Monday, August 28, 2017

A New Journey Begins...

It finally happened.
In July, after 10 years teaching special education full time (the last seven at the middle school level), I resigned from the school district where I completed my K-12 schooling, substitute taught four and a half years, and started my path as a public school teacher.

Courtesy of
Today I begin my official first day in a new school district at an elementary school. I am now a Media Specialist / Instructional Technology Teacher/ Core Support teacher in the areas of Language Arts and Math.

Through last week, excitement outranked anxiety. I am considered a "new teacher" again and completed new teacher training. I love what I have learned so far! However, today, anxiety outranks excitement. This is typical of my head each time I return to teaching after summer break. But, it is different this year. Today, it relates to the newness of my path. It relates to the not-knowing what I don't know and not fully knowing what to expect. It relates to knowing that there will be a learning curve for each role and that I am not expected to be an expert from the start--yet in my head, it also relates to the fact that I have to keep shutting down the thoughts that maybe I am expected to be great right away.

Change is scary. The familiar is safe. I could have kept doing what I had been doing for my job, but it had become a 24/7 job. It was in my head--the paperwork, the pressures to do everything "right". The pressures to place paperwork first, and teaching and my students, second. I did not feel peaceful. I told myself after my thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2015 (see past posts) that life was too short to be doing something that did not make me happy. This past school year was better. I was the Autism teacher, as well as a resource teacher in the special education department. I learned a lot from my students about autism. I also learned how little I knew. Despite being out of special education now, I carry my experiences with me. I expect to continue learning, and I wish to continue learning--only not in the role I have done for 10 years.

Courtesy of
I love teaching! I love helping children or anyone who I teach, problem solve and grow, and learn how to accomplish tasks maybe they struggled with before or maybe never knew how to do. Sometimes I wonder if I care too much. Can a person do that?

I will miss my former colleagues and many of my students. I thank my colleagues for the glowing references when contacted by my new employer. I especially thank my former principal for believing in me, recognizing that I have something to offer in what used to be my new career goal, and now supporting my decision to move on, even if it meant losing a devoted teacher at her school.

Today is the first official day of my new career. I am looking forward to collaborating with colleagues. I am looking forward to supporting my colleagues. I am looking forward to meeting my new students.
Change can be good.

Today and tomorrow,

~ Tamara

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Listening to a Student

To K, this post is for you.

Near the end of this past school year, a teen who I have worked with for the past two years as a female shared openly that she identifies as male. His announcement did not surprise me, even though it was not what I expected. And it certainly did not bother me. He had been a mature, friendly, yet seemingly insecure and often sad girl, who I desperately wished I could connect to more. She read incessantly, sometimes to the point of foregoing other expectations, such as school work. (It is a dilemma, as a teacher when I see students who love to read, but choose to read instead of focusing in classes and participating in school work. I love kids who enjoy reading, especially by their own accord.)

I knew though, that something was going on, something personal. Having my own history with various struggles, I do not wish anyone to struggle, especially internally, and especially as a youth.

After his announcement, he may have still been struggling, but now he exuded confidence, and frequently he smiled. He talked openly about future plans for transition. He gently reminded others if we used the incorrect pronouns or name, but never shamed us. His family accepted him even though I know his father admittedly was working on adjusting to using the correct pronouns in his daily use. My student excitedly showed off a new necklace one day that allowed him to show his pronoun of choice so that he did not have to remind others each time. And from what I observed, he did not encounter bullying or harassment from peers, at least in my presence. Unfortunately, I fear this will not always remain the case, but I believe he is now at a place of personal strength and will always have people nearby who support and love him. I know though, that this too, for many youth and adults, is sadly not always the case.
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Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (c) 2012  (First Edition, Tenth Printing 2016) 
Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd. (Publisher)
2014 Stonewall Award 

Recommended by my student, I have to say first, I loved this book! Not since I read Sachiko (see earlier post) have I encountered a story that I did not want to put down. It pained me when I couldn't keep my eyes open a couple of nights to continue reading. 

The story focuses on Gabe, a transgender male whose family identifies as Elizabeth, whose classmates identify as either a lesbian or an "it" or other derogatory term, but whose closest friends identify as a friend, a music lover, a person. Written via first person point-of-view, the reader has easy access to Gabe's thoughts and internal dialogue.

Gabe is a high school senior at a school in Minnesota. (For Minnesotans, several references in the book will be familiar.) Thanks to a dear neighbor and friend, Gabe becomes a host of a late night radio show which shares the title of the book. It is here where Gabe can comfortably be himself as no one can see him or recognize him as Elizabeth, and he can speak about the classic music he knows and loves. Each chapter title compares someone to Elvis Presley and appears to come from Gabe rather than the author. On a personal level, Gabe compares himself to the B sides of 45's (records/vinyls that have a single song on each side). He's the lesser known song, but comparably good to the well-known song on the A side.

