Special Education Teachers Face More Challenges

Special education teachers face more challenges today then ever before…..

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Provisional Endorsements for Special Education

As a reminder, last year the State Board of Education approved an additional pathway for educators seeking to add a special education endorsement to their license. Click here for more information on how educators may attain a provisional endorsement for special education.

Special Education Teachers

“Special Education Teachers in Tennessee are hard to find, even harder to keep.”  —JC Bowman

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Note:  Advisory Council for Children with Disabilities

The next Advisory Council for Children with Disabilities meeting is scheduled for July 16 at 10 a.m. central. All interested persons are invited to attend the council meetings. This meeting will be held in Nashville at the Scarritt-Bennett Center in the Laskey Building, Great Hall meeting room. Please contact Kristen.B.McKeever@tn.gov for additional information.

Making Professional Development Meaningful

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Bethany Bowman

As we talked with teachers across the state and continue to talk to them, one of the issues they mention is the need for high-quality professional development and learning opportunities. Therefore, in 2012 Professional Educators of Tennessee launched Leader U. It is strictly about gathering the best presenters in the state to address key topics that teachers have identified and skipping all the political shenanigans that other organizations try to pass off as professional development. It is real learning for real educators by their peers.

If you are a Tennessee educator or a supporter of Tennessee education, you need to attend a day of exceptional professional learning, Leader U at Trevecca University’s Boone Center in Nashville on Friday, June 1. The conference’s theme is Champions for Children where speakers will provide insight on providing a more engaging classroom and school to its students.

The conference will begin Friday morning with a keynote address from Champion for Children advocate, Dr. Ronald Woodard as he illuminates “Developing a Champion Mindset for Children.”Respected teacher-leaders and presenters from across the state will lead professional development classes on important topics that include Student EngagementOrganized ChaosProject-Based LearningTeam EvaluationBullying and much more. The 2018 Tennessee Teacher of The Year, Cicely Woodard, will do a 90-minute session on The Engaging Classroom while TSIN 2018 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award winner and Edmodo Educator, Sharon Clark, will complete a session on Bridging Gaps/Cultivating Curiosity.

In addition to the keynote, there will be other breakout sessions with a choice of 12 presenters from which teachers and administrators can choose the classes which best fit their needs. The event is TASL accredited for administrators and all educators will receive a certificate for 6 hours professional development credit. The cost to attend is $40 for members of Professional Educators of Tennessee and $60 for non-members. Breakfast and lunch are included.

But wait there is more! We have always understood how busy educators are, so in 2013 we also launched the Leader U On-Demand Professional Learning Portal where you can complete your credits when and where it is convenient for you and receive a certificate as soon as it is completed. Keep track of all the classes you have completed and print your records at any time. Classes include TASL accredited sessions from the annual conference along with webinars from throughout the year and even relevant content from other organizations nationwide. We do our best to provide a one stop-shop for your professional learning needs.

To register for Leader U 2018, visit www.leaderutn.com. Questions? Please email learning@leaderutn.com.

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Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

The Edge of Chaos

children expressions

The edge of chaos is a space between order and disorder.  For some, creativity is often found at the edge of chaos. In 2009, neuroscientists stated that evidence is emerging which suggests that operating at the edge of chaos may drive our brain’s astonishing capabilities. In fact, our complex brains may thrive on the chaotic.  In human terms, that may mean a dislike of rules and rigidity and formality, as well as a penchant for not following established rules.

Many people are most creative when their mind is most chaotic. However, a state of chaos is not sustainable and can certainly have negative effects. Albert Einstein, a genius by most accounts, said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

In A Journey into Chaos: Creativity and the Unconscious, Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen, states that the “capacity to be creative, to produce new concepts, ideas, inventions, objects or art, is perhaps the most important attribute of the human brain.”  She then points out: “Understanding how creative ideas arise from the brain is one of the most fascinating challenges of contemporary neuroscience.”

