This is a big one, folks.
This post will be unlike any post I've ever written.
Yesterday, a student asked me about the situation and I decided it was probably time to let the cat out of the bag.
My colleagues and my family, along with some friends, already know my big news.
However, I feel like posting it on the blog makes it public knowledge and that can only mean one thing...
This is really happening.
After thirteen years as a teacher of one kind or another, I'll be leaving the classroom.
I wanted to be the reason that a student with special needs felt successful in the general education classroom.
When my former students were asked later in life who their favorite teacher was...I wanted to make that list.
I wanted my kiddos to look back on their time with Mrs. Newkirk as their teacher and say, "She played a small part of who I am today."
I'm hopeful that I've been able to make a difference like this in the lives of kids and families over the last thirteen years.
However, the Lord has also given me a passion for people with special needs.
My parents opened up a group home for adults with disabilities when I was in upper-elementary school.
What started out as four adult women with various needs living with us in our home from then until my high school years has now grown to three separate group homes in our small town, where we provide housing and community habilitation services for twelve ladies.
Growing up in the group home led me to pursue a double-major in college...elementary education and special education.
In fact, I started my career in the special education classroom and only transitioned into the general education classroom because of a series of crazy events that I believe the Lord orchestrated to give me general education experience, to allow me to meet and work with some of my very best friends in the world, and to give me an opportunity to touch the lives of many children over the last ten years.
Almost nine years ago, I graduated with my masters degree in Education Administration.
My plan was to continue teaching for several years and then hopefully find an elementary principal's job to finish out my career...but not for a looooooong while.
And then, a few years ago, my principal (a mentor and friend to me) said, "Have you ever thought about going into special education administration?"
Well, I hadn't really considered that and honestly didn't even want to think about going back to school.
(Okay, in the interest of full disclosure...I didn't want to think about PAYING to go back to school.)
However, the administrative team encouraged me to not dismiss the idea immediately, but instead to call and see what classes I would need to fulfill the requirements necessary for a job in special education administration.
So in April of 2016, I called.
And I needed two classes. Two.
I needed one class that was offered only a 45-minute drive away, over three weekends that next summer. Three weekends that were open on our family calendar.
I also needed an internship class that I could do right there in my home district with the Director of Special Services.
And we could pay for them both in cash. No more student loans.
That seemed easy enough. So I signed up, thinking it would be good to have options for my very distant future.
I finished up the class over the summer of 2016 and finished the internship in the spring of 2017.
Fast-forward to this past August...the beginning of this school year.
Our superintendent calls me into his office to tell me that our current Director of Special Services is retiring at the end of the year and he would like me to be ready to present to the school board about the possibility of stepping into that position for the next school year.
WHAT!?! Like NEXT YEAR!?!
His idea was that I could be trained during this school year...to shadow our current director, to prepare to take that role the following August.
Long story short, Mr. Farmhouse and I prayed about it.
A host of family and friends prayed about it with us and for us.
We had lots and lots of conversation about it.
I talked for hours about the possibility to my current teaching partner.
I contacted friends of mine who are special education directors for support and answers to my questions.
I presented to the board.
They offered me the job.
And I accepted.
I believe that I will be able to use my leadership skills, my passion for education, and my knowledge and experience working with my students and the adults in our group home with special needs in this new role.
I believe that this is just another place that God can use me to make a difference in the lives of children and families.
There are things about this transition that will not be easy.
With any transition, there will be some sorrow...some difficulty.
But there will also be joy, excitement, reflection, and new ideas.
I am so thankful to be able to stay in my current district. I've grown so much as an educator and met so many people who are near and dear to my heart.
I'm grateful to my principal for pushing me to go back to school,
our superintendent for encouraging me to move forward,
our school board for giving me this opportunity,
our current special education director for training me,
my mentor special education director from my alma mater,
my colleagues (current and former) for believing in me,
the two fourth grade teachers in my building that make up the other half of our team for offering so much encouragement this year,
my teaching partner for all of his support through the years...especially this year,
my family...our parents, grandparents, and siblings,
my dear Mr. Farmhouse and our three sweet girls.
