Passing through the Scary Place to get to THE HAPPY PLACE

Desiring to move forward, having the ability to meet the challenge and knowing I have something to offer, ready to do a job always hinges on others choices to let me do it.

My Career has been focused into a narrow niche–the expertise I have developed serves a very specific need in our district and extends far beyond the classroom and will become another blog post in the future. The focus of my service to the youth, families and our district has been in the area of Secondary Transition—-preparing youth for life after age 22. This process starts as early as age 14, yet it is important to educate families in the preschool years, therefore there is a position in our district—Transition Specialist/Parent Liaison–which is part of the Administrative Exceptional Student Education team.

Whenever I have thought about leaving the classroom—with the purpose of helping a broader range of youth and families—there has not been a position that fits me—I am not principal or assistant principal material! This past year our current Transition Specialist/Parent Liaison retired, leaving me an opportunity for career advancement and instilling an excitement within me—the possibility of sharing all I have learned—making a difference in the lives of family across this chain of islands filled me with hope.

The process of updating my resume, compiling references and letters of recommendation was a very positive one for me.  I realized all that has been accomplished in the 12 years I have been part of this district. The shinning stars and spotlights I have helped the district achieve on the state level and the individual differences— the positive post school outcomes that have been achieved, the services that have been expanded—-due to diligent and often times unpaid time—dedication to a purpose and  being part of the awesome results has been worth all the sacrifices in the past 12 years! A humble recognition of  what I have accomplished led me to apply for this position.

I patiently waited all summer for an interview, getting ready to take a big Risk and knowing if I did not I would regret it.

Not a word or a call until the week prior to school starting——it seemed they were not interested in filling this position in order to get the year started—the new Transition Specialist would be a bit behind and if it was me, it would leave my current program in the lurch to find a replacement—but still, I was willing to take the RISK for change.

I was invited for an interview on the Friday before students were to arrive. They said I made the TOP 5 —ok that is encouraging.

The interview committee was composed of people who have worked with me, watched my accomplishments and know the positive things of my career and how it has benefitted this district.  I was still very nervous, because at this point I felt in my gut, deep down in that knowing place of our stomach—-what I had accomplished for them in the past 12 years, really did not make a difference to them—the resume, the letters of recommendation from my principal and the former Transition Specialist, whom I had worked very closely with over the past 12 years—was not what they were looking for——it all hinged on the interview and who they wanted in the job.

There were a few things I had difficulty answering—-  graduation requirements and course codes are things I do not work with every day—BUT I know where to find the answers! I know the websites to go to and the people to call.  Other then that, I gave them the information about agency linkages, the people I have on speed dial—the ways I work with families, the community and the historical data of increased family-community involvement with our youth, what I know about the law —-I did not present any fancy graphs or show off in any way, maybe I should have!

I felt I did well—I compared myself the to the other known candidates and was confident my experience and 22 years of work in the field of Exceptional Student Education—the passion I bring as a first generation ESE teacher was something they would want. But if not I was ok with the choice coming down to one other experienced candidate that has worked alongside me from the day I entered this district. She is just as qualified and we have shared many experiences, laughs, ups, downs and we both felt we had a good shot at this—we both were excited to have an opportunity to move this district into new programs and opportunities for youth with disabilities.

We were told that it would take a week for them to decide and announce who they were choosing to fill the position. How things can change in a blink of an eye is amazing to me on this chain of islands! My interview was over at 11:30 a.m. —- at 2:17 p.m. I received a email telling me that they were able to make a decision early then anticipated and that I WAS NOT THE CHOICE.

So I think—OK—good for her! My colleague and I will have a good time working together and life will go on.

Wrong! A bitter—ego check pill was to be swallowed in the next few hours.

The Transition Specialist for our district is a person who worked in our district as Jr. High School ESE teacher for 7 years or so—I do not know her or anything about her. I am baffled——because as our Transition Program lead teacher, I work with teachers in the Jr. High and High Schools to determine students  who will eligible for the program when they  turn 18 —- I have never worked with this person, nor attended professional development sessions, meetings or conferences regarding the topic of Transition with her. I tend to move about the state and seek out training that is specialized to the topic of Transition because we are limited in our district offerings. I have not met this person in my Transition Travels. I am sure she has qualifications and  there things in her career experiences that I can learn from and will be open to all she has to offer, yet to be honest I am  very confused about how to move forward, as the Transition Specialist has historically worked closely with me.

Now —Ego Check in place—the first reaction of anger subsided–full acceptance of the fact that the people “downtown” do not want what I have to offer, puts me in a difficult place.

Over the summer, lots of self reflection, admitting to myself that I am good—I am the kind of professional that any district would love to have—-other ESE directors in the state have tried to recruit me over the years, but my dedication and loyalty to this chain of island has kept me rooted to the rock. Today as I meditate on the upcoming school year—anticipate seeing more growth in the youth I work with—- I realize that the deep loyalty and passion is shifting—-it is still there for my youth and families—-I will continue to move heaven and earth to help them become independent young adults in their community.

But the passion that motivated me to put in the unpaid time it takes to create a feather in the districts cap—cultivate community supports, meet with families, work with the college to adapt classes—develop programs—all out of the scope of my job definition as “just a teacher” is waning—facing the prospect of  more pay cuts–I question how willing am I to continue to do the things I have been doing for this district.  In the past few days, I have spent over $350.00 in my own money for items we will need in the TIES program on the first day of school. Am I willing to continue to lose money and spend my own money to give this district a shinning star of a program as a feather in its cap?

