Tag Archives: students

Don’t Fail Kids With First Impressions

“First impressions count,” or so they say. But should they?

In my career, I’ve encountered many types of children. They’ve been funny, studious, shy, noisy, sad, boisterous, unmotivated, driven, intelligent, average, overweight, generous…

Most of us are drawn to a particular type of person. If that person doesn’t fit our vision of an ideal individual, we may be less inclined to want to get to know them. In our heads, we will form a series of incontrovertible beliefs and convince ourselves that every last one of them is accurate.

I know I have made the mistake of assuming the worst of others based on my initial impressions. You probably have done the same, maybe of your colleagues or other peers.

The great fault is not in having first impressions. The mistake is holding onto those impressions and convincing yourself they’re right.

Have you done this with students? I have. There have been kids I’ve had – and even have now – that I made my mind up about before giving them enough of a chance. I’ve written them off as lazy, rude, or beyond help.

And I’ve never been right.

We need to be sure not to hold on to the first impressions kids give us. Even if it takes months to be revealed, there is always more than meets the eye. Every child wants to learn, be successful, feel proud and have others be proud. If we understand this, then we can work past our first impressions and work toward figuring out who the child really is, instead of assuming the worst.

When we give our students a chance to let us get to know them and show us who they really are, only then do they have their chance to shine and be valued. We need to let kids show us who they are before we decide.


Three Years for this Blog: Thank You

Today is the three year anniversary of my first (ridiculous and irrelevant) post on this blog. Over 400 posts later, it’s been quite an evolution.

I just want to thank you for all your support. Through this blog I have come to better define my role in the world of education.

That role is so much more than teaching 12 students with disabilities. It’s about standing up for what’s best for children, speaking out against institutional injustices, and sharing ideas and inspirations that may make some small or even significant impact on you.

Thanks for allowing me those opportunities. I wish you and your family the best in the new year.


My 10 Favorite Posts from 2012

What’s Cooking? Differentiation, That’s What! (January)

The Continuing Story of a Boy and His Paper Clips (February)

A Test Can’t Measure This (February)

You (March)

How the Grinch Stole Education (And Lost it Back!) (March)

The Kid I Never Sent Out (April)

Takeaways From This School Year (June)

Tips for Avoiding a Nightmare First Day (July)

The Report Card Wow Factor (October)

We Are Not the Villains (December)



Proper Perspective

Was anyone else just thrilled to see their students today? Given Friday’s events in Connecticut – both the sorrow and the heroism – I was particularly happy to see mine.

Although I was up in the middle of the night battling a nasty sore throat, I still bounded down the stairs to pick them up. I felt more relaxed than I thought I’d be. They seemed relieved to see me, too.

The day went smoothly. We spoke in softer tones. We seemed to be more patient with each other. We seemed to have everything put back in proper perspective.

We Are Not the Villains

It’s not okay when a child has to die. It’s not okay for innocents to be murdered.

And, now, for very crystal clear, solid reasons, it’s not okay to bash teachers.

I’ve often defended the teaching profession as the noblest of all, but so many people think teachers are selfish, lazy, apathetic union thugs.

It takes a certain level of cowardice to put down a teacher and their chosen profession.

The best teachers are pillars of society. They raise kids up and push them where they never thought they’d go. They devote their time and resources to impacting young peoples’ lives in ways they’ll never know. They encourage, inspire, console, love, and praise.

For most, teaching isn’t just a job. There are teachers so invested in their students that they have dreams about them. They think about them on the weekends. They buy them clothes and meals. They make sure the family has a Christmas tree when they can’t afford one.

And there are teachers so absolutely devoted to their children that they actually place themselves between an assassin and their students, unflinchingly accepting their own untimely and horrible fate so that little babies – with so much life, innocence, and potential – don’t have to.

Why must it take such a heinous, inconceivable event to make people rethink a teacher’s motivations? We don’t teach for summers off. We don’t teach for guaranteed sick days. We don’t teach for being home by 3:30 every day.

Teachers, above everything else, are human beings. We teach because we are good people who just want to leave an impact on the world.

None of us ever dreams of having to confront the same fate our colleagues at Sandy Hook did on Friday. We want our children to come to school with smiles, eager to learn. We want to lift them up when they’re down. We want to encourage them to take chances and to be proud of themselves.

We never want to see them become victim to lunacy. We want them to have all the best in life.

We are not the villains.

We are the heroes.

Victoria Soto was younger than me. She was a teacher. She died because the gunman must have been frustrated that her kids were “in gym” (though they were actually in the classroom hidden from his sight). He turned his weapon on her, and killed her. Victoria Soto died to save her students’ lives. Rather than let children be killed, she let herself be killed. Because of her, the mommies and daddies of those children got to see, hold, and speak to their children again.

