From 5/30/10

On December 29th, I became a Mac Convert.  On that date I went to the Apple Store in Portland, Maine and purchased my MacBook Pro.  It was a very good decision.  I do not regret leaving the Windows based world…after I found where Apple has hidden the Commands I use most (at least most of them), it has been a pretty seamless transition.
When I go back to use a Windows computer now, it just isn’t the same, I have to think about what I am doing, instead of just doing it.  I really think that is the difference with my Mac, I just do it (or actually the Mac just does it), not too much fussing around, trying to figure out which program to use or how to find it.  
The software selection for the Mac is a little different and expect to pay for the software versus getting lots of free stuff.  Which took some getting used to, but now that I have most of what I want, it really doesn’t bother me as much anymore.  So what is on my laptop for software?
Firefox 3.6x is my primary Web browser, with the add-on and a renewed stability, I find it meets my needs with everything I do except for Infinite Campus’s gradebook which I have to use Safari or Opera to get it to work correctly. The other browsers all work well, but Firefox does a better job of browsing the web the way that I want to right now.
Evernote I have tried this off and on since it came out, but since I started using theiPhone this note and so much more application has really shown why it is head and shoulders above the rest.  It integrates easily between mobile devices, Firefox, multiple computers, etc.  It just works for me.
Apple Mail, Address Book and iCal while having separate icons these programs are actually quite integrated and I use them everyday. I haven’t had any problems with any of them and they just seem to always work, which I cannot say for other programs like this.  They are easy to setup, but I wish there was an easier (cheaper) way to synch to the cloud Mobile me is to rich for my purse right now and synching with Google can be “interesting” sometimes.
TweetDeck does everything that I want from a Twitter client, enough said.
Keynote:  I just like the way it works on the Mac and how easy it is to add media to it.  I am not a big Slide show proponent, but they do serve a purpose.  I still have a lot to learn about all the different things that I can do with Keynote, but it will come.  Many times, I have to use M/S Powerpoint because of the formatting issues with presentations that I download and want to show or view, but that is becoming less of an issue.
Word:  Due to the requirements of some of my State Special Education forms (check boxes and some other advanced functions) that only render correctly in Word, I have to use Word for that major part of my SPED work.  For classwork, I have found that Google Docs does 95% of what I want/need to do in class.  I really like the direction that Pages is going and will probably move to it once it renders the State SPED Forms correctly.
iPhoto:  Easy to use and it integrates quickly/easily with other Apple programs in iLife/iWork.  Sometimes it is a pain to find where the photos are if I just want to add one to a blog program or insert into a document.  I found it easier to just drop and drag a picture to the desktop and work with them there, then delete the desktop copy.  Not ideal, but it works. 
Games – Diablo:  This is one area that was a little disappointing for me – finding RPG games for the Mac.  Many stores don’t stock for the Mac and I don’t really like buying them online, but guess that I might have to in the future.  I play the Diablo series right now when I feel the need to “kill some Orcs”, but it is strictly a hack n slash game and gets a bit boring after a little while.  I guess that I have to find NeverWinter Nights for the Mac and order it someday. In reality, I don’t have all that much time to play my games during the school year, unless it is vacation, so it really isn’t all that big a deal.
Photobooth:  Great easy to use photo program for creating quick photos and videos, that can be quickly and easily saved.  The students love it too much sometimes.
Skype:  Great and easy way to video or teleconference for free over the internet. 
Preview:  Is basically a PDF reader and more.  It has a lot more functions than what I use it for.  I have used it to drive my old scanner when I didn’t have the proper driver installed on the PC and it worked like a charm.
iTunes:  Not too crazy about the U/I, but have to use it to manage my iPhone and when I had my iPod.  It works and as I get more and more used to it, I am figuring it out.
Blogwriter:  This is about the only area that I really miss Windows…I love Windows Live Writer and believe it is the best blogwriter out there, it gives a true template of what your blog will look like and integrates with Zemanta.  Too bad it will never be ported over for use on the Mac.  So I use Blogo a little bit and would use it more probably, if it was integrated with Zemanta, but I am not crazy about the lack of being able to see the photo or resize it by grabbing an edge in the draft blog itself and have to use work-arounds to get what I want. 
So most of the time now that Google Docs no longer posts to a blog, I use Zoho Writer to prepare a draft blog post and then go to Blogger’s editor to integrate the post to Zemanta.  It is a bit more work, but does most of what I want it to.  Even this system lacks the features of Live Writer.  If I do ever go to a system where I use Windows 7, (Parallels or Bootcamp) it will be because of Windows Live Writer more than any other reason.
You can see that I have changed a few of the icons to personalize the dock and make my Mac more mine.  I like the dock and it is now just part of my system, instead of cluttering my desktop with application icons or having to search for them.
These are the software programs that I am using now to meet my needs.  You will notice that I don’t have a traditional TODO software, I haven’t found one that really meets my needs and does what I want it to do.  OmniFocus is extremely powerful, but I seem to always forget to keep it up to date.  So I need something that is rather “idiot” proof.  Right now I use a TODO notebook in Evernote and it seems to be working as well as any of the other systems I have used.
I guess the biggest difference between a Mac and a Windows based computer is that the Mac is more for someone who just wants to get in and use their computer. As you can see by the changing of the icons, I do go in and tinker a little bit, but that is because I want to, not because I have to. Many of use are end users and just want the computer to turn on, get us to where we want to be and let us start working.  
It seemed with my Windows PC’s that I was always having to do this or having to do that to get it to run the way that I wanted it to or try to figure out which program to use to do what I wanted (sometimes more choice does not mean that they are better choices).  
Would I go back to a Windows based computer, not if I didn’t have to at this time.  I love that I can simply turn on my Mac, login and start working on what I want to do.    I love my Mac, because it just works.
Have you made a difference today?  How?

