#MTBoS30- Day 19

Passion matters…


This year has been hard, real hard for me.  My group of students this year has been tough- we have not had a good mix of kids all year.  I’m not complaining, it’s my job and I love what I do- but I will acknowledge that it drains you.  Add to that the coursework I am taking for my Master’s program and there are times I feel like I am overwhelmed.  I think as I continue to get closer to completing this program the more I am afraid to.  I don’t want this license added to my file, I don’t want this label attached to me.

I don’t want this label attached to me

I had to type that, it is what I feel with such passion- but it also is something that is so petty I am almost ashamed.

I do not want the label of “Special Education” teacher attached to me.  It is NOT what I went into teaching for, it is something I have been assigned to do.  Funny how that sounds like what we do to our students every day.  Our students have to go to school, not that they want to.  They are assigned work to do, not work that find interesting or inspiring.  I need to remember that.


Another problem with the label of “Special Education” is that is also makes me keenly aware of how prejudice is part of our lives.  I rebel against the though of having a label- just as much as students do not want the label of LD, OHD, EBD, FAS, Autism, etc.  Many students (and their parents as well) do not want the stigma associated with having special educational needs- it is still seen as a defect, that you are broken.  As I get closer and closer to this license, I get closer and closer to feeling broken.  I don’t feel I will have the same opportunities I would have without it, that I will be forever pigeon-holed into a role that I never wanted.  How many of my (or your) students could say this same thing?  How can I ever be confident that future administrators will view me for my knowledge in Mathematics, not my ability to work with students of special needs?  Will I ever get the opportunities to teach AP classes, or even at the college level- which is something that I have always desired since I became a teacher?  As I take this journey I am keenly aware of how this influences students.  I am not so self-centered as to believe I can understand the situations of those students, or that I should even be considered to be in the same category.  But I do have a better awareness of it.

Passion.  It is something that has everything to do about student interest and learning.  I am taking these classes because I have to.  I am not passionate about it, and I can tell.  I struggle with reading assignments, with completing work.  I see the importance of the classes, it is hard to make myself care about it.  I see the connections it can have for me and my job, but I can’t find the passion to make me explore options like I would with mathematical practices.  This is what our kids feel when they walk in the classroom, and I totally get it.


How do we create passion in our kids?  If I or anyone else had the answer for that- that would apply to all students- they would be so sought after that they would have no life other than PD.  We all know bits and pieces of the puzzle, and we all have to keep pushing to find that spark of passion in all of our students.  They may not be passionate about every part of math, but I believe that every student has some type of math passion in them.  Go find it, build relationships with your students, understand them, find their passions- they are the gateway to great learning opportunities. Because…




#MTBoS30- Day 18

Write about a time when work felt real to you, necessary and satisfying. Paid or unpaid, professional or domestic, physical or mental.



Surprisingly this prompt could be quite lengthy and complex for me- so I will trim it down a bit and talk about the first time work (nonacademic) felt necessary and satisfying.


I grew up on a small family farm, there was plenty of work to go around.  We had cattle, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese, lambs and more.  We had many jobs to do for feeding our animals and upkeep of their shelters and grazing land.  When you are a 8 year old boy there isn’t a lot of that type of work that feels necessary or satisfying.  Dad knew this- he fought to get my brother or I out doing chores, until he became smarter than the average bear.

Our main livestock was cattle, and it takes a lot to maintain them.  We had to put up hay every summer- trying to get 2 crops in each summer.  We had to fence in pasture and maintain it.  We had to give them shots, take care of hooves, sew lacerations, assist with births.  When the calves come, you have to clean them and feed them- first with bottles and then pails.  Hopefully mom will take over the feeding duties- if not you have to take care of them 3 times a day, every day.  As an 8 year old, none of “activities” are fun, interesting, or satisfying.  They are just necessary.

Dad put a twist on that.  One fall he asked if I wanted to go with him to the cattle yard.  I said sure- getting away from home was a rare occurrence.  We went to this place that held a large metal shed, and corrals that seemed to stretch forever.  There was so much going on I couldn’t take it all in.  We found a spot in the auction hall and watched the sale of cattle.  This held my interest for about 10 whole minutes until I got bored and started keeping myself busy- counting rafters, examining how the shed was built, finding patterns in cowboy hats, etc.  This all was all washed away when I recognized the next bull that was led into the arena, it was ours.  I was absolutely mesmerized with the bidding process on our animal, and the next 29 after that.  People were paying us money for our animals, and paying well.  It left quite an impression on my young mind.  On the way home Dad told me “Next year you are going to own your first cow, you will take care of her and you will get to sell any of the calves she has.”

