Transitions and New Beginnings

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Life has been full of changes this past year and a half, and I don’t just mean because of the pandemic.  I stopped teaching at the end of April 2020 because I became a mom for the first time.  I dove headfirst into motherhood, enjoying every minute with my daughter, and taking the moment as a time to enjoy her without balancing teaching full-time too.

I spent the past school year finding classes to do with her and finishing my Masters degree.  The world still wasn’t quite normal (virtual classes had their pros and cons) and was able to connect with other moms virtually.  I loved being with my daughter and watching her explore and discover the world.  However, at times, I felt like I should be doing something else since I worked hard to get where I was professionally.  I decided to finish my Masters Degree and then reevaluate my choices and potentially find something part time.

A friend told me about The Teacher Career Coach Podcast, and I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes to learn what careers others have pursued who have left education.  I also took their quiz to see what career options exist that I could potentially transfer my skills.  So far, I’ve pursued side projects rather than purchasing their course, but I know it is an option in the future. 

After a lot of reflection I decided I missed teaching, but wanted something less demanding than teaching full time in a typical school setting.  In September, I began 3 new pursuits (and it was a little overwhelming beginning them all at the same time, which is why I’m delayed writing a blog post!).  I began teaching Sunday School and have a sweet class of 2nd graders.  This is one of my favorite age groups, and it’s reminded me how much I’ve missed it after having conversations with a baby and toddler for the past year!  I also began tutoring, which again, gives me the opportunity to teach, create resources, and connect with and support families in a 1:1 setting.

For my last pursuit, I am excited to begin teaching kids yoga classes.  I have been thinking about this option for awhile as a way to combine my love of yoga and teaching kids, I just needed to find time to finish some training.  I was finally able to complete a basic overall training, learning songs and poses great for toddlers and kids as well as some follow up courses about yoga for babies and toddlers, family yoga, Jewish yoga, and storytime yoga.  There are a lot of other interesting courses available, but I have to remember to space them out.  It’s important I get comfortable with one program first before getting certified in many different areas.

I’ve begun teaching small classes in my backyard while the weather is still nice enough to be outside.  I’m open to teaching pods at others’ houses, but have to remember to start small with this new venture.  So far my classes have been small in size, but again, I have to remember I need to start somewhere.  Many people are excited for me and interested in classes; I’ve met and interacted with many new people already.  It’s a new feeling for me to put myself out there and market and advertise, but I am learning a lot.  Currently, I’m trying to figure out what to do as the weather gets colder so I can continue safely offering classes and teaching yoga!

I’m proud of my reflections and to see where I go from here.  I hope you’ll follow along on my journey with me!

Reflections from Empower 19

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I was excited to attend my first education conference, ASCD Empower 19 a few weeks ago in Chicago.  It worked perfectly being in my backyard of Chicago and was able to go with a few other educators from the school I teach at.  This reflection is delayed because I got sick after the conference and then it was spring break!  Thinking about the speakers and presentations I was able to attend, here are 5 themes I came up with from the conference:

1. Build Relationships

It’s important to build relationships with both colleagues and students.  As a special education teacher, I need to work with a variety of teachers and therapists to support all the students.  It’s important to get to know colleagues on a personal level (say hi in the hallways, learn about their lives outside of school) as well as professional.  One of my goals for the upcoming year is to co-teach more.  It’s hard not being a “visitor” in someone else’s classroom.  But if I’m only in there for a limited time each day supporting students, it’s important to use that time wisely.  When we build relationships as colleagues, we can plan together and use our strengths to benefit all students.  It’s also important to get to know students.  They love when you show an interest in their lives outside of school.  At an elementary level, they often want to please their teachers, but it’s still important to have them trust you.  Also, we should be their cheerleaders.  We should celebrate their successes but also continue to cheer them on when struggles happen. Brian Mendler described that as kids are learning to walk, we cheer and get excited when they fall.  They stand up and try again.  We need to continue doing that in education.

2. Take Risks

In Ron Clark’s keynote, he described how most people act like “bread”-they go with the status quo and aren’t willing to try something new.  The world is changing and we should be “like pizza” and be engaging and innovative!  He also described how there is a slide in the middle of his school.  Can you imagine?  We should all slide into new ideas, be willing to take risks, and be passionate rather than run the other way.  I’ve followed the #tlap movement the past few years and try to participate in chats and read inspirational books when I have a moment!  It’s amazing what teachers across the country are doing in their classrooms.  And if we have fun teaching, students will have fun learning!

3. Make Connections

Similar to building relationships, we have to make sure students are connected with their learning and understand the why.  Hands on learning increases engagement.  I remember lessons from elementary school that would be considered inquiry learning now.  I incorporate videos, technology, visuals, and manipulatives as often as possible.  If students can connect with their learning, they will better understand and remember it.  Making learning visual allows visual learners to “see” what’s happening.  Using real-life and relevant examples excites students to learn.  Isn’t that the goal??

4. Use Purposeful Language

Often, educators are quick to be negative.  Maybe it’s because of outside pressure in the system currently, but we have to be positive for our students.  We have to see the best in others.  Even the frustrating students have positive qualities and moments throughout the day or week.  We should be inclusive, rather than exclusive.  We should inspire others, rather than categorize or limit them.  We need to adapt or differentiate material so everyone can participate.  This is part of our job.  While it’s time consuming, isn’t it worth it when your students are excited they learned something new?!  We also may need to explicitly teach expectations.  Students come from different backgrounds and experiences so they may not know the rules or specific vocabulary.  Spending time to explicitly teach and practice will help them learn social norms and be successful in the long term.

5. Be Flexible

I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected.  That doesn’t mean it’s less frustrating, but it helps you go with the flow and continue moving forward.  After a great day 1, I woke up sick after catching a bug and had to miss day 2 of the conference.  I had planned my day with what sessions I wanted to attend and some of the speakers I was really excited to see.  Unfortunately, my bed was the only place I went.  As frustrating as it was (and I thought about going late) I knew I needed to regain my energy in order to be successful at work later in the week.  Things don’t always go as expected during a lesson, a student’s behavior, or some other surprise thrown our way, but how we react makes such a difference.  We can take a minute to be personally upset, frustrated, angry, whatever but how we react towards students and colleagues makes such a difference.  I’ve learned as a special education teacher that being flexible is one of the keys to daily success!

I’m sure I could add more to this list (and could have if I attended Day 2!) but I feel these themes are important to remember and reflect upon.  I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow with others!