Category Archives: Teaching

An open apology letter to parents from a special education teacher

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Dear Parents,

We all start our careers somewhere and unfortunately have a lot of on the job learning to do. I know when I first started out as a special education teacher I made mistakes, and I still do. As a mom of a 13-year-old who is currently struggling in school, I also have the perspective of a parent who has to be a strong advocate for her son. And guess what, it’s freakin’ hard. After being a special education teacher for almost 20 years, I understand that advocating for my own child is very different from advocating for my students. There are so many feelings involved including fear, sadness, anger, love and frustration. With this perspective in mind I would like to offer the following apologies to all of the parents I have worked with:

  1. I am sorry if I ever made you feel judged.
  2. I am sorry if I didn’t have the confidence to admit when I didn’t know something.
  3. I am sorry if I ever called you “mom” or “dad” at a meeting instead of using your name.
  4. I am sorry if I didn’t focus on your child’s strengths.
  5. I’m sorry if I didn’t also let you know the struggles though because you deserve to have all of the information and not be blindsided at a meeting.
  6. I am sorry if I didn’t fully believe you were the expert on your child.
  7. I am sorry if I wasn’t brave enough to argue against rules and decisions that were not in the best interest of your child.
  8. I am sorry if I didn’t make sure to show that I truly liked your child.
  9. I am sorry if I didn’t make sure you knew I was on your side.
  10. I am sorry if I did not make communication and teamwork a top priority.

Sincerely,

Teacher, mom and oh-so-human being

Velcro Hugs

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I have been working with a student who is on the autism spectrum, on joining in activities and following the schedule in his classroom. Mostly I kind of make him mad as I try to use my bags of tricks to encourage/cajole/entice him to build some blocks with other children or sit with the class for snack time. I’ve only worked with him for a handful of weeks and even though I’ve tried to have fun and use humor with him, it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. As I told him that today was my last day coming and that I have really enjoyed playing with him, he quickly said, without looking at me, “Don’t go.” Then he ran and gave me something that reminded me, not so much of a hug, but more like when people don Velcro suits and launch themselves to stick briefly to a Velcro wall. I felt pretty darn lucky to receive that Velcro hug today…

Teacher Touchdown

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I think it would be great if teachers got the same perks as pro football players. It would be so cool to arrive in the school hallway in the morning as everyone lined up to slap my hands as I run by and over the loudspeaker, “And on the special education team, Mrs. Wilsoooooon!” The crowd goes wild, clapping and cheering and my theme song starts to play, “We are the Champions!”

Not to put down pro sports but let’s put some kudos where they are truly deserved. Teachers work their asses off. And does their trainer run in in the midst of a tiring lesson and squirt coffee in their mouth. No! Does anyone give them a swat on the butt and say, “Get in there! You rock! Teach the crap out of that lesson!” I think not!

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I saw that creative and compassionate way you handled that challenging situation with a student. You are getting a $100, 000 bonus! Congratualations!” Wouldn’t that be nice?

Instead of adding more rules and regulations and high stakes testing to the classroom, it would be great if teachers were applauded for teaching. Yes, more time for teaching. Crazy I know! Smaller classes and incentives to encourage curiosity, empathy and imagination in our kids.

My son has started Jr. High School this year, which has provided some challenges for him. He has to learn to navigate a big school, get himself to different classes, keep track of homework assignments from multiple teachers, deal with a whole new set of peers and learn his locker combination (which he gave up on on the first day of school). I appreciate his teachers who are helping him navigate and teaching him skills that will build his confidence, independence and resourcefulness.

His language arts teacher recently assigned a project on creating a dystopian society and then presenting it to the class. My son Aidan and his group created a world that included colorful, magic ponies and rainbows. His teacher then reminded the class that the societies they created should be based on the real world. But he then added after seeing Aidan’s group’s project, “Well I didn’t say that it couldn’t be based on Aidan’s real world.” Aidan thought this was pretty funny and so did I.

