I’m an Arizona Teacher. This is why I’m striking.


Certain members of the media think they know why Arizona teachers are striking. It’s a plot to legalize Marijuana. It’s a plot to bring about the socialist revolution. They’ve got it all wrong though because the real reason is not so simple.


Arizona teachers are striking not for one reason, but a thousand. Every single person has their own motivation. They only thing we all agree on is this: Arizona has neglected education funding far too long – or I should say – our legislature has.


The people of Arizona tend to be a generous lot. They approve budget overrides (in most places). They approve higher taxes for buildings and grounds. They approved a voter initiative in 2000 (prop 301) to fund education’s base level at a pace with inflation. Just last year they voted to increase pay as much as they can with a plan to rob the land fund to make up for what wasn’t paid from that earlier initiative. This summer, in sweltering weather we collected 75,000 signatures to get a vote from the citizens on a law to rob public schools of funding and give it to private schools.


Arizonans care about education, but we have this dreadful habit of electing people who don’t.


All of this is to say, that although we keep trying to help our schools, we keep being thwarted.


This brings us to the last two days and why I am there.


I woke up Thursday morning with a sea of faces in my mind. I see all the indignities my kids have endured. I see their overcrowded classrooms, where we had to have them sitting at cabinets on folding chairs in years past. I see all the times I had to explain that, no we can’t set up a field trip because we have no budget for it. I see them squeezed into tiny metal desks from 1960. I see them laboring on 10 year old computers solely unfit for use. I see them walking all the way across campus to access the only working water fountain on a 100 degree day in Phoenix, in our school with outdoor halls.


I see them upset that their favorite teacher has to leave. They don’t know why, but I do. They can’t afford to raise their own kids on teacher pay. They love this profession and these kids but they literally won’t be able to feed their families.


I see them staying after school for hours with teachers who stopped being paid hours ago, trying to make it to standards they can’t achieve on 15 year old text books missing every other page.


I see them having to wait for a social worker, a nurse or counselor even though their need is urgent. I see them trying to use me, a 34 year old teacher, who doesn’t know the first thing about helping them through the painful extremes of their lives, trying to be all the things we can’t offer them, all at once.


I see them asking me for food, for water bottles, for bus fare. I see them sitting on the floor of overcrowded buses that break down in intersections and leave us stranded for hours.


Their faces, their anguish, and their beautiful resilience is in my mind, all at once and I know I can’t fail them. I just can’t.


I don’t want to be out of my class. I don’t want to be away from them, but I know this can’t go on. We cannot continue to be all things to our students without the resources to manage this task.


Full disclosure right now, at the end of the year, I am leaving this profession. The chief reason is the above. I cannot for one more year have too look into my student’s eyes and be this inadequate.


I have tried to do it but I can’t. I’m a special education teacher. My kids need support to be able to learn how to cope with a world that is clear that they are an inconvenience to it. I’m sick of not having the budget for adequate speech services. I’m sick of overcrowded and overburdened social and emotional programs. I’m sick of not having social learning programs for kids on the spectrum. I’m sick of buying my own enlarging bars for visually impaired kids and those who just can’t afford glasses. I’m sick of not having enough special education teachers to meet even the most minimal of student needs, and having to buy low-quality scripted programs because we don’t have the budget to find or make adequate materials to help our kids with learning disabilities make it to grade level. I’m sick of knowing that there are fixes out in the world for all of these problems and more, and knowing that we could never dream of affording them.


My mother-in-law, spouse and I have spent a fortune in school supplies. We buy pencils, pens, tissues, paper, erasers, lead, colored pencils, markers, highlighters, white out, notebooks, planners, and even backpacks for my students, every year, all year. We do so happily, because the kids need it, but its not sustainable. We could never buy enough to satisfy the need.


So, when I marched on Thursday, when I met at the capital this morning, when I met with a representative, emailed my representatives, called my governor every hour all day and when I made plans to be at the capitol tomorrow then canvass neighborhoods after, that’s all I could see. It’s all I can see now, those faces.


I am terrified that my legislature will make me go back to those faces once again empty handed. That I will be called on once again to say to those kids, “I’m sorry, but no one in state government cares about you.” It’s unacceptable. It just is. I’ve been asked to convey that message too many times, and now it is in my power to help get them a fraction of what they deserve.


You better believe, I will be hanging on until the bitter end of this thing.


