Windows 7 RTM

Image by Stephen Edgar – Netweb via Flickr

I installed Windows 7 on my machine about three weeks ago and per my usual procedures, that meant that it was time for me to re-boot my Tablet back to factory Specs this weekend. I have this “terrible” habit of wanting to try new things (software/applications), different system settings, just simply experimenting with the new system and messing things up to the point I have to start over.

That is where I ended up last night – I almost made it a month this time, so I am getting better.  This experimentation allows me to get to know how the system works, what I like and what new programs that I want to use to make me more productive and then get my computer into the configuration that I want it.  Then I don’t mess with it nearly as much.

So I stayed up until 2:00 A.M. this morning re-booting Windows 7.  It wasn’t hard, just time consuming, the updates take the longest.

I continue to be totally impressed with Win7!  It does everything it is supposed to do at least from my perspective – as an end user.  I can go in as deep as I want to, but to date, I haven’t had a crash or any problems that I didn’t cause.  It is far superior to VISTA or XP.

After a bit of thought, I have decided that I am going to forget about trying to use the same software/applications on my HP Tablet that I use on my MLTI MacBook.  I use the Windows machine a lot more right now and just want to be as comfortable as possible on it.  Besides there are counterpart programs for most everything on either system, it just where the commands are located that can be confusing.

So what are the programs that I choose to use:
Fences:  The most noticeable newcomer to my laptop inventory is Fences, it is a desktop organizer that allows me to organize my desktop in a logical manner, so that it looks a lot better than it used to and I can quickly find my icons, but best of all it stays that way (at least so far).

Browser:  Actually I am finding IE8 works fantastic in Win7, it doesn’t bog down like it used in VISTA and renders the pages really quickly, but it doesn’t have a good side bar function, so that I can follow Twitter/Facebookin my Sidebar.  Flock handles the social media as well or better than any of the other browsers and can use most of the Firefox add-ons, so I will use it as my secondary browser.  I used Flock almost exclusively for about 8 months and then at my other job, couldn’t use the Social Media functions and drifted away, now I am back.  A good balance will be to use IE8 for work/updating the system and Flock the rest of the time.

Productivity:  Microsoft Office – I had the 2010 Beta on before I re-booted, but it had too many other programs that I don’t need/want, but it is going to be better than 2007.  Realistically, I don’t need much more than Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote.  I will probably re-load the Beta later soon, but for now 2007 does what I want.  I do love the ribbon interface, it is just so much more intuitive for me than the other interfaces out there.

I am not a fan of Outlook and have always searched for something different, but haven’t found anything that really impresses me as a mail manager/calendar/task manager application.  Since Google Mail & Calendar can now be used offline, I am using them, but they are not the solution I am looking for.  Who knows when they get the 2010 version a bit more stable, it might be closer to the solution I am looking for.  If their task manager was a bit more like Basecamp or Zoho’s Planner with the ability to control how it prints better, I would embrace it.

I have been using Google docs for my cloud application because it is platform independent and I can use it on my HP or the Mac.  It is simple and education friendly, others have written a great deal more about how well it works. I could have used Zoho, but it appears to be more a business application and while quite useable for educational purposes, does not embrace schools as fully.  However, of all the cloud apps I have used, I  like their User Interface the most.  I still haven’t got an invite to Microsoft’s Office in the Cloud, so that is still a question mark, if it works like Office and I can access it using the Mac, you can guess what will be my new cloud app.

Bookmarking:  Delicious – simple, stable and it works across computers and O/S.  Diigo was just too complicated and does more, much more than I need, but is a lot of people’s choice.

Social Media:
Twitter – simple to use and quickly gets the word out, without it would not “know” near as many people on the web.  I have Tweetdeck on my machine so that I can follow different # and for #edchat on Tuesdays, but otherwise I don’t use it that much.  I am not a Twitterholic and I prefer to follow my stream in a sidebar of the browser.

Facebook – the easiest way to keep track of family and friends.  I don’t “Friend current co-workers or students here, I believe in a separation of work/home.  My boundary is until a student graduates high school, I won’t “friend” them in Facebook.  Still not that crazy about it, but it is better than it was and I guess I would miss not knowing how some of the people that I really like are doing.

LinkedIn – my professional site, I use it intermittently, but probably should update it more often.

Photo/Image Manager – Picassa: I don’t like its file management system compared to some others and it is difficult to copy an image to LiveWriter, but that is the only beef I have with it, otherwise it simply does everything I want.  I use Picnik to quickly and accurately re-size my photos.  Also Flock’s integrated image management system works fairly well to grab web images – resizing them is an issue though therefore – Picnik.