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In my ongoing reflection on my return to teaching I have learned a great deal about myself. What have I learned about myself?
1. That I am a teacher.

I tried going back to the “normal” 9-5 world and be a paper pusher again. I found that I could do the work, but it just wasn’t where my heart was. When I returned to teaching in October, I knew that I was where I belonged, it just felt right. Yes, I struggled a bit when I first returned and worked a lot during “my” time on school work or attempting to be a better teacher…but the extra time didn’t bother me. I just enjoy being in the classroom and being a difference maker in student’s lives.
2. That I can still learn and in fact love learning – its just that formal classroom learning doesn’t really do it for me still. I do much better with informal learning methods like my PLN on Twitter (EdChat), Podcasts, watching videos, reading blogs and articles, reading books on stuff that interests me or other things will help me be a better person and teacher. Kind of strange saying that from a guy that pretty much hated school growing up. I think that we have to remember that learning is more than just being in school and that real learning happens every day, especially if we are interested in it. Gee maybe we need to think that way in the classroom more.
3. Unfortunately or fortunately whichever way you want to look at it, I didn’t fall behind when it comes to using technology in the classroom during my absence. I guess it goes back to the what interests me and technology does interest me (always has) and that causes me to want to use it more in the classroom. I believe that technology in the classroom is not integrated as part of the curriculum in most classrooms, sure most everyone uses a computer OR lets the students use a device of some sort, but technology is an add-on, instead of being an integral part of the lesson.

4. Being a teacher is detrimental to my efforts to maintain a much lighter weight! It seems that with all the meetings, mental effort that I expend during the day attempting to teach those that really don’t want to either be in school or don’t want to do work and attempting to work within the systems in place at school, all give me an excuse so that I don’t stop at the gym regularly and eat solace food instead of the healthy things I should. I guess that is part of the reason for us getting a Jack Russell was that he would help me get off my ass, even when I didn’t want to. It is working, I walk almost every night and most mornings now. Now just have to clear up the tendonitis in my knee and ankle, so that I can start running again.