Conspiracy theorists can think what they want. They can say what they want. Other strikers can think what they want, and can say what they want.


For me though, this is about coming back to my classroom with the words “your state cares about you” finally on my lips.



Top 5 Worst Parts of Teaching

Last week I covered the great things about teaching. In the interest of fairness and because some of the things that aren’t ideal can be changed this week we look at the negatives. Putting them out into the open could start the process of fixing some of them, so read them in that spirit. Its a job, there will be bad things about it.

In addition, I have only ever worked in traditional public schools, so I’m not sure if all of these are universal.

1. Not Being Allowed to Be a Person


The thing that most surprised me as I became a teacher was the idea that I could not use the bathroom as I pleased anymore. That was over.

This was my first foray into the world of surpassing basic human functions, reactions and behaviors.

You suppress everything. Astonishment, fear, anger, annoyance, disappointment, if it is an emotion that doesn’t conform to “pleasant” or “professional” it must be purged.

I assume for some people this part is less hard, but for me, being a teacher means being a completely different human being everyday of my life, which is super exhausting.

On top of that, you don’t have breaks. You have a “prep”… sometimes, however, that is still work time. You have a half an hour to eat lunch (when you’re lucky). You are on all of the time. There is really no taking a few minutes to collect yourself, or to check emails in your office. Your whole day is stand and deliver. Humans need not apply to such conditions.

2. An Insane Workload with SO FEW Resources


Teachers are often the front line of watching after students needs, some that can be met by the school, others that can’t. Either way, we try to find a way to meet them.

Almost every teacher I know, sponsors a club or coaches a sport. They have after school and before school study sessions with students. They come in well before contract hours and leave well after. They plan with other teachers on the weekends and during “breaks”. They work themselves ragged, and yet somehow there is always work to take home anyway.

The education of students has been changing for some time. The time of worksheets, copied a month ahead of time and handed out after a few minutes of instruction are largely gone. This is great, but it also poses challenges.

In every school I have taught, there have been pushes for increased use of technology, because that is the future. Sadly, educational technology does not meet the standards of the future.

Poorly maintained networks, run by less experienced technicians mean these computers will be buggy AT BEST most of the time. You are continuously trying to write innovative lessons and lesson plans, that will be executed with difficulty, if at all.

The grading likewise has changed, and is more rigorous and demanding. The time to complete the grading has not changed, if anything it has grown smaller.

The scope of the job seems to keep growing but the time and support never seems to do so as well.

3. Top-Down Management


Working in a school is not a collaborative endeavor for the most part. There is a principal, who reports to a superintendent who reports to the school board. You ordinarily have a lead teacher or department chair who you report to and/or an assistant principal.

Why are we doing this or that? The answer is because someone, somewhere, higher up than you, said so. There is no recourse, your input and expertise are not important. Why? Because when you grow up and become an administrator one day you can make decisions as you please, as well.

There’s no HR department either. Complaints go the people evaluating you, so they must be made strategically.

As the rest of the world is seeing the benefits of working in collaborative groups towards common goals, we remain stuck in the factory model of management. We still have to worry about “beating” other schools numbers, or the scores of other teachers, even if our own students are nothing like the ones we are being compared with.

Its disempowering and frustrating.

4. Paperwork. OMG PAPERWORK.


As a special education teacher I have more paperwork than my non-special education peers but that by no means should imply that the amount of paperwork in a school is not soul-crushing.

Everything must be documented. Every parent phone call, every student appointment, every conversation you have with anyone during the school day about anything can likely be documented.

There are referral forms for everything. There are passes for every motion that a student makes. There are form to request just about anything. Everything comes in duplicate for you to “keep for your records”. My records currently take up 4 files in an industrial filing cabinet.

Every warning given to a student needs documenting. Every intervention tried is tracked, and its efficacy written down.

Some schools even ask that written lesson plans be submitted on the form of their choosing every week.

Its a wonder that we have time to teach at all.

In addition to all the regular teacher tracking that I do I have bonus special education teacher paperwork.

IEPs are long. METs are long. Amendments need to be done. Modifications need writing. transportation needs setting up. Behavior plans are written and rewritten every 6 weeks. Everything has an acronym and a form.

The paperwork is unlimited, and time is not.

5. Trying to Please Everyone… And Failing


If I were to compare teaching to business, I would say the students are the customers. So, make them happy right!? Not so fast.

Their parents also have strong opinions of how you should be teaching their child.