Is there a relationship between creativity and high intelligence?  Andreasen states that there is “a common assumption is that creativity and high intelligence are the same thing.”  This is, as she points out “a misconception.” Andreasen also studied the relationship between creativity and mental illness, which had inconclusive results because of limited participants.   It is clear consciousness, the unconscious and creativity are all important facets of the human mind.

In 1985, Robert Sternberg put forward his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, contending that previous definitions of intelligence are too narrow because they are based solely on intelligences that can be assessed in IQ tests. Instead, Sternberg believes types of intelligence are broken down into three subsets: analytic, creative, and practical.

Mogbel Alenizi, a lecturer at Qassim University in Saudi Arabia wrote: “The field of creativity is a broad one, with definitions varying in and between countries and no consensus on how best to test for creativity or measure development.”  He added: “However, agreement is emerging that creativity is complex and the investment theory that suggests a combination of factors contribute to creativity (intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation and environment).”  Certainly, genetics could factor in that equation at some level.

The wide range of approaches to creativity—from psychoanalytic, to psychological, to neurobiological—generally reveals the diversity of the field, but has led some to describe it as “a degenerating research program,” as Mark Batey, a senior lecturer in organizational psychology at the University of Manchester, wrote in his article on measuring creativity.

There are also global differences on our conceptions of creativity.  Research has tended to focus more on the person and the process than on the outcome or the social context in which the creativity occurs.  Which opens up a whole field for educators and researchers that may want to reach their creative students, in which formal education or standardized test fail to accurately depict.  It especially difficult, when creativity can be hard to identify and even more difficult to measure.

Education expert Sir Ken Robinson notes that in the factories of the 20th century, creativity was not valued. However, he points out it’s critical for success in the 21st Century.  Our school system, despite its imperfections has still produced students who have enabled America to lead in innovation around the globe.  The number of patents and innovations are one testament to our success, despite an education system that often limits creativity.  This has led to a tug of war between proponents of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) and advocates for STEAM lessons, which add art to the mix.  We should welcome that debate.

So, we must ask ourselves:  Are our schools, which seem so accountability driven, measured by standardized tests reaching all students?  Are we stifling creativity in our schools?  What does success even look like in each school? Each community?  Each state?  Perhaps, we need more creativity, and use of our own imagination to address those issues?  Possibly we need to re-think many factors in how we measure success in public education?  Sometimes, through examination, we may find that in order, a little disorder is good.  Welcome to the Edge of Chaos.

What do you think? 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Special Education Teachers Are Also Special

overworked teacher

It is becoming tough to keep special education teachers in the field beyond two or three years.  We already have a shortage and it is likely to get worse in the future.  Teaching is demanding enough, but special education teachers must cope with even more challenges.  Professional learning is rarely aligned to special education teachers’ needs. Special education teachers face more parental interaction, longer hours, potential lawsuits, additional paperwork, while their students need more attention.  The slogan “work more, same pay” is not exactly a great selling point in teacher recruitment.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires that every student have what’s known as an IEP — Individualized Education Program.  The IEP involves hours and hours of filling out forms and writing reports documenting each student’s progress.  Recently the Tennessee State Board of Education, in the name of greater transparency, has proposed a rule that may actually create more problems for Special Education Teachers.

The Proposed Rule:  The LEA must notify the parents of a child with a disability at least ten (10) days before an IEP meeting to ensure that a parent will have an opportunity to attend. A meeting conducted pursuant to 34 C.F.R. §300.530(e) may be conducted on at least twenty-four (24) hours’ notice to the parents. If the LEA prepares a draft IEP prior to the IEP meeting, a copy shall be provided to the parent(s) of the child at least twenty-four (24) hours prior to the scheduled meeting time. The copy of the draft IEP shall become the property of the parent(s). If the LEA prepares a draft IEP prior to the IEP team meeting, the LEA shall make it clear to the parents at the outset of the meeting that the services proposed by the LEA are preliminary recommendations for review and discussion with the parents. It is not permissible for the LEA to have the final IEP completed before an IEP Team meeting begins.