Blog Writer – Windows Live Writer: it is simply the best and most versatile blog writer out there today.  It does have some issues getting the Blog Configuration correct, but that is pretty minor in the face of all it does right.  Also editing a previous entry that is not in the Live Writer library is not easy to do.  Now if they could just get to the ribbon interface with it. I will try to use Flock’s blog editor for a while or maybe re-try using Google Docs and see if I can get it to work with this Blog and find out how to add Categories/Tags…that would probably be the best route in the long run, but this blog writer selection is still a work in progress

Video/Music Player: Windows Media Player, it is simple and plays most everything I need.  If I need something that Windows Media Player can handle, I have VLC in my download file and can quickly load it, I just haven’t got around to it yet.  I don’t like the iTunes interface, but when I want to use my iPod I have to use it (Songbird was just too buggy) – that is why I went out and bought a MP3 player, so I wouldn’t have to use my iPod.

Tools – Glary Utilities: after looking at a bunch of different ones, this one did more of what I wanted.  I will probably load Secunia back on because of how it reports weaknesses in your computer’s security.

PDF – I went out and bought Nitro PDF Professional last summer.  I like the ribbon interface and the price I paid was outstanding for a full-featured PDF editor/creator.  So far I am very happy with my choice and have deleted Adobe from my Tablet.

Security – Microsoft Security Essentials:  Have used a bunch of the free ones and when it’s free Norton and really wasn’t all that impressed by any of them.  I figured I might well go for the integrated approach and have the big bulls eye on my computer.  Microsoft will either get it right or I will get hammered :).  Hopefully, they will get it right.

Blog Host:  Finally, my blog.  If anyone has read any of my blogs I have used Blogger, WordPress, Edublogs and some others.  I don’t want to be in charge of the back-end management of a blog – otherwise I would still be at Aging Reluctantly. Unfortunately, I am one of those inveterate tinkers when I can be. I found that I was always changing something on my theme instead of actually writing.  That is why I chose to host this blog.  I have some control over the themes and widgets, but will have more time to write now that I am not looking at tweaking the theme.

Game – Oblivion:  I need something to get away from working all the time and I do enjoy this desktop Role-Playing Game and it is good escapism from the rigors of the real world.

I have attempted to seriously simplify my software and applications that I use down to a minimum and unless something totally blows my socks off, will continue to use them.   Otherwise how else will I get to really know the software or application beyond being a superficial user.

I do plan to continue to look at new apps as they come out, but in order to kick something off this list, they are going to have to be cloud based with a desktop sync option be platform independent and like I said “totally blow my socks off”.

That is what the this Special Education Teacher is using today on his newly re-booted Windows laptop.

Required disclaimer:  I have not received any compensation from any of the above products.  What I have written is a review my thoughts/experience on each of these applications and how I use them.



White MacBook laptop

Image via Wikipedia

I think I just figured out this afternoon why I am not warming up to the Macbook Pro that has been issued to me by my school district and keep using my HP Tablet with Win7 for almost everything.  It isn’t just because I have been a long-time Windows user who hadn’t used a Mac before October.

The differences between Win7 and Mac are actually much smaller at this point and time than they ever have been, so if I can use one, I can use the other and do to a certain point.  No it is much deeper than that.  I think what is holding me back from accepting the Mac is something that I said in my first sentence “that has been issued to me”.

The Mac is not mine…it is a MLTI machine and I can’t do the tweaks, put the software on that I want or set it up the way that I want to.  It belongs to the school/State and they control everything about it.

The other thing is I know that anything that I put on the Mac, has to be backed up somewhere, because I have to turn it in after the school year is over and then be re-issued another one next school year and have to start the whole process over again. (this was not true and when I verified it with IT, I get to keep it during this summer).  So why on earth would I want to invest all that time and effort into personalizing this Mac to fit my needs, when in 7 months I turn it in and it gets re-imaged.  For some this might be an ideal situation, but for me it doesn’t work very well.

I can’t put Parallels or other similar software on that will allow me to run M/S Office on my issued Mac – Word is the one piece of software that isn’t duplicated on the Mac Don’t say use Pages, NeoOffice or Open Office they are not the same, I have used them and I do not like them.  I do like Office’s Ribbon interface and prefer to use it whenever possible – enough that I purchased Nitro PDF because it has a ribbon interface.

If I wasn’t a Special Education Teacher I could take a lot closer look at Google Docs now that it has offline synching.  I am finding that for my classroom work I create in Word and upload everything to Docs, so that I can access it cross-platform from any computer.

The answer would be to go out and buy a Mac.  I had thought about it seriously, but financially that is not a consideration at this time.  That way I would have most of the same software my students have to use and be able to help them with it better than I can now.

If I owned the Mac I would also be able to “personalize” it to my preferences and needs.  As it stands right now, my issued Mac is a backup to my Windows PC – in case something happens, like I forget my power cord or leave my PC at home.