Oh, and the school district has some input on that too!

Oh, and the state legislature!

Oh wait, and the federal government!

Did we mention community groups? Church groups? Pretty much every human you have ever met or will ever meet?

Being a teacher means that at any given time, you have to select the group of people you most want to make happy. If you pick students you risk irritating a good number of people. If you pick one or more other groups, you may have unhappy students.

You can please some of the people some of the time, but you CAN’T please all of the people all of the time. When it comes to working in a school you can bet your bottom dollar you will hear from the unhappy parties.

I think there’s a meme for this…



So there you are! Not the worst stuff in the world, but there are certainly draw backs to teaching.

Of course of some of this is avoidable with some proper self-care and boundaries. Some of it may be situational too. Next week we’ll look at finding the place for you to ply your craft and hopefully minimize these less than optimal parts of teaching.


Happy (enough) teaching everyone!


Top 5 Best Parts of Teaching

Everyone who knows will tell you, teaching is hard. Even under the best of circumstances, imparting learning, successfully, onto another person is no easy feat, and many teachers labor in under-funded schools with reluctant, resource-poor students.

So why be a teacher?

I compiled my top-5 reasons below for anyone out there thinking of teaching, or merely questioning the sanity of their teacher friends.

1. Rewarding Relationships


Some of the most amazing people I have ever known, I met teaching.

A teacher-student relationship is incredibly special. Every year I get to know them, and help inspire them to reach for their dreams. In some cases I get to remind them how to dream at all. My students share their hopes and fears with me, and ask for advice. I’m honored to get to be one of the adults they trust. In return, they make me laugh, inspire me, and teach me things I would never have imagined.

Some of them I get to keep in touch with as they grow up. Others, disappear into the world, but I get to carry their humor, kindness, curiosity and grit around with me everywhere I go. Knowing them at all is truly a gift.

In addition to the kids, I’ve gotten to work with some truly awe-inspiring humans.

Fellow teachers have taught me patience, team work, kindness, empathy and SO much more. These people work long hard hours and keep their sense of humor and beautiful hearts.

If you’ve never hung out with a bunch of teachers, you’re missing out. (However, nurses are a hoot too!)

Parents, administrators and other staff members are also often amazing and show me daily that the world is full of points of light.

These relationships are precious, and an obvious perk of teaching.

2. Being Creative


Learning something is not easy. Breaking it down, looking at it from every direction, and finding four different ways to explain it to others is much more challenging. That means you have to get creative!

A quick glance through Pinterest will show you have incredibly creative teachers can be.

I learned to make websites for my classes.

I learned to edit videos for the clubs at my school.

I learned how to use the whole google suite for my students.

Everyday I find a new challenge that needs a new solution.

Sometimes, I pratice problem solving with an IEP team to come up with a cost-neutral solution to accommodate a class. How do I make this packet accessible to blind students? Well, that looks like a job for my creative thinking centers of my brain.

Truly, teaching is the necessity that is the mother of invention.

3. Making a Difference


Right now, think of your favorite teacher. We all have one, I know I do! Teachers touch so many lives.

A good teacher can teach you a skill, a great teacher can teach you to believe in yourself.

As a teacher, everyday parents put their most precious thing in my hands and trust me to make those kids better. Everyday, kids give me their time and attention (to greater and lesser extents) and they believe that I will help them to be better than they were yesterday. This is a major entrustment.

There are many ways to honor this duty.

For some students you make a difference by opening their eyes to a subject or interest they didn’t know they had. In others, you can ignite their self-esteem and help them see the value of their work. For some you give them a stable adult figure to help them feel someone has their back. You can be a model of kindness and empathy for someone. That’s how we learn those things.

No matter what you do, each day you go in you have the ability to change a life for the better, in some small way.

Don’t believe me? Here’s Seth Meyer’s paying tribute to his favorite government teacher in high school:

4. Built in Rejuvenation Time


Yes, everyone is going to point to the time off. Traditional schools feature about 12 weeks of semi-paid vacation.

What these breaks really are, for me, are a chance to begin again.

As one can tell from the above perks list, teaching takes so much out of a person.

Its easy to get burned out.  The periodic breaks give you a time, a place and an excuse for self care. They give you built in pauses where you can take a breath.

Most teachers take work home with them over breaks (more on that next week) but working in the comfort of your own home is nice. Cool music, pets, and a bathroom you can use anytime you want, make all the difference when working on a challenging task.

