Sunday, November 25, 2012

Re-surfacing...

It is November 25, the day before I head back to school after a busy Thanksgiving break.  I am feeling a little overwhelmed about this blog, as it has been two months since I've posted.  There has been a lot going on and I am not sure how to proceed.  Without becoming tedious about the last couple of months, I'll just say that October was my crucible.  As a first-year teacher, October is typically a bad month, I am told.  For me, I wasn't sure how I was going to make it!  One of my aides left for a whirlwind tour of Turkey, Israel, and Greece in early October.  It was her life-long dream to go on this trip, and I knew she was going to have the time of her life.  As for the classroom, we had a very capable substitute teacher to take her place.  However, the day she left for her trip, my other aide gave her two weeks' notice.

Yikes.

Sooo, on top of having one aide out, I needed to find another.  In the midst of that dilemma, I also had a couple of classes to take for my alternative certification program.  I had online classes to complete for the district.  I had several trainings to take--in addition to writing lesson plans, taking data, and getting ready for an Admission, Review, Dismissal (ARD) meeting.  AND, in the midst of all this fun stress, I got a new student. 

I should also add that I had my formal evaluation during this month. Because I'm a first year teacher, I've been observing other SPED classrooms and I've had a campus mentor observing my class.  At one point, I'd had three visitors in my room in one day.  Let's just say, I'm glad October is over.  It took some time to resolve my first dilemma of finding a new aide, but I am so happy to say that a good friend of mine accepted the position and has already been a tremendous help to me.  Things worked out for good.

I passed my classes, completed my trainings, and my formal evaluation came out very well.  I took my last teacher exam on Nov. 19th, and I passed it.  I'm breathing a bit easier, though I have to admit that I really needed this break.

I'm still very grateful to be teaching.  I still love my class.  At times, though, I really wish that this job were a bit more manageable.  I create most of my classroom resources.  It takes a ton of time and money.  I've got a stack of tasks needing to be laminated and assembled for my students to use.  The bright side is that my students are showing progress.  I have high expectations of them, and they are doing so well.  I know that a year from now, I'll feel a bit more confident about this position.  At the very least, I won't have so many observations of me and for me to do.  My first year teacher academy will be over.  I'll have compiled a lot of resources and will have completed lesson plans that I can use next year. 

If I can just hang in there, I am certain that next year will be better.  At least, I hope so!

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Patience, Or the Lack Thereof

A lot of people have assumed that I have a great deal of patience.  It seems to be a common assumption, because my fellow Special Ed. teachers tell me that they often hear "You must be so patient to do what you do!"  I feel like I need to set the record straight.  I don't think that I am any more patient than the average person; I think I am just patient in certain situations.

For example, I am patient with the screaming, spitting, kicking, hitting child who is frustrated because she can't communicate what she's feeling.  She is imprisoned by the physical limitations of her mouth and tongue--not her brain.  I get that.  We all have things that handicap us from saying what we feel or think.  For most of us that are able-bodied, we handicap ourselves with fear of what others will think or do.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  But it can be, and when it holds us back or keeps us from being understood, then it is a very bad thing.  So, when I am maintaining my composure in the midst of a child's meltdown, it is because I imagine how hard it must be for her to feel something, but not be able to say it. 

Generally speaking, I am patient with children.  I think that this is mostly because they don't know better.  As the old saying goes, "When you know better, you do better."  I find that as children get older and should know better, I get less patient.  I also find that if I am very tired, I have very little patience.  Sleep does wonders for our ability to persevere.  I make it a point to try and get as much sleep as I can.  The times in my life when I am the least patient with my own children are those times when I am exhausted, and maybe a little frustrated, and I have my own little meltdown.  It happens.

On the other hand, I find as I get older that my patience wears thin with certain things.  I don't like it when others are disrespectful.  I don't like drama.  I hate it, actually.  I think that we are becoming a society quick to turn little things into big ones.  I think that the simple courtesies in life are becoming quaint notions of the past:  Being polite; being kind; treating others the way you would want to be treated; etc.  All Biblical values, by the way.  I think that one of the frustrations that I have with the life we lead is the transient nature of people in general.  If I don't like something, I'll just get rid of it and get another--that can be anything from an iPad to a friend.  If I don't like how things are going here, I'll go there.  We don't really have to work out our differences, we'll just avoid the problems altogether by moving on to greener pastures.  So, the pastures we leave behind become malnourished due to inattention.  We leave behind fallow land, looking for a fertile valley. 

So, am I a patient person?  Maybe not as much as you think.  I enjoy working with children with special needs, frankly, because I like to work in a career that is rife with miracles.  There is the potential to see amazing things every day.  I dig that.  I think it's cool that I get to do this.  But, I'm no saint, as my family and close friends will attest.  I think I just have a lot of self-control....

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Busy times in SPED

Since school began on August 27, I've been a very busy girl.  In three weeks time, my students have learned our new classroom routine and hallway procedures.  For the first two weeks I didn't have any curriculum materials, so I was creating lessons and scrambling for materials.  We got printer access at some point in week 2, so by week 3 (last week), I was able to teach my higher functioning students how to send Word documents to the computer lab down the hall.  These same students have now learned how to insert clip art into a document (they knew how to insert pics from Google, but I am teaching them some basic Word processing commands). 