This blew my mind, I was going to get a cow and I got to sell the calves I raised for once- and get money.  This opened up a whole new world to me.

Later that fall we went to another cattle sale and I got to look for my new calf.  My calf.  All of a sudden I became an expert on cattle, I wandered the yard looking at calves.  I was judging them by appearance- how clean they were, how the acted in the corral, how big they were- I was such the eagle eye.  I finally picked one and we got her at a good price, her name was GiGi.

From then on, any work around the farm was necessary and satisfying- I knew the importance of keeping GiGi fed, sheltered and kept safe.  I no longer complained about chores and even took initiative to do them on my own.  That was my first experience of ownership, and hopefully I can help my students find theirs as my Dad did for me.

#MTBoS30- Day 17

When I’m in pain — physical or emotional — the kindest thing I can do for myself is…

Not shut others out.


This is my typical remedy for [most] physical and emotional pain, the woods.

I am the type of guy who needs to deal with things on my own.  I am not a good sharer of those “touchy-feely” moments in my life.  I am not truly sure why that is, but I never liked to share how I was feeling with others.  Maybe it was because I felt my mother and I were too much alike, and that most conversations we had weren’t talking, but abrasive arguments.  My dad was never a talker when it came to those things, he always supported me in things but he never took that nurturing approach.  My philosophy is that things will happen as they are meant to- and I have to find ways to cope with things that don’t run my way.  I will talk with friends about anything else under the sun- but I won’t talk about those deeply-rooted emotions.  For me this meant walks in the woods, listening to music, going for drives.  I need to have time to calm my mind, recently running has been my outlet for that.

I tend to fall in the same pattern when I’m in physical pain.  I don’t necessarily like going to the doctor, I try to weather the storm.  I don’t like people around me when I’m sick or physically hurting, I would rather be alone.  It’s been my coping mechanism, and I’m beginning to realize that it may not be the best.  I guess that is why I recognize it so quickly when it comes to my students, I know all the signs.

I’m glad I came across this prompt for the #MTBoS30, it made me think about this- now it’s time to make a change (one is never too old are they?)

#MTBoS30- Day 16

Page 2…

Just 9% of students age 16 to 21 in such facilities were on track to earn a GED credential or high school diploma

Once again, reiterating this point is frustrating.  Our students ARE behind.  We provide them a full day of education, in order for them to “catch up” they will need to put in extra time to recover credits. (And no, we are NOT taking away elective classes like Robotics or Gym to allow students to do this- they NEED those types of classes in this setting to maintain stability.  I would go as far to say that our educational outlook on that is totally wrong that we do this in general education classes.  Students need variety, exploration, mental down time, physical activity.  Our push to get these students to “catch up” is another factor that compounds the problem.)  Please state the full status of why students are there and what their educational status is before you keep writing phrases in slightly different ways and continue to trash the system.

Nearly a third of the individuals in juvenile-justice facilities who were tested were diagnosed with learning disabilities, though fewer than 25% received special education services and supports to address those disabilities, according to the report.

Yet another false statement in regards to my building.  While the number of special education students is high in my school (> 50% in the NSDU), I am the only teacher in this building without a special education license.  We all constantly monitor, assess and provide interventions for our students.  They receive counseling and group meetings 3 times a week.  There is no case where our students are not receiving the services they need or are entitled to.

The report notes that students who had been suspended or expelled from school were more likely to enter a juvenile-justice program.

This is a general statement that has no bearing on our school, but is also logical for anyone who stops to consider today’s reality.  Students who are not in school are out hanging around home or their neighborhood.  While being expelled or suspended seems like a great early summer vacation, with talking to my students there is only so long that video games holds your attention.  They get bored and find things to do.  Those things to do are unsupervised since their parents still have to go to their jobs, and typically end up on some sort of law enforcement.  Society has changed in sensitivity as well,  what used to be viewed as “kids being kids” is not the case anymore.  There was a time when a kid broke a window, the parents would talk with the house owner and the child would work to pay and replace that window.  I am no longer that is the case anymore- law enforcement is called in every time.

In 2010, 2/3 of the young people in custody were youths of color: 41% African-Amderican, 22% Hispanic.  87% of youth in custody were male.

Wow @veganmathbeagle, there’s some numbers for your social injustice presentation.  For my situation: 57% are Native American, 8% African-American and 8% Hispanic.  With 70% currently male.  I have personally found the gender ratio to be very volatile, there have been many times where I only have one boy in class.  Our population is very heavy Native American- which is to be expected since our center sits near three reservations.  Once again, these percentages are beyond our school’s control- our population is dictated by the courts and center.