5. I have learned that while I am pretty good at the Special Education paperwork that I hate doing it. I have whined and complained about doing the paperwork enough in this blog. There is simply too much Cover Your Ass (CYA) paperwork in Special Education, to protect the school from lawyers and to “ensure” that we are doing what we are supposed to do. Unfortunately, short of getting out of Special Education, I will have to just suck it up and do what needs to be done on this one. I have a feeling that I will continue to whine about it in the future though. 🙂

6. That my Personal Learning Network from Twitter and the online communitythat I am a part of has been an integral part of my success as a teacher this year. If I have a question, I can usually find the answer or a direction to look from someone there. I get lots of ideas for new things to try in the classroom and how to use technology in a more “real” and integrated manner, instead it just being an add-on in my classes.

7. I have learned that I wouldn’t enjoy teaching nearly as much without the generous support of my wife. She doesn’t bug or get angry with me if I say that I have to work on school stuff in the evening or weekends, even though I know at times there are other things she would like us to be doing or the work stops us from going somewhere. Being a Special Education teacher, there is almost always school work of some sort to do on “our time”. This isn’t something that I just learned, but sometimes you just have to look at and say thank you for understanding.

8. I learned that I like the Mac, a lot more than a PC. At first I wasn’t too thrilled with the Mac, it just felt clunky to me. Now that I have been using for almost six months, when I try to go to a Windows based computer, to be honest I don’t really like it, it feels clunky to me. I guess it is all about what you use daily and are used to. Changing over was good for me professionally because that is what we use inMaine and we are a 1:1 school where almost all the students have a Mac issued to them. It has made a difference in my classroom.

9. Be positive. I continue to be a very upbeat and positive person. I put on my game face, no matter what is happening elsewhere to be a positive influence on my students and in the school. Some days are tougher than others, but it is better to work at being positive than being a negative influence. Negativity sucks and I try every way to avoid being sucked into it, no matter where it comes from. As the song goes “Be Happy!”

There are other things that I have learned about myself this school year, but those are top 9, but most of all I know that I am a teacher.

What have you learned about yourself as a teacher this year?

Have you made a difference today? How?

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I have been reading a lot about the Texas School Board controversy and what they have accomplished in setting Social Studies standards for that State. This is something that really scares me the hell out of me – that a relatively small number of people can force their will on what and who will be studied in school.

This then brings up another question regarding the Common Standards…what happens in 10-20 years and a small but dedicated cadre of people who might be dedicated to a certain philosophy decide, to change our soon to be “National Educational Standards” to meet their beliefs. That is unthinkable and many say there are too many safeguards in place to ensure that it never does happen, but isn’t that what most people thought in Texas too, also look at what happened in the 1930’s in other Countries when governments decided what needed to be taught and studied in school?

Be careful of what you wish for with National Education Standards, they will be much easier to control by a small number of people than today’s 50 State and/or the many local Educational Standards that exist today. Remember:

“Once you have the minds of the children, then you have the future of the Country”.

I don’t remember where I read that quote, but it has stuck with me since High School and I believe it to be very true!
Publishers have their biases that they put into their textbooks and then add in directions from State Standards, History already has enough different influences.  If you read a U.S. History book from the 1960’s and compare it to one written in the last few years, the lens through which we look at the past has changed. Today’s textbooks are much more politically correct in their efforts to offend no one and what is highlighted as important is different.
There also has been a drift away from the glorification of the American Ideal and that the United States is always right in what it does, to a more balanced view of our History that includes its warts as well as its achievements. I do not believe that this is a bad thing, U.S. History does have its high points, but do we not, have the responsibility to also discuss in the classroom things that we were wrong about as a Country and how we can avoid repeating those mistakes.
In my view the rewriting of history happens all the time. It just usually is not done as blatantly as it was done in Texas and with such an agenda to gloss over other cultures and religions who played such critical roles in our Country’s achievements and development or to attempt to change one of the foundations of our Democracy – the Separation of Church and State. I find that the following quote sums up my belief on this subject:

So the attempts to weaken the Separation of Church and State in this Country needs to be watched closely and not weakened, if anything we need to strengthen this Separation even more to ensure that no single religion is allowed to be considered our National religion. If any religion is allowed to be our Country’s State religion it is my opinion it will suppress the freedom to practice other religions. This is not what our founding fathers intended and it is not the direction we should be heading.  My background is Christian and I believe strongly that it should not be considered the United States “official” religion.  We need to maintain our Country’s religious freedoms.

