Category Archives: special education

A New Year – A Confessional of sorts

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 I am not Catholic, so I’m not sure how this whole confession thing works but I’ll give it a shot. Or maybe it’s like attending an AA meeting, “hi I’m Jules and It’s been 314 days since my last blog post”. Whew, I feel…mildly relieved and somewhat disappointed. Why the break? Words over those missing months never seemed to unjumble, time sped away, and well, I took a break.

My focus turned to growing myself as an educator and learner.  During this time, I developed a new vision of a learner for myself and my students.  Excited I launched into pet projects, volunteered on interesting committees, and searched endlessly for a big “aha” moment to bring me back the passion that I seemed to lack.  What I found more than anything was stress, a longing for when teaching was more fun less paper driven, and through it all, my self-made mountain to the teaching promised land of high fives and power leader thumbs up, dead ended.  Instead the mountain became Mount Everest and I was/am low on oxygen.  And the view is the same.

When I made the tough decision to let blogging fall behind as I focused on this taxing professional goal, I lost a bit of myself.  Writing had become a sanctuary for vexing ideas, and I was lost.  My free time, if having three kids allows for it, was spent working on a district chat, increasing numbers in a volunteer student group, starting a makerspace group, growing my educational community; becoming a better teacher. 

While the “thanks Ms Z”, sly high schooler smile, or seeing a face light up in Makerspace is fulfilling and can turn gray days to sunny times, I need to make some changes that give me some time to rejuvenate.  Perhaps saying a few more no’s to others and adding more me time will part the writing clouds and cause words of wonder to rain upon me.

Like a soprano practicing to hit the elusive high notes, I find myself rehearsing the word no.  Currently it’s pianissimo.  With confidence, crescendo will be around the corner.  Then I can change the tune to a bit more me, me, me, me.  Sounds harmonious, right?

   

Current students who make my everyday.

  

Makerspace cuties lighting up holiday cards.

  
  

Peer-to-peer program, watching students support each other.

 

Teaching – A Journey of Sorts

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Teaching – A Journey of Sorts

Teaching, a family of sorts, has ranks in my top 5 favorite things.  The connection to our youth, educating, nurturing of young minds, and the development of learners has been a daily part of my last 17 years in education.  I love the journey that students and I travel in our four years together.

In recent years, my room has transitioned into a haven of sorts.  Besides learning and teaching each other, we laugh, cry, support, and uplift.  Students see this space and our department, Special Education, as a family.  Sure every family has ups and downs, problems and causes for celebrations.  What family also has, is a bond.  Our department has created this safe space through a bond of trust.  Not a day passes without a student sharing fears, tears, or laughs.  Not an hour slips by without a face just popping up or a quick email to say hi.  Not a week trickles past without one of us having a conversation about life, the future, and “the plan”.  Students are on this education journey and in most ways, we are tour guides.

We lead them around the curriculum, hoping they soak in the knowledge.  We show them the better paths for exploration, but allow self-direction and exploration.  Like the old saying goes, “we can lead them to the water, but cannot force them to drink”.  I have witnessed incredible personal growth, determination, and learning come from our shared students.  Our department is a home for many souls looking for a caring face, some tough love, a welcomed ear, or just a place away from the high school daily storm.  This haven, it’s what keeps me excited about education, searching for new techniques, and ready for each day.

I am not just a classroom teacher for these students.  I am mom.  An advisor.  A counselor.  A cheerleader.  And much more.  Special education has my heart. I love the smaller class sizes, the journey from rambunctious freshmen to independent seniors, working weaknesses into strengths, and together, this small core group, seeing each other through great growth.

Education for me is creating a safe haven for failure and growth.  One cannot have the growth and success without stumbles, failure, along the way.  After four years, together my students and I go through a lot of wonderful learning.  About life, education, family, friends, and everything in between.

Now that may change.  My educational vision is being challenged, perhaps changed.  I am a classroom teacher, that’s where my heart lies.  Never have I visioned my role in education as a layover, a place for students to pop in and out for minutes of support.  A room for students to drop in and gain academic support and head off.  I love to teach, plain and simple.  I love having a classroom full of learners and together seeing each other through pathways of understanding, acceptance, and life.  Education, special education specifically, has always been about that journey.

What do I do if my idea of education, my career, my heart is being called to change?  Forced to reexamine why I am in special education, I sit and think.  Think and ponder.  Ponder and be still.   And still, that’s where I find myself remembering the why, the why I went into special education.

The why?  That’s simple, it’s the journey.  Excuse me while I go back to researching ways to reach and teach this wonderful population.  They are why I love teaching.

