The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

Rachel Carey

As a special educator, I am often told that I can speak in code: FBA, ARD, IEP, BIP, MDR, PLAAFP. If you understand these acronyms like your own last name, you are probably one of my people. As a young educator I often felt overwhelmed trying to understand how my students with differences worked or thought “differently” than their general education peers. As I have learned and understood more, I can safely say that there is STILL so much about the human brain and a child’s ability to learn and understand that is not yet known. 

I’m glad that Teach For America recognizes that all students learn differently, something reflected in the organization’s recent name change from Special Education Initiative to the Diverse Learners Initiative. This new name reflects the initiative’s dual mission of helping strengthen and expand quality instruction for students who receive special education services, and to equip all educators with the mindsets and skills needed to embrace all learners.

Cayla Calfee

Earlier this year, news surfaced that Illinois’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) had run out of money. This was potentially devastating news to our community and child care centers like ours, the Howard Area Family Center. We rely on three main funding sources to sustain full-day, full-year, and quality care: CCAP, Head Start, and Preschool For All. Our center’s budget, much like other programs in Illinois, relies on CCAP for over half of our budget needs.

On February 2, Illinois’s Department of Human Services, which administers CCAP, announced a delay of payment to providers across Illinois. In the next month, centers shut their doors early, closed indefinitely, and raised the co-pays of low-income families. Families, providers, and advocates across the state desperately and swiftly took action to ensure minimal impact on working and students families and children.

Sara Needham Butler

On my first day as a special education paraprofessional, I was “assigned to” Thomas. Lucky for me, after a couple weeks of this weird lady following him around, he got used to me. He liked being able to whisper to me in class, and he could always tell me what he thought the answer was, even if he wasn’t called on. What student doesn’t like immediate feedback all day? No need to stand on his chair and yell anymore, or run down the hall because he got sent out of class. I won’t deny that Thomas was still often very disruptive in class, and unstructured times were his Achilles heel. We would frequently spend a lot of time in a small office completing work when he couldn’t be in class. There were definite highlights of my day, but there were also many lows. 

The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

Tisha Little

Teach For America recently hosted The Gathering 2015 in St. Louis with over 400 black staff members in attendance. I was grateful to have the opportunity to reconnect with those I hadn’t seen in a while, coming together to grow individually and collectively, and build new relationships.

The Gathering pushed us to have conversations that may be uncomfortable but necessary and to do some self-reflecting and building as a community of staff dedicated to justice and equity. With the backdrop of St. Louis,  the meaning of this year’s conference was even more critical to our dialogue about recent events that have affected the black community while seeking to understand the pivotal moment we all stand in, united as one people. As it was stated by so many of our guest speakers, including Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson of Jennings School District and David Johns of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, our role is to affirm our students and do this work for them. I could not agree more. The Gathering 2015 was planned with a whole lot of love—the same love that we must show our children.

Oh the things you can find/If you don’t stay behind!/In the places I go there are things that I see/That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.

This quote has been hanging in my classroom for the past two years. To be honest, I just can’t put what I want my students to walk away from my classroom with any better than one of my personal quote kings, Dr. Seuss. I first found this quote when I was writing a vision for my classroom in my second year as a Teach for America corps member. Working as a high school special education teacher, I quickly realized after my first year of teaching that there is more to be taught than academic content in my classroom. Character counts—and that is a lesson that I continue to work towards teaching my students in my third year of teaching.

Craig Brandenburg

I like to do my grocery shopping on Saturday mornings for two reasons: less crowded aisles and, more importantly, samples around every corner. “Sure, I’d love to try that new salsa! What? A Dixie cup of red wine on a Saturday morning? Absolutely!”  

But this particular Saturday, I smelled sizzling hot dogs (most likely on a toothpick for easy consumption) near aisle nine. As I approached the station, the employee noticed I was wearing a Teach For America shirt (having worked at nine Houston Institutes, I have amassed quite a collection), and the floodgate of questions opened. I have fielded a ton of questions over the years, but the one I enjoy answering the most is not “Why did you become a teacher?” but “Why are you STILL a teacher?” 

Being on the cusp of finishing my 14th year in the classroom, I know this question demands an answer. I shared with the employee that I enjoy the challenge and the variety teaching presents me—every year, every day, and even every hour. By staying in the classroom, I have become a master of my craft. I have not only been able to create opportunities for students, but I have also been able to see them to fruition. Most recently, I have discovered an even more exciting reason that keeps me in the classroom: something I call Teaching for the Cycle.  

The Friday Five is Teach For America's weekly roundup of education news, stories, and links that made us think. 

Elizabeth Terry

Mario, one of my students, loves to arrange furniture. He loves to build things and destroy things. He’s a hard worker when he wants to be. He’s cagey and doesn’t get close to people at first. He doesn’t like to be touched. He escalates quickly if triggered but is truthful and honest if he’s done something wrong. He’s funny and smart. He gets concepts quickly but gives up if the book or word problem is too long. He’s an entrepreneur and loves Legos.

Spending the last six months with Mario has taught me these things. These are his motivators, and using them (“we can rearrange my office when you finish all your math work!”) helps him learn. Yes, we use academic time to interior decorate, but guess what? He finishes the math work in record time. His classmates are still working, and he has mastered the concept. But, remember, he’s a puzzle. Some days this doesn’t work. Sometimes he won’t even talk to me. Sometimes he’s on the floor.

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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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