The Next Chapter

Working in Public Schools my entire career has given me security and unpredictability at the same time. A paycheck that is predictable every two weeks, insurance and knowing that I have a job until I choose to retire gives me security in an ever-changing world. Yet each year the new curriculum, staff changes, latest fads and the newly created systematic policies cause stress. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, know which piece of paper to turn into the proper administrative office to get something accomplished for my kids, it changes and I am required to redo my efforts. As I get closer to retirement, I am ready to let go of the security and release the frustrations that are brought on by the systematic yearly changes. The NEXT CHAPTER is in sight! I have earned it!

My students also receive security in the Public School System, receiving services they are entitled to by law. Yet as they get closer to age 22, the loss of security is scary for them and their families. As they reach the NEXT CHAPTER in the life of a young adult they want all the things a 20 something wants–college, independent living, to drive a car, to have friends without a paid person accompanying them and they have earned it!

The loss of my time in accomplishing administrative tasks in the never-ending changes of Public School,  is not one that my students can afford. My students, ages 18-22 with special needs are in the final chapter of their school career. The lines between IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) entitlements and ADA (Adults with Disabilities) rights are getting firmer and darker. In their younger years, my students have been entitled to every service imaginable and the law supported their requests. As they move into the adult world the rights that they have as adults are not guaranteed, their IDEA services do not transfer over to the adult world.

They may or may not qualify for funding to continue with speech therapy, occupational therapy, a job coach, unpaid work experience sessions or one to one instruction in the adult world. Most likely they will not qualify for those services under the adult providers on our island. Maybe in the “Real World” of the mainland or other states, but on our island the adult services are limited to what our local ARC  provides, which includes Adult Day Training (ADT)  program, Supported Living, Group Homes, Community Inclusion Activities and limited Employment Services. All the services are contracted via a provider that may or may not exist on our island. My young adults are limited by funding sources, if they want to be in an activity that provides independence and individuality, the funds may not support that desire.

Special Olympics has become a VERY important part of the lives of these young adults, giving them a FREE year round sports and social opportunity to be active in the community without a paid person controlling their time. Each athlete can be an individual and explore things that they would never have explored in the ARC or Adult Provider model of services. This is why I am so dedicated to giving Special Olympics countless hours of my unpaid time. Yet, this organization, as a non-profit has its systematic challenges and does not offer the security of the Public School System, I am finding that I am drawn to exploring the options Special Olympics volunteering can offer for my NEXT CHAPTER —— Retirement.

Recently I realized that I have spent my entire career giving others an opportunity to have a life, working to move systematic mountains to give them their dreams. Helping them open the doors to the NEXT CHAPTER of their lives. I am getting tired, yet I do not want to stop doing what I do for “my kids”. I am exploring my early retirement options and trying to figure out how to have a life of my own. This is scary for me. I am addicted to predictability, security and situations that offer me a sense of control.

As I move forward into the Early Retirement plan, I am learning that there are some secure things I will need to let go of. The idea that I will receive a cushy pension and that my insurance will be fully paid for was something that hooked me into this career in the 1970’s. That promise is changing for all of us. How we deal with it is an individual choice. I choose to take action and responsibility for my NEXT CHAPTER of life, not sit and complain or try to make the union take care of me. I am not sure where this will go or how it will look, all I know is that I am ready. Since the start of this school year, I have heard these words during my early morning coffee/meditation time:

“You have spent enough time giving others a life, it is time to get your own. Actively pursue Early Retirement”

I am going to honor that inner voice. There is more to be revealed as I take the actions needed to find out how I can exit this profession prior to age 62.

Flashbacks

For some reason I am having flashbacks to my other lives. Thanksgiving seems to bring glimpses of the lives I have lived….some good, some disturbing….a writer could make these pondering  into a 4 book series–20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now midway through the 50’s!

I am grateful for every moment t it took to bring me to this glorious island, where I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams!

As I sit on the screen porch, watching the winter light emerge in the sky, feel the cool breeze, hear the birds awake–experiencing the magic of a Key West morning— thoughts go to the people and places that influenced me, hurt me and guided me along this path–people who I am not in contact with anymore, places I have left and will never return to, I ponder on how live is for those people in those places and wonder if our paths will ever cross—I have heard it said that if you sit still on this island, eventually everyone will pass you on the road in and out!

The baggage that was left behind, the emotional investments that were not returned, the financial losses, the personal items–things I thought I could never live without, all that is  left behind–takes its toll, and yet, I am alive still creating chapters in this recent book,  full of gratitude because I choose to believe God has a purpose — which I continually seek.

I wish I had stayed in one place, stayed in one relationship that would have developed roots, grown strong and developed branches of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren—for some reason those desires, no matter how strong did not materialize. Maybe my people chooser was not developed or the instincts needed make good choices were not strong enough–for what ever the reason, my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s have all been lived as separate books, now into the middle of the 50’s edition–with starts and endings that brought me to this spot.

One commitment has stayed constant, no matter what turn the relationships or financial investments took–marriage, step children, parents, in-laws, step grandchildren, boyfriends, business investments, houses purchased and sold—As each book ended and another one started…..

My commitment to Special Education–all the bad choices I made, the joys that tried to distract me, the brilliant ideas that caused me to look away, the self delusional moments, did not erase the deep-seated commitment in my heart to special needs youth.

This is not a bad place to be–in my mid 50’s, looking at 8 years left of a very satisfying and constructive teaching career. The blessings that my students have given me through the years have  come back to me 10 fold!

Gratitude for the privilege to experience the subtle and sometimes minuet  learning moments in each child’s life overwhelms me. Realization that I have been blessed with moments in the lives of my students that others will never see.

I am pondering starting another book—-going after my Doctorate Degree, putting my life’s work into a dissertation that will be my legacy. This is not societies norm–most folks leave a legacy in their families–children, grandchildren and marriages–mine will be in the world of academia–where I have grown deep roots, roots that hold a huge tree of children, young adults and their families.

Telling Your Story

My students love telling a story. We have been learning about marketing through a school based enterprise. During the Super Bowl, they were given the homework assignment to watch the commercials. We reviewed their favorite commercials on You Tube the Monday after the Superbowl, looking for the “story” in each one of them. The students determined the “main idea” in the story…..deciding what product commercial wanted you to buy.

We decided on a “story” about our muffins—our school based enterprise product–and what we wanted people to do…..buy the muffins! Then the students created the podcast with a flip cam and iMovie. They devised the script and a main idea, with characters that mirrored their personalities. Simple costumes and fantastic acting make this a classic!

“The Princess and Her Muffins”

The podcast was sent out via email to all our customers, posted on the TIES Facebook Page. Parents and customers loved it. The weekly orders increased!  This was a fun lesson for me and the students!

This podcast, including script, costumes and many takes, was filmed in a one hour period. The editing and final clip were created the following day by myself and a student who does not like being filmed, but has a high interest in technology. The editing and final clip were created in one hour.

The objectives of main idea, effective communication, team work and having fun were accomplished.  Full student engagement, differentiated instruction, community and parent outreach, with teacher direction and simple technology is possible in two hours or less!

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?