Better Than a Blue Ribbon

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Each morning a small group gathers outside my classroom door waiting for the key to unlock their home away from home. While I stow away my winter gear, a few wander about, turning on lights and checking the temp. We chat about last night’s events, the latest flick (even though I’m clueless unless it’s a Dreamworks or Disney production), newest drama run down, mostly about life. This group keeps me centered in a lot of areas. Usually I’m reminded that my hair is disheveled…perhaps oohs about my jewelry…a mention that my mascara is smeared…an occasional compliment on the outfit, or random remark about my overall “look”. They check in before lunch incase I’m needing a tea or a little lunch pick me up. For most, we will grow together as an educational family over the 4-5 years of high school.

Amongst this group is a bubbly, sweet lady. My colleague and I are her pushing her to meet and surpass many family obstacles. The first to go to college, not get pregnant at 18, and to get a career beyond minimum wage; she can do it, we have faith in her. Today it was my day to learn from her. Outside her friends and secure special education class, she’s quiet, shy, and watcher instead of her usual leader role. This day, she set her nerves aside and read aloud to her general education class a poem written about me. Better than a blue ribbon, national award, or administrative thumbs up is the honest words of a teenager. Here are Miss A’s wonderful words. This deserves a frame.

Sometimes Mrs. Ziemelis
can be overzealous.
She is very short, in height,
and still very delight.
From her glasses to her dark brown hair,
from the beautiful jewelry that she bares.
She is like no other,
but a wonderful mother.
The fun of her personality,
and she has mentality.
The smile on that face,
can never be replaced.
From what she teaches,
is what she preaches.
From the helping hand,
to the smiles that stands.
Mrs. Ziemelis’s beauty
can be fruity.

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Here is Miss A hanging out with my youngest at a Christmas gathering. She’s a sweetie!

Me – a quick write

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Me – a quick write

Recently my seniors were tasked with writing about who and what influenced them to be who they are today. To model this 10 minute quick write, I also wrote and then shared out my draft. It is not perfect and is still a work in progress, but that’s me and why I’m sharing my draft. My hope is that I can show students that the writing process is as much about the words as it is about the interactions and conversations that come from opening our words to others.

I’m from blue collar parents who worked for every dime and saved each nickle.
I’m from a large family of older brothers who were my protectors and not much of friends,
until now.
I’m from a small town, my roots go deep and my branches wide.
I’m from an illness that nearly took me, but instead gave me a gift.
I’m from a life lived in a hearing world where I was often left behind.
I’m from experiences; of hope, love, and learning.
I’m from a place where I get to share and develop young minds, molding the next generation.

I’m from a loving relationship that inspired me to find one of my own.
I’m in a caring marriage of laughter and support.
I’m from years of infertility that grew the desire for parenthood and a family of my own.
I’m from a home of pitter pattering feet, silly sons, and a caring daughter.
I’m from love.

Where I’ll go is unknown.  Where I’ve been is everything, it is me.

Ego Boosters

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Yesterday was a day for my history book. Not one. Or even two. But three shout outs from former students. All in different life phases, all reaching for different horizons, but found the time to connect.

One is starting a new life path and diving into entrepreneurship. I remember having deep conversations about life, college, and career paths. He may not be heading down the path originally planned for, but he did not give up. Now, he is opening his own t-shirt shop in town. I look forward to working with him on Peer to Peer shirts later this year.

Another struggled to graduate last Spring. For over a week, I monitored him while he completed laps for PE. He needed the class, along with another credit, to graduate. Each planning period, I revisited tally mark skills as he logged in over 20 miles! He stopped in to say he finished his last credit and received his diploma. I’m not shy, I cried as he gave me a bear hug.

The final ego booster arrived at 12:10 am. A lengthy email from a recent graduate. He is postponing college to follow his dreams and he’s having some successes. “Thank you so much Mrs.z For always having faith in me and always seeing what no one else could you have been my favorite teacher since i stepped in those Doors Freshman year. I will never forget you!!” I’m done, I cried. Again.

The hard days where I’m struggling to manage 18 hormonal teens, I’ll refer to this day. On the sad days when a student wants to drop out and walk away, I’ll tell the story of a student who fought through to the end. Or the days where I wonder when he/she will just “grow up” (mature) and see that there is a purpose, I will reach into my teacher bag and show a flyer from a student who is making it.

As I say as we reach that final senior day together…No matter the path, no matter the distance, I’m here for you.

I’m a proud mama bear.