We have done a couple of fun projects in class.  Since my class involves vocational/life skills, I have been putting together center activities that are designed to simulate a vocational environment.  My first life skills box is a first aid kit:

 
 
I've put the instructions under the lid:
 
 
 
You'll notice that I've got real-life pictures of the items that go inside the bag, or first aid kit.  I began by explaining to the students that sometimes when we go out on trips, we get injured or hurt.  It is good to have things on hand in case we get hurt.  The students responded so well, and even the students with the greatest challenges were able to participate by filling their bags.  You'll also notice that the instructions specify the number of items that go in each bag.  This helps my students who are still learning to count.
 
Unfortunately, I'm having trouble uploading more pics.  I have pictures of my light table that I'd like to share, and I have some pictures of my science area, as well.  I will also have to post pictures of the personal care kits that we put together today.  The students folded laundry last week--just wash cloths, but I was pleased to see how well some of them did.
 
My alternative certification program hasn't wasted any time, either.  I've had my first evaluation already!  It went very well, thankfully--despite technical difficulties and having one of my aides out sick.  My evaluator complimented me on my skill in the class and my ability to manage so much going on.  I appreciated her assessment.  Soon, I'll be having my first formal evaluation by my administrator.  I have a couple of online courses to finish for my district and two more Saturday classes to take for my alt. cert. program.  It's going to be a fast and furious semester, and about the time I get my feet under me, I'll have STAAR testing to contend with (STAAR is the high-stakes test administered in Texas). 
 
For now, I'm tired.  I'm taking each day one at a time, with a keen eye on what's ahead.  I'm doing my best to stay organized.  Hopefully, I won't miss anything! ;)
 
Many blessings,
 
Jennifer



Monday, August 27, 2012

A Blessed First Day



I'm not absolutely certain that any teacher feels like everything is perfect for their first day of school.  I do think that most teachers feel like they are ready for the first day.  I woke up this morning ready to go to work.  My classroom was set up, I had the knowledge and information that I needed, and my lesson plans and schedule were in place.

Everything went well.  I love, love, love my students.  My schedule worked out perfectly.  The children enjoyed the activities and I got a great response to my light table and iPad games and books.  Was it perfect?  Oh, no.  But it went well.  I am getting to know my students and I know that absolutely, unequivocally I am blessed.  I wish I could show the pictures I took of my students, but I can't.  If you saw them, you'd agree that they are precious.

Jesse and Lily had a great first day, as well.  They love their teachers, and I am so pleased to have been able to see them throughout the day.  I got to see them during both lunch and recess for a short time.  They come to my class at the end of the day and have snacks and play.  This whole situation has turned out better than I could've hoped for. 


 
 
 
 
Jacob and Matthew had a good first day, as well.  However, Mom doesn't take "first day" pictures when you're in 9th and 12th grades.  ;)  It seems crazy to me that Jacob is in his last year of high school!  Have two high schoolers blows my mind...
 
Though my feet hurt and I am very tired, I am happy.  I asked one of the deacons at church for a blessing for today, and I definitely feel blessed.  Now, to go back tomorrow and have another good day...
 
 
Many blessings,
 
Jennifer

Monday, August 20, 2012

Learning Takes Us Places!


The classroom is really taking shape.  Brian and I worked on it this weekend.  He helped me put up this bulletin board, which turned out really well.  Underneath the table is the light table, which is not quite finished.

We went to IKEA this evening and purchased some LED lights and a support structure to support the lights underneath the table.  I'll post pictures when it's finished.  Brian and Jacob will be putting it together in the next day or so, before our "Meet the Teacher" Day on Thursday afternoon.  I've got several sensory/fine motor activities to use with the table, and I'm anxious to get it all set up.  Light tables cost quite a bit of money, but if this works out, we'll have made one at less than half of the cost.


Lily, Jesse, and their friend, Jett had fun playing games on the computer while we worked.

It's been a real challenge to get the classroom together when I've been involved in training nearly every day.  I really appreciated Brian coming up on the weekend to help me.  The kids have come up to help me, too. :)

I came in on Thursday of last week, and the ladies that I work with in the classroom, the paraprofessionals in the class, had brought in the colorful rugs seen in the pictures below.  They really add the bright colors that the classroom needs. 

Brian mounted the lights above the cabinet.  They provide a nice, soft light when the fluorescents are turned off.

My projector is now tilted downwards, toward the SMART Board.  The rug defines the area where our morning activities and the reading area will be held.  The book shelf in the reading area was a hand-me-down from one of the teachers.  I felt that it was a bit too unstable to use in an upright fashion, but when laid on its side, works very well. I bought the canvas bins sitting on top of the book shelf at Wal Mart.  

Another sideways shelf. The rolling drawer cart was repurposed from another classroom, and the other AVLS teacher, Jazz, gave me the colorful shelves on the left.  In this free play area, I plan to have a bulletin board above the shelves that will feature student work.  I will store learning toys in bins in the shelving unit.  Science activities will be stored on the colorful shelves.
Brian got a really good deal on the fridge.  Students' snacks are stored in the drawer bins, and the microwave is one from our media room upstairs that we really didn't need.  We popped popcorn in it while we worked! :)


After it rained a week ago, we discovered a leak in the ceiling in my classroom.  After the extensive remodel, there were about 14 such leaks throughout the school.  We're really grateful to have found the leaks now, before the classroom was completely set up.  It does present a problem for me, though, in that I can't put up my bulletin board on that wall.   :(

Tomorrow, I'll be at a district wide training all day.  I really appreciate that my district gives us so much information and support.  It will certainly make my first year as a teacher easier, because I'm being given so much information to aid in making my first year successful.  