It is too bad really, because as I see my students use it and begin to use it more myself, I see a great deal of potential for having one.  However, unless I hit the lottery or come into some unexpected cash from something (or find a really cheap deal or a trade on a used one), I guess I will “suffer” with my HP tablet, which isn’t really suffering at all.  I have it setup pretty much the way I want it – finally.  I guess I would also have to get rid of the HP because otherwise I would just keep going back to it.

Anyone out there want to trade 13 inch Mac book for a 12.1 HP tablet?   I would have to really think about it though, still don’t know if I would pull the trigger, but it is something to think about.

So it isn’t about Mac vs PC.  It is really more about the fact that I haven’t given the Mac a good opportunity to show what it is capable of is, because it isn’t mine to personalize.

Now if some of you Mac experts or MLTI gurus out there can steer me in a different direction. Please give me that info so I can delve deeper into my issued Mac.

Who knows maybe someday, we will see?



Isabella`s magic park
Image by cuckove via Flickr
This afternoon I had the experience of being a student again, one who had been doing something the wrong way for over 11 years and had to overcome all those bad habits and learn the correct way of doing something.  It was not a fun experience, it actually was a pretty good blow to my ego.

I knew that I wasn’t doing it right, but I didn’t want others to know that I didn’t really know what I was doing.  In the past I sort of asked or let others “show” me how to do it, but no one really took the time to show me correctly.  They gave a quick 1-2 minute explanation or a quick demonstration and gave me that look that teachers give ourstudents.  That one where “I showed you how, now go and do it yourself, now leave me alone” look.  So I would walk away making believe that I understood what they had just showed me, even though I didn’t have a clue about how to do it right.

Image via Wikipedia

This afternoon I asked my brother-in-law to show me how to sharpen my chainsaw and he took about two hours to show me the proper way to sharpen it.  First he explained what he was going to do, then showed me (while continuing to talk me through the process) and finally made me actually sharpen a complete chain by myself, checking my work and providing guidance on what I was doing wrong and providing feedback when I got it right.

At first this was pretty frustrating for me, I am a pretty typical guy.  I don’t like to ask for help and then to have someone else tell me how badly I had messed it up on my own was a blow to my ego.  While we were doing it, his teaching showed me how to do it easier and correctly, so that when I used my chainsaw again, the chain would be sharp and cut correctly (without having to go out and buy a new chain).  My previous efforts only accomplished about half of what they should have and may have ruined the chain and the chain bar – we both believe that I have to buy new ones before I put too many more hours on my saw.

Then he had the audacity to stand there and continue to correct my style and ensue that I was continuing to sharpen the chain correctly.  That was the hardest part for me – that he didn’t just walk away and let me flounder on my own as had been done in the past, which I would have preferred – who wants someone commenting on their work, especially when I kept going back to the way I shouldn’t be doing it.  His doing this was the right thing to do and now I can correctly sharpen a chainsaw – I might be slower than others, but how quick I do it is less important than doing it correctly.

This sounds pretty familiar to me, because I think this is how most of my students are when it comes to readingand writing.

Tonight I have a personal connection to understanding how my students feel in school.  Most of them have been reading and writing using strategies that they have learned on their own, which they are able to get by with, but not easily or proficiently as most others can and they know it.  The when they ask for help, they get some, but not enough to correct the problem, which exacerbates the issue and makes it so they don’t want to ask for help again and look ignorant or stupid to others.

No wonder when someone wants to teach them how to: read, write, do math or whatever,  they bristle up when that person doesn’t go away, continues to correct and push them to do it correctly.  Their past failures and personal pride get in the way of accepting the guidance they actually need.  In other words like I did today, they get pretty frustrated with the person who is actually trying to help them.
It showed me that I need to:

  • slow down and ensure that my students actually do understand how or can do what I am asking them to – not just assume that they do,
  • to take the time necessary to ensure that they do,
  •  not rush through a lesson to move one (which I am guilty of this year),
  • be helpful but persistent in expecting the student to do it right
  • be in the moment, not thinking about what to do next
  • don’t give that look “why don’t you understand what I am trying to show you look” and have the student shut down.

I have to remember that my classes are all Special Education and I have the prerogative and obligation to go as slow as I need to, to ensure that my students actually understand and know how to do what I am trying to teach. They don’t deserve to be taught in the same manner that they have in the past or how they are taught in regulareducation, they have the right to be taught in the manner that best fits their individual needs that is why it called specialized instruction.  I am not bound to cover material at the same rate as my Regular Education Counterparts are required to, but I am required to teach to the needs of my students.   I think that sometimes we as teachers forget that in our efforts to meet arbitrary timelines.