70 to 80% of all individuals who are released form residential juvenile-justice facilities will return to jail after 2 to 3 years.

Even though I have only worked here 2 years, I know how powerful this statistic is.  While I can not fully confirm this statistic, I do know I see return students very frequently.  This is due once again to their circumstances, not the center or it’s programs.  We do make an impact on students while they are here, but that can only last so long when these youths are returned to their home life.  They may change within these walls, but their situations do not change once they leave.  The 2-3 years is a strong testament to how much of a change we do make, that is a long time for teens to hold out against the peer pressure they receive once they go back home.  This statement goes far beyond these walls, to addressing society in general and making monument changes in our communities and family structures- of which we all still have to work to do.

The better we could get at keeping kids in the school in the first place, at bringing down suspension rates and improving discipline policies and practices the more likely kids will be to complete their high school degrees and find opportunities in post-secondary education, and less likely that they will land in the criminal-justice system in the first place.

This statement should resonate with anyone who reads it.  I am not sure exactly how to start on a rebuttal of this statement.  Since we do not deal with suspension, I will have to address this statement from the experiences of my old school.

Suspensions were not taken lightly.  Any of our suspensions in school were due to very serious circumstances (bringing weapons in school, physical aggression, etc.).  In those cases, our school system was not equipped to provide services to those students in order to prevent the situation.  Counseling services were the responsibility of the parents or guardians- of which most refused.  We did have a student counselor, but they were stretched to the extreme in the schools’ anti-bullying program.  They were used in small group settings, not individual services.

Improving discipline policies- that is also out of the teacher’s control.  Those guidelines are set by a committee and approved by the administration and school board.  The actual enforcement of those policies depend on administration.  Teachers did their part, they followed the guidelines, filled out paperwork.  When the hard line had to be drawn however, the power of the parents/guardian came to bear over the school system.  Administration would alter consequences depending on parental voice, and that voice was against the school, not supporting it in the vision of providing a safe environment for all students to be able to learn.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I am unsure where to start.

The juvenile-justice system is not perfect, it has its challenges just as any school does.  It does not contain students incapable of learning, or teachers who treat the school as a day care.  There are many positive things going on in them, and many teachers who work as hard or harder than regular education staff.  Before you jump on any bandwagon, visit a center near you and talk with a teacher, I’m sure you will get a different vision than what was presented in this article.


#MTBoS30- Day 15

My insight on the juvenile-justice system…

Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) got me thinking yesterday with this tweet:


He threw out a few more tweets from Atlantic Education, so I went to the web.  David Domenici was speaking at Education Summit 2016 about learning behind bars.  While I hope the feed from his talk will be posted sometime soon, the 3rd hit on my search was an article from Education Week entitled: Juvenile-Justice System Not Meeting Educational Needs.  Reading through this article was difficult, I started my job working at a juvenile center only 2 years ago and I have worked hard to bring a “regular education” classroom environment to my building.  I know there are problems within the system as a whole, I just was hit once again with the negative scrutiny teachers have had- only this time from a direction I did not expect.

I need to describe my situation (what I can) in regards to some of the comments suggested by the article, and I will also read the full research report the article was based off- Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems Into Effective Educational Systems.  I plan on blogging a reaction to that later.

[The report] found a lack of timely, accurate assessments of the needs of students entering the system, little coordination between learning and teaching during a student’s stay, and inconsistency in curricula.  Many of the teaching methods were also inappropriate, outdated, our inadequate, and little or no educational technology was used.

As teachers we need to have a thick skin, but this was a total slap in the face.  I take my profession very seriously, I hold myself to high standards, and I respect the school and program we have here.  It is crushing to have generalized statements like this published world-wide, it is forming perceptions that- while may be true for many centers- it doesn’t define my building, my teaching, my students.  It’s hard not to take things like this personal.

Accurate assessments- when I read a general statement such as this I cringe.  What type of assessment are we talking about her?  Academic?  Special Services?  What do you mean by accurate?

For our building we test every student who come into our door within 1 to 2 days.  They take the STAR Math and Reading test.  While I may not agree that this is the best type of assessment, it does provide a baseline for student knowledge.  I do not agree with the STAR Math “placement”, but I do look at student domain scores on strands.  This is our academic assessment.  For our special service assessments, we receive individual IEP’s from the student’s home district.  If they don’t have those, many of our students are placed here for a 35 day evaluation.  We have 2 at least social, academic and behavioral reports to fill out on those students during that time.  We perform IEP re-evaluations and testing.  Our center is on top of assessments.