Victoria Soto was a teacher, a hero, and an angel.

So, I defy you now to haphazardly lump all teachers together and call us, “selfish.” I defy you to say we don’t have kids’ best interests at heart. And I encourage you to step back and realize that we teachers – who want so much for our students, who advocate for them, who push them, who care for them – are not the problem.

If you want to find a silver lining to this very grey cloud, look no further than the heroism displayed by the teachers at Sandy Hook. And the next time you make a generalization about teachers, instead of saying, “Anyone can be a teacher,” say, “It takes a remarkable human being to be a teacher.”


Welcome to Your New Class

Teaching 12:1:1 special ed means having to be flexible with who is in one’s classroom. Aside from a steady stream of pull-out and push-in services, there is frequent movement across rosters for a variety of reasons. Just this year, I have moved one student into an inclusion class full-time, had another start attending math lessons in inclusion, had one switched out and switched back in, and had another one moved to another 12:1:1 with a different make up of students.

As often as kids seem to be going out of my class, it usually seems more are coming in. Last year, two came in. The year before, one came in. And today, for the first time all year, one came in.

Luckily, the transition was made simpler by the fact that this girl had spent a few days in my class for math already. She reported back to her other teacher that she felt comfortable and able to learn in my class, so she was certainly eager to join full time. When she arrived with her desk midway through the morning, I was just a touch surprised that a change was already happening, but we made space quickly and welcomed our new student.

Of course, she is learning our routines on the fly, which is difficult for her. I’ve got kids and support in the classroom who can help her with that, and in time she’ll pick everything up to the point that our procedures will be second nature.

It worked out that, at the end of the day, we had about 15 minutes left. I took the opportunity to do something fun with the class. Typically, it’s a great first day of school activity, but it makes sense to do it anytime a new student joins.

The premise: everyone sits around a large piece of paper, with their names in front of them, holding a marker. You go around the circle and each person says something about themselves, such as, “My favorite thing about school is lunch.” Everyone who agrees with the statement draws a line from their name to the speaker’s. In the end, you wind up with a web showing the ways everyone in the room is connected.

It’s always fun to listen to students react as the suspense is lifted as to what everyone will say. When one student said, “I like puppies,” a collective “Aww” arose and markers drew lines without haste. When my para said, “I love to read books,” an exciting “Ooooh!” rose from the collective voices and kids jockeyed for position to get their lines drawn.

And when I, speaking last and seated next to the new student, said, “I am so thrilled our new student is in our class!” everyone said, “OOOOOOH!” and drew their lines with wide smiles.

And who was the last to draw her line? Our new student, feeling like she belongs, even after only one day.

I Shaved My Head. What Do You Think?

A couple of weeks ago, I finally did something I had toyed with for a few years. I went to the barber and had him give me a buzz cut all the way down to a 1. That’s pretty short. It’s 1/8 of an inch. It was a scary and exciting experience sitting in that chair, but once the deed was done, I knew it was the right call. Even the previously hesitant barber had to admit my new look wasn’t all that bad.

One of the worrisome parts of lopping off your hair is wondering what kinds of reactions it will bring. Well, it turned out, family, friends, and colleagues all had nothing but love for the buzz. But what about my students?

When I saw them the first day with the buzz, the boy closest to me let his jaw drop to the floor, stood up, and pointed to my crown and said, “I LIKE THAT!” You little bucket filler, you. Throughout the day, kids smiled widely as they seemed to be saying and thinking, “I can’t believe he did that…Wow!” It was kind of fun to watch the reactions of students current and former.

Just when everyone had gotten used to the new look, I decided it was finally time to go all the way. So the day after Thanksgiving, I got out the shaving cream and razor, lathered up, and shaved it all off. I looked back in the mirror at my chrome dome and said, once more, “Yes, this was the right move.”

Again, I had to anticipate reactions. It turned out most people were far less shocked by the shave than they were the buzz. But it was the students who, by far, said the most interesting things.

When I picked up my students in the auditorium yesterday, I sat behind them quietly so they could have the surprise of my shiny head.

One spotted me and did a double-take. His eyes grew wide as he looked from my eyes to my head and back. He was flummoxed. He must have been wondering, “Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing?” Finally, when he could summon the words, he said, “What…what did you do?” Not exactly a resounding affirmation of my smoothness, but the reaction is worth remembering.

I had a lot of, “Ohhhhhh!” when former students saw me. Others had nothing to say but showed their surprise in their not-so-discreet faces.

One student today, kind of out of the blue, as if he was first noticing a change on my skull, said, “Why did your hair stop growing?” Haha.

And then of course, there was my other student who, in the middle of a reading assessment, had to stop just so he could ask, “What happened to your hair?” I said, “What do you mean, ‘what happened?’ I shaved it off!” He thought about it for just a moment, and before I knew it, his hand was giving my head a pat just to see what it was like.

