Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday cheer.

Each month and/or season/holiday I design a new bulletin board outside of my classroom that is somewhat related to the time of year.  My goal with each board is to showcase my students' work and promote advocacy for children with special needs.  I also want these bulletin boards to stir up a sense of happiness and joy for anyone that sees them.  I try to include an inspirational quote (this month's being very tongue-in-cheek, yet educationally appropriate too).  I'm especially happy with the December theme as you will see below.  

My school hosts a door decorating contest each December so I decided to carry the bulletin theme over to the door and windows.  My inspiration comes from what I would have liked as a child (and still do).  I've always enjoyed classic holiday cartoons (such as clay-mation, Charlie Brown, Dr. Seuss, etc.) and all of Grimm's fairy tales.  For December I went with the classic Grimm Fairy Tale The Gingerbread Man.

The theme starts on the right with the little house and moves to the left ending at the gingerbread house.  As you will notice, my students (plus Judah) are gingerbread kids and myself and the paraprofessionals are the various people/animals (little old lady, farmer/lumberjack, cow, and fox) chasing them. 

I worked construction for many years, I like to create and build stuff.  Obviously the transition to teaching was a huge gap and I don't get to build much as a teacher, so I have to create things like bulletin boards.  You're probably asking where I find the time to do this.  I have two great paraprofessionals and a class full of kids that like to color.  I make bulletin activities a whole class project.  As you have noticed, each student created their own gingerbread self.  Since taking these pictures each student has also designed ornaments to decorate the many Christmas trees. 

This week we're learning about the letter "G".  To wrap up the week's lessons on Friday we will be making gingerbread houses.  I love my job!  It beats digging ditches and I get to hang out, teach, and learn from the raddest little kids around.

Doing things like this reminds me of how fortunate and blessed I am.  Without kids I would have turned hard and angry.  Teaching keeps me young and tender at heart.  It also restores what little faith I have left in humanity.  Life is too short not to enjoy what we do for a living and we live in a country that gives us the opportunity to pursue those things.  Kids rule and keep me smiling every day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

One Life, One Chance.

I live my life by this mindset:  If you want something, go get it.  If you want something done, do it yourself.  If you live that way, you should never have anything to complain about.  I've never been the type of person to depend on others.  I've always tried to be self sufficient and when I do ask for help I do so expecting to learn from the person helping so that I don't ever have to ask again.  If there is something I need or want, I work at it until I get it.

With that said, I earned my Bachelor's degree back in May.  It took me about five years to do so, but I did it.  I did it while working full time (most of the time) and raising three kids.  I couldn't have done it without the support of a loving, selfless wife and an amazing scholarship.  Both my lady, and the scholarship I earnestly pursued to get and work(ed) diligently to keep.  I've been married for almost 10 years, we have absolutely no debts, and I graduated without owing anyone a single cent.  Some of you might think I've been handed what I have, but then you wouldn't really know me and that's okay.  I'm a go getter, but I'm also a team player and I know how to kick back and relax when I need to.  I don't complain (except to my wife... of course).  I make things happen and I have little patience for those who sit back and let life pass them by.  Don't mistake my words as arrogance, I'm simply building you up with my life experiences to prove my point.  Which is to make your own life happen within your capabilities, work hard when you need to and have fun as often as you can.  

I prefer to surround myself with people who have a positive mental attitude (PMA) and know how to get after it when it comes to taking care of business (TCB).  I'm terrible with money (that's no secret), so I married someone who is great with it.  My wife can rub two pennies together and get $500.  She is amazing and my proudest accomplishment, if you could call it that.  I say this to prove my point to those of you who make excuses instead of going after what you want.  

The United States offers equal opportunity to all citizens, but it's up to the citizen to take hold of those opportunities.  Some have to work harder than others, but no one has an excuse.  There is so much to grab a hold of in this country.  You can't change where you came from, but you can definitely change where you're going.  Personally, this can be applied to every area of my life.  I've made lots of mistakes, but I've learned from most of them and I'm happy with how my life as a grown man has taken shape.  So keeping to the point of this blog, I'll be relating the rest of this post to teaching.  Whew!