Who ever thought that re-learning how to sharpen a chainsaw would re-focus me on teaching methods that I need to include in my classroom.  I am glad it did.

Thank you Phil.

Remember it is about the kids – not you or me.



imageI have been reading Janet Allen’s – Yellow Brick Roads for the past couple of days, since it is the Literacy program that our school uses and I need to know the basics of it.  I have reached the end of Chapter eleven, but here I am at at 1:15 A.M.writing a reflection on what I have read this evening – I must be out of my mind!

I simply needed to get this out and written down – before the effect of what I have read this evening is diminished and I minimize its importance.
I have read several Literacy “how to teach books” over the past few years (since I had to start teaching English in 2005) and have adopted some of their strategies and things they say will help kids read better.  However, after reading Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads and the stories she relates as part of the information she is providing to the reader, makes me realize how inadequate my teaching of Literacy has actually been.

It is scary and frustrating when you finally realize how much or how little you don’t know about what you are doing.  Before tonight I believed that I am a decent, Special Education Teacher who was sidelining as a English teacher, who had some good ideas and was doing my best to help my students in my classroom.  Tonight I had to face the reality of how much more I need to do and learn, to provide them what they deserve from me.
On page 160 of Yellow Brick Roads she wrote the following which I fund extremely powerful.

For many years I commiserated with my colleagues about the abysmal apathy some students exhibited toward reading.  After some time I came to realize that I was contributing to this lack of personal response.  A pattern was evident in our classroom; when we read books that angered them made them laugh or cry or argue, they were full of personal response.
Why does it take so long to find the patterns in our classroom?  Probably because the concentration needed just to keep a classroom filled with multiple personalities moving forward doesn’t allow much leftover time for close observation and thoughtful reflection.

There was just something about this section that just struck a cord within me, the section that I Italicized, Bolded and Underlined especially.  I guess because I have only been back in the classroom for about a month and a half and have been focusing so hard on getting the classroom under control and getting to the students to believe that my classroom is a safe place and no I am not going to leave them.  That I have attempted to do things that I thought would only appeal to the students, but I have not really thought about how to engage the student’s interests when it comes to choosing literacy books, using SSR effectively/correctly or writing.  I can now see the difference between appeal and engagement.

I came into this school year late, and was woefully unprepared.  I hit the ground running too fast/hard and I guess that has been the most stressful part for me.  The resulting lack of focus and cohesiveness in my classroom is very frustrating to me, because I know that I am a good to very good teacher, but something was totally missing.

The road map that I have been reading tonight is what was missing – the strategies and re-focus that is happening as I read this book is what I need now.

Many of the strategies that Ms. Allen voices in this book are not really new and have been written about by others also, but they are an accumulation of what she has gleaned put into practical use over several years of her experience in the classroom.  I guess it isn’t so much the strategies that she is providing, but how she is putting their use into context, using snippets from her experiences in the classroom and how she felt positively and negatively as she told her story.

Am I going to be able to make all these changes overnight – no.  Will I become frustrated and give up because I now realize more than ever how much work I actually have to do – no.

What I will do is finish reading the rest of Yellow Brick Roads tomorrow, then move on to Plugged into Reading and find out where and how I should be implementing these strategies into my classroom.  I know that I can’t do it all in one fell swoop and have everything work perfectly – because it won’t.  I have to make incremental changes in my classroom, fit the program to my students, my students sure as hell aren’t going to fit into any neat little box and I don’t want them too!  Now at least now I have a direction to go in and it looks like some structure too.

There I feel better getting that out of my head.  I know that teaching is a journey fraught with highs and lows, but sometimes something as simple as a book can be read and make a big difference in your outlook.  Perhaps Yellow Brick Roads has done that for me, I think it might have.

This also gives me a better understanding of why my school is so gung ho about using Janet Allen’s Plugged into Reading program and why they are putting their money where their mouth is and supporting it appropriately.  Does this mean I have become a card carrying disciple of Janet Allen (no not yet :)), but it does mean that it has given me a framework to look at Literacy through a perspective that I didn’t have previously.

We shall see how this turns and I look forward to reflecting on the changes that I will implement in my classroom and teaching as a result of reading a book.

Maybe I will find a Yellow Brick Road of my own to follow :).

It about the kids – not you or me.

Disclaimer – My school gave me a free copy of this book to read and I have purchased my own copy so that I can mark it up.  I have not received any compensation for writing this blog entry about this book.  The words in this web log are simply my reflection after reading most of the book.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.



Pet Mice
Image via Wikipedia

When I talk about “we squeak” what am I talking about?

I have used this term in a couple of posts now and I want to clarify what I mean by it.

