This past weekend I attended the Illinois Council for Children with Behavior Disorders Winter Drive-In Conference. While not all of my students have behavior disorders, they do have a wide-range of disabilities and I found that a lot of the information and strategies can be applied to all of my students. I attended a special workshop about teaching self-management skills to students, and I am so excited to get to implement it in the next couple of weeks. I also attended sessions on best practices for working with aggressive youth, and another on using wikis, blogs, and other technology. Ideas are swirling in my head, and I am practically giddy with excitement to try them out with my students.
In the early 1990s, Brian Andreas, an American artist began collecting stories. He innovatively used the Internet of that time and collected thousands of stories from around the world. These stories eventually grew into colorful, hand-lettered prints—the foundation for StoryPeople.
One of Andreas’ prints is called Deep Roots. The story says this: When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots and I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school and whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things children need.
As I noted in my previous post, I attended the California League of School’s Technology & RTI Conference. I will also be attending the CEC Conference this coming April. Which brings me to a point: I like conferences. Why? I like interacting with like-minded people who aren’t my everyday comrades in arms. When you teach at a rural school, you know everyone’s life story, as in every student in my district’s entire <100 student population. It’s like I go to work every day and it’s a great big family reunion: this makes it much harder to be objective about lesson planning and teaching technique. Attending conferences is my outlet to find out how other educators are getting by in the classroom, educators who know nothing at all about my students.
Every county (in California, at least) has at least one Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). This group is collectively my one-stop-shopping experience for all things special ed. In fact, my SELPA regional contact is the person who first told me about the Council for Exceptional Children, so you know they’re awesome! During the last two school years, I attended trainings in specific curriculums and effective instructional strategies, IEP writing, and assessment administration — and they were all FREE.
Recently, my SELPA held its annual special education orientation to kick off the school year. While the target group is special educators, any educators within the SELPA were invited to attend. It included a presentation on how the different divisions within SELPA work together to make sure we are providing appropriate services to our students with exceptionalities, as well as a reminder about our new IEP forms and the Student Study Team process.
As a new teacher to Henry County Schools, you must go through a week-long teacher induction program (TIP). If you talk with veteran teachers, you are warned of the stereotypical monotone presenters (think Charlie Brown’s mom) spouting endlessly about policy and procedure.
Luckily, my TIP experience was the complete opposite. It made me feel as though I am a new member of a family that is excited to have me there and will support me throughout my first year and career within the education system.
As I got out of the car Monday morning, my stomach was turning and my mind steadfastly preparing for three days of boredom. However, by the time I reached the front door I couldn’t believe where I was. Administrators from the central office and school leadership were outside and within the lobby of the auditorium, greeting us with smiles, taking time to have conversations with us, and providing a welcome unlike any other. Within an hour, district officials had us laughing and even singing a song about how excited we were to be in Henry County Schools!
I have two schools. First, there’s my working school. As the name suggests, it is the school where I work. It gives me paychecks and fun lunchtime conversations. I get a nice summer break from this working school.
Then, there’s my other school, the one I attend. I just finished the last of my credential courses and am now working on my master’s. This schooling sometimes feels like it will never end, which means that on good days I fancy myself the perpetual student, and on other days I call myself a glutton for punishment.
I’m entering my second summer in a row when I haven’t been truly “off” from school, due to textbook-reading and paper-writing assignments. This summer, I have the added pressure pleasure of these lovely, looming words: literature review.
Well, it’s that time of year again: School’s out for the summer! All of my teacher friends breathe a sigh of relief, and all of my non-teacher friends think I’m off to sip iced tea on the beach for the next three months. Ah, if only. . . .
The school year came to a great end. I think my boys are as ready as they can be for the move to ninth grade and a new school. I still need to finish moving all my gear to my new classroom. And since both of my wonderful paraeducators are themselves returning to school this fall, I will be looking for new help in my room. I will also be adding some more students to my caseload, including some girls (finally!).
This is a very busy summer for me. I am teaching summer school to elementary students with disabilities, but none of them have autism. It is a whole different world from what I am used to, but I am having a blast! I’m team-teaching with a truly awesome special educator and the time is really flying by. The time I spend teaching counts as hours toward my internship for the special education strategist master’s degree I will finish in December.
As the end of the school year quickly approaches, I realize that attending the CEC 2011 Convention & Expo was exactly what I needed at this stage in my career. Countless amazing, inspiring, and dedicated people were placed in my path, giving me the perspective I needed to move forward on my journey.
As I attended sessions and asked questions about the realities of co-teaching—my favorite subject, as you all know!—I was shocked to hear veteran special educators both acknowledge my professional concerns and encourage me to continue on the path. Their positive and supportive responses were just the consolation my young, passionate teacher’s heart needed.
It has been an interesting week back at school! My first day back after the CEC convention, it felt so odd to be driving to school. For a week, I had felt like a student myself, learning new ideas, interacting with higher-level academia, and digesting educational jargon. Now I was back to being the one imparting knowledge, not soaking it up.
I contemplated what my first day back to work would hold (as I do everyday) and came to a realization. As fabulous and enlightening as the past three days had been, everything I had learned was for one sole purpose: to educate the seven little faces that would be waiting for me that morning. I couldn’t wait to see them!
It is one thing to learn great ideas. That was far and away the best part of the CEC Convention & Expo, learning things I could actually use every day. But it is another thing to effectively implement those great ideas—a much more daunting task.
I am in awe and I don’t want to leave! The CEC 2011 Convention & Expo has truly been one of the best professional development opportunities that I have experienced in my two years as a special education teacher. Aside from the beautiful setting of National Harbor, Md., the sessions, presentations, speakers, and networking opportunities leave me feeling even more passionate about the career path that I have chosen.
Yesterday was a series of inspiring coincidences that ranged from meeting visionaries in the field who seemed to fall into my path and attending informative sessions with presenters whose words touched my heart, validated my new teacher experiences, and motivated me to continue to on my path by viewing each experience as an opportunity for growth.
My morning began with a session about new programs from California to support English language learners (ELLs) based on the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). I met countless teachers and graduate students in this field and learned about developing masters degree programs for ELL teachers in special education.