While in college at Northern Arizona University almost all of my teaching courses were taught with the assumption that we would be utilizing technology in our classrooms to the fullest extent.  We had access to much of the latest technology available to educators and at the very least we were shown where to look if it wasn't available.  I'd say the one thing that stood out to me the most was the "smart board".  This is basically a 90" big screen with all the capabilities of an ipad.  You can connect just about anything up to it with proper cables, etc.  Within the classroom however, the computer is obviously the most used and suggested device.  The board is interactive so that the students are engaged to cooperate.  For example, the teacher can create anything they can on a computer, but they can also touch the screen with a "magic" pen to explore, create, browse, etc.  It's really quite amazing, and obviously ridiculously expensive.  

So after being able to use one throughout my college career, there was no way I could be satisfied teaching without one.  So what did I do?  I approached my supervisor within the first week of being hired and to make a long story short, I got one!  It took a few months to jump over all the hurdles and complete the necessary requirements, but I did it, and my Promethean Activboard was installed last week.  Check out my students in action just this morning:

Just look at the size of that thing!  I'm tempted to go to my classroom on the weekends and watch football!  I cannot even imagine having something like this when I was in elementary school.  If you look closely, notice the student (who has Down syndrome) is holding the "magic" wand and manipulating his way through a lesson.  We use this technology everyday, and just a month or so ago I also got an iPad for my classroom.

Some of you may be thinking I work in an affluent district at a school that has wealthy parents. You'd be wrong.  I work in a district that has suffered major budget cuts, in a city that has an extremely high unemployment rate.  The school I work at is a Title One school on the other side of the tracks (just the way I like it).  My classroom is in a building that is about 70 years old.  I'm a first year teacher, and I teach Special Education.  

If you want something, go get it.  If you want something done, do it yourself.   

With that said and this week being Thanksgiving; I'm thankful for my family, my career, my school, my students, coworkers, supervisors and the opportunities that I have been able to seize.  Carpe diem!  PMA all day!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Taking care of business.

My 1958 Chevrolet Apache 
This post is along the lines of the Twins post, just a bit more personal and in depth.  As a father and teacher I believe it is important to include my children and students in my interests.  I feel it's important to always be myself and encourage the little ones in my life to be as much a part of my hobbies as possible. This also sets a standard for behavior, how I expect them to act when they're out with me.

I've seen parents that want nothing to do with their child with Down syndrome in public.  I cannot relate to that.  I've always toted all three of my kids everywhere, including the one with Down syndrome.  Judah and I kind of prefer to hang out with each other all the time anyway.  I think he's rad and I guess he likes me a good deal too.  Doing so sets the expectations of how they should act in public, but more importantly it includes them in everyday life.  They get exposed to the outside world and parents can continue to enjoy their own interests and take care of business as usual.

I like skateboarding, punk rock, and old cars.  Many times I can include my kids in much of my own outings, as long as the volume's not too loud.  Being in a car club and having old rides allows me the opportunity to attend car shows, etc more than the average person I suppose.

Punk rock and car shows are two of my biggest hobbies and I include my family every chance I get.  We all have a blast and my kids know how to act appropriately in public, even Judah.  They're good kids, and it is possible to have a kid with Down syndrome that doesn't act like a wild animal.  I've seen it time and again with many buddies whose parents set high expectations for them.  I've also seen the opposite a few times.


Some seriously sensitive dudes.

Most of us in the car club have families who also enjoy playing and getting into mischief together.

Little Ghouls.  Notice my little grease monkey on the right.

I'm not saying I have it all figured out, but I am proud of the way my kids act in public most of the time.  As with most kids, they have their moments, but we have always set high expectations for them.  No parent wants to deal with an unruly kid; make it easier on yourself and knock out poor behavior in the early stages of life and hopefully you won't raise a spoiled brat.  Children with Down syndrome obviously have different needs than other kids, but they still require discipline and their expectations should be the same as any other kid.  Trust me, they are more than capable, it just takes work.

My little guy.

Please don't mistake my intent here.  My wife and I do not live vicariously through our children.  Our lives are interesting and exciting enough that we don't need to push our children to be "mini-me's" or the "sports star" that I never was.  As children grow they will develop their own interests.  If some of those are similar to mine, that's awesome.  If not, that's okay too.

My youngest, Aveline, posing in my '58.

My three favorite kids in the whole world.

We're kind of a big deal.    