It is said that the Victors gets to write History, so we need to be careful about who we allow to be the Victors and who we allow to re-write our History. Vote carefully when voting for those little boards or elected officials, they may have more power than you thought possible.

I am a nobody, from a no where small town in the middle of Maine, but to my way of thinking re-writing Social Studies (History) standards to meet a certain philosophy (political or religious) is dangerous to the way of life we have become accustomed to and that is all too often taken way too much for granted in the United States.

Open minds, don’t close them.

Have you made a difference today?  How?

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In this entry I go back and review my progress on the 7 things that I identified as needing attention in my classroom from my Tuesday – I Start Teaching blog from when I first returned to teaching in October 2009.

  1. The classroom does not have a flow to it, it was a bit scattered.
    This goes along with number 1 above and while the room is 100% better than it was, I am still not satisfied with things.  I am not a fan of the modular 3 student to a table setup, I would rather have a 2 student to a table setup, I find that there are less problems.  Also they are easier to reconfigure. I did change the location of my desk and removed extra tables and desks that were unnecessary and found a  table that I can use as a center island for the LCD project and my Laptop.  I don’t sit at my desk very much during a class for the most part, which I use more as a this and that station than anything else.
  2. The present seating arrangement was conducive to interruptions and distractions.We have tried several different configurations for the classroom and while there is no one setup that does what I want…to put the students who are distractions out of the line of sight of the the other students and yet still allow for easy conversational flow.  Things are better, but with the current equipment in my classroom this is just the best that I can do for now.   

  3. The students were showing low levels of respect for each other and the adults in the room.This was a tough nut to crack, because there seemed to be such a culture of disrespect or lack of respect in the classrooms that I inherited. This continues to rear its ugly head from time to time. We have worked extremely hard on this and while it is a lot better than it was initially, it still is not to the level where I want it.  We keep role modeling respect and show that it goes both ways, not just from the student to the adults.  My assistant says that we have come miles compared to where it had been, but, still I am not completely happy with our progress in this area.
  4. There was a lack of documentation of student behavior in the classroom.I tried several different rubrics, methods of documenting behaviors in the classroom and found that none really worked effectively in these classrooms.  The best way I found was to keep a comments section on my weekly Spreadsheet in Google Docs that I use before putting grades into Infinite Campus.  I was used to a much higher level of documentation as was required at my previous school.  I have found that public schools do not require that level of record keeping and as I gained more experience, I learned what the expectations were and reduced what I attempted to do in this area. Instead I focused more on attempting to establish positive relationships with the students, which reduced behaviors much more than any behavior rubric.
  5. The majority of my students are very hyper-active males.Okay the majority of my students are still very hyper-active males – that is cool and while not easy, has turned out to be not all that big of a deal to me over the last few months. Yes they are hyper, yes they are distractable, and yes they are all great kids.  There is not one student in my classes that I don’t really like having in my classes.  Sometimes it is a lot easier when one or two are not around, but I still like them.  I just do not like what they do sometimes, especially when it is something that is done to purposely annoy my assistant or myself. It comes back to working to the students strengths and providing scheduled breaks during my 90 minute periods instead of trying to go for 90 straight minutes, plus that word Respect seems to go a long ways here as well.
  6. That all students have been provided Macs and that they are being under-utilized.Initially I was very resistant to using my issued Mac.  However, that is what my students have to use and I couldn’t help them with the Mac’s idosyncracies especially when I was using my PC in class.  This weighed heavily on my mind, so in December I accepted the challenge of using the Mac instead of my PC and started using the issued MLTI Mac more and more.  Then finally at the end of December I went out and purchased a MacBook Pro for myself.  It was the only way that I would really learn the Mac.  I wouldn’t be limited by what I could do on the MLTI Macs, if I had my own to “play” with and that way I could learn better from the students things I needed to know about a Mac.  We have used a lot more of the Mac’s Software and initiated using Google Docs extensively in the classroom since then.  I think we did pretty good on using the Macs for more than just a substitute for Pen & Ink.  I guess in a kind of backhanded compliment many students and some staff are starting to come to me for how to do stuff on their Mac.