I'm grateful for my students & their parents through all of my teaching years.
For the life lessons that I have learned standing in front of that classroom.
For the opportunities to grow and develop into the educator I am today.
I'm just so very grateful.
Life will be different here in the farmhouse in just a few short months.
For now though, I'm going to enjoy the time I have left this year with my darling third graders...shaping young minds. Laughing with them and cheering with them. Helping them along and making sure to let them know how much they help me along, too.
Today, I was supposed to be posting first day of school pictures from the farmhouse.
The girls were supposed to get up and take pictures on the front porch and have a wonderful first day while I rounded out Day #5 in my own classroom.
And then. The rain came.
On July 27th, both our little town and the town where I teach received a record amount of rain and there was lots of flooding.
People's basements were flooded, there were water rescues happening all over the place.
It was an absolute mess.
Our friend Sharon posted this picture on Facebook that day. She said it was the highest she had seen this water since they moved into this house over 20 years ago.
We are using our first "snow day" of the school year in the district where I teach, as well as my kids' district here in Adrian.
On August 22nd.
The first "first day of school snow day" in Adrian's history.
And I am thankful.
The last week has been a whirlwind of activity.
Late nights and early mornings.
Deadlines and assessments.
Dropping the kids off at various locations for daycare every morning before I go to school.
The Solar Eclipse.
Going back to a five-day work week after eight weeks off of school.
The first four days of school have been amazing.
And a little bit exhausting.
So today, the girls and I are soaking up every last minute of summer.
So far, we've had blueberry muffins made by Claire (aren't they cute?), an "Inside Out" movie-viewing party, beaded keychains, a doll slumber party, laundry, and yes...some school work and photography editing.
An unexpected "snow day" at just the right time.
See you tomorrow, third graders. ❤️🏡❤️
10:01 p.m. and I am nowhere near climbing in bed.
Tomorrow is the first day of school.
I'm starting my 13th (and-a-half) year in the classroom and the excitement and nervousness that I feel the night before beginning a new school year never changes.
I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Full of anticipation.
And if we're being honest...some anxiety.
You see...I know that I've had a few months "off".
I know that seems like a long time.
I should be rested and refreshed.
I've even heard people say, "Must be nice to have a two-month vacation!"
And it is.
All of our planning and preparation and worrying and fretting is getting ready to pay off in a big way.
Let's do this.
Happy First Day of School! ❤️🏡❤️
"Dear Third Grade Parent" is the way I start numerous letters through the school year.
Field trip notes,
notes about grade cards and school events,
and notes including class announcements.
Before the school year begins though, there are different types of things coming to mind when I think about writing a letter to my future students' parents.
We are a team. Please, please, PLEASE hear me on this. I am on your side. I am on your child's side. Every school year, at some point, a difficult conversation will come up. Your child will say or do something that is not appropriate. He will neglect to do his homework. She will make an unkind remark to another student at recess. He will rush through his work without putting forth his best effort. It will happen. Children make mistakes. Teachers make mistakes. Parents make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We have to work together so your students knows that we are fighting for him or her. We expect that he will try hard and be kind and treat others the way he wants to be treated. We expect that she will be responsible and persistent and loving towards others. You know your child better than anyone. You know what makes him tick and what makes her shut down. You are your child's number 1 cheerleader and biggest advocate. Let's team up and help your child to stretch and grow this year. When we expect this TOGETHER, our kids WILL rise up to meet our expectations. Please back me up at home and I promise that I will back you up in the classroom.