Each day, I am more and more amazed at how good God has been to us.  I am enjoying my work and I'm being made to feel welcome by my fellow faculty members.  I feel blessed beyond measure.

Many blessings,

Jennifer




   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting My Classroom Ready


The view of my classroom from the doorway.  As you can see, the Smart Board and projector are already mounted.  There is an intercom system to the right of the Smart Board, and my desk will most likely sit underneath it.



Construction is nearly finished at my school.  I was able to go and work in my classroom for a few hours Friday morning.  I cleaned, unpacked boxes, and began putting things away.  It was nice to finally have the opportunity to get into the class and start working.  There is still quite a lot to do.  I couldn't get into the school over the weekend, because the floors were being waxed.  I took a few pictures of the classroom before I left:

Empty shelves!

I love the windows!
The boxes in the center of the room are now unpacked, and a couple of the lockers are holding supplies.

The classroom has two large whiteboards.  The student computers will be on this end of the room.

Unpacked boxes---feels like an accomplishment!
While I was there, a group of young men brought down another cartload of boxes for me to unpack.

I managed to get a few things put away.  I'll need to purchase storage containers to organize the math manipulatives.

I will put a refrigerator and a microwave on top of this cabinet.  I have supplies in the drawers, and the box contains my laser printer.


I attended First Year Teacher Academy today and again tomorrow.  I won't be able to work in my class again until Wednesday.  I hope to bring the kids with me to help me get things sorted out and the rest of the boxes unpacked.  I need my strong boys to move tables and shelves around.  There are so many things I'd like to have for the class, but I have to pace myself and wait to see what I really need.  I have to admit that it is fun putting the class together.  I am so grateful for this job.  I worked several hours without a break and didn't even feel tired.  I think I was just so happy that it didn't feel like work.  :)

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Child With a Miracle In His Hands

Brian and I served as shepherds at Royal Ambassadors (RA's) and Girls in Action (GA's) camps this past week.  RA's and GA's are missions education organizations for school-aged boys and girls begun by the Women's Missionary Union over 100 years ago.  I have been helping out with the GA's on Wednesday nights, ostensibly because Lily is now old enough to join, and I wanted to share the experience with her.    Over the course of the last week at camp, we had the opportunity to participate in worship services every day.  The featured speaker was Pastor Russell Rogers, senior past or Trinity Life Baptist Church in Garland, TX.

Pastor Russell shared some wonderful messages.  I will be meditating on the Biblical truths shared and received during this last week for several weeks to come.  Since it is Sunday, I thought I might share a part of the message that Pastor Russell gave on Thursday evening.  The message comes from Mark 6:30-44, when Jesus feeds the 5,000.  The title of the message is "Brown Bag Special".  Pastor Russell read the focal passage, in which a little boy gave Jesus all of the food he had in order to feed the hungry crowd that had been listening to Jesus speak (We find additional information about this story in John chapter 6.  It is in this passage that we find that one of Jesus disciples, Andrew, brought a little boy to Jesus who had five loaves of bread and two fish). 

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages[a]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Pastor Russell gave the following points: 
  • Jesus knew that the child held a miracle in his hands.
  • The boy gave what he had.
  • The boy have all he had.
  • Jesus used what he gave.
The boy had a choice before him.  He held enough food for himself and no one else.  If he gave half, everyone would be fully fed, except the boy, who would only get half a meal and would go away hungry.  If he gave all (which he did), then every need was met to abundance--for today and tomorrow! 

Pastor Russell said:  "Totally given means to take things out of our control and to place them in God's control." 

Finally, Pastor Russell asked us to evaluate what is in our bag; our talents, our gifts, and our possessions.  Jesus wants our obedience.  What will we give Him?

I liked that Pastor Russell emphasized the part of the child in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  We often forget that the little boy is a part of the story.  I had never heard a sermon on this passage that illustrated how giving all of what he had satisfied everyone--including himself.  I liked the way that Pastor Russell spoke to the GA's, building them up where they are; their age, their gender, etc.  We often forget as adults that Jesus ministered to and through children.  This passage encourages me to remember to give my all to the Lord.  It also reminds me that Jesus will use whatever I give--no matter how feeble my efforts may be, He can take something that is small and increase it and make it abundant.

Many blessings,

Jennifer

P.S. Please check out Casey's Heart, a ministry to the homeless begun by Pastor Russell's son, Casey.  He shared the beautiful and heart-renching story of how the ministry began.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Counting Down...

In less than three weeks, I will have access to my classroom.   The school where I will be working is undergoing an extensive renovation.  Everything was removed from the building.  Even the administrators have had to set up offices elsewhere.  For the last month, I've been finishing up an online course that the district requires in order to apply for the technology equipment needed for the classroom.  I submitted my application last weekend, and found out this week that I will have a new laptop, projector, and document camera in the next couple of weeks.  I found out today that I will have a SMART Board in my room, which is an interactive whiteboard.
Photo from www.smarttech.com
I created a few lessons using the SMART Board in the classroom last year, and I saved them on my flash drive so that I could upload them to my new computer.  I'm really excited to get to use this, as touch software enhances the lessons that I will be teaching, and makes the lessons accessible to students with special needs.  I already have planned several social studies lessons and can't wait to get started!