    Side note: I now love my Mac and don’t plan to go back to a PC anytime soon.
  7. That even the student(s) that misbehave the most are redirectable, most of the time.This was the biggest difference from my previous teaching experience, the students are mostly re-directable and not verbally or physically aggressive.  It took me a few months to figure out the school’s behavior/consequence system that really exists vs the behavior management system that I was used to.  For all of my experience in Behavior Management, I felt rather lost at first with my initial attempts to modify behaviors without the school-wide behavior system that I was used to having in place. 

    I admit that I floundered that first month or so and was frustrated because there was no clear cut behavior system that I could quickly figure out or use to “make” the students behave.  The secret as I discovered was that public schools rely more on creating relationships between students and teachers to manage behaviors, than relying on a formal behavior management program.  I found that these positive relationships go a lot further in minimizing negative behaviors than any behavior management system ever did and is a lot more related to real life.  It was a definitive learning experience for me and my classes are much better now that I have learned it.

    I also did rely a great deal on the school’s behavior program supervisor to learn the public school’s system and incorporated many of his suggestions into what needed to happen in my classroom.  He definitely made my transition much easier.
For the most part my classrooms are a place where “learning is messy”, in fact I have that sign up so it is the first thing you see as you walk in my room. 
In spite of what some might look in and see as a less than ideal classroom (i.e. everyone sitting around quietly and attentively).  Learning does take place in my classroom and we even have fun. 
Overall, I think that I have accomplished positive progress in all 7 of the areas I identified back in October, that I initially saw needing work.
In Part 4 I plan to look at other things that I have accomplished this year beyond these 7 areas.
Have you made a difference today?  How?

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This is my Return to Teaching Reflection – Part 2.

In Part 1 I discussed a little bit of the why/how I got back into teaching after a 15 month hiatus and that I was lucky enough to find a teaching position in September and started on Monday, October 5, 2009.
On my last day at my previous job, my mother was taken to the hospital and over the weekend was diagnosed with terminal cancer and significant heart disease.  She was only given days to live. That Friday night mom and I talked about lots of things, but she also told me, how proud that she was that I was going back to being a teacher. I wrote about her in my How do you Say Goodbye to Your Mom blog post. This was difficult time for me and with the added stress that goes along with starting a new job, made it really, really tough.  Needless to say I didn’t do any of the prep work or reading that I had planned to do for school that weekend.
I got to the school at 6:45 A.M. on Monday October 5, 2009.  I waited around at the office until the Principal showed up and had to wait until 8:00 to sign all the paperwork.  There were not very many others in the building, so I went to my new classroom and tried to focus on getting ready to teach and getting through my first day.  My assistant teacher took me around and introduced me to a few other teachers and where a few things were.  At 8:00 I went over to the business office and did all of the paperwork and I was once again officially a “Teacher”. 
With everything going on at that time, it was a rather bittersweet moment, not the happy one that I had envisioned, but re-reading my blog from that day “My First Day Back” I was still pretty upbeat inspite of everything.
That whole day I was worried if I would get to see mom again or not – I did, but she was slipping quickly, I called a couple of times to check on her.  The next day was more of the same, but at least I was able to remember a couple of the kids and other staff’s names.  That was pretty significant to me at that time.
On Tuesday, I was going into my first meeting with my new boss (the Special Education Director) and outside her secretary’s office, I got the phone call that my mom had died. 
I was pretty much in a state of shock and automatically just went up to her office.  About 2 minutes into my meeting, she asked what was wrong, because I obviously wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying and when I told her that my mother had died, she immediately scooted me out of there. I quickly rode up to be with my father and family.  Looking back at the blog entries from that week, still get to me, but they were my thoughts from that time period.
I was back at work the next morning, what else was I supposed to do, I needed to keep busy and move forward more than I needed to sit around the house and cry all day.  We were also in the midst of the NECAP examinations, so I was getting to see a different side of the students than I would in the classroom.  In retrospect, it was probably the best thing I could have done for myself and the students and we muddled through Wednesday and Thursday, I asked for and took Friday off to help clear my head and grieve. 
That was one of the toughest weeks of my life, loosing Mom and starting a new job all at the same time.  The support I received from my Teaching Assistants(EdTechs), Principal, Vice Principal, Special Education Director and other staff that found out was beyond what I could have expected.  The patience, caring and support that I received during that first week at a new job, showed the type of people that I would be working for and with, there definitely was a great deal of caring and commitment for others in my new workplace.
Most of the first month of school is a blur to me now, but the positive first impression that my school gave me during that time, will last for a long, long time and I will be grateful to those who helped me through that tough time professionally and personally.  The leadership team earned my loyalty during that time.
So to say that my first week back to teaching was tough, would be an understatement.
From here on my return to teaching become a bit less dramatic and my next reflections are more in keeping to the issues and problems of someone returning to the classroom.
Part 3 soon.



