I Just Need a Break

I once taught a student with a very distinctive voice. His voice was one of a kind and for some reason it was like a beacon for me. No matter where this student was; in the lunchroom, gym, back of the classroom, front of the classroom, in the room next door; my brain honed in on this voice and I could hear what this student was saying, who he was talking to, and I could determine, just by the lilt of a word, what kind of mood he was in. I could not escape this voice because this boy was the type of kid who talked constantly….even when he was by himself. I could be teaching a lesson, the class could be engaged, maybe they would be working on a project, having a discussion, or silent reading, it didn’t matter because this kid was talking. Now you have to understand that this student was pretty smart. When he was on task, he could be a great contributor, when his stories and responses were insightful, but his mouth got in the way. I can still, to this day hear myself blurting out, “Please, just stop talking for one second!” “Please!!!! I just need a break!” “Would you please, just take a breath!” He would look startled, maybe shake his head, but inevitably he would just start talking again.

This student had ADHD. He was not my first student to have ADHD, but was memorable because for me, his diagnosis proved to be a great challenge in my classroom, not only for him, but for me. If you have ever worked in a typical classroom, you know that within every group of students there are those that stand out, that are loud, that never stop fidgeting, that can’t stay organized to save their lives, and those that have no power whatsoever to stay focused. If you’ve been in education for awhile, I bet you have noticed that the number of these special students have multiplied. There are no longer one or two, but now you have five, six, ten. I like to tell parents who have these little guys and gals that they are not alone, these students are the norm rather than the exception and fellow educators, I want to tell you that we have to adjust, we have to embrace their learning differences, and we have to accommodate….in the typical classroom.

If you stay abreast of the latest research and if you are acquainted with all the new methods, theories, and strategies out there, this is old news. Classroom dynamics are changing all across America and we can no longer look to the intervention specialist to absolve us from our struggles. So I guess I’m proposing that if we want to make a difference, if we want our students to achieve in our classrooms, if we want students to leave our classrooms knowing that they had a teacher that truly cared about them, then we have to adapt our typical classroom to fit the needs of our atypical students.

Everyone learns differently. All teachers were taught about the various “modalities”. We know that there are tactile learners, visual learners, auditory learners and more. We know this, yet are we using this knowledge to redevelop lessons, to redefine the way we teach curriculum, to breakdown concepts so that all in our classrooms will learn? Students with ADHD need structure and routine. They need multiple breaks and work well with hands-on tasks. These children need all the help they can get with developing executive functioning skills so colored folders work, writing assignments on the board works, creating checklists and keeping all of their passwords handy works. Chunking information, tasks, assessments, and only requiring necessary assignments for practice works. Guided notes, developing short term goals, and limiting free time works. Do your homework, keep your records, and brainstorm with past teachers to see what is best for the child now sitting in your room. These children are told “No” and “Stop” and “Settle down” so much. Remember to praise, high five, give them a sticker for accomplishments. Make them feel loved, accepted, and cherished inside the walls of your classroom. Find what they are good at and let them fly!

That boy, the one with the voice, well I ended up teaching him for four years, and although there were times when I just needed a break, I realized that he had those moments too. We got to know one another and I realized that he was a great big brother and friend. He made great strides in reading and did really well on oral assessments and tests with multiple choice and short answer. His math skills improved with practice and little by little he began to believe in himself. I do not believe that all ADHD children should be on medication, but I do believe that some children thrive on the right meds, but with this kid, it didn’t matter. His parents couldn’t afford it so I was made or forced to try other techniques for him. He made me work hard and frankly there was no way I could push him off to the side and ignore him. I had to find what worked for him and I can honestly say that when he left my school I truly missed him. I’m happy to say that he’s doing great and I’m glad when I run into him. I can feel confident knowing that I did everything I could to make him succeed and this is good because knowing this allows me to sleep at night.


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Snow Day Perspective

Today we had a snow day. I thought of all the various perspectives happening by 6:00am this morning.

Student perspective: Yay, yay, yay, yay, yay! No school! Kids under 10 get up excitedly, pre-teens and teens pull up the comforter and roll over.

Working parent perspective: I need a babysitter. Who can I call quickly? Can I work from home? Honey, can you work from home? Hey teenage child, you are watching your younger siblings today! Get up! This weather stinks.

Stay at home parent perspective: What a great day to snuggle on the couch with my chidren. Maybe we can make a snowman and drink some hot chocolate. Yay, no rushing around. What a nice surprise!