There should definitely be a humor bonus as well!

And just to toot my own horn (because my grandma said if we don’t toot our own horn, who will?) I have a student with autism who for the first few months of the school year would tell me each day quite emphatically, “I miss my old teacher. My old teacher was much better than you. I really wish my old teacher was back.”

Every day I just listened to her and said things like, “ You really miss her. She was a great teacher.” One day I said, “I know, she was a really special teacher to you.”

She looked at me and said, “ You are a special teacher too.”

Bonus for patience!

So even if it is not realistic to expect tons of money or to have people ask us for our autographs, I would like to let the teachers out there know that you do have fellow teachers and thankful parents who would totally do a kick ass touchdown dance for you each and every day!

Special-Occasion Swear Words

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One of my students who is on the autism spectrum recently asked me why some swear words are considered worse than others. Good freakin’ question! Who knows? It’s confusing! So we took all of the swear words she knows and sorted them on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lesser swear words and 5 the BIG words that get a BIG reaction from people. We put ‘dammit’ on the number 1 level. We decided that ‘shit’ was about a 3, and so on all the way up to level 5 words. We talked about how even if we don’t know why certain words have such an effect on people, in our society they do, so we have to be careful of the words we choose.

I decided to relate this idea to my own life. I started thinking of level 5 as a top shelf full of swear words that are like Grandma’s wedding china. We only lift them down and dust them off for special occasions. We don’t want to wear them out with everyday use.

It’s important to be vigilant so special occasion words don’t topple off the shelf by mistake as my mom, Nonnie to the grandkids, discovered on a recent vacation. We were all staying at a lake for two weeks in the summer and the four young cousins were all fishing on the dock. My nephew reeled in a huge, seaweed colored, scaly, sharp toothed, mean looking fish. My mom stood up from her beach chair to take a look and said, “Holy F*#k!”

It was just like the scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and the hubcap filled with lug nuts gets bumped and goes flying through the air in slow motion. In my mind, when my mom stood up and uttered that fateful word, time slowed to a crawl. The waves inched toward the shore. The kids’ heads turned slowly toward my mom, their eyes huge and mouths hanging open. My mom and I looked at each other as our hands moved like stunned starfish to cover our shocked mouths.

Then time sped up again. We started laughing hysterically. I can tell you that this story will live in infamy. The grandkids bring it up whenever possible. “Remember when Nonnie…”

So be careful with those special occasion swear words. Keep them securely on a high shelf until you need them!

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Keep it in the Bubble

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Have you ever asked asked a woman when her baby is due only to find out that she isn’t pregnant? Or told your boss to shove it?

As a special education teacher, when I work with students on social interactions, we talk about what words should go in our speech bubble and what words should stay in our thought bubble.

I think this could be a handy strategy for everyone. Seriously, next time you are about to say something, take a second to ask yourself, ‘Speech bubble or thought bubble?’ Just think of all words you could avoid eating later!

I use this strategy with my own children as well. My oldest son enjoys pushing his brother’s buttons whenever possible. When I see that certain, special, gleam in his eye I say, “Keep it in the bubble, dude!”

I truly wish I could say this to strangers sometimes. You know that one person in every meeting who has to say things just to hear himself talk? Or that attendee that’s at every workshop, training or class who has to ask obnoxious, off topic questions that are designed to show up the presenter or teacher and make them look stupid? I would just love to stand up as they start talking and say, “Keep it in the bubble!” Maybe I could have a superhero power that would zip the words right back into their mouth. That would be so awesome…

Just think where this power could lead! No more bullying! No more hurt feelings! No more Rush Limbaugh!

Oh-sorry, I’m becoming crazed with all of this newfound power.

The next time your wife asks you if she looks frumpy in her favorite old, worn, cozy fleece pajamas, or your Aunt Margo gives you sweat socks for Christmas (again!), consider my professional advice and keep it in the thought bubble! I may not be on hand to save you with my super powers!