  • Is “we squeak” the noise a mouse makes?  Nope
  • Is “we squeak” the noise that is heard when we are complaining and whining about things we don’t like – a little bit, but not really.  That might be more correctly called “squeeking” as in the squeeky wheel.
  • Is “we squeak” a noise we make when we get stepped on or surprised? – sometimes.
  • Is “we squeak” the noise we make when we are all talking about the same thing, but using different words to say it?  That is pretty close.

To me “we squeak” is when we are having the same discussions about the same important subjects, using different ways to discuss it:  day after day, session after session, time after time without actually doing anything about those important subjects, beyond talking about them.

“We squeak” is simply re-hashing the same subject over and over again (even though it might be different people “squeaking”).  Those 4 to 5 subjects entice us with that siren’s call we can’t resist.  That is the problem because there are no clear cut solutions to those 4 or 5 subjects, no matter how much we talk about them or “we squeak” at them and want to resolve them.  Those problems are greater than our limited powers to solve them are.

What is a solution to “we squeak” – I don’t know the answer to that question, if I did maybe I could go out and make big bucks on the lecture/convention circuit and give electrifying presentations on how to resolve “we squeak” and have the Twitter back channel sing my praises.

Actually I don’t  think that “We squeak” is a bad thing, it is just that somethings we don’t have any control over and continually “squeeking” about them do not change how they are.

What do you think of this definition of “we squeak”?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.



Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Image via Wikipedia

Last night I participated in #edchat on Twitter as I have done on most Tuesday evenings at 7:00 P.M., since I returned to teaching.  I love the discussion, but it is almost turning into “we squeak”.

What do I mean by “we squeak”?  Almost every session that I have participated in seems to have at its core a recurring theme brought up EVERY WEEK of how bad standardized testing is, other teachers not embracing technology, blocking and controlling IT departments, lack of admin support for technology, lack of interest/participation by parents.

There is a lot of venting and complaining about how bad things are, but not too many substantive ideas on how to improve things (I know it is tough to do in 140 characters or less).  I am perceiving a certain sense of powerlessness on the part of many teachers who participate in this Twitterdiscussion group.

WE ARE NOT POWERLESS!  We may not decide what will be taught in our classrooms, but we do decide how we will teach teach it.

We are experts in what we are teaching or in my case back on my way to being an expert.  Yes I did use the word EXPERT, because that is what we should be, are or will be in our fields.  I have heard that it takes about 10 years to become an expert and that is what I am shooting for to be considered an expert in Literacy, Educational Technology and Special Education before I retire.  I guess that means lots of reading, writing, attending seminars, classes and being active in online communities as a part of my professional life.  It means not sitting on our laurels that we earned years ago and staying current in our fields.

If we do not have these expectations for ourselves, then how can we hope to appear as professionals, to those we teach or in the Court of public opinion, which in many places we are loosing right now.  Each teacher must be an expert in what they are teaching or preparing to be one, how else do we keep our creditability?  In other words that means we have to be at the very least Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), wow that has a familiar ring to it.

Standardized tests are here to stay.  Sorry but that is the reality we have to accept.  Testing is not going away, so how do we use this focus to help our students?  I am not sure yet, but we have to find a way.  I know that there are much smarter and more experienced teachers/administrators than I am, working on this issue right now.  We have to keep our eyes and ears open to others who are having success and build off what they have learned.  No I don’t like Standardized Testing anymore than anyone else, but it is and will be a part of being a teacher in today’s world for the foreseeable future.

IT Departments and Administrations that lock down the internet.  Okay so they make it inconvenient for some of us to use applications that we would like to use in our classrooms.  My school district has a very, very aggressive blocking policy and I am trying learn to live within our policies  and learn the procedures to get what I want done in the classroom by working with IT and administration, NOT just bitching about it. Get to know your IT people, show them (and admin) the applications and the good they can do.  Work with them, they might even agree with you, but they may have marching orders to keep that you don’t know about.

IT is not the enemy, but they do have different priorities then you do.  Ask them to help you in the classroom, to see the effect of the limitations that you see or perceive, maybe they have an alternative you didn’t think of to use.  They are a great resource, but only if they are on your side,if you alienate them, they can really make EdTech more difficult than it has to be.   Don’t ask to eat the whole pie at once, keep working at it, you might be frustrated at first, but consistency and showing that what you are doing is working for the students, does a lot more than whining and complaining about what you can’t do.  It does get you what you want – eventually, without alienating those who can help you most.

Complaining about other teachers not embracing technology in the classroom.  If a teacher chooses to not use tech in their classroom, that’s their problem not your’s, but by making it your problem, you are allowing it to affect you negatively and increase your stress level.  I know you are worried about how it affects the students they teach, but if you can’t control or fix it let it go.  LET IT GO.