If these breaks were not part of the schedule, I would very likely work myself to death. It’s nice to know that mandatory chill is built into the schedule.

5. Options


There is so much to teach! There are so many places to teach!

Maybe you’re not feeling the older kids anymore? If you want to move to elementary, a few small additions to your certificate, you’re there.

Not feeling traditional public schools anymore? No biggie, there are public charters, private schools, online schools and Montessori schools just to name a few. You can teach adult learners, or kids with special needs. You can teach one-on-one as tutor is you’d like.

Teachers can travel by working for the military on bases around the world. They can teach English abroad.

You can change what you teach too. History feeling stale? How about teaching English, or  Science? That may rekindle your enthusiasm.

There are things you need to do to become highly qualified in these new areas but, with a few colleges classes at the most, you can be on your way to a new educational adventure in no time.

It’s nice to know that there are so many new avenues to do what you love out there!

What do you think the best thing about teaching is? Tell me in the comments below!


So that’s the positives, next week I’ll cover the not-so-great parts of teaching.

Until then, happy teaching!

Cultivating Curiosity: Reasoning at Any Level

School Stifles Curiosity

When we come to school we’re learned a-la-cart for our entire lives. We see something we haven’t seen before, and we ask about it, or investigate it- often with our mouths. (People are gross!)


When the bell rings for that first day of school, that all comes to an end. We are now learning what our teachers and schools decide.

This is when we become best acquainted with the phrase “because you have to”, and the even lamer phrase “its on the test”.

From then on, its learning to ask when and how you may use the bathroom. Asking when, if ever, a topic you like will be covered. You start to learn to patiently wait for the answer, because there is one, and only one.

There are some exceptions but even the best and most exploratory teacher is beholden to the STATE STANDARDS and the accompanying perfunctory testing. It seems this is inescapable.

Then we come to writing.

Writing follows none of these rules. Do you need a hook? Well that depends. Where do I find the reason why? Well that comes from your head now. What does a good paper look like? Well, you’ll know it when you see it.


Writing is when we ask for the curiosity and creativity that has been trodden underfoot for years to instantly re-awaken.

When kids or adults can’t do it, we bemoan the person and not the system,

Waking the Brain Back Up

Like any other muscle, the brain needs to be exercised. This may mean taking time away from THE STATE STANDARDS to go off script.


One should start simple and explain the difference between a facts and the reasoning derived from a fact. In order to do this I made this simple powerpoint to show the difference and have the students try it out.

How Fact Turns to Reasoning (1)

From there, I’d make thinking into a weekly or even daily practice. I already do this through my mindful journaling, but in that I rarely ask them to use novel facts.

For that I made some simple exercises using fun and odd pictures. Some are optical illusions some were taken during events. I don’t include what is really happening in any of them, because the point of the exercise is to think about what you see and what that means. (If I were working with blind students I would find interesting audio clips).

What Happened there_ Evidence and Reasoning Activities

Once students are more accustomed to thinking through  some facts and finding reasonable inferences, they’ll be ready to apply that skill to your content.

To applying deeper thinking to a specific problem, you can’t beat a classic. I use socratic questioning with my students all of the time. I rarely accept an answer without asking why it is the answer.

Warning! At first this freaks people out. They’re paranoid that they’re wrong. You have to assure them they’re not wrong, you just want to know how they arrived at the answer.

For those of you not super-familiar with socratic questioning here is a nifty infographic. Share it with your group of learners and encourage them to ask these questions of each other.


There are many ways to wake brains up around you. Some of the best activities are debates, mock trials, defenses, and problem-solution presentations.

I, for one, would like to see more people who know how to think than those who know what to think.

Happy Reasoning Everyone!

When You’re Not Just Tired: Feeling the Burnout

What is Burnout?


Burnout, is the short term for Occupational Burnout Syndrome. It is absolutely real. People in care-based industries are more prone to it, but it can happen to anyone. Teachers and nurses are especially susceptible due to the nature of their work.

Burnout is basically the many manifestations of prolonged, unresolved, work stressors.  It can have many symptoms but the end result is feeling awful all of the time.

Full disclosure, I have had a few bouts of burnout in my time as a teacher, but up until recently I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.

Isn’t everyone tired on campus?

