Things I never knew . . .

Installment #9:

Five things I never knew . . . until I became a teacher:

  • teachers are more excited for the end of the year than you can ever imagine
  • schools have a lot of trash, between cabinets, classrooms, desks, and lockers the amount of trash is startling
  • the end of the year is crazier than the beginning of the year
  • schools have an obscene amount of paperwork
  • schools have a ton of parties and celebrations–in and out of the classroom

 

Special Education: Part 2

Students that qualify for special education can fall into a number of categories. While the most severe and visible categories of special education are usually displayed and discussed, as noted in my first post, special education is broad, complex, and includes a number of services for each individual’s circumstances.

When I speak with non-educators, or when I have watched the news, the students who need special education services are limited in understanding–the range and diversity of students is not evident in the discussion, nor adequately represented in any forum.

Therefore, let me list some categories, demographics, and populations to illustrate the wide-range of need, services, and students that qualify for special education:

  • blind/visually impaired
  • permanent and temporary physical disability
  • deaf & hard of hearing
  • speech impairment
  • language delay
  • specific learning disability–i.e. dyslexia
  • intellectual disability
  • multiple disabilities
  • other health impairment (the all-encompassing category)

Within each of these categories, there is an abundance of diversity. For instance, five students with language delays in the 2nd grade can have 5 different levels of severity in their language delays due to previous support at home and at school, as well as other factors such as the underlying cause of their language delay.

Technically, IDEA has 13 broad categories for special education (autism, blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment). That’s not to say that these categories cannot overlap, will not change over time, or be renamed. Our understanding of health and education is constantly evolving, and so are the labels and practices tied to them.

These categories do not touch on a student’s gender, age, primary language, first language, religious orientation, place of birth, citizenship, family structure, or overall schooling experience. All of these individual factors influence the best placement, ideal service, and the development of academic goals.

The point in all of this is to emphasize that special education services are incredibly vast because the range, diversity, needs, and abilities of students is equally vast. So, in the next conversation on funding, on who will teach what, on where students should be placed, on what constitutes special education, on who needs special education, etc. extend that discussion as far as possible–because that’s how far special education extends.

Teacher Tip #6

It’s just a test.

It seems that the end of February we start entering a delightfully misunderstood and stressful season: testing season.

There’s quarter tests and WIDA about this time of year. These are followed by state-standardized tests, which are then followed by the next set of quarter tests.

These state-standardized tests and quarter tests, if you’re in secondary, may overlap with PSATs, and special subject exams (think AP). There’s also, of course, every other normal test sprinkled in between all of these *big* *important* tests.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary or secondary, there’s this near two-month testing window rapidly approaching and I’m here to remind you: It’s just a test.

I have fallen victim to the stress and I passed it onto my kids. Don’t do that. They’re already stressed, they already know that these things are a big deal. So, I implore you–remind them: It’s just a test.

  • It’s one day out of 180 this year.
  • It’s one day out of however many they have accumulated over the years.
  • None of these tests are measuring their kindness, their dedication, their hard work, their perseverance, or any number of far more important qualities and traits they possess as human beings.
  • Tests can be taken again.
  • Tests are singular snapshots; they do not measure every aspect of learning and growth.
  • Tests are subject to human and technological error.
  • Tests are like every other assignment–there will be multiple opportunities to show just how much they have learned; today, and this test, are not the only opportunity to demonstrate learning and growth.

Tests–state tests, district tests, exit exams–are important, but they’re not the most important determinant, measure, or indicator of educational excellence. Remember that, and remind your students too.

 

 

A word on teacher strikes . . .

In the past year, we have seen a number of districts and teacher organizations demand better working conditions through marches and strikes.

The most impressive one was West Virginia in February 2018; this strike essentially shut down the entire state of education as schools in all 55 counties were involved. Recently, the 2nd largest school district in the US, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), had their first strike in 30 years; they were offered a generous salary increase, retroactive, but declined that initial offer in order to hold out for more, more that was needed for their schools and their students. This felt very impressive to me as well, it demonstrated the true teacher spirit, which is centered on service and kids.

LAUSD, its name, its size, its demands, allowed for an extreme spotlight on the state of education, and there were plenty of nervous watchers around the country. As an educator, what do I have to say about all of this?

It’s about time.

I believe that a living wage is a human right.

I believe quality education is a human right.

I believe that striking is a human right.

I do not necessarily agree with every tactic employed, or every demand, but I fully support the pursuit of better schools, and better working conditions for teachers, and kids.

Teachers deserve to be compensated for their work, and students deserve the very best school environments, schools enriched with trained staff, rigorous learning material, and a focus on their whole person (social, emotional, mental, and academic needs).

The victories over the past year are only the beginning of a long-standing battle for better education for every student, and every education professional. I only hope that we continue to discuss our collective needs and hopes for the future, and bring them into fruition — every child, and every educator, deserves the very best learning environment each and every day, we can make that our priority, and we can make that a reality.

 

Who works at a school?

When budget cuts come along, when raises are a point of discussion, when education is a topic at the dinner table, the focus is on teachers.

While there is no question teachers are the heart and soul of a school building, while there is no debate to the value of a good teacher, teachers do not work alone.

In a school, in any school, there are:

  • teacher assistants
  • librarians
  • deans
  • principals
  • assistant principals
  • counselors
  • custodians
  • speech therapists
  • occupational therapists
  • instructional coaches
  • directors
  • groundskeepers
  • maintenance staff
  • administrative assistants
  • office staff
  • managers
  • nurses
  • literacy specialists
  • math specialists
  • IT staff
  • coaches
  • school police
  • parent volunteers
  • curriculum coordinators
  • cafeteria workers — servers & cooks

. . . and this list is not exhaustive.

It takes a village to raise a child.

It also takes a village to educate a child.

When we speak of education, yes teachers are critical, but every adult in a school building has the power to change lives and to be a leader.

So the next time you start discussing a school, the next time there’s a debate on the state of education, take a moment to consider all the adults involved in education. Recognize them. Appreciate them. And most importantly, don’t forget about them.