education

IEP does mean INDIVIDUAL Education Plan…right?

The other day I had a guy (we will call him the Paint Guru) give me a quote for painting a bunch of trim work in my new house. He was incredibly friendly and a great conversationalist.  We talked about everything from dogs to shoelaces to education all while he examined the trim in my house.  As it is with every teacher, it is inevitable that we ended up talking about education.  He mentioned to me that his daughter attends a private school after spending 7 years in public schools, but his 3 sons still attend public schools with no intention of moving them to said private school.  I found this really odd and continued to ask the Paint Guru questions without trying to intrude or make it seem like I was questioning his choice.  However, as a 7th grade Social Studies teacher, I was a little surprised by his decision to move one child but not all four.  What could have possibly happened that would make him move one child?  After all, he said his daughter was brilliant, getting all A’s, and had wonderful friends.

Finally, I got it out of him.  The Paint Guru’s daughter has dyslexia along with an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) to help her achieve in the classroom, which she was doing.  In a nutshell, an IEP is supposed to level the playing field of students who have learning disabilities.  After talking to him about her IEP and her learning disability, I finally concluded that his daughter would most likely  still achieve in the classroom even without her IEP because of parent dedication and support.

So why make the switch?  You hear all the time about parents becoming frustrated with public schools.  They feel as if their child is not challenged at the level they should be so they push their children into private or charter schools in hope of finding challenging and inspiring curriculum (NEWSFLASH: It’s the teacher not the school or curriculum – another post another day). But why leave 3 of your kids in public schools and move only one?  It just doesn’t add up…

Turns out the Paint Guru had a great reason to move only his daughter, which had very little to do with her success but rather the school’s failure.  You see the Paint Guru had recently moved from Maryland and education is done differently in every state (grammar fail…maybe).  His daughter’s IEP called for a separate setting for individualized teaching accommodations, and what this meant was that his daughter received 3 sessions per week with a reading specialist to help her combat her dyslexia.  Obviously, that method was working really well because she was achieving at an incredibly high rate according to her dad.

When they moved to North Carolina, his daughter’s IEP did not change and still demanded by law that she be placed in a separate setting for individualized teaching accommodations.  The IEP team failed to mention (or catch) that this would not be feasible in NC.  It did not surprise me when the Paint Guru told me that his daughter was placed in a CA class with 12 other students all of which who were achieving far below the level at which she was achieving.

The Paint Guru met with the IEP team and asked that she been given what she received in Maryland and what the IEP technically required.  He wanted a reading specialist  to work with this daughter 3 times per week and for her not to be placed in a curriculum assistance class for 3 days a week.  The school told him no and cited that they could not afford to staff a reading specialist due to budgetary restrictions.  CA was basically the best they could do.  Then a caring and supportive teacher – who had a master’s in reading education – offered to provide an independent study for 3 days a week during her planning period if the family agreed to place her in CA to work on the skills the teacher would teach her.  However, the school would not allow this either citing a legal restriction according to the IEP (details were fuzzy) – but long story short, the school said NO.  In the end, the Paint Guru had his daughter moved to a private school just up the street where they agreed to meet the need of this child no matter what the sacrifice.

I know this story comes from a parent and many details may have been left out or skewed.  But to his credit, the Paint Guru had no hard feelings towards to public school.  He understood why it couldn’t happen.  He even admitted he really didn’t think it was the school’s fault as much as it was at the state level.  Nonetheless, it got me thinking about our IEP programs, special education resources, and other programs we have in place to help students succeed.  I understand times are tough and budgets are tight, but in the end, I like to believe that our schools always have the student at heart.  Every decision is made – even if it is a budget cut – with the students best interest at heart.  But this story got me thinking…are we cutting the right resources?  Are we really meeting the need of every child?  Is it easier for public schools to just send kids to private institutions instead of giving them what they need to succeed?  A lot of stuff is happening within our district and everyone is entitled  to their own opinion.  However, as a teacher – who will be here to the end – I only ask that every decision be made in favor of the student.  Every budget cut, every hire, every change should me done with the student in mind.  As a school district and public institution, it is our duty to meed the need of every child so that they can succeed to the best of their abilities.  Don’t cut the resources that help our students succeed.