Many, but not all, districts provide parents with a draft prior to the IEP meeting, if requested, and with a reasonable timeline.  However, it would not be appropriate or reasonable to mandate that districts provide a draft prior to all IEP meetings.  Here are a few of the concerns, suggestions and questions that have been put forth by our members:

  • May discourage LEAs from creating drafts, which would lead to longer, less structured IEP meetings and may increase the likelihood of procedural errors.
  • May result in LEAs having to hold separate IEP meetings, which could delay initial services up to 30 days after initial eligibility, in order to give time to have a draft ready.
  • Currently, there is no means of documenting LEAs’ compliance as drafts are removed from EasyIEP system after 30 days or when final IEP is created
  • Places undue paperwork burden on already paperwork-heavy sped teachers.
  • May send information that is confusing to parents without having immediate access to professionals who can help interpret or give meaning to info in IEP.
  • May result in fewer parents attending IEP meetings as perception would be that IEP is already completed and their attendance is not necessary.
  • May lead to meetings starting with an adversarial tone.
  • Not all IEP team members are staffed at the same school, making it impossible for them to convene with the other IEP team members to collaborate on the draft 24 hours prior to the meeting.

Looking at the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and new regulations, an LEA should provide the parents with a copy of its draft proposals, if the LEA has developed them, prior to the IEP team meeting.  Parents deserve an opportunity to review any recommendations prior to the IEP team meeting, in order that they may be better able to engage in a full discussion of the proposals for their child.  It is already not permissible for an LEA to have a final IEP completed before an IEP meeting.  Parents should be able to request a copy of any draft documents prior to an IEP team meeting. However, it is critical to be reminded that not all IEP team members are staffed at the same school, and it may be impossible for them to convene with the other IEP team members to collaborate on the draft 24 hours prior to the meeting.  This creates twice the work for teachers.

Which brings us back full circle.  We subscribe to the philosophy of “All Means All” in public education, which means we educate each and every one of our students to the highest level possible.  If we continue to overwhelm special education teachers when we already have a special education teacher shortage by adding to their workload, recruitment and retention challenges will only escalate.  Then students with disabilities will never attain their full academic potential especially if teachers with no special education background are placed in their classroom.  The proposed IEP policy, as currently being suggested needs work.  This may well be a legislative item in 2019.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

April is Autism Awareness Month 

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Parents making sense of a diagnosis of Autism can sometimes feel overwhelmed and alone. Candy Alford-Price, my longtime friend, made me aware of just how isolated parents of Autistic children can feel.  Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the United States.  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports many children are living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and they need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. There is no better activity for an association than to help policymakers understand what our teachers experience on a daily basis and assist them in helping our educators meet the challenges they see and get the resources they need.

For a number of reasons autism prevalence figures are growing. The definition of autism has been expanded along with a better diagnosis of the disorder.  Autism is a spectrum of behaviors, and every autistic person is different in terms of onset, severity, and types of symptoms.  People with autism have issues with non-verbal communication, a wide range of social interactions, and social activities. Autism is a growing global health priority, and April is National Autism Awareness Month.  The objective is to increase knowledge and understanding of autism; recognize the talents and skills of people with autism, and; generate awareness to the needs of all people with autism.

We know boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism.  The CDC released data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) have some form of autism.

Whether this an accurate assessment or not, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, says by 2025, half the children born in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. If that figure is even partially accurate, society better begin to prepare in earnest.  The Autism Society estimates that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism.  Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average.  More importantly, there is no medical detection or cure for autism.

While significant, the data is more than just numbers, it is about real people, real families and our need as a society to address any challenge we meet head on.  We are improving in identifying autistic people, as well as accepting them.  Imagine the impact we can have on those whose lives are touched by autism every single day. We must recognize that all children are created in the image of God and have potential. However, as a culture, we must make certain the support and resources they need to realize that potential is available to educators and parents.