That’s the thing about burnout, so many of us have it, that it doesn’t seem abnormal. about 15% of teachers leave the profession a year. 41% of new teachers don’t stick around. And its not only in the US, teachers around the world experience it. 

How Do You Know if You are Experiencing Burnout?

Helpful infographic is helpful.

There are a myriad of symptoms of burnout. Most can be found in this article I found on a sleepless night. Below are some of the ones I often see sighted by other teachers and I also experienced during my stretches of burnout.


Being tired is normal. Teaching is exhausting. You have longer days than others.

Being tired everyday, before you have even get into work, is not.

I recall being bone tired for three to four weeks into the summer break. It was hard to wake up. I didn’t want to leave bed. This went on for a year and a half.


Its on thing to roll with the punches it is quite another to feel like nothing you do matters.

The feeling of hopelessness made me testy. I felt like no one would listen to me. I felt like there was no point in even trying to change things for the better since nothing ever changes.

I was negative and felt defeated everyday.

Being Overwhelmed

Being overwhelmed is one of those things that we think just comes with the territory, but again, it is not.

Its ok to get behind on grading from time to time and feel a little under the gun, but it is not normal to feel like you’re constantly under a mountain of work.

I put a ton of work and pressure in myself. I didn’t really stop to consider if it was my job or not. I saw things to do and did them, but that left me continually behind, overburdened and well beyond my capacity as a human.


It was impossible to “shut off” at night. I was thinking about what I should do. I was thinking about if I should go in the next day. I was worn out from thinking, but too anxious to sleep.

Sometimes I would be up until I could only sleep an hour before I had to get up.

This made functioning incredible difficult.

Somatic Symptoms

Constant stomach pain. Headaches. Jaw pain. Neck pain. Every week a new cold.

This was my daily existence.


With everything above, it would almost be impossible NOT to be irritable.

What Can You Do About It?

Take Better Care of Yourself

Be a basic needs meeting champ!

Teachers are great at putting themselves last.

Determine what self-care looks like for you. Working out? Yoga? Meditation? A walk after work out in the sunshine? It doesn’t matter what it is, but put yourself first, at least once a day.

Sleep if you can. See a movie with friends. Play with your pets, if you have them. Play with your kids, if you have them. Don’t neglect your needs.

You are not at your best if your basic needs are going unmet. You’re making a difficult situation even worse.

Watch this video to start a self care action plan!

Guard Your Time Jealously.

Sponsor another club? That’s a hard nope.

Setting boundaries is an important skill.

Being an educator makes these difficult to set. 5 more minutes after school can easily become an hour before you know it.

I had to set a “come home” time. I set my phone for 4:30 and I can’t stay later than that anymore.

Before I accept any new responsibility or engagement I ask myself 2 questions:

  1. Do I have time to meet this new obligation?
  2. Will this new obligation feed me and help me better enjoy my job?

If the answer is no to either I say a polite “no”. Learning to say “no” has been the best skill I have ever learned in my life.

For more help saying no gracefully:

Get Help


Since we established burnout is a real ailment it is totally appropriate to see a doctor about it.

Talking to a therapist can really help you get out of hopelessness spirals and come up with a strategy for self care that works for you.

In some cases medication may be necessary to help you cope with the effects this stress may be having on you.

Whatever form it takes, it is important to seek out a professional opinion to help you out from under the cloud.

Stay and Mitigate

Feel the love again!

As for the job itself, thats not without possible interventions either.

If you decide to stay there are ways to mitigate your stress.

Talk with another teacher (preferably a mentor) about the burnout you are experiencing. Odds are they’ve been through it too and may have some great ideas to help. In any case it helps tremendously to talk to a colleague about what you are going through.

Brain storm some of your biggest stressors at work and see if there is anything that can be done about them.

In my case I hated attending certain district meetings where there was an especially toxic environment and I asked my administration to allow me to take a break from them. My administrators granted the request. It helped immensely to just not have to  face that relentless negativity.

I also cut way back on all the “extra work” I was doing.

OR: Try a New Environment

Businessman Leaving Job, vector, flat design
Maybe its time to bounce?

This may come as a shock, but you are not working at the only school in the world.

If the school you are currently at is a bad fit, the good news is that there are many more schools in the world (and a teacher shortage to boot).

Maybe you need to change grade level. Maybe a new subject is the challenge you need right now. Maybe you’d shine in a Montessori school or telecommute at an online school.

You are not trapped where you are.