Snowman’s perspective: I bet I will get a few new friends today! I love this weather and all this snow and ice!

Teacher perspective: Yay, no school! initially Well, but what about that test I was going to give today? Oh shoot, I was going to start the next math lesson today. I better revamp my lesson plans. How am I going to meet all of the standards and hit all of my instructional goals with less time? Oh, I will worry about that later, a day off is pretty amazing. I am glad I do not have to drive in this snow and ice!

Administration perspective: Oh boy, more snow and ice. Here we go, do I make the call yet or wait on other districts? What are the meteorologist saying? Should I call a 2 hr. delay or cancel? What are my teachers going to think? What are my parents going to think? I know what the kids will think. Decisions, responsibility, and leadership, oh my!


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We’re Growing Up

My second daughter is going off to college next year. Yep, I will now have two daughters in college (out of the house) and one finishing up middle school. Our house will be much quieter, especially since our middle schooler spends most of her time in her room watching Logan Paul videos and talking with her friends – NO, not in person – don’t be ridiculous. Things will be changing around the Smith house, and although at first it will be weird, it will be okay. We will get used to the change in dynamics at the kitchen table and in the car.

All school and classrooms are different. Each room of students has its own dynamic. Certain kids can sit by one another, a couple have all the answers, and some students claim they just can’t do it. A teacher is the hub of the classroom. No matter the mix of the students, it’s the teacher that has to make sure that the entire room runs smoothly. If a teacher is afraid to face the changes each year, then he/she will have a tough year and so will the children. Teaching is not stagnant, it shifts with the research and the needs of the students as society changes.

As a teacher, as an administrator, and as a mother I have seen some commonalities. I see teachers that feel comfortable with what they are doing and are reluctant to make changes. Some educators use what they learned in their undergraduate studies and don’t move on. When a class struggles with material that these educators have used year in and year out, they blame the students. I have seen tests with dates on them from ten years prior. These same teachers refuse to listen to their students when they ask for additional help or extra time. The ignore the needs of English Language Learners and specifications stated on IEP’s. They don’t want to “dumb down” their curriculum to accommodate students that need a simpler language and longer time and practice retaining subject vocabulary. These teachers are convinced that they are doing right by their students. Tough love in the classroom. The students have to adjust or fail. “It’s my way or the highway.”

How antiquated and closed minded.

Our job as educators is to TEACH the material. Our job is to CREATE life-long learners. Our job is to EXCITE students into wanting to learn required information. These are our jobs as teachers. We have to stay current, make adjustments, and continue to learn what works best for the students in our classrooms. Although some think our job is easy…they have no clue, our job isn’t. But nor is it mired in sameness. No teacher should be relying on what they have done year after year because although lessons may have been great at one time and with one class, it is not great with every class and with every student. Ask around and every teacher can share an experience where they had a lesson that killed on year yet bombed the next. Reflection is the key. Why didn’t it work? What do I have to do to tweak it for this class? How can I break down the material so Tommy can get it? What lab or project can I add to give the students who test poorly a different way to demonstrate their understanding? Why did he fail the test? What did I do right and what did I do wrong? These are the questions that great educators ask themselves.

Do you ask yourself these questions?


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Lori and I both work in the same school. This summer due to some unforeseen circumstances the school building needed extensive renovating. This caused school to be delayed for nearly a month. Teachers and students were thrilled with the additional summer vacation, but we all agreed we needed to get back to school! Luckily, administration was quick to set plans in motion to get the school ready as fast and as clean as possible.

Last week the staff and many volunteers frantically put the school and classrooms back together. The halls were lined with desks, chairs, bookcases, boxes and even painters, still painting as furniture was being moved around them. It was a rather hectic week to put it mildly.

Thursday, we had it all done as best we could; thank goodness because school officially started on Friday. All of the classrooms looked well, like classrooms. The staff room was mysteriously set up with all new tables, chairs, decorations, and snacks galore! The office was a buzz, but information got out to parents. The copier was on warp-speed with lesson plans and memos being printed at an alarming rate.

There were many parents who volunteered their time to help; they took days off from their own jobs to come in and clean, move things, set up, paint, and do whatever was needed. The ones who could not physically help sent in gift cards for teachers to purchase supplies for their rooms. Students also signed up to help. I had several invaluable young ladies who saved my life helping me to make my room look pretty amazing.

The positive energy that now permeates the hallways is inspiring. We all came together; administration, staff, teachers, parents, and students to make this school year happen. We are grateful and excited for a fabulous year.

Let the education begin!

 

 


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