There is power in the words and actions of a child in a public school setting. Your child has the ability to change the world with his words. He can encourage and inspire his classmates. She can motivate and include her peers. By being an example of acceptance and humility, your child has the power to be a difference-maker in his school...even at age 8 or 9. Please talk with your child about showing mercy and kindness. I will work hard to build a community of friendship and inclusion in our classroom through the day, but please build on this culture in your home...around the dinner table, in your vehicle, and after ballgames. Remind them that some of their friends might be hurting because of situations at home. They might be feeling left out on the playground, even if nobody is excluding them on purpose. Let's strive to raise kids who are kind and compassionate and who invite other children into their circle.
I am human. Yes, I am a teacher. I have been doing this a long time. I have a degree that says I know how to do this job, but I am human. I mess up. I have a bad day every once in a while. I work hard to meet the needs of every individual student and I still miss the mark sometimes. I forget to do things. I am married and a mother myself. Sometimes, if we're being honest, our mornings do not run as smoothly as I wish they would. Every once in a while, I might still be thinking about something that happened at home when I greet my students in the morning. I should be able to separate my personal life from my school life, but I am human. However, I can promise you this. I will love your child as if he or she were my own. I will worry about him and fret about her. I will see things at WalMart that remind me of my students and make impulse purchases on my grocery trip just to see them smile the next morning. I will have sleepless nights this school year, thinking about whether some of my students are being fed or given appropriate shelter. I will buy book after book on Amazon until I can crack the code of what makes your child love reading. Sometimes, I will find something out about a student and I will contemplate inviting that child to come be a part of our family.
Third Grade Parent, we have about 36 weeks together this year.
Let's work together and make this the best year that we can for your student.
You support me and I will support you, as we support your sweet boy or girl.
Let's give her our very best every single day.
And let's encourage him to give his best every single day, too.
We can do this.
Well, I haven't blogged for five days.
This is the longest I've gone without sharing my thoughts on the ol' blog and I can tell you exactly why.
Over the last few days, I have become extremely overwhelmed as the school year begins.
This is normal for (I would dare to guess) 99% of teachers.
There is always one more thing to be done.
Putting a classroom together.
Cutting out letters.
Meeting with the teaching team.
And in the whole scheme of life, all of these things are normal and wonderful and necessary.
But this year, I'm having a hard time with it all.
We're having some curriculum changes.
I didn't get into school as early as I would have hoped.
I focused on the farmhouse all summer.
We've gone from letting the girls stay up later and sleep in, to school year bedtime and waking up early.
I know that I have these feelings every year and that on Monday night when my darling little third graders walk through the door on "Back-to-School Night", that I will be fine.
I will be ready.
But for now, I will enjoy this last full weekend at home with my family before the school year takes off in full swing.
Make it a good one, friends.
Take some time to breathe and rest over the next few years.
Happy (Almost) School Year. ❤️?❤️
Another summer almost gone.
Tomorrow morning, I'll wake up and head to my classroom to prepare for the 2017-2018 school year.
My 13th year in the teacher's chair.
And my first year without either of my girls in the same building as me.
I am usually completely ready to go back to work when August rolls around.
This year, with the house sale & purchase,
a three-year-old who doesn't sleep much,
and lots of changes coming at school in the fall...
I've haven't felt as prepared to head back.
I haven't felt ready.
I haven't even really felt excited (so unlike me!).
Until this weekend.
Yesterday, the Lord gave us the gift of a cool, rainy Saturday.
Mr. Farmhouse was stuck at home with no farming tasks to complete in the rain.
The girls were stuck inside.
And I had a list.
I had made a list of every single thing in the farmhouse that I wanted to complete before I went back to work Monday..
We blared some old country music and everybody jumped in.
By the late afternoon, the house was looking so good.
With every task marked off that list, I could breathe a little easier.
In our school, we use the School-Side Positive Behavior Support model.
We have a behavior matrix with all of the expectations we have for our kiddos in each setting in our building.
The matrix includes positive behaviors that we expect to see.
All behaviors on the matrix fall under the umbrella of our school-wide expectations: be respectful, be responsible, and be safe.