If you prove that your use of technology is providing superior results in the classroom, than you might be surprised at who comes and asks for your assistance.  Most of these teachers want to do what is best for their students, but are not convinced of technology’s actual effectiveness – to many it is still just another fad.   If those teachers don’t begin to use technology effectively in the classroom, then eventually they will become an island and become rather inconsequential or be forced by new administration (when it comes and they will) to use what works for today’s students – not what has always worked for them.  Either way this issue is beyond your control (usually), focus on what you can control, it is a lot less stressful for you.

Administration not Supporting Tech.  When was the last time you were told you could not use technology in your classrom? There may be a shortage of computers for 1:1 or the equipment is outdated but get creative – use what you have.  We may not be able to use a certain application i.e. YouTube, blogging platform, Twitter, etc. but most administrators and school districts try to buy us all of these nice shiny computers, LCD project, smart boards and the approved software that goes with them (sometimes without asking if we really need it or know how to use it).  Remember sometimes an overhead projector is the technology that is actually needed for that lesson.  Use what is approved, be creative, download YouTube at home and use it during your observation by an administrator.  The biggest thing is work within the limitations set by policy (otherwise you set yourself up for disciplinary actions) use what you can creatively – then push the boundaries when you can.

Keep showing administrators the effectiveness of what you are doing (maybe that significant increase in test scores from your students, compared to those who don’t use EdTech will do the trick?).  Again don’t try for the whole pie at once, be patient.

Uninvolved parents.  This is a whole blog in itself.  It is up to us to keep reaching out to them.  Many parents have had horrible experiences when they were in school or with schools and are badly intimidated by a “teacher” (any teacher – yes even you or me) and it is difficult for them to overcome this “teacherphobia”.  Remember that the next time you talk with a parent, some of them automatically flashback to Mr. or Mrs. _________ and shut down.

Parents also know their kids better than we do, no matter how much or well we believe we know their child 90% of the time.  If we come off as condescending or only speak to them when their kids are being negative, of course our relationship with them is going to be strained.  Parents can be a teacher’s greatest advocate, but we have to take the first step and sometimes keep stepping forward to have them help us educate their child.

Finally, when was the last time an administrator was in your room, telling you how to teach?  For me there has been no one in my room since I started on October 5th, other than my Teaching Assistants.  The administrators stop by once and a while to ask how I am doing but that is it.

I am and so are you – expected to teach our students within the school’s curriculum, that is what we are paid to do and we are supposedly experts at teaching.  How we actually do present the information is usually up to us, there are not too many schools that dictate how each class will be taught.  I find that in teaching I have had a great deal more independence and latitude about what I do in my office (the classroom) than any other job or field I have ever worked.

Therefore, if my pay and/or evaluations are going to be tied to test scores, I am damn well going to teach in the manner where my success or failure is something that I am, comfortable with, fits my style and personality.  I don’t plan to teach to the test, but I do plan to teach my curriculum effectively and in a manner that I believe I will be most successful for my students.

I personally believe that using technology to teach in the classroom is the best way for all students to succeed in life and on Standardized tests.  If I teach my students in ways they can learn, then scores on Standardized Tests scores will take care of themselves.  But the bottom line is it is up to me – about how I present my material and lessons in my classroom and I suspect it is the same way in the majority of classrooms today.

I am not naive and understand the pressures that many teachers are under, but we are not powerless about how we teach in our own classrooms – WE MUST REMEMBER THAT.

Why did I use the image at the start?  Because that teacher does not have many of the advantages that we enjoy in our classrooms, but he is still teaching.  Remember we have tools at our disposal that were unheard of just 10 years ago.  It is up to each one of us how we incorporate Educational Technology into our classrooms, not anyone else.  So as Nike says “Just do it.”

It is after all your choice.

Remember it is about the students

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I met with my mentor teacher yesterday to develop my draft Teacher Action Plan (TAP) and set some goals for me to achieve this year.  Even though I am a certifiedSpecial Education teacher, I have to prepare a TAP due to my being a new hire in the District.

I think in reality that this is a good thing for me, because it has focused me on what I need to accomplish in order to be successful this year.  Many teachers look at a TAP as a pain in the butt, but in my opinion this has given me the opportunity focus on a few things that I have to get done versus being overwhelmed with everything I want to get done.  So my TAP is a good thing.

I am asking for some input from my PLN to see if they can see or think of improvements that can be made before it is submitted.

Here are screen shots of the TAP.

I decided not to include technology into the this year’s TAP, but to wait for my second year (if I am re-hired).  I have a pretty full plate already, getting back into the world of Special Education, getting my classroom management up to snuff and having to learn a whole new Literacy Program – Plugged into Reading, and trying to tackle the technology could be pretty daunting if put into my TAP.