Today, I had some free time, so I went shopping at a nearby teachers' supply store.  It was wonderful to browse through the fun bulletin board decorations and classroom paraphernalia.  I am already so jazzed about the theme I have chosen for the classroom:  "Learning Takes Us Places".  I intend to feature student work and post only minimal posters and things, but the theme will feature various types of transportation.  I'd like to feature some pinwheels, since they suggest both movement and whimsy. 

I have been working on my class website.  It is slow going because I still have to work out the class schedule.  My students have various therapies, so I have to find out when those will occur in the schedule.  I also have to configure my learning centers based on my students individual goals.  I will be meeting with the other AVLS (Academic, Vocational, Life Skills) teacher at some point this week to discuss schedules, so I'm looking forward to that. 

We did manage to fit in a vacation to Galveston Island a couple of weeks ago.  It was nice to get away and spend some time at the beach.  The whole family had fun and it ended far too soon.  I will be a chaperone at Girls in Action (GA) summer camp at the end of this month.  I haven't been to camp since I was thirteen, so this should be interesting.  Afterwards, I'll be hitting it hard, getting the classroom ready in between attending trainings scheduled throughout the month of August.

One of the most important things I've done was signing my contract.  It was really anticlimactic after waiting two years--just a signature on a piece of paper.  I sort of imagined it differently, I suppose.  Nevertheless, I'm official now.  I think it will hit me when I actually set up the class.  I'm so excited I can hardly sleep at night! 

My prayer is that I will bless the students that I teach and that I will glorify God with all that I do.  I know that this year will have its challenges, but I just have this unmitigated optimism that God has been preparing me for what is to come.

Many blessings,

Jennifer



Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dreams of Restored Houses

I woke up in the wee hours of Wednesday morning from a dream.  It was one of those dreams in which I felt safe and warm.  I had the vague recollection of being at my grandparents' house in one part of the dream, someplace else in another part.  I hadn't crossed the threshold of the house my mother grew up in since I was twelve years old, but I can remember the way it smelled, the way the house was laid out, and the way it looked.  I remember the way the light fell on the house in the afternoon and the sway of the cottonwood tree by my grandmother's bedroom window in the summer.  I can recount the details of cubby holes and hiding places long since ground to dust in the field upon which it once stood.  And yet, I cannot recall the dream.

I wracked my brain all day yesterday; I hoped that some aspect of my day would jar my memory and give it back to me.  It did not.  I awoke so suddenly that I could not recall the dream.  In its place, a single phrase surfaced into my consciousness:  I dreamt of restored houses.  This was intriguing to me, because the home my grandfather built was torn down in the early '80's.  The other place in my dream was lost to me--the only detail I could remember was that I was playing some type of ball game.  I know that there were others playing with me, but I don't remember who they were.  Obviously, my mind held onto the most important aspect of the dream, the truth of the dream that was meant to stay with me. 

I definitely believe in the significance of dreams.  I have believed that God speaks to us through dreams for as long as I can remember.  I often evaluate my dreams for the larger message or meaning that they contain.  From time to time, I interpret dreams for others.  I have meditated on the meaning of the phrase "restored houses".  I certainly believe that God restores houses, both in the physical and the symbolic senses.  In this case, the only house that needs restoration would be my church.  Presently, the church is in the midst of a major renovation.  The contractor on the project ran away with a significant amount of money a couple of months ago, and the situation is not yet sorted out.  We have a group of men working on solving the problems and completing the renovation.  Sometimes, it seems pretty dire.  When I told Brian about my dream, the church was the first thing that came to his mind.  "Maybe it means God is going to restore the church," he said.  I sure hope so.  It is certainly in His power to do so.  Under the circumstances, His is the only power that will restore it. 

For now, I will continue to pray and meditate on the meaning of the dream.  I know that waking from the dream was bitterweet, as I didn't realize how much I missed my grandparents' old house and I didn't want to leave it.  There were so many pleasant memories associated with it.  It was the site of so much joy and fellowship.  I hope that God will allow me to revisit the dream, and perhaps reveal to me what was meant by the words that came to me after.

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Achieving Goals

I've always been a goal-setter.  I am a big believer in setting standards for oneself, then working towards achieving those standards.  For the past two years, my goal has been to become a Special Education Teacher.  As of June 11, my goal has been achieved.  June 11, this past Monday, I received my transfer paperwork from Human Resources.  This paperwork changed my status from Special Ed. Paraprofessional in the Communications Class at ____ Elementary to Special Ed. Teacher in the Academic, Vocational, Life Skills (AVLS) Class at _______ Elementary. 

The funny thing about goals, though, is that you never really stop once you've achieved them.  The metaphorical mountain that is ascended must be descended; a goal achieved must be accomplished in some form or another.  For me, I have now acquired the position, but I must also fulfill it.  So, training has begun.  After 260 hours of classwork, I now enter a period of training on procedures, curriculum, and technology.  I had the opportunity to meet the team of teachers that I will be working with on Wednesday at a training day.  I had the opportunity to sub for a couple of them in the school year before last when I was subbing.  (In truth, I got the job in large part due to subbing.  I had viewed substitute teaching as an extended job interview, and in fact, it really was.)