Because our elementary school uses the same language from kindergarten to sixth grade when it comes to behavior, we have a head-start on coming up with classroom expectations.
Beyond the SW-PBS matrix, I also use the five classroom rules found in the Whole Brain Teaching curriculum to help my classroom run smoothly.
I teach these the first day of school and we work hard to practice them several times throughout the first few weeks.
I display them on the walls, we recite them out loud, and we come up with examples and non-examples of each expected behavior.
It takes a lot of time in the first days of school, but it is worth it to have a classroom in which students know what is expected at certain times.
My room often has "controlled chaos" going on, where kids are visiting with each other about their books or working together on a collaborative project. Because of my guidance and practice with the classroom rules at the beginning of the year, they know that "Rule Number 2" doesn't apply during a group project. It all comes back to clear explanations, practice, practice, and more practice.
Whatever you do, define & model your expectations, let them practice, and follow-through with whatever needs to happen should they not follow the expectations appropriately.
They will rise to what you expect. I promise.
5. Think about Parent Communication.
Parent Communication is kind of intimidating for a new teacher...at least it was for me.
The biggest thing that I can suggest is to OVER-communicate.
The parents of your students know them better than anyone else.
They are (usually) your student's biggest advocate and should be your most helpful teammate.
I stress at the beginning of the year to parents that I want us to work together to give their kids the best year possible.
And guess what? It works.
There are sometimes hard conversations that have to take place.
Going to a parent about a difficult situation is much easier when you have been keeping them up-to-date in their students' day-to-day classroom life before making that phone call.
A few things that I like to do to share information with parents are:
6. Think about your Classroom Library.
After all of that, I usually start putting together my classroom library.
I have had it organized in so many different ways through the years.
Last year, I think I figured out the way that works best for my room.
I have large plastic tubs for nonfiction picture books. They are labeled by subject area or by author, depending on what types of text they are.
My fiction picture books are housed on an awesome Hallmark card shelf that I bought for $30 several years ago when a store in our town went out of business (teacher score!).
My chapter books are all on a spinning shelf that I bought at the same sale for $45 (again, score!), except for my series chapter books, which are in tubs labeled by series or author.
I do have the reading level and/or lexile level written in the back of each book. I don't limit students to that number all the time, because I know that students can push themselves to read books higher than their expected reading level. I also know that some kids want to have a "fun read" that is way lower than their reading level. And I am GREAT with that! I want to create good readers who love to read!
So for the most part, I let them choose their own books.
I have leveled the books because some students need some assistance in choosing a book that is reasonable for them. These are good conversation pieces for us during reading conferences. Some students use them as a guide and some don't...I am okay with either.
If a student is reading something that is far too hard for them or far too easy, I will find out during our reading conferences and I can help to get them into a book that is a better "fit".
7. Finally...think about your Classroom Layout.
Last, but not least...I think about my classroom layout.
Like I said at the beginning of my first post about school year prep, I used to do this first.
I would get my room how I thought I wanted it and then when I started to think about curriculum, grading, data, parents, and my classroom library, I would change it all around!
Now I'm trying hard to begin with the end in mind and make my classroom vision a reality by saving this step until last.
There will always be changes and adjustments that take place after we meet our students...and then again after we spend a week with them, and a quarter, and I even make changes over Christmas break!
But at least when I focus on these seven things, I can feel like I've got a pretty good handle on how I want my classroom to run and what I want to accomplish with my new sweet darlings.
Three weeks and counting, teacher friends. Three weeks and counting.
P.S. Turns out we're not closing on the farmhouse today. I know it's all in God's timing, but if you could pray with us that it happens tomorrow, that would be great. ❤️🏡❤️
This will be my 11th year walking into the same school district's doors in August.
And every year, I feel overwhelmed when I step back into my classroom for the first time.
I have had several new teachers ask me what I start with on that first day back in my room.
