Saturday, January 24, 2015

It's a life thing. And I can make you understand. Or at least tolerate the truth...

I never have talked a lot about work on this blog. I had a "teacher blog" for a while but it was incredibly impersonal and boring. So like most things, I got bored and deleted it. Don't want to read about a Special Education teacher's view of public education, then you might want to move along. Quickly.

This school year has been a great one, even with lots of changes for our family and especially at my school. The Boss Lady started a new job this year, moving out of district administration and back on to a campus. She is working at a middle school now. Lucky for me, her, and 1900 school kids, we are not on the same campus. In fact, our schools are as far across the school district as they could possible be. (The two schools are in totally different economic environments, too, but that is boring teacher talk). 

I have taught Special Education for 5 years. But every job I have had since Jr. College was centered around working for individuals who are living with developmental, emotional, or physical challenges. The classroom seemed to be the next logical evolution (WAIT! My goodness, this is Texas. A teacher writing about evolution? And logic? Heresy!) of my career.

After a year in the classroom (and a lay-off, and getting rehired a few months later) I realized that I was actually pretty good at this teaching thing. Another year went by, my skills further developed, and at one point I had to really stand up to several administrators. I dropped a now campus-famous couple lines of truth on them. "I know you've never seen me do my job. I've never really seen you do yours either. But let me tell you something. I am REALLY good at what I do. So good luck replacing me on this project."

And in a move fraught with absolutely NO surprise, they never replaced me on that project. And the crew from the administration office have generally left me alone since then. Well, unless they had a big problem on my campus. Then they seem to remember my phone number pretty quickly.

Back then, several of my fellow Special Education teachers and I jokingly coined the term SPEDLIFE. This was a quick, but gritty reminder that everything we do impacts our students for their lifetime. Yeah, it really is that important. But it's also an easy reminder to have some fun while we are solving the problems of our part of the educational universe.

My SPEDLIFE knuckle tats make an occasional appearance 
at staff meetings and going away parties.

This school year I started off working with our most complex students. Several of them have lots of needs related to Autism or Sensory issues. Others have multiple physical and/or developmental disabilities. All are dealing with issues that impact every aspect of learning and home life. This is my crew. I love working with this class but it is tough.

This is the type of class you don't see on the news. Teachers and Instructional Assistants working hands-on with students all day long. Usually with no lunch break or planning time and exactly the same pay as the teachers down the hall who get two planning periods and a lunch away from students (134 minutes total) in an 8 class day. There is supposed to be solace in the smaller class sizes (I shared 10 students with another teacher), but I usually shared a cold hamburger and soda with her hours after lunchtime, too.

Standing up for my own teaching skills and fighting for my students on an empty stomach and full bladder got the best of me. I jumped ship 8 weeks into the school year.

I still rep the SPEDLIFE but my new job is much different. I now work with students who have Autism or some other Sensory Processing challenges. These are kids who rarely stop by to see me. A few of them come in once a day, but for the most part I chase them around campus, meeting them in their grade-level classes, working on appropriate class-taking skills, organization, conversation (my specialty. right Mom?), and all of the things a middle school student needs to succeed. A fact that would be of interest to my own middle school teachers, I help them keep assignments turned in. ON TIME. And... don't faint... keep their lockers (or backpacks) organized. Pretty sure that my old middle school assistant principal, who used to make me clean my locker one a week, by force, just died a second death.

This transition came with a couple of huge caveats. I said 'bye' to 5 and took on 25 students. Biggest of all though, because of a perfectly timed maternity leave (not mine!), I filled in for another team member and took on a large part of her job as the liaison between our team, the campus administration and the district level administrators who I had only told off a few years ago.

Turns out that lots of these people have taken some interest in my ability to juggle lots of different tasks at the same time. And they seem to share my opinion of my teacher-self. Pretty soon some of them may be living the SPEDLIFE, too. I just hope they leave me in my crazy, exciting classroom for a long time.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

This thing still on?

Back in October of 2013, I limped away from this blog with a post Summer Blackout Recap. Not a word since then.

You lucky bastards.

Unfortunately for you all I still remember my password and still have access to this blog.