No matter whether you stay or you go, work does not define you. Keep a good balance.


Hopefully you found this helpful. Shine on, but don’t burn out! You are truly a light in the dark!

Happy teaching everyone!

Converting Your Classes to a Happy Place


When I was a baby teacher, in Teach for America, we were taught to keep a tight ship.

Have something for the students to do every minute of the class. Have “overflow assignments” for when time runs short. They said, come in too strict rather than too lenient, you can lighten up later. Have clear rules and stick to them, no matter what. No exceptions. Be a professional, don’t be yourself. School is a factory and you’re Mr. Manager.

The world sucks. Its my job to teach you to accept it.

When I was in school I HATED that teacher, with a burning passion. I’ve talked before in this blog about why we shouldn’t make ourselves easily replaceable with robots and this another reason why.

So, why is this path bad for your personal practice and not just personally annoying to me?

There are two main reasons.

First, studies have shown we learn much better when we are happy and relaxed. If babies had to learn to walk in US classrooms, I doubt the species would be bipedal at this point.  US classrooms are stressful and that stress is not producing positive effects.

Second, like it or not, schools help create citizens. Teachers influence kids. We teach core content, but we’re often the ones on the front line of teaching social skills and emotional competence. These skill are important and teachable but, you can’t do that as a lifeless drill sergeant.

Remember how much more you learned when school was fun?

5 Ways to Make Your Classroom a Happy Place

Mild amusement, we solute thee.


Gamification is gaining steam these days. There are entire schools devoted to the concept but its really an old one. People have been trying to make dull tasks into games for centuries. Kick the can, anyone?

There are many ways to achieve this in the classroom. A Pinterest search (here’s my game learning board) will come up with tons of ideas for making the mundane a little more engaging. Start small. Have students roll dice to see which question they’re answering. Make a board game out of drawing review cards.

Games can be cooperative or competitive. They can have rewards like extra points or candy or simply be there to be light fun.

Try to include variations once a week at least so learners are trained that when they come to your class, a good amount of their time will be spent on (mild) fun. You can use these for content or just a classroom brain break and class community builder.

Nice people come from nice people.

Mind Your Manners and Be Kind

This one should be a no-brainer but I have worked with many people who don’t treat their students with the same courtesy they would an adult.

When you ask them to do something, say “please”. When they do it, say “thank-you”. Say “hello” when they come in. Call them by their name. Appreciate them when they do something extra.

When they look upset, ask them if they’re ok and if you can help. If they seem happy, ask them what the good mood is about. Tell them when other people speak highly of them.

Tell them you’re proud of them.

These little things are easy to forget- especially under the stress of a packed classroom, but don’t! They’re crucial for setting up a positive, emotionally intelligent classroom. If you model it, they’ll learn it too.

If using a meme is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Build in Success

Simple fact about humans, we don’t like being bad at things.

When you don’t feel like a success, or that success is not possible you don’t want to put in the effort. We’re asking our students to do new things every day. Some they’ll take to right away and some that they won’t.

The best way to help them continue to try on these not-easy tasks is to build in early success. Have them review something you know they all know. Ask a question there is no wrong answer to.

Praise the process.

Learners need to feel successful, and as the person in control it is within your power to give them that feeling. It will make surviving the rest seem do-able and put them in a good mood for the learning process. Bonus: fewer classroom management problems!

Weird is wonderful.

Be You

You are a spectacular person. I know, because you are choosing to teach someone else something. That’s big.

You are a person too. You make mistakes. You say the wrong thing. You forget things you need to do.

I encourage you to share that with your students. When they think you are infallible, they get the idea that struggling is a failing. It makes them feel like their struggle is a sign they won’t get it.

Be open with them! Empathize! They need to know what adults make mistakes too and learn from them. They need to see a responsible adult person who makes it to work every morning cope with issues too.

It builds a community were they know its ok to fail. Its ok to not get it or forget something, its how they get up and dust themselves off that matters. I’m afraid the only way I can think to teach that is to model it.

In addition to their lowered anxiety over having to be perfect, you will also experience a lowering of anxiety. No need to never be wrong, or always be perfect. With the weight of being a robot lifted from your shoulders, the environment in your classroom will be lighter too.

Go ahead, laugh at yourself. You will not lose control of your class, you will simply gain their trust.

Trying to fit in all of the time is hard.

Let Them Be Themselves Too

People are weird. Kids are people, so they’re weird too. They make questionable choices. They slip up and say the wrong thing.