It doesn’t seem possible but my first year back to teaching is almost over, according to my countdown timer there are

total time remaining before 1:45 P.M. on June 16th – our probable last day when I started this blog post.  I want to do a reflection on my return to teaching, the good, the bad and the ugly.  There has been a lot little of each.
Last summer I was very unhappy with the job I had. It involved a great deal of financial management and administrative oversight of the AmeriCorps Grant Programs.  I loved the people I worked with, but just couldn’t reconcile myself to the duties of the position, even though I was doing a good job. 
Due to those feelings and frustrations, I undertook a month-long review last August of what I was good at and what I wanted to do with my professional life, that is documented in my Dream Job blog series.  After going through that process, I knew what my dream job would look like if it became available and had made myself ready if the opportunity suddenly presented itself.
After going through the Dream Job process, my next step was to sit down with my boss to discuss my plans.  I don’t believe in surprising people and make every effort to be upfront and honest about things.  It was very difficult to sit down and tell someone that you no longer want to work for them, especially because I really respected and liked my boss, but it was the right thing to do.
So my journey back to teaching actually started on Sept 2nd last year, when I told my previous boss that I was going to look for a different position in either Teaching or Emergency Management.  I had fully expected to be at that job until the Summer of 2010, because finding open teaching positions in September is not a typical occurrence and finding a position in Emergency Management is not all that easy.
Sometimes there is such a thing as Karma (especially when you do things the right way), the next day I learned about an unexpected vacancy at a local Junior High School.  I didn’t have to worry and scurry around trying to figure out if I wanted to apply for the job or not.  I already knew what I was looking for, and this position was as if they had written the position description and job requirement with me in mind.  I had everything together and within 48 hours had submitted an application package to the school for the teaching position (getting the Letters of Reference took the longest) without staying up all night trying to get my Resume and Cover Letter just right – they were almost all done and just needed to be tweaked.
After an initial interview with the Principal and Special Education Director and a followup interview with the Superintendent, I was offered the opportunity to teach beginning October 5, 2009 and accepted. 
Doing all that research on my Dream Job had paid off.  I was ready and had been able to react quickly when the opportunity had presented itself.
I had also been very lucky.  I was excited, nervous, a little scared…I had never taught in the public school before, only a private Special Purpose school for students with Behavioral or Mental Health issues.  But I knew that I wanted to get back to teaching, even with all of the challenges because I did miss those “aha” moments.
I was definitely going from the frying pan into the fire, stopping work on a Friday and beginning teaching the next Monday. I was going into the classroom with no time to prepare, look at the student records, IEPs, get to know the syllabus or curriculum because I wasn’t an employee yet. I also had never used a MacBook, and I only knew 1 of the other staff I would be working with daily (professionally only).  It seemed that I was setting myself up for failure, because the potential recipe for professional disaster, was enormous.  I usually set myself up to succeed, but not this time, looking ahead during that the last week at my other job I wondered what I was getting myself into.  I was either going to fail miserably or succeed – there was no in between. 
My last day at my previous job was Friday, October 2nd. That was also the morning my mother went into the hospital for a serious health condition.  Most of my last day of work at my previous job was spent in a Hospital Emergency Room.
I will be continuing my Return to Teaching Part 2 later this week.  This will be the toughest one to write about

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