Do I still plan to include Web2.0 technology in my classroom…absolutely, I figure that as  first year teacher in the District that it will be better to learn the “system” first and then just do what I can as the year progresses.
If anyone in my PLN has some suggestions for my TAP, I would greatly appreciate them.




I am a bit irreverent at heart.  Everyone thinks that I am so staid and boring – you know:

  1. Retired military
  2. Behavior Technician
  3. Former State Worker

I was following my PLN on Twitter and saw this link form Kmadolt and sat there laughing my A$$ off, it wasn’t the link but the blog before it.
Here is a screen shot of what I found so funny.

Whoever “shopped” this photo caught the spirit of fun that I needed tonight.  I now have this site in my gReader.  Thank you I needed it!.

See I do have a sense of humor or otherwise I couldn’t be a Special Education teacher.

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Well it has been just over a week since I started this blog and I am extremely happy with it’s progress in that short time.  Of all the blogs that I have started (05), it has had the most hits in the first week.

That big spike was due mostly to Jen Laviano’s gracious Tweet of my Special Educator = Paralegal post.
I still plan on this blog being review of how I am adjusting back into the world of Special Education, things that I am finding difficult or just plain stupid.  It is my chance to reflect on things that I am learning, using in the classroom (what worked and what bombed horribly), as I am growing my PLN and how the students/other educators are reacting to who I am.

I am looking forward to this week, I need the down time – badly and it starts after rating the district-wide writing prompt tomorrow.  I had a total of 8 vacation days and 3 furlough days off (besides normal weekends, holidays and sick days) in the last 16 months.  So I will have a chance to unwind a bit and prepare for what I hope to accomplish through the December break.

  1. I have to get my Special Education files up to my standards
  2. Finish all but the Speech and Language goals for 2 IEPs.
  3. Read Janet Allen’s “Yellow Brick Roads”
  4. Read Janet Allen’s “Plugged into Reading”
  5. Prepare 2-3 units to get through December break, while including the Plugged into Reading Strategies.
  6. Figure out a way to bring around a student who “hates” me and my class…right now we are at lose-lose and it is up to me to get to win-win.  Things will work out. 🙂
  7. Plus read all the stuff in my PLN.

You see sort of a trend here – I have to get better at teaching literacy and we use Janet Allen’s program in our curriculum, from what I have read so far, it will definitely help me be a better Literacy teacher and the bottom line – it should help my students read better.  While at the same time improving my Special Education skills.

You don’t realize how much knowledge you loose, if you don’t use it.  I am feeling more and more comfortable back in the classroom though and the behaviors are at least manageable on most days.

It is good to be back 🙂

It’s about the kids, not you or me.

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My wife saw the title of this post and said “You are getting old and crotchety.”  🙂

I have found the SPED community online and in the blogosphere is much more in tune with Special Education law, why an IEP is important and what makes a quality IEP, whether they are parents, educators or other interested professionals.  The online community also appears to be much more aware and involved with their student’s education than the average parent or educator of a Special Education student.  So while the SPED community online is very knowledgeable and vocal, it is my experience that unfortunately they/we are not the majority.

Often we tend get into “we squeak” mode where everyone is saying something to simply say it and that what said is politically correct instead of being bluntly honest.  Even this post is not bluntly honest, just honest, I am a practicing educator and don’t want to go down that road and have chosen tact over bluntness.

The Individual Education Plan or IEP as most everyone calls it, is the supposed foundation for Special Education services that our students receive.  Below is the first paragraph from the guidance provided in Department of Education’s A Guide to the Individualized Education Program

Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a trulyindividualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity forteachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

This is great in theory, but what is the reality?  In my opinion reality is something vastly different than what is in that very carefully crafted paragraph.

When I was the parent of a Special Education student, we would have the PET, then the Special Education Teacher would develop the IEP and then send a completed copy home – this was the procedure in the 5 different states that my daughter attended school in.  The only time I would look at it was when there were issues at the school, otherwise it sat in what came to be a 4 inch thick file that contained all of the Special Education paperwork generated by the schools and me.

I became a Special Education teacher in 2002 and have prepared several hundred IEPs.  Each IEP takes between 2-6 hours to complete dependent upon the nature of the disability, services needed and many other factors.

During this time I sincerely wonder how many times someone has actually read them beyond the Special Education Director – who wanted to ensure I did it correctly.  I don’t believe that too many other educators, ever bothered to read them (until the student started to fail their class or behaviors became an issue), even though I emailed each approved IEP to all the student’s teachers or used to provide them a hard copy if they didn’t “use” the computer.

Goals and objectives in most IEPs are a joke, they to me are useless and are almost always written to be easily met and therefore make the IEP successful – where is the incentive to stretch a student, when we will be penalized for them not meeting their goals?