Autism is treatable. However, children do not “outgrow” autism.  Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.  The CDC believes we must promote early identification of children with ASD.  That burden is likely to fall on pediatricians, children’s hospitals and ultimately on public schools.   We will need to design services for children and families affected by ASD and increase professional learning and development for the professionals who provide services.  Research will continue to be needed in this emerging field, as well as developing policies that promote and align with improved outcomes in health care and education for individuals with ASD.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Blue is the color.  Light it up Blue!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

 

Reading Aloud to Children

Kids doing homework isolated on white backgroundReading Aloud to Children

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Listening comprehension is vitally important if students are to achieve reading comprehension. Children who come from homes with minimal language enrichment need to hear new words if they are to become proficient readers. Reading aloud to children, even if only for a short time each day, enhances their language skills, as well as their love of literature and learning.

In 1983 the Commission on Reading was created and funded by the U. S. Department of Education to study the best way to increase knowledge and reading in children. The commission evaluated ten thousand research studies over the course of two years and reported their results in Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among the findings: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The study supported reading aloud in classrooms throughout all grades.*

Experts agree that the way to motivate children to read on their own is by arousing their interest and curiosity. Reading exciting stories to children helps them associate reading with pleasure. When the teacher and children share suspense, emotions, and enjoy fascinating characters, their relationship is strengthened. In addition, when children listen to a teacher read, they learn grammatical form and story structure. Reading stories, poems, books and factual texts to children builds their vocabulary, attention span and knowledge base so that they can speak, read, and write more fluently.

Students need to be exposed to nonfiction, as well as fiction. Teachers may begin with simple nonfiction books to introduce science, math and social studies concepts and then move on to more difficult texts. Model reading for information and investigation by stopping and asking the children to review, define and/or comment on the material. For example, stop reading and say, “Let’s see, what did she say about insects that only live twenty-four hours?” Let the children respond and then say something like, “I wonder what insect she will tell us about next?” Sometimes teachers have the children make a picture dictionary to go along with a story, chart what happened, or create graphics to further understanding. Involving students reinforces inquisitiveness and cognitive skills. Listening to teachers read nonfiction material increases student’s ability to read and comprehend newspaper articles, directions, complicated writings, as well as to perform well on tests that require an extensive vocabulary.

Another method teachers can use when reading aloud is to pause and have their students pair off to discuss the material. When children participate this way, they practice their listening, thinking, and speaking skills. They also pay closer attention to what is read so that they will be able to talk about it. When the teacher stops, the students turn to their partner and relate what they heard, as well as listen to their partner’s thoughts. After a few minutes, the teacher begins to read again.

Ideas to Enhance Reading Picture Books Aloud to Children

1. Choose stories that you have read and that you enjoyed reading.

2. Read a variety of books.

3. Choose a colorful book that is large enough for the group of children to see.

4. Reread favorite books.

5. Read some stories that lend themselves to children repeating a phrase or filling in a word.

6. Practice reading aloud if necessary.

7. Pick an area in the room that is quiet and comfortable.

8. Sit higher than the students so that they can see the pictures and hear you.

9. Help the children settle down before you begin by leading them in a calming game or song.

10. Hold up the book and call attention to the author and illustrator.

11. Ask a question that will spark their interest.

12. Move the book back and forth so that the children can see the illustrations, or show the pictures after you read each page.

13. Read with expression and enthusiasm.

14. Let your facial expressions reflect the emotions of the characters.

15. Use character voices.

16. Pace your reading to fit the story, but read slow enough so the children can understand it.

17. Use puppets or other props.

18. Accept children’s comments or questions unless they interrupt the flow of the story.

19. If the children become distracted, stop and ask, “What do you think will happen next?” You could also do a “finger play” or have them stand and sing a song before continuing to read.

20. Allow time to review the story and/or have the children act it out.

Ideas to Enhance Reading Aloud to Older Children

1. Pre-read and select a book you think they will enjoy.

2. Read books above the average reading level in your class.

3. Select books that are appropriate for the emotional, social and intellectual level of the students.

4. Choose some books or stories that are related to the curriculum.

5. Read literature that represents a variety of writing styles.

6. Select stories with recurring conversation and some drama or suspense.

7. Aim for quality and variety, alternating books or stories that feature boy and girl characters, and those that represent various cultures.