As I ask these questions of myself, I cannot help but wonder if it is time to move on? Are there other youth and families waiting for me somewhere?

Only God can answer this question—-the summer of quiet and staycation has been spent in tight communication with Him—He led me to apply for the Transition Specialist/Family Liaison position—He sustained me through the process of taking a big risk——-openly declaring my desire to move on to my superiors was scary—putting myself in a position to be rejected was scary–He sustained me—I know He will give me the answers to these questions rolling around inside

Until those answers become clear——-I am jumping into the 2012-2013 school year with both feet

Jumping into the HAPPY PLACE——Free of the SCARY PLACE!

Stay tuned as I am sure there will be some awesome stories from the 2012-2013 HAPPY PLACE!

Spring Ahead

We changed our clocks, moved forward one hour. Time is constantly changing on us. My reaction to that fact is not always positive. Nor do I value the time I have at the moment as I should. This moment is the only one I will ever have, it will never come back……so as we play with the clocks today, enjoy a bit more daylight in the evening, I strive to live in the current moment and enjoy it. Ignoring the thoughts of “when I lose 5 pounds….” “When it is summer we will….” “I should be doing….” and just choosing to be right NOW! Not when the laundry is done or when the house chores are done……..but to enjoy the time I have NOW! Me and my coffee mug on the front porch watching the palm trees blow and the sun come up. That is all that has to be accomplished now.

God Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday Reflections

Sweet Saturday, a day that is all mine, a day that requires nothing from me. As I linger over my coffee, sitting on my front porch in the morning light, I reflect upon the past week in the classroom. I am eight to ten years away from retirement and a member of the first generation of Special Education Teachers. We have come so far!

This year I have been experimenting with Apple technology, Ipads, Ipods and a Macbookpro have opened my classroom to new possibilities. Using the app Proloque2go for communication has eliminated printing, cutting and laminating expenses to make communication boards and books. My time is not spent (on Sat.) making word symbols and designing visual schedules.

Yet we have further to go. The technology I am using has been acquired through grant writing, my own personal funds and donations. It is not supported by our district and I am pushing against many naysayers. People above me are noticing as the students produce podcasts, webpages and communicate effectively with the technology, yet as I push the envelope, I feel frustrated and alone, wishing for support, collaboration and connections with others.

Living on an island has its advantages, but when it comes to connection with the world, professional collaboration and professional development, our geography limits my participation with like-minded colleagues.Travel to universities to take courses, being in a larger school with teachers who do what I do is not possible here.

Our district technology does not allow me to collaborate, other than the use of e-mail, and I am the only teacher in the field of young adult learners (ages18-22), with disabilities. Our school staff does not see what we in special ed do as a viable contribution to the school as a whole. Therefore at home, on my own time, I reach out through Personal Learning Networks (PLN), Nings, and other Social Media, but I feel like a fish out of water there, lacking some skills in how to participate, develop relationships in cyberspace.

CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) has become my source. Attendance at last years National Conference put passion and determination back into my career. I am determined to attend again this year, do not know how, but I am going!

I have learned what can happen with open use of technology, not just in the field of special education. I am hungry to learn more and to expand into the Global Educational world. It seems as professionals, we have isolated ourselves into a classroom and become territorial over our specialized curriculums, which holds us back as a system.

The people who make policy decisions do not look into the classroom, tend to see things from a specific agenda. I wonder when we will start walking in each others shoes? My degree in educational administration, ( I do not want to be in the front office!), gave me knowledge of what the administrator does, it helps me to understand the policy they have to adhere to, helps me to solve my own problems at the classroom level, keeping things compliant to policy, yet I still question the policy, seeing it as antiquated and want to change it!

To think from a Global point of view, to throw open the doors and allow communication to flow into our classrooms is a scary thing. It challenges paradigms of the educational system. Yet to learn, to grow, we have to challenge the things that are not working. We have to take personal responsibility as professionals to change, to meet the needs of the 21st century student.

I never thought I would become my parents, become part of the “establishment” yet, here I am, at the end of my career, looking at the middle 50’s, and determined not to be set in my ways. Our youth does not have the privilege of working hard, pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, joining a union, having a 401K and saving for the future…..all the things we were taught to prepare ourselves for retirement and to move through the career ladder are not the same for this next generation. We owe it to them to change how we teach, how we relate to them and how we challenge them. I want my students to become more than a jobless statistic waiting for unemployment, waiting for the SSI check, and working in an Adult Day Training Center, living in a group home for people with disabilities. I want them to have their dream, to experience independence to the highest possible level.

My dream for our profession is that we band together to give all students creative thinking, and the ability to find a new pathway to employment, to think outside the box and create a 21st Century world that we will be comfortable leaving as a legacy. This means we have to change, we have to forget the paper, pencil, book and teacher manual pedagogy that we learned. Unlearning things that we relied upon and has become routine is scary!

Now is the time for us as educators to embrace the opportunity to become part of the dialogue that our country is having regarding educational reform, to bring it to the local level, to educate the policy makers in the front offices.

We can fight change, we can become that teacher sitting in the comfort of tenure, get resentful, bide our time  and/or quit, or we can embrace it, learn, grow and become proud of the legacy we leave. Which road will you choose?