The job seems pretty perfect to me:  I will be working at the same school that Jesse and Lily attend; I already know a lot of the teachers that I will be working with; I like all of the teachers I will be working with; I know all of my students except one; and I have a great deal of confidence in the administration of the school.  All this, plus, the school is five minutes from my house.  Seriously, I couldn't have planned this all myself.  I know God's Hand is all over this.  To express all of the moves and changes that had to happen for this position to even become available would take a while.  It has truly been a blessing, and I am so grateful. 

Having said all of this, I have to say for anyone who is out there struggling to attain a goal:  Don't let discouragement get the best of you.  REALLY.  To that end, it is staggering to me to think of how much negative stuff people told me as I was switching careers.  Mostly, I heard, "That is soooo hard!  Are you sure you want to do that?  It takes a special kind of person to do that..."  People said this because they only viewed me in one perspective; to most people who knew me, I was the women's ministry leader at my church.  I taught preschool.  No one knew my educational or professional background.  Did I mind?  Not really.  I just thought to myself, "Maybe I'm that special kind of person...." Also, I think it taught me not to cast aspersions on someone else's dream.  Just because something doesn't appeal to me doesn't mean that it doesn't have appeal to someone else.  Our viewpoints are so narrow and so limiting.  I've learned these last couple of years that we get in a lot of trouble if we only view things from our narrow perspective.  We have to be a lot less egocentric if we're going to truly get along with others. 

More recently, someone told me that I had "a snowball's chance in hell" of being hired by this district.  I had another person tell me that "subbing did nothing for me".  I guess I should thank the God of snowballs like me!  I learned that just because someone is older, or even in a position of authority, doesn't necessarily mean that they know what is best for you.  I had to continue to believe God and motivate on my knowledge of Him.  I also had to ask myself how badly I wanted to teach.  At the end of the day, if a little discouragement can dissuade you from your goal, then you aren't really committed to that goal.

I hope my kids will learn from all of this.  I want them to see that some things are worth working hard for.  I don't ever want them to fear hard work and accomplishment.  There is a great deal to be gained from diligence.

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Monday, May 21, 2012

Busy Times, Stressful Times...

As of this evening, I have completed over 266 hours of coursework for the teacher preparation program that I'm enrolled in.  The next thing that I have to do is get a job. :)  Presently, I've applied for over twenty jobs in my district alone--most all of them are in special education.  I've applied in another district, as well, but haven't heard anything on those applications. 

In May, 2010, when I was applying to the teacher prep. program, I had no idea just how difficult all of this would be.  I figured that with my past experience with children with special needs and with my education, I'd be a shoe-in for a teaching job in special ed.  Little did I know...

Initially, I consoled myself with the idea that it is a good thing that education is a difficult career to get into:  I want those who are educating my own children and the children of the great state of Texas to be well-educated, well-prepared, and highly professional.  I liked the idea of joining the ranks of such highly-esteemed educators.  While I still agree that educators of children should be professional, prepared, and educated, I must admit that I've been disappointed to find that not everyone I've encountered in the field of education fill that bill.  Most do, but not all.  I still retain the hope that though the education system has taken a beating, it's still a great place to be.  I also retain the hope that things can and should improve.  I believe in the deepest part of my heart that parents and citizens want to have a well-educated populace.  I also believe that every part of that populace deserves a good education. 

I have seen miraculous things this year.  I'm pleased to say that I've been part of some miraculous things.  I've seen academic and behavioral improvements in the students I work with.  I'm happy to say that I've learned a LOT.  I've met some really fabulous people and have made some great friends.  I'm looking forward to finding a permanent position, and developing new relationships.  For the past two years, I have been in a sort of limbo with regard to professional stability.  While I was a substitute teacher, I met people casually and got to develop friendships in a limited way.  I was an interloper on campuses, and longed for permanence.  This year, I had a measure of permanence that enabled me to develop some relationships, but I always had in the back of my mind the reality that I would be moving on to a lead teacher position--God willing.  I am weary of being a tumbleweed.  I am ready to be a part of a team.  My hope is that some principal out there will be willing to take a chance on me and give me the opportunity to do just that.

I am praying for wisdom, guidance, and for patience.  I am praying as I submit my applications, that the administrator or human resource person reading them will see beyond my limited words on a page and desire to speak with me in person.  Looking for work is so hard, and putting myself out there to face acceptance and/or rejection is a daily struggle.  I know that it will be worth it, if only because it will help my family in the long run to earn a better salary.  It will certainly take some of the pressure off of Brian, not that he complains. :)  Hopefully, my wait will be short, and I will know something soon. 

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Monday, April 9, 2012

A New Look for the Back Yard & A Tour Through the Garden


The drought of 2011 took its toll on our old willow tree in the back yard.  Brian and I made the tough decision to have it cut down a couple of weeks ago.  In its place, Brian planted two new trees--both are Texas natives, and will add beauty and shade to the yard.  None of us have quite gotten over the loss of the beautiful willow, though.  Lily says that our yard "looks nekkid."  She says the tree was our back yard's "dress". 


Brian planted a Shumard Oak (foreground) and a Bald Cypress.  You can see in the corner where the willow tree once stood.  Willow trees are beautiful and magical with their long fronds swaying in the wind.  Unfortunately, beauty doesn't last long, and willows are known to be short lived.


The Bald Cypress is situated close to the spot where the willow was, but we are leaving that spot open so that we can get a small storage shed to put our mower in. 