8. Select unfamiliar stories.

9. Allow enough time to create interest in the story before you must stop reading.

10. Read the title and ask the students questions that will arouse their curiosity.

11. Name the author and illustrator and if possible tell something about each one.

12. Sit or stand so that your head is above the students and they can easily hear you.

13. Make sure your posture and facial expressions reflect interest in the story.

14. After reading a chapter, if the students appear disinterested, choose a different book.

15. Read slowly enough for the students to have time to picture the words and assign meaning to them.

16. Add props.

17. Before you begin to read another chapter in a book, ask the students, “What was happening when we finished reading last time?”

18. Have the students make predictions about outcomes.

19. Accept some questions during the reading and when finished, encourage the students to verbalize their reactions, thoughts and emotions.

20. Read intriguing books at the end of the day as a reward for hard-working students.

The classroom teacher is a powerful role model for the enjoyment of reading. When teachers demonstrate a love of reading, their students will more likely become avid reader themselves.

*Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, Ian A.G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985), p. 23 and 51.

A Teacher Invests in Lives

Jay ShinThis is a picture that is four years in the making, but to understand the story is really a bond between a student and a trusted teacher. Jay Shin is a senior at Walker Valley High School in the Bradley County School System in Tennessee.  Joel Swartzel is Special Education teacher in the system.

Jay is a bright, articulate student who has a real joy for life. He has an infectious smile and comes to school every day with a carpe diem attitude. He is not the type of kid who let’s things “get him down.” He faces every day with a smile and has that rare type of courage that draws other people to him. He doesn’t allow what you see to define him and when you experience that kind of optimism in the face of cerebral palsy, you know you have a special young man on your hands. This is a glimpse into the Jay Shin part of the story.

Four years ago, a former student teacher at Walker Valley was able to land his dream job. Joel Swartzel is a Special Education teacher, and when Jay’s teaching assistant was absent, Mr. Swartzel stepped in with the daily coordination of Jay’s logistics, getting him to class and assisting him with his needs throughout the day. A friendship began to form between the two, and Jay told Mr. Swartzel he always wanted to wear a costume for the Homecoming week festivities, which includes character day at the school.

Each year, some impediment kept Jay or Mr. Swartzel from being able to dress up for the Homecoming activities. Mr. Swartzel would either have to be off campus on character day for training or Jay didn’t want to be in a suit all day long. He wanted to be Professor X from the X-Men movie. He thought he needed someone to be an X-Man to be with him. Professor X, played by the well-known actor Patrick Stuart is bald, and also is in a wheelchair.

This year, Jay’s senior year, Mr. Swartzel told Jay that if he would wear the suit, he would make sure there was an X-Man to be with him. Little did Jay know, Mr. Swartzel went to the costume store and bought the X man character “Wolverine” costume and a bald skin cap for Jay. On the day of Homecoming Character Day, Jay came to school in a suit and on his way in from the bus, there stood “Wolverine” to take him to class. As you can see, the costume is impressive but you cannot clearly see the face. The only clue is the teacher badge that he wears proudly. From the smile on Jay’s face, you can see that he will never forget this day. I can guarantee the smile on that teacher’s face is just as wide.

The heart of this story is the investment of a teacher into the life of a student. In Tennessee, every day, more than 67,000 teachers walk into our public schools, ready to tackle the responsibilities of investing in the lives of almost a million students. Their time and giving hearts in things big and small are game changers for many young people. And if the truth is told, our students usually inspire us as much as we inspire them.

Joel Swartzel said “Originally I was supposed to be Beast, but I could not find the costume in time. With this being Jay’s last year I was going to do whatever it took to make this happen. Jay is one of those kids that everyone should try to be in life. He is a joy to be around and makes everyone around him smile. When Mr. Swartzel had to opportunity to do for Jay what he does for everyone else, zero chance he was passing that up.” Thank you to Jay Shin for inspiring your teacher.

As educators, we understand this on so many levels. Even though the “rigors of the profession” are great, the moments like this help us remember why we do what we do. We make a difference every day! Thank you Joel Swartzel for reminding us of that!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.