100 years. At the time being a 16 year old girl I curled into myself, I muted the feelings that were coming up until I ran into the hallway, found a corner, and just cried. At the time I could not pinpoint the feeling I did not know what was happening but those assumptions, those kind of conversations should never happen in a classroom.

One person is not the representation of a race, one person is a representation of themselves. So to be Color Brace I will stand up for my students, I will ensure that they don’t have to feel that, at least in my class and that they are prepared to have those conversations when people, I will teach my students to see color, to embrace color and to embrace people. And if that is my contribution to the evolution of society if I can bring students into the world that understand the differences people bring and why we should embrace color and change then I will be happy.

I will create a small piece of society that is not afraid to talk about race, that is not afraid to embrace their identity, If I can make sure that one person does not ever mute their identity like I did, then I will have succeeded, I will be brave!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”-Socrates.  “The examined life is painful.”

❤ Kelsi Rae