Little coordination between learning and teaching- Wow, I assess in some form every day, and that assessment drives my planning for the next.  My lessons are planned for student engagement, and plans for multiple opportunities learn through individual, small group and whole group activities.  While students come in anywhere within my planned units, I take extra time to scaffold and support those students.

Inconsistency in curricula- This is the only phrase I find true in this quote.  With having so many students from anywhere within the state of Minnesota, it is impossible for me to have resources from every student’s home school.  We use curriculum that our district does.  This is not a new concept- every district has it’s own.  I am just not sure why they have to present it in this manner- it makes it appear like there isn’t an instructional plan in place.

Teaching methods- Since I am back in school for my Master’s in Special Education- Students with Learning Disabilities, I feel that I am still in contact with what current best instructional practices are.  I am also connected with my National and State Mathematics Councils, as well as active through social media.

Educational Technology- It is true that my student’s have extremely limited internet access (because of legal purposes), but I do use technology whenever I can.  I also teach a robotics class where we are fortunate to have the LEGO Education Mindstorms EV3 Packs.  We get tech.

We need to help find ways to create structures and dramatically change how schools and principals and teachers [in juvenile-justice systems] are held accountable.”

This is a statement I can’t agree with more.  I still have not received a straight answer on how our school is held accountable for AYP, but it is not fair to our district overall.  We have students who are here for truancy- they haven’t been to school for a couple of years.  They are sent here for evaluations and to determine what placement they will have.  While here, I work hard to meet the student where their educational needs are.  During that time, we have our state assessments.  While one may think that our school shouldn’t be held accountable for students we have for a day, a week or even a month- we are.  We need to wake up to the fact that our students are transient now, if they fail or are expelled or get into too much trouble with grades or behaviors- they switch districts.  Changing schools creates learning gaps that become compounded with each jump.  I have known students who have attended 7 or more different schools within one year.  How do you determine which school is accountable for that student’s state assessment score?  I have students for a half a day, a week, a month.  I can show how my student has grown while they are here, but how am I able to ensure my student is meeting state standards?  With a volatile population like this, how is it fair to our district overall to always be flagged as not meeting our goals?  There needs to be some long and tough conversations on this.

We can transform their perspective on school.  But the reality is, education has been forgotten.”

Totally false.  Education is NEVER forgotten within my classroom.  I work hard every day to help these students grow and strengthen their mathematical skills.  The perspective of students when they walk through my door the first day is that they will do word searches or watch movies- which is FAR from the case.  Many students have told me- “This is like regular school!”  It is, I don’t treat my job different in that regard because I work at a juvenile center.  If anything, I change their perspective on what expectations are held, I raise that bar.  Education is far from forgotten.

Fewer than half of “long term” students (enrolled for at least 90 days) earned one or more course credits while attending juvenile-justice schools.  Only 25 percent of those students were on track to re-enter public schools.

Once again, this is a lot of smoke and mirrors.  Three months would be a quarter for school.  As such, students would receive .25 credits for any class they took here.  For my unit, we record a hourly total for students while they attend classes.  This statement is misleading.  There is no way a student would attain a full credit for a class within that time frame in a regular education setting.  The other barrier is that while we report how long students have been with us to their home district, how that is interpreted into their graduation standards is up to them, not us.  Many school districts feel that our courses are not rigorous and refuse to assign credits to their work.  Other districts have no idea on how we assign grades and work so they throw out the records we send.  That is not our failing entirely- there needs to be better communication between school to solidify this (although this same thing happens when college students transfer, is there outrage to this?).

Only 25% are on track, like I have stated before- our students are here for truancy or have been “school shopping” for most of their educational careers, they are behind before they enter our program, there is no way we would be able to “catch them up” within a normal school day.  Students would have to extend the hours they attend academic classes.

This is turning out to be longer than I anticipated, I’ll address issues from page 2 of the article tomorrow…

#MTBoS30- Day 14

Using 10 words, describe yourself.


This of itself, is a huge task for me.  I don’t brag myself up, I am my hardest critic.  I am sure others can think of words that fit and some that I have here that aren’t appropriate.  I am sure there are other words I could use, but these came from the heart when I read this (and I guess that’s the best judgement- right?)


#MTBoS30- Day 13

Name what is enough for you


What is enough?  That could be complicated or easy.  One could speak from the heart or over-analyze.  This is enough for me.

My family and friends.

Everything else is just icing on the cake.