A quick recap. The Talker is almost a teenager (less than 2 weeks to go as a 12 year old). The Princess is about to finish elementary school, and The Boss Lady survived a nasty bout with a viral brain infection last year. I did finish my 3000 mile bike ride challenge last spring, topping it off with a 1 day, 75 miler through the Texas Hill Country.

The last year and a half have included several job changes, one for me, one for The Boss Lady. After a four year detour, she is back in a job that she loves and is having a blast. I gave up a job teaching and working with some of the most physically and developmentally delayed students in our school system. I now teach classes for students who are either Autistic or have other sensory issues.

The Backyard Farm currently consists of one Big White Dog, the black/brown/red/grey short-legged, long-haired, loud-barking Different Dog, The Other Kitty (now 19 years old), 6 chickens and 1 Betta Fish.

There you go. I stayed away of 15 months and you are caught up in 7 minutes. See you in a year or so.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Summer Blackout Recap

We are six weeks into a new school year.  That means we are 1/6 of the way to next summer.  And if most teachers are really honest, THAT is what matters.

I haven't stopped by here in a while.  I thought I had posted a few times over the summer, but I noticed today that my last post was the weekend that school ended in June.  So what did you miss?

An epic trip to Southern and Central California.  We flew into San Diego, by way of San Jose (I fly SWA outta the way sometimes). We lounged in San Clemente for about a week and then went to Sequoia National Park for a few days.  On the way back south we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway.  It was an amazing trip.

This summer I didn't get to ride the new road bike as much as I had hoped.  In the Spring I had to have some skin cancer removed and the doc removed a nice chunk off of one ear.  He repaired it with a skin graft that came off of my chest, right above my clavicle.  The whole thing was much more draining than I had expected and my 6 weeks of recovery really took about twice that long before I felt good again.  At the end of the summer, literally the last day before I had to report back to work in August, I finished my spring/summer goal of pedaling 1000 miles.

The Talker and The Princess are doing great in school this year.  The boy is on campus with me and I see him several times during the day, but we are both lucky that I do not have him in my classes. The Princess is in 4th grade and she seems to have the world by the tail.  I was concerned how she would like school without big brother around, but those worries were for nothing.

The Boss Lady started a new job this school year.  We both still work in the same school district, but she is across town, working in administration at a high school.  It is really the job she was hired to do about three years ago, but the bigwigs had other plans and she worked on a special, super secret, double stupid assignment that she hated for that entire time.  It is great to have her doing the things that she likes and wants to do.

My entire education team fell apart over the summer.  I knew one of the three teachers was leaving, but the other was a complete surprise to me in the early summer.  We also have about 15 assistants that help out in our three classes and only 2 of those staff members returned from last year.  Needless to say, with all new staff, I am a busy little dude this school year.

I am keeping up with one goal for this school year.  I am trying to merge my interests and my obligations.  This school year, even with the craziness of a new staff, I decided that I needed to work fewer hours.  I was routinely working 60 hours a week for a job that pays me for 40, regardless.  This year, to keep myself in check, I decided to bike 1 mile for every hour that I work.  So far I am about 30 miles ahead of my hours.

Hopefully, unlike my blogging that seems to have died a slow, horrible death, I'll be able to keep up with my riding for this entire school year and I'll have ridden almost 3000 miles between March 2013 and June 2014.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Tomorrow morning I need to run out to my school for a an hour or so. I was so ready to be gone last Friday that I didn't hang around to turn in my keys. Tomorrow I'll get that little chore out of the way after I make one last pass through my soon-to-be former classroom. Tradition has held true once again and for the third year in a row I'll be trading spaces. Another new school year, another new classroom. The upside to being so transitory with my teaching spaces, I tend to not collect a bunch of "teacher junk". I stored all of my bulletin board and class supplies in one small locking cabinet. I hauled home one small stacking drawer set because it was cheap, light and I am sure easily pilfered when my campus is used for district wide staff training this summer. This summer The AtHomeFam will be busy as always. The Boss is heading out of the country just to get a little peace and quiet. She will really enjoy some quiet time in Central America after we all travel to California for a week earlier in the summer. I am getting a few things checked off of my bucket list when we hit the west coast. I have always wanted to get to Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. We will be spending a few days out there this trip. Also, I am planning to rent a road bike for a few days so that I can cruise a few dozen miles along the Pacific coast. The wife and kids will be hitting the beaches and I'll be rolling along the side roads. The Talker is officially a Middle School student now. And most lucky for him, he will be on MY campus next year. I guess it will become OUR campus soon enough. The Princess will be a 4th grader in August. Just thinking about the upcoming year is making me tired. Time for some summa!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

15 days, give or take

Summer is almost here!  All of the teachers are starting to breathe easier.  We are down to about 15 days around here.