Challenging Times

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This week, after a torrential morning downpour, several students sloshed through the high school halls. Coats, pants, and shoes were soaked, let alone the students being chilled. How are they to focus? Learn? I grabbed socks, shoes, and hoodies to put in a nearby dryer. The results? Toasty warm gear to refocus the day. Only, I reached a tiny, select group of students. What about the others squeaking down the halls? How did they concentrate whilst drenched and cold? Not well if it was me. My husband, a counselor gave one an umbrella for her walk home in the continuing downpour. The problem? We need more umbrellas to distribute!

Also this week, a male student, who is battling the homeless odds against him, had all of his remaining belongings taken. Our social worker sent out a plea for undergarments, socks, shoes, and clothing – everything. No essentials like socks and underwear? How is he to perform in class, take in discussions, or even take the ACT? When I had a break, I went and purchased socks, underwear, and daily grooming essentials. It was not in our family budget, but my kids are learning about putting others first. Our staff is rallying around this student. Many would be unable to pick his face out of a line up, but supporting one of our own is needed. The time is now. There are others on similar paths.

We educate those who walk through our doors. Whatever the path they walk, we are there. We meet them where they are and hopefully lead/guide them to where they need to be. Often I feel we are failing this generation. Too many go home to homes with inadequate parental support, if any. Some receive their only meals while under our roof. Others live on couches because the one bedroom apartment supports several families or are couch hopping due to homelessness. Yet, we want them to stay awake, pay attention, complete homework, LEARN, and get community service hours…something has to give. Usually, it’s the student.

Answers elude me. Questions build. Five weeks into this school year and I wish I could take in several struggling students. If I had my way, the hubs and I would open our table up for home cooked meals, family time, and maybe a game or two.

This year my focus on Pastoral Care has led me to walk in student shoes, to personalize his/her needs. If it was last week, I would have been cold to my core, sporting soaked garments, and needing a long, hot shower. Each deserves better.

Where will my questions take me? How can I utilize myself to support these needs? More questions…

Writer’s Notebook – Student Samples

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With student permission, I am sharing some wonderful student writing samples. I am a special education resource room teacher. The students I service have a variety of needs; learning disabled, emotional impairments, Autism Spectrum, hearing impairments, and several other social/emotional needs. Reading and writing skills range from 3rd grade levels to high school levels. Each day we face challenges. School and academics are often the smallest challenges these students experience.

*Permission was granted to share these pieces.

Sample #1 – The assignment was to write a plan for the future. This student rarely participates in class discussions. He is thoughtful, quiet, and as a writer, has always struggled to his ideas out. Together, we have spent 3 years getting to know each other and while I knew about the love for gaming, I never knew about his desire to sing. Through our new 1:1 devices, Evernote, and sharing his writing, he is stepping out of his comfort zone.  This piece represents a new beginning.

My video game skills are forever because I enjoy them. I have a second passion, my singing. I still have the problem of singing to someone else and memorizing the songs when I sing. I also have the problem of competition and my frustration. Competition can bother me since I can get frustrated and forget since I want to win. It’s like a champion who wants to keep his/her title and make mistakes that ultimately lose that same title. But now, since I don’t have to compete in singing or video gaming, my problem won’t show.

I listen to Minecraft songs and most of the time I feel the urge to sing along to that song. I also notice that people find it annoying at times since they get headaches from listening to me. I believe that I do have that trouble of listening to people when the volume is at max. I hope for the best that my voice is put for the better instead of for the worst.

My video game skills are at my best which is normally easy. I want to find a nearby video game competition so I can enter it. Of course, there’s the whole being competitive and losing every time thing. In fact, I have never entered a competition of sorts. I only play with my friends when possible. If not, then I just play solo and it gets lonely at that point.

My dream job is simple enough on my end, Video Game Tester. All I have to do is to test certain levels and see the glitches/bugs that can effect the game play in some sort of way. I would then write down the glitches/bugs so I can add that to my e-mail message and send it to the producers. They soon correct those mistakes so the game will be ready for the release date.

These are my passions and a reason to plan for the future. My plans are to take art and math classes in college to understand more about the business I’m about to enter into in the future. I hope to enjoy this type of job that I have a passion for.

#2 – Write a poem about an artifact important to you or your family. A quiet student, who is an amazing artist, wrote this piece.  She is multi-talented and I hope, she’ll spread her wings and continue to write and create.

The Drumstick
From the shop of his school,

He uses it for his dreams.
Made from iron and love,
He uses it as a tool
To produce the metal he loves.

He hands it to me
To fulfill his destiny.
For a dream that couldn’t happen,
I must repair it damages.
I shall pound against the drums.

I will make his dream come true,
For this is my drumstick.