And in the spirit of opening day

The next time that dyslexia (or anything else for that matter) throws us a curveball, it is up to us to open our stance, set our feet, dig in, and keep our eyes on the ball.  It’s time to stop fouling off every pitch and prolonging every at bat until it is someone else’s turn to take a crack at it.  Keep the student out in front because it should never be the school’s fault why the child has fallen behind in the count.  Think about it…

I am back online…Tech-now-logy

Recently @carl_young asked @msstewart and myself to present at NC State for a small group of pre-service teachers.  We were both asked to present on integrating technology in the classroom and discuss the challenges and successes we have had in the classroom.  First of all, let me say that I can teach a room full of 100 7th graders and be completely comfortable.  I can present at a technology conference to a room full of people each with a PhD or much more experience than me and be completely comfortable. However, stick me in a room full of 15 females and one male – all of which I had at least one class with in college – and make me the expert on technology for 20 minutes…sweaty nervous! (Hopefully, they couldn’t tell…)

Both Meredith and I discussed our challenges and successes when integrating technology into our classrooms.  Meredith and I have used a lot of the same technology tools (a few of which I borrowed from her) and shared similar experiences.  I hope the pre-service teachers walked away with at least a few tools they could use and some inspiring thoughts (inspiring could be a stretch, but I’m going with it).  I thought it went really well and we had a lively discussion afterwards with the pre-service teachers.  Overall, A+ effort on all fronts.

However, it got me thinking about what I was really saying during my part of the presentation.  Below you will find the prezi I used to present my presentation.  Simple and to the point.  Take a peak and see what you think.  It may be hard to follow and figure out what I mean by a few things, but just imagine a George Clooney presentation style with a splash of Steve Martin humor and you have me…at least in my mind.

I am currently about 3/4 quarters of the way through my first of year of teaching and here is a list of what I have learned about integrating technology into my classroom.  Let me know what you think.

1. Technology in the classroom should always be used to enhance the learning of the student.  I know that many of you who read this are the ones that will say…DUH and stop reading because you know that already, but please keep going.  It gets really good later on.  Of course, using technology can sometimes (not always) make teaching easier, more fun, and entertaining, but those three things (and others like them) should never be the reason for integrating technology.  Making my job as a teacher easier is never my ultimate goal for doing anything.  If I am making things easier for myself intentionally, then I may not be trying hard enough to enhance my students’ learning.  Technology should only be used to help students learn something in a different way.  I like to think of technologies as carnival mirrors.  Carnival mirrors always show you a different way to look at yourself just as technology can show students a different way to look at the curriculum or (re)deliver the content that I am teaching them.

2.  One of the pre-service teachers asked, “Do you expect your students to use these tools at home?” Great question, and I think I have an answer to that question now (unfortunately, 18 hours later).  I do not expect my students to use the tool at home.  I would love if they did, but I do not expect it because I am realistic.  I would love to steal their online time and fill it with educational and enriching activities, but I know that will not be the case because some of students do not have internet access at home and some students just won’t do it.  So why integrate technology? By now, my students EXPECT ME to provide them with an experience that they have never had before in the classroom (or anywhere…hopefully).  Integrating technology is one of the ways that I provide all of my students with that previously unexperienced experience.  With that being said, I do expect my students to practice what I model in class when they use other technology tools at home (i.e. facebook, youtube, myspace).  I want them to be safe and create a unique, respectable, and contributing online identity.  That is what I expect and that is what my students expect…in a nutshell.

3.  If something doesn’t work, kill it.  Don’t force a technology-based project to be successful in your class.  It will just stress everyone out and ultimately, the students’ learning will suffer in the end.  Instead, if a project is drowning and you can’t save it, just let it sink…straight to the bottom.  Find another float to float on in the deep end.  Perfect example…My classes were all doing the Twitter Project and it was going no where fast.  Parents weren’t responding, only some of my students were responding, and admin was nervous so we just killed it.  In each of my classes, we held a memorial service for the project and bid it farewell.  One of my students even wrote a eulogy for the project.  We all promised to resurrect the project – Frankenstein style – if I get another good idea, but for now, may the Twitter Project RIP.

4. I enlisted a few students to be my tech-princes (they just happened to be all guys or I would have had tech-princesses too).  They help me troubleshoot any tech problems in the class during projects.  I chose them because they already had an interest in technology.  These are the few students that go home and play with the tools I use in class.  Those students are my tech-princes. They are the mini-experts in the class, and to be honest, if I don’t know the answer then one of them always does.  It is a great system and the students love it.  Obviously, it was awkward at first, but the tech-princes have grown into their role and really flourished.

There is more…much more! Like how hard I find it to grade technology-based projects and how other teachers lean on you once you are pinned a techy, but for now, enjoy!