I decided I would share the process of how I begin my school year, in hopes that it might help some first-year teachers...and maybe even some tips that would help veteran teachers to think about something a little bit differently!
So to get to the point of this post...here are the first three of seven tips to start the school year (for teachers).
Parents...I'll get to a post for you soon!
1. Begin with the end in mind.
I think so many new teachers try to take beginning of the year preparation day-by-day and hope that they end up at the result they are wanting by the time "Meet the Teacher Night" rolls around.
I did this too, in my first few years.
When you are overwhelmed by where and how to start, doing SOMEthing feels better than standing in the middle of your classroom looking around aimlessly at the mess you have created.
The biggest thing that has helped me is to really think about your vision for your classroom before you start unpacking even one box.
I have several thoughts & beliefs that really drive what I do in my classroom every day.
Some of them include:
When I have these written out and in the back of my mind, I know that there are going specific places in my classroom that are very important to help make this vision a reality.
For example, to create readers who love to read, my classroom library will need to be organized and inviting. It will need to have a place where students feel comfortable exploring the texts, reading for fun, and sharing book recommendations with their friends. My students will need to have time built in to our daily schedule to choose books, discuss books, and of course...read!
To create young authors who feel comfortable sharing their stories, I will need to have writing supplies readily available, a way for them to track their story ideas, and a classroom community in which students encourage one another to share their stories and grow as writers.
To meet individualized needs of the whole child, I will need to have my data binder organized and ready BEFORE I meet students. I need to know what I will track, how I will track it, and what I will do with the information I find.
There are so many things that will need to be done before the first day of school, and writing my classroom vision out on paper always helps me to stay focused and to make sure I am staying true to why I became a teacher in the first place.
2. Think about Curriculum.
After I know what I desire for my classroom to look like and to feel like, I always move on to curriculum.
What we are asked to teach in a given school year is really the skeleton of the rest of our classroom life.
I always used to put this step off until my classroom was mostly organized, then I would work on curricular goals the last few days before school started.
Now I realize the huge mistake that was.
Knowing what content needs to be taught in your classroom will help you to organize your space in a way that is conducive to sharing that content.
So, when thinking about curriculum, here is what I do.
Gather all standards for all subject areas. Here in Missouri, we use the Missouri Learning Standards.
Start with one subject area. Math seems to be the easiest for me to start with, because it is very skill-driven.
Go through the standards and begin to divide them up into what I want to teach during the first three quarters of the school year. I want to have all new content taught to my kiddos by the end of third quarter so we can use fourth quarter to review third grade content, prepare for state assessments, and begin to do some fourth grade prep work.
Take each standard that you are covering during first quarter and turn them into specific measurable learning targets.
3. Think about Grading & Data.
Speaking of targets and tracking data, this is something else that I have learned to spend more time on at the beginning of my school year.
Make sure you know what is expected of you, as far as reporting grades to parents, in your district.
To be honest, our online grading system is great for tracking data on standards, but I often feel like there is more I want to share with parents.
Because of this, I also keep a data notebook for my class to track other information.
Some of the items that are included in my data notebook are:
I set this information up at the beginning of the year and have blank copies of each form in the notebook available for students who move into our district.
I will share more about my data notebook forms in a few weeks, as I set up my own data notebook for the new school year.
I hope that as you begin to think about the new school year, you can get just a few ideas from the way I start thinking about my school year. Later this week, I will talk about the last four tips for starting the school year.
4. Think about Classroom Management & Expectations.
5. Think about Parent Communication.
6. Think about your Classroom Library.
7. Finally...think about your Classroom Layout.
I hope your Monday was a good one.
Teachers, I hope that in the few weeks before the school year starts you'll be able to take time to picture the classroom of your dreams and use that vision to think about everything you can do to make that vision a reality.
I can't believe it's already time to be thinking about the new school year.
Time really does fly when you're having fun (or when you're moving...whichever phrase happens to fit in your life!). ❤️🏡❤️