Rather than treating every minor infraction as a dire emergency, accept your students and redirect them to better choices.

Rules should be there to make the room fair and productive. They should address behaviors that are undesirable to those ends and replace them with desirable ones. Give your students ways to get their needs met that doesn’t disrupt the flow of learning.

Classrooms should be orderly and have clearly stated expectations for all students, but it should not be a prison.

Kids talk a little between activities? Let it go. A kid accidentally uses unacademic language, let them say sorry and move on. Tapping a pencil? Ask them to move that to their leg or arm to muffle the sound. Do they seem angry? Let them take a short break.

I used to be told these are special education strategies but really its about respecting who your kids are, communicating the needs of the classroom and helping them meet their own needs without losing focus or disrupting.

While we’re at it, stop belittling students who don’t have a material. I’ve lost pens before too, but I sure am glad the people at the bank don’t make me give them a shoe to use one.

Happy Teaching!

Happy Apple
I am happy to teach you about how to make students happy!



5 Reasons to Care About Transition

The Transition Dilemma

An individual Education Program (IEP) doesn’t exactly excite feelings of joy in your average teacher. These pieces of paperwork are long, tiresome to read or write, and chocked full of legalese. Fun!

An IEP has many sections that your average teacher-type sees as perfunctory, none more than the transition section. For those not in the know, this is the part of the IEP that talks about what the student will do after they graduate and how the IEP will help them get there.

Typical reaction to this: “Who cares what this kid is doing when they grow up? I need to teach them all of the maths before they graduate and they can barely count now!”

I sympathize. We often get all caught up in all of the state mandates and school mandates and personal mandates we have, but that’s a real same because the transition section can be magical.

Think of the hat as a good transition plan.

How does it produce this magic? Here’s how:

1. Gives your kids a light at the end of the tunnel.

Its nice to know something is waiting for you at the end.

If I am the one to break this to you for the first time, I’m sorry, but most kids, and especially those with IEPs, hate school. School is difficult and tedious.

Imagine going to a place everyday to have people ask you to do something that you don’t know how to do, aren’t very good at and see no point to; let’s say whittling. These people then reprimand you for not showing proper interest or enthusiasm for whittling. You’re graded against the work of people who DO know how to whittle and on top of all that you have to follow an arbitrary set of rules that change depending on the room you’re sitting in.


You have been sentenced to go to this place involuntarily. There is no escape for another 4-8 years. There is no trial, and no appeal. You’ll whittle or die trying.

It sucks.

What we can do with the transition section is: at least make that hard time meaningful.

The transition provides the student with a reason to try and care. It makes this struggle a pathway to something more. We can even suggest things for them to do in their free time that helps them move towards their dream as well. This can provide a needed stress valve for these students.

They may still hate school but we can make all that struggle productive. It can be tailored, such as “you need to write because police officers need to write reports all the time” or it may be more general such as, “you need to graduate because a diploma is necessary to go to trade school”.

Whatever it is, they need to know all that whittling is getting them somewhere.

2. Provides the WHY for the whole team

Because it’s on the test?

The IEP is no picnic. Students with a disabilities are likely to be behind their typical peers. They may be missing work. They may be missing tons of school. Every teacher is concerned. They want the kid to be successful. The parent is concerned, they too want their kid to be successful.

Wait a minute though, why?

Why do I want this kid to write 10 sentences in a paragraph? Why do I want them to properly shade an apple? Why do they need to be able to write a proof? Sing a song? Read at grade level?

I think for many team members the answer is simple: so they can pass the class.

There are many ways to accomplish this though. We can provide accommodations of various kinds. We can modify the curriculum. We can place the student in a different class. How do we decide which path to take?

Most of the time we think of what will do the job in just that class, but that’s a disservice.

A student who is college-bound can really be hurt by a modification to the curriculum. They can come away thinking that the level they are being asked to achieve to is acceptable in college for a similar course. It sets them up to fail.

Is their ambition to be an artist or designer? If not, electives that are more aligned, like business or language classes may be more appropriate than art.

If the team knows what the end game is for this student, they can make all their decisions aligned with that goal. We can set appropriate expectations that set the student up for success when they go on to their planned next steps.

3. Tough conversations should start early

Sorry, but it’s not going to work out.

So, I heard you thinking above, “what if the kid or parent have an unreasonable transition goal?”