As the story progresses, more people become introduced to Gabe in person. As a result, struggles with acceptance (Gabe's own, and that of other people including his family and beyond), discrimination, and other challenges occur; however, there are several little bursts of cheer-worthy events throughout the book, especially related to followers of his radio show.

Gabe's voice in the story possesses a realness that draws in the reader. I felt like he was talking to me and that I could talk to him if that was possible. The details and descriptions turned the story into pictures in my mind. I found myself visualizing Gabe's story like a movie (which I would love to see). It did not matter that I lacked familiarity with many of the tunes he and his friend John referred to, or even if I had the familiarity, I did not always understand the fascination or the connections between Gabe and John's ideas and the songs. This did not matter, in the same way that people dear to us have interests we may not always connect to. We still love the people. That's how I felt and feel about Gabe. I would love to be his friend!

The story radiates personal processing and growth. Perhaps that's another reason I connected so well to Gabe. I gravitate toward stories where people have goals and make a concerted effort to move toward them, even if they struggle with figuring out how to do this. While the conclusion of the book may not be what readers expect or want, I found it hopeful and satisfying.

What is a great book for youth that you have read recently? Share below.
Let me know, also, if you read "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children."

If you are interested in the pronoun necklace that I referenced in the beginning of this post, here is the link to the Etsy site where my student got it. SpacerobotStudio This site also has emotion/feeling necklaces for displaying how one is feeling without talking which is great for people who have autism or other challenges.

Until my next post (which I assure you will be much sooner than between my last post and now),

Today and tomorrow,


Friday, April 7, 2017

Those Meddling Adults...Part 2 of 2

PART 2 (cutting it close, but it's still Friday):

In February, I concluded my fourth year as a Destination Imagination team manager. If you're not familiar with Destination Imagination or DI, it's a program that promotes teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and more. Teams comprised of up to seven members select a challenge provided by DI and then spend the season working together to create a solution to present at competitions. My role as the team manager is basically to be a guide and help the team stay focused. One of the main rules I, as well as parents, have to be aware of is the role of interference. I cannot tell my team what to do or how to do it. No matter how much the team may appear to be struggling or unfocused, I have to keep my mouth shut--even if I have a great idea for accomplishing what members may want to do, but haven't figured out yet how to do it. Ultimately it is up to the team to solve its own problems and create a wonderful solution to the challenge. If the team falls, I am there to help the members celebrate the process and honor what went well, as well as reflect on the struggles.

Keeping my ideas silent at times is incredibly challenging. I literally have to bite my tongue.
And sometimes, it is painful.

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A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards; Illustrated by G. Brian Karas (c)2016 
Schwartz & Wade (Publisher)

Mrs. Goldman knits hats for babies, for adults, for children, for all different head sizes. She says it's her mitzvah, or good deed, to keep keppies (heads) warm. She even knit a dinosaur sweater for her dog.

Sophia received her first hat from Mrs. Goldman,  her neighbor, when she was a baby. Mrs. Goldman later taught Sophia how to knit, but Sophia prefers to make the pom poms for the hats.
One day, Sophia joins Mrs. Goldman as she walks her dog, Fifi. The air is touched by winter approaching and Sophia notices that Mrs. Goldman does not have a hat. Mrs. Goldman tells her that she gave her hat to someone who needed one. As the days grow colder and Sophia continues to see Mrs. Goldman without a hat, she worries about her friend, and wonders who will make a hat for her? Then Sophia decides that she will knit a hat for her dear friend, Mrs. Goldman.

As the story continues, Sophia knits whenever she is not visiting her neighbor as she wants to keep her gift a surprise. When she finally feels she has completed the hat, Sophia becomes distressed by what she fears she created--a monster hat, full of holes where she dropped stitches. Sophia realizes she cannot give this hat to Mrs. Goldman and considers her options for solving the problem. Unsure of what to do next, Sophia remembers Mrs. Goldman encouraging her with a craft beyond knitting. Sophia makes a decision of what to do and turns the monster hat into a work of art that both she feels proud of, and Mrs. Goldman cherishes.

What I love about A Hat for Mrs. Goldman is that there is no interference from adults. There is no meddling. Sophia is a child who identifies a problem, and dedicates herself to figuring out a way to solve it. Even when things do not work out quite the way she imagines, by remembering Mrs. Goldman's words acknowledging her talent, Sophia realizes that she has the skills to fix the problem and create something beautiful. And in the end, she truly touches Mrs. Goldman's heart. 

This book touches my heart and makes me smile each time I read it. Plus, it shares a pattern with readers for Sophia's hat. If I ever make it, which I hope to one day, I'll be sure to share it here.

Today and tomorrow,