Saturday was so lovely that we decided to have a picnic out here under the new oak.  Lily got to fly her new kite at the neighborhood park.

So far this year, we have planted four trees.  We planted two apple trees in January, and they are doing well.


It has rained a lot here in North Texas.  The lakes are full and the roadways are green and full of bluebonnets.  We have our own little trail of bluebonnets leading up to the front door.  The large Oakleaf Hydrangeas to the left of the front path will be full of white blooms in a month or so.  My garden beds are full of mint. 

 My roses have started blooming.  This little miniature beauty was a gift to me from one of my students several years ago.  Isn't it lovely?


Brian and I stood on the back porch last night and enjoyed the fragrance from this lovely pink rose.  I can't remember the name of it, unfortunately.  I ordered it from the Antique Rose Emporium years ago.

It stormed on Easter Sunday, so the kids had an Easter egg hunt indoors.  However, the rain had ceased long before we held our first-ever night-time Easter egg hunt.  I got the idea from Pinterest.  Next year, I'll be sure and buy larger eggs to hold the glow bracelets, and I'll drag the tripod out to take pictures of the glowing eggs!  I couldn't hold the camera still enough to get a really good shot, but here's a picture that gives a sense of how magical the glowing eggs looked amongst the flowers in the yard:



The kids had fun, and Jesse and Lily took all of the glow bracelets and made two ginormous necklaces for themselves.  It was a wonderful day. 



Late that night, Brian and I stood on the porch listening to a mockingbird sing.  A mist had formed in the damp air behind the house, and we were watching the wind move through the trees.  We agreed that we feel very blessed.  At Easter, we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a time of rebirth, when we remember that we are dead to our sin and old way of life and are made new in Christ.  Nature reminds us of that rebirth, as well.  Drought scorched the earth here in Texas last year, but God has sent the rain to refresh and replenish.  We are doubly, triply, infinitely blessed by God.  His ways are mysterious, but His ways are good.  My life before Christ was very much like the drought-stricken land: Dead and without hope.  In Christ, I am like the flowers that bloom with new rain.  I feel alive and full of purpose. 

Many blessings,

Jennifer

P. S. While I am participating in Susan's Metamorphosis Monday at www.betweennapsontheporch.blogspot.com, it is important to remember that in Christ, we are all made new--we have all metamorphosized!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why I Love My Job (And How I Know I'm Doing the Right Thing)


It was springtime in 2010 when I made the decision to pursue a career in Special Education.  Little did I know how much my life would change in the course of two years.  Believe it or not, lots of people tried to discourage me from pursuing this vocation.  I heard numerous times that Special Education is "too hard", "it takes a special person to do that kind of work", "it's too much paperwork", you name it.  I was surprised by how many times I was told me how bad it would be, even though the persons telling me this had not worked in Special Education.  For myself, I knew that God had called me to work with children.  More to the point, God had called me to work with children with special needs.  I took a break from my profession to be a stay-at-home mom, but not from my calling. 

Has it been easy?  No, of course not.  It's been tough.  Some days are harder than others.  But every day, I love my job.  Every single day.  Even when I'm challenged by it. Even when I'm unsure where I'll be next year--whether or not I'll be a lead teacher with my own classroom.  Days like today make me glad that I stepped out in faith and took chances.  I'm glad I didn't let the discouragement of others deter me.

Today, remarkable things happened at school.  Little things.  Special things.  I mentor a little girl who is lacking in confidence.  She was so shy when I first met her, but I bought a journal and some glitter pens and I write to her a few times a week.  I leave the journal on her desk when she arrives at school, and she writes back to me.  I saw her after school as she was preparing to leave with friends.  Her friend's arm is in a cast, and my young mentee saw that it was beginning to rain.  She quickly took off her own jacket to cover her friend's cast so it wouldn't get wet.  What a sweet child!  I wrote to her today that I think she is very kind, and that I'm happy to know her.  It is the little things that a person does that say a lot about their character.  My young friend has a sweet spirit.  She saw a friend's need and sought to help.  I hope to build her up so that she can have confidence in the years ahead.  Life can be tough, and we all need encouragement.  Maybe she'll remember the teacher who told her that she is special because she is a kind person.  I like that I get to be her mentor.  I like that this is something that I get to do--not because I have to as part of my job--but because my taking this job puts me in an environment where I get to help children who need my help.

Sometimes, amidst the challenges of working with children with profound disabilities, I ask the Lord for some encouragement that what I am teaching my students is effective.  Just a small sign that my efforts are not in vain, or that I'm on the right track.  Today, I got that small glimpse.  I can't share details, but suffice it to say that it was one of those small things that revealed that one of our students was fully present and participating in class.  If you work with children with autism, or know someone with autism, then you know what I'm talking about.  Oftentimes, the "scripting" from tv shows and movies, the self-stimulatory behaviors--the quirks that make these kids seem far away--can make it seem like learning is not taking place. Trying to educate a child who may not appear to be benefitting can seem like an exercise in frustration.  I know it's not, but we all have our moments when we just need to know that we are making a difference.  Today, it happened.  And so today, my spirit soared.

I shared this moment with my principal, and she grinned and told me, "Jennifer, hold out for a Special Ed. job.  You're meant to do this."  I just smiled and told her, "Thank you."  I don't know what tomorrow holds.  I do know that right now, in this moment--tired though I may be!--I am happy and satisfied that I am doing the right thing.  God holds the future, and He will continue to guide my path.