This happens all of the time. A kid who has a cognitive impairment and reads at the second grade level in 10th grade wants to be a brain surgeon. It’s pretty unlikely to happen, but no one wants to shoot down a dream. What kind of monsters are we!

The good kind of monsters as it turns out. The kind which help a dream live, by patching it up, but its best to start this process early.

I teach high school now, but I used to teach middle school. Transitions were rarely written and almost never talked about. However, that’s a pity because when we start early it makes shaping a dream much easier.

Kids start hearing about jobs early. They get feedback from family and friends about what kind of jobs are good and which are less desirable. They get an idea of themselves and what they see themselves doing. They’re unlikely to know much about the literally millions of jobs out there. They pick ones they see on TV or the movies or family members have. If we expose them to more career exploration in late elementary and early middle school that may help them see that there are many more possibilities. They may also be aware that there are requirements for these jobs.

As they grow, we can help them to see where their actual talents and interests are.

Maybe they want to be a brain surgeon because they like the idea of healing people. Maybe they’re good with children and would make the world’s greatest children’s hospital orderly. They could live independently, make an income and work in a setting they love.

See? The dream isn’t dead, its reborn! If you do nothing, and say “sure kid, you can be a brain surgeon” then the dream will die when the kid realizes that they don’t have the skills to even start towards that dream and have no idea what to do instead.

If we start these conversations early, kids may get to high school with the “why” in hand and a pocket full of acceptable dream jobs to explore as they grow. In high school we can help them see the reality of the challenges their job will take to achieve and they can adjust either the level of work they want to put in or the dream to something they feel more capable of achieving.

Basically, we never have to even have a tough conversation because we arm the kid with all the information to make an achievable, ambitious determination for themselves.

4. Keeps conversations on track

This is not where we all wanted to be.

I’ve been in many an IEP that starts out on track and quickly becomes a discussion of specific missing homework assignments. That’s a good conversation for a parent-teacher conference, but an IEP is not that.

An IEP should be a discussion of where a kid is, the skills they have, the skills they need and how that gap will be bridged.

Having that end goal, makes it easy to regroup.

You can veer the conversation back to the tracks by saying “The essay that is due is a good example of Student X’s writing deficits, a skill X will need to be an effective veterinary assistant. How can we scaffold this skill this year to help X gain these skills?” Boom! Back on topic.

5. Every kid should have one (and some adults)

I hear you cat. Me too. 

I work in a school with a ratio of 400 kids to every 1 counselor. In some places its better, but in many places its worse. Kids don’t have a ton of personal attention in the career planning department.

Some students have great families that support them and talk often about career planning and college, but many do not.

That’s where the transition section comes into play. We can provide students with ideas for how to see their job in action. I never job shadowed before I took this job, and I wish I had.

We can suggest schools they’ve never heard of. We can have them start on skills they hadn’t though about. Here’s an example, your student with ADHD who takes medication is going to college. Do they know how to get their own prescription? Do they know how to make a doctor’s appointment? That’s a homework assignment you can give the family to make this kid ready to maintain their success in a new setting.

A well executed transition plan is like having a free life coach. Your case manager asks you about your hopes, dreams, skills, likes and dislikes and thinks about all the challenges in your way. They give you things to try and a pathway to achieving what you want to achieve.

Frankly, I’m jealous since I had to do all that stuff by myself. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a well thought out transition plan.

Transition Planning Resources

So now you’re on the transition plan train, but where to start? Here are a few resources I use to help my students explore their talents and goals in your class.

First of all I adore this line of thinking:

“We need to instead ask students, “What problem do you want to solve?” That allows educators to follow up with, “OK, what do you need to learn in order to solve those problems? What blogs, what readings, what classes can you take, online and offline to really dive into and understand the problem and solve it?” That changes the conversation for students.” Jaime Casap.

Here’s how I start them thinking about themselves:

16 Personalities  First, the classic Myers-Briggs personality test. Its a little like a horoscope but it gets them thinking about what they’re good at.

Newslea  This is a great site with grade-level changing readings. I especially adore the ones about different careers for younger students because it starts to open their mind to more possibilities.

CareerOneStop This site has a ton of great resources. There are a ton of self-assessments for interests, values and skills. The thing my kids like the best are the videos of people actually doing those jobs.

EducationPlanner This is a great site with assessments and checklists. It even starts at middle school!

Happy transitioning everyone!