But, I think the best line came from one of last year’s students – the boy with the paper clips – who spotted me in the lunchroom today. Last week, when he saw the buzz cut, he said, “IS THAT YOU, MR. RAY? WOW.” This time, though, he was a bit more shocked although no less determined to ask me about the look.  I had to laugh when he questioned me, saying, “Hey! Mr. Ray! You got…YOU GOT NO HAIR?!?”

Ah, kids.

A Fresh Start for Our Routines

In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving break, I noticed my students were falling off in following the routines of the classroom. Ours is a tiny room so it’s important that certain procedures are followed so no one gets hurt. Their refusal – or is it forgetfulness – caused me quite a bit of angst.

Students have been sliding across the floor on their knees to get to the meeting area. They are lining up willy-nilly. When packing, they traverse the room haphazardly, making multiple trips to the corner behind the door to retrieve items. There is too much chaos and too much potential for harm.

No doubt, much of the blame lies with me. Either we didn’t practice enough or I let things get out of hand before realizing we had to step back and start over.

So today when we return to school, I’m going to start reviewing our classroom routines and have the kids practice them. I’ll present it in a positive way so they’re excited to practice. It will be a good refresher for us all.

It’s a point I’ve made before thanks to the ideas of others: routines need to be practiced at the beginning of the school year and throughout.

What we lose in instructional time due to practicing routines will likely be made up in the future with less time being wasted by students meandering about.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m Thankful For…

The education edition of the traditional, “I’m Thankful For…” game:

I’m thankful for…

…having a job.

…having a class of sweet kids even though there are only 10 of them and it sometimes feels like there are 30.

…having an awesome para who “gets it” and is totally committed to the job.

…having great people around me who are both good friends and good colleagues. They share resources, ideas, and laughs.

…being part of a staff that raised over $3,000 in a week to support staff members in need following Hurricane Sandy.

…those precious early morning minutes before anyone else arrives, when I’m the only one on my floor, when all is quiet and still and I can be as productive as I planned to be.

…the steady stream of “Good mornings” that begins soon thereafter.

…the group of students from last year who make it a point to stop by my room most every morning even though their classroom is two floors up and they really have no reason to be on my floor.

…the fact that when I walk into their classrooms (or the classrooms of other former students), everyone screams my name, work pretty much stops, and their teachers only smile, never complain.

…the fact that I have this wonderful Thanksgiving holiday break to spend with family and friends, doing what I feel like doing, enjoying the season.

…the fact that you read my blog and support me through it. Thanks to all of you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Free Resource: How to Preview a Book

The upcoming reading unit is designed to help students develop routines for being more studious readers. In my room, this means starting off the unit by setting end of year goals (post to follow). It also means providing tangible reminders of the necessary pre-reading activities in which one should engage in order to get ready to read.

I provide each of my students with a pocket-sized laminated card (on a fun, bright color) that leads them through the steps of previewing a book. This card becomes the first thing they take out of their book baggie each time they read. The hope is they eventually internalize its steps and mentally prepare for books consistently.

Feel free to save the image to your computer and use it for your own students!

A free resource for your students to develop independence and meaningful pre-reading habits.

The Report Card Wow Factor

Getting a report card is no fun when you have no chance to get a good one.

Wow, we’re coming up on report cards already! And, wow, we’re still grading kids with disabilities by the same standards as everyone else! So that way, of course, they can see how deficient they are in what they’re supposed to know, thereby adversely and badly damaging their confidence, self-esteem, and desire to put in an effort in school.


I know I’ve written about this before, but can someone please elucidate the very fine reasons for presenting a hard-working child – who won’t likely ever be on grade level because of a cognitive disability – with an unsavory report of grades multiple times every year? What is the inherent message? Choose any of the following:

“Hey, Johnny – you’re really not good at anything.”

“Hey, Sally, if you’d only try harder you might improve.”

“Hey, Billy, all the work you’ve put in this year – pretty worthless.”

“Hey, Annie, you’re a joke.”

And on and on.

I believe, if grades have to be given – and in a standardized system everything absolutely, positively MUST have a number (preferably a punitive one, duh) – then the grades should be given on the basis of student effort and improvement.

Do you know that last year, one of my third grade students improved from a kindergarten to a second grade level in reading? Yes, really. And do you know that on his report card, he got a 1 (i.e. “significantly below grade level”) three separate times? Yes, really.

“Hey, kid – I think what you’ve done is amazing, but sorry, you’re still a 1.” What a message. What a killer. What a way to turn a kid off to school.

If you’re a teacher, you should believe this: it is not the destination that is most important, but the journey. We want our students to grow, challenge themselves, and improve. So then why are we reducing everything to a grade? Doesn’t anything else matter?