Thank You, Lord.

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easy Weeknight Dinner

Even though I'm working full-time, I still want to provide my family as many home-cooked meals as I can muster.  Tonight, I made one of Brian's favorite meals:  Sausage and potatoes.  It is not low-fat, but it is very satisfying and tastes great. 

Start with Idaho gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced.  Sprinkle with seasoned salt and black pepper, and saute' in butter or oil on medium high heat for about 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to cook evenly.



Slice one pound of your favorite sausage and add to the skillet.  Cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender, stirring occasionally. 


I didn't take a picture of the finished product--Sorry!  It was delicious, though, and a quick and easy meal.  I like quick and easy--especially when I'm tired after work.  The good thing about this recipe is that it fills us up, and I nearly always have leftovers to take for my lunch the next day. 

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Monday, March 19, 2012

Laundry room redo, part I

 

Laundry room redo 002

My laundry room, or the tiny space that serves as my laundry room, has been in dire need of a spruce-up.  Brian and Jacob spent a few hours Saturday installing a counter above my washer and dryer.  Brian picked up a piece of melamine to install, since it would not require painting or sanding and would be durable.  He placed the counter a few inches above the appliances and installed supports under it with a brace in the middle. 

Laundry room redo 004

As you can see, it has given me quite a lot of workspace.  The small room needs to be painted.  I started out painting the room a neutral beige color, but I am not really a fan of the color.  Brian is suggesting that I use a bright color or a variety of colors.  I’m thinking that I would like to use a color that coordinates with a lovely picture I picked up in Savannah a few years ago.  The picture is of “The Bird Girl” statue made famous by the movie and book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  My friend, Michele Green, and I went to Savannah several years ago and had such a ball.  I’d like to put the picture in the laundry room and decorate with touches of ivy green.  I love the color green, but I don’t want the room to be overwhelmed by it.

Photo courtesy of www.gazebonews.com

The room already feels larger, and I am finding that I am enjoying laundry a tiny bit more.  Hopefully, once it’s painted and decorated, I’ll enjoy laundry even more!

Many blessings,

Jennifer

P.S. I’m linking up with Susan’s Metamorphosis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch.

 

Met Monday pic

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Catching up!

I have not been terribly faithful in keeping up with this blog in 2012! The funny thing is that so much is going on in our lives that I can scarcely take the time to write it all down.  The last couple of weeks have been busy.  We travelled down to Waco to help my parents at their new place last weekend.  Brian and the boys repaired the roof and worked on a fence, and Jesse and I and my nephews planted trees and flowers with my mom and dad.  My brother did a little of everything, and my sister-in-law graciously carried us all to the store in her big pick-up truck and bought the kids candy and soda.  She is making great gains in being the kids favorite aunt! :)
Brian and Jacob repairing the roof on my parents' home.  I have a generous and godly husband and Jacob is growing into a fine young man.


Unfortunately, Brian over-exerted himself and wound up getting sick.  He ended up with an upper respiratory infection and had to take a couple of days off.  I didn't feel well this week, but mostly this was due to allergies.  Everything is blooming here in North Texas.  Winter is over. This is good news, but for those of us with seasonal allergies, we suffer.  Friday, I took the day off and drove into Dallas to take my English as a Second Language (ESL) supplemental exam.  Provided I have passed the exam, I will be certified to teach ESL, in addition to General Ed. and Special Ed.  In the district in which I work, it is highly desirable for teachers to be ESL certified, so I am essentially trying to 'hedge my bets' by getting this certification so that I can be hired.

It's been a fast and furious year already.  I can scarcely believe that Spring Break is next week!  I've always thought that school seems to shoot by after Spring Break.  Before I know it, school will be over!  I try not to think too much about what lies ahead.  I am certainly planning lessons and am making plans to do things over the break, but I am finding that if I think too much about the upcoming school year, I get frustrated and anxious.  I am trusting the Lord to guide my path.  I am certain that my hard work will not have been in vain.  I think part of relying on God for His provision with regard to a lead teacher job in the coming school year is not trying to anticipate what's to come. I've always been such a control freak that it's hard not to try to figure out what I'm supposed to do next.  Right now, frankly, there is only so much I can do.

One of the things I've been doing to cope with the new direction my life has taken is to listen to the career change stories of others.  I've been blessed in that I have a lot of colleagues who have made the plunge from one career to another.  Just as one person leaves one profession, another comes to take his or her place.  The encouraging thing about hearing these 'leap-of-faith' stories is that in each one, the person is happier after having taken the plunge.  I have met very few people who were dissatisfied after pursuing a new career.  What I have found is that the people who are unhappy with their profession were generally unhappy with life before their career change.  In those cases, changing careers won't fix your outlook on life; we have to look to the Lord for our joy. 

I have always been drawn to the success stories of others; of inspirational men and women who changed courses in order to find fulfillment in their career or who wanted to make a new life for themselves and their children.  It's nice to know that life can begin anew for some of us in our forties.  I anticipate that if I can go through all of the hard work and the challenges of the last two years, I might have yet another course change in the future.  The possibilities exist....

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Communication-Enriched Classroom Environment

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I currently work in a Special Ed. Communications classroom at an elementary school in the city where I live.  A Communications class is a highly structured classroom for children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or another type of diagnosis that requires high structure and intense coaching in communication.  Now that I have been working in the classroom for six months, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on things.  I have learned so much about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically about ways to enhance communication and conversation.