My point is this, for you parents of children with Down syndrome, take your buddy with you everywhere you go!  Model and explain to them how you expect them to act.  Use positive and negative reinforcement as often as you need to.  I use many forms of discipline, including spankings, without apology.  Sometimes it is difficult for me to discipline my children.  The thing that helps me is to remind myself of some truly horrible kids and adults that don't comprehend what discipline and correction is.  As a parent, we do the whole world a favor by correcting our children.  If you don't support swats, find a method that works for you; there are plenty of others I use as well.

Ghouls Night Out 2011.

One last thing, don't be afraid that your buddy may be stared at or made fun of in public.  It's going to happen.  Suck it up and be an adult about it.  If you can use the situation to promote advocacy of people with disabilities, then everyone wins.  If not, take one situation at a time.  The world is full of cruel people.  Just remember open arms are better than a closed fist; but when the open arms don't work, knuckle up and swing away!

Ah, one of my other hobbies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Street Justice.

Today I was thinking about advocacy and the importance of including students with disabilities with their same age peers.  It got me reminiscing about when I was in elementary school and my first exposure to other kids with significant disabilities.  I recall being in 4th or 5th grade and assisting a girl with cerebral palsy in PE.  She wore arm braces to help her walk.  She had an awkward gait and was super slow.  However, her speech and intelligibility was just fine and she had the confidence of a super model.

I remember at church youth camp one year a boy with some type of mild intellectual disability (in retrospect I'm sure he was autistic) was in our dorm and spent the week with us at every activity and function.  He even had a crush on my older sister and if I recall correctly she went to the banquet at the end of the week with him.  I think at the time we had just as much fun with him as he did with us and I’d like to think we never did anything to hurt his feelings or make fun.  However, he did crap his pants once.  No teenage boy, no matter their disability, can escape the ridicule that “mud butt” in public will.  I’m sorry Glen… but hey, we did quickly rush you back to the dorm and help you clean yourself up.  Thanks for the experience buddy!  I hope life has treated you well over the past 15 or so years since that summer.

My first career was working for UPS.  Before becoming a driver, I had to work my way up by starting at the bottom unloading semi-trailers full of boxes at 3:00 am for something like $8 an hour.  So I worked a second job in the afternoons for the YMCA after school program making minimum wage I believe.  It was at the YMCA that I got my first real experience of kids with Down syndrome and autism.  I was hooked, and even though it was for only a short time, those afternoons had a profound impact on my life.

In retrospect I can see the positive affect that all of these life experiences had on me.  Growing up I may not have put myself out so much to assist or advocate, but I was never the one to go overboard with making fun of or picking on someone with a disability.  I wish I could say that I didn’t occasionally tell a horrible joke or act “retarded”, but I did, just never to their face.  Obviously as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that only douchebags make fun of and pick on those that are weaker than them or can’t speak for themselves. 

The point of this post is to encourage parents of children with disabilities not to be afraid of letting their child experience life outside of the special ed bubble.  Get them involved in activities with same age peers.  You never know the positive impact your child may have on someone else.  I wish I could say that they don’t get made fun of, but they do.  Just don’t let that keep you from including them.  As a parent of a child with Down syndrome who is mainstreamed I have had to deal with my son being picked on and made fun of already several times.  It’s heartbreaking and I can’t express the anger that wells up inside, but I know his mainstream experience is the best thing for him AND his peers.  I've even had the opportunity to share with my son's classmates who my son Judah is and why is the way he is.  I used this awesome coloring book that can be downloaded here:

The second point of this post is to encourage young people, students, and teachers who find themselves next to or teaching a child with significant disabilities.  Give them a chance, be patient, and remember that they are a person first.  Though they may not learn as you do, or even as quickly, they can learn something; and believe it or not you may learn from them as well.

The third point of this post is to encourage those of you who make fun of others with disabilities.  Be careful who you wag your tongue or open your mouth to.  If you’re old enough to receive some old fashioned street justice you may just get dropped by someone bigger and stronger than you.  Imagine the person you’re making fun of as your sibling, or even your child.  If you’re too proud and mean to set yourself aside then I’ll say this, the world is better off without people like you and justice has a way of catching up eventually.  If you’re a comedian who earns a living making fun of those who can’t help their condition consider writing some original jokes about those who can.  There are enough jack asses in this world to make fun of who can help their condition… such as yourself.