Most goals as written (they have become formula goals with statistics changing from student to student to be individual) do not have any bearing on how the student will or well they are educated.  If the goals was met, it does not mean the student’s progress was a result of the Specially Designed Education Program, it could be any variety of factors from a change in medications to something as simple as the student maturing a little bit or the goals were so low, that the student had to meet them or already had when the IEP was written.

I have seen IEPs come to my schools with obvious and glaring mistakes, goals and objectives that don’t mean anything, transition plans that could make you puke, yet neither the parent or the other school thought enough about correcting it to take the time to do so or even worse didn’t realize that they needed to.

All the regs, books and experts say that the IEP shall be completed by the PET – that is a crock of crap.   Who actually completes the IEP – is the Special Education teacher/case manager 90% of the time without  input from anyone else.  They prepare the IEP from the notes they take at the meeting and their interpretation of those notes, with it being reviewed by a school administrator or administrative assistant and then mailed off to the parent.

Does the IEP reflect the PET’s wishes for the student?  Most of the time fairly well, but it does leave a lot of responsibility in the hands of the Special Educator who actually is preparing the IEP and there is quite a margin for error in the preparation.

I am going to stereotype for effect here.

The parent (if they showed up at the PET – many don’t) may or may not glance at the work done by the Special Educator and put it in a pile someplace or just throw it in the trash.

Other parents have a very negative history with schools either from when they were students or as parents and are are sometimes too intimidated by the school to say anything and just let the schools go along their merry way on how to educate their son or daughter whether it is working or not or this is usually when the lawyers get involved and everyone digs their heels in, in order to be right.

More stereotyping. At the school after the IEP is approved, it is usually put into a caseload notebook/file and the student’s special education file never to be seen until the quarterly reviews or the annual review.  In some  places – the Special Educator takes it upon themselves to email it to all of the student’s teachers or post it on the school’s “secure” database so that the classroom teachers can review the IEP.  I wonder how many classroom teachers take the time to review the IEP when they get it?

Most will say time and numbers make it impossible for them do it, for all the students, but they might look at a student who is having difficulty in their classroom.  The more likely scenario will have the classroom teacher complain to the Special Educator that “their” student is causing “problems” in their classroom and they want you to fix it.

Stereotyping done

For the most part, it has been my experience that no one really reads the IEP, unless there is a contentious issue surrounding the services being rendered or some other “problem” that needs to be resolved.  Most of the time the IEP  is only a procedural item that must be completed and in the file no matter how onerous or far away from what is actually happening in the classroom or at home.

This is too bad, because I honestly believe that the laws requiring an IEP and the different sections, were put in place with the best of intentions – to help ensure that Special Education student receive the services they are entitled to and should receive.  But it seems a little bit daunting that a blank IEP in the State of Maine (with no student data in it) is 9 pages long.  A blank form this long is a bit ridiculous.

The IEP has become a Lawyer’s document to show adherence to the law, not an educator’s document which develops and implements an educational program.  So in reality what use is an IEP other than to cover a school district’s butt in a legal argument or to prove that they did not provide FAPE from a parent’s perspective?  To me IEPs have devolved into a useless document that have to be completed due to regulation and law, not because they are beneficial to the student.

For the 80-90% of school/parent relationships that don’t require the legalese in the IEP, couldn’t we go to an IEP short form?  When there are disputes then we could go to the full protection IEP.  It would certainly save a few trees.

But that would require something called trust between the parents and the school and in some places that seems to be in short supply.

Unfortunately, too many schools have not kept their part of the bargain and not properly educated students and then many parents have had unrealistic expectations of what a FAPE is.  So you have the system that is in place today – a paperwok nightmare created by a mismash of confusing rules and regulations created by Federal and State (Congress, Legislatures or Regulatory agencies) then interpreted by the Courts.

This mishmash of unrelated but still pertinent laws, regulation and case law has created a system that works (sort of ) inspite of itself.  It is confusing, contradictory at times, duplication of intended results and only mostly understood – hopefully by the Judges who decide the cases and the Lawyers, who defend their clients – whichever side they happen to represent.

I have become rather jaded about the usefulness of an IEP, in my opinion IEPs have become little more than a paperwork exercise that are prepared more for CYA and legal purposes than for student educational support.  IEPs are not a living document that accurately reflects a student’s actual educational program and provide very little actual value added to a Special Education student’s individual education program.

I know many out there won’t agree with me, but that is what is so great about blogging — we don’t have to agree, but we get to see how others believe and usually do so fairly respectfully.

However, I will stand by my title – IEPs – what a waste of time and will add in there has to be a better way – now to find it.

As always – do the right thing for the right reason – today and everyday and remember its about the kids, not you or me.

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