Years ago, when I worked in Early Childhood Intervention, a speech therapist colleague of mine taught me about the concept of a language-enriched environment.  Essentially, children with speech/language delays need an environment that encourages and elicits language reception and production.  She used the example of providing food choices in such a way as to elicit a verbal response.  Parents and caregivers are encouraged to think about ways to help their child produce language.  In the Comm. class, we are challenged to think of ways to encourage our students to carry on conversations with others.  Children with ASD carry on a great deal of internal conversation that consists of scripts from movies and television shows.  While this seems like a neat party trick--remembering hundreds of lines from movies and shows seemed cool in the movie Rain Man--in real life, this type of behavior is isolating and counterproductive to forming relationships.  We work to encourage our students to 'script' less and to talk with others more. 

Goals for our classroom look different than traditional classroom goals.  We try to set up an environment in which other students engage our students in conversation.  I also encourage my students to greet their peers and ask them questions.  Socialization begins in small steps.  I play a game with the students in the afternoon in which I have them ask me or one of the other members of the class a simple question ("What is your favorite color?"  "What do you like to eat?") before they can have a small snack.  We do morning and afternoon snacks and try to make these times instructional.  Asking questions of each other is highly prized, particularly if those questions are not coached. 

I am learning so much.  I am enjoying my time in this class, even though it is challenging at times.  God has been good to me, and I know that He has placed me in this classroom for a reason.  I strongly believe that God is preparing me for my next classroom assignment--wherever that may be...

Many blessings,

Jennifer

Friday, January 13, 2012

Discipline Help: Practice Academy

Lately, our daughter, Lily, has been going through a really challenging phase.  It is typical for children between the ages of 7 and 9 to go through a lying phase.  Lily has begun 'stretching the truth' and is also disobeying me on occasion.  Since this is a heart issue, and an issue of character, we have had the same lecture that we gave to our older children regarding telling the truth.  We have always made it a point to teach our children about how our behavior should honor God.  We tell them that God's Word teaches us that lying is a sin.  Practically speaking, being dishonest may put us in danger later, as their daddy and I cannot believe their words when they lie.  While this phase may be typical for her age, it is not a given that she will outgrow lying.  At this stage in her development, we must hold her to the standard of honesty and integrity.  We call her out when she is lying.

Likewise, her disobedience is not just a character issue, but a dangerous liability.  This past summer, our church hosted Pastor Peter Ajemo from Suba, Kenya.  Pastor Peter told the story of how his son was about to enter their chicken coop, unaware that a 9-foot cobra was inside.  Pastor Peter was on his way to deal with the cobra, when he saw his precious child with his hand on the door to the coop.  He called out to him to stop, and he did--immediately. 

While we may not deal with literal cobras here in Texas, we certainly deal with figurative cobras all the time.  There are dangers that are just as deadly to our children.  If we allow our children to disobey us when the coast is clear, then when it is a matter of life or death, their disobedience will be deadly.  Many years ago, I was putting together a safety plan for our family in the event of an emergency like a fire or tornado.  I thought about my sweet children and wondered if they would do as I ask without questioning me in an emergency.  From that point on, I took seriously our roles in teaching our children to be obedient.

This evening, Lily did something I told her not to do.  She has been challenging me all week, and I determined to step up my game.  I decided to give her a practice academy.  I learned about practice academies last year in my Exceptional Students class.  We had a guest lecturer who was a Behavior Interventionist.  She had the most interesting ideas for changing behavior.  I learned so much, and one of the strategies that I've used in the classroom is the practice academy.  The way it works is that you have the child practice following the direction that you desire.  In Lily's case, she needs to say, "Yes, ma'am," and do what I ask.  Brian and I gave her a series of simple commands to follow:  "Go over to the counter and pick up that paper," and "Put those cups into the sink," for example.  If Lily fails to say "yes, ma'am," or "yes, sir", then she has to go back and do it all again until it becomes natural.  I've already done it twice tonight, but it didn't take as long to get the right response this evening when we did it the second time.  I'm not trying to break her spirit; I'm trying to teach her to do the right thing. 

We use a similar technique in special education, when trying to reinforce positive behavior and diminish negative behavior.  I am learning a great deal about this, and attended a day-long training through the school district specifically designed to help paraprofessionals to manage challenging behaviors.  We listened to a lecture and watched videos demonstrating techniques for encouraging our students to wait and to follow directions and that help to diminish problem behaviors like hitting, blurting out, and self-stimulation (these are behaviors that the student does which are pleasing to him or her, like rocking, flapping, chewing on things, etc.).  There is so much to learn, and the behavior interventionists that help us in the school district are so full of vital information.  I have to say that they also deal with a lot of challenging situations with grace and perseverance.  It was fascinating to me.

Next week, I begin what I hope will be my last night class for a while:  Teaching English Language Learners.  It has been strongly suggested to me that I should get my certification in English as a Second Language (ESL).  So, God willing, I will be ESL certified, as well as Special Ed. and General Ed. EC-6th grade.  It has been a lot of work so far, and while I pray that I am closer to my goal of being a full-fledged Special Education teacher, it still seems like I have a lot more to do.  I keep reminding myself that God is in control and that He has called me to this path for a purpose. 

Many blessings,

Jennifer