The kids?  Yeah, I guess they are happy, too.  Don't really care.

The summer is full of promise and I am hopeful for an epic time this summer.

Trip to California.  Lots of bike time.  Trips to Dallas and Ft. Worth and Matagorda Bay are in the cards.  Bike time IN California.  Wife is headed to South America.  Without a bike, poor kid.  

It should be an awesome season.  Hopefully I'll get some of it documented over here.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Two GOOD LOOKIN' bald guys (Soon)

The Talker and I are getting ready to get our beauty on. In a couple of weeks we will be participating in a St. Baldrick's head shaving event.  St. Baldrick's funds pediatric cancer research.  This is an issue that has become very personal to our family, thanks to an amazing teen neighbor who has battled aggressive tumors this entire school year.

The Talker has already collected more than $500, eclipsing his current $250 goal.  (He originally hoped to raise $100).  I am almost to my goal of $265. Last year I tried to raise $500.  I fell short by $15.  So this year when I planned to raise $250, The Talker reminded me about the shortfall from last Spring.  Thus, my $265 goal.

I was planning to post a link here to our participant fundraising pages but I decided against that since those pages are all listed under our real names.  I know you are flabbergasted to learn that his name isn't ACTUALLY The Talker.  I feel sorta like a fraud... 

If you would like to donate to The Boy, please contact me and I'll direct you to his collection page.  I'll be sure to post some pictures after we get our melons all bald and beautified.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

I don't wanna...

Just haven't wanted to write for a while.  I used to apologize for extended absences.  Nowadays I say "deal with it.  Or don't"  I am just not inclined to worry about it.

A month ago I renewed my love of road biking.  The Boss Lady helped me make the leap and I bought a Specialized road bike (aka a ten speed - though this one technically has 18 gear combinations).  I have had the bike for 3 and a half weeks and have already topped a hundred miles in the saddle.  I still grin like a school boy when the new blue racer and I hit 30 miles per hour on a nice, flat cruise.

The new bike may have been a really well timed purchase, too.  A week after I got the new ride home, the bottom fell out of our household.  And since then it has been nice to have something to keep my mind and body occupied.

Not even a month ago we got some awful news about The Big White Dog.  His chest cavity was full of one giant and fast growing tumor and the cancer was already showing up in his kidneys too.  We knew he was not feeling great, but we were certainly not prepared to hear the worst case scenario was coming true.  Less than a week later our 125 pound, 8 year old puddle of puppy was gone.  After realizing that he was unable to eat or drink, The Boss and I knew that we had to let the vet help Kodak go.

And that sucks.  Again.  And Again.

Long suffering readers may realize that this is indeed the third pet we have lost in less than a year.  Our Spring addition to the family was a 2-3 year old Great Pyrenees girl who had been used up by a lousy backyard breeder.  Something went wrong after her spay surgery and we lost her two weeks later.  The kids were crushed.  The Boss was devastated.  I was wrecked.  It sucked.

A few months ago we had to decide to have our 17 year old kitty cat, P.K., aka Pretty Kitty, put to sleep.  She was ancient and it was no surprise. Still, the kids were crushed.  The Boss Lady was devastated.  I was wrecked.  It sucked. Again.

After losing Kodak, none of us are totally back to ourselves yet.  We have mostly quit crying but it is still horrible to realize that our big ol' albino melon head is not sitting and peeking OVER the fence when we arrive home in the evenings.

The 12 pound puppy we adopted last summer is adjusting well to his role as big dog of the house.  Now I can only hope that the rest of us adjust pretty soon, too.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A follow up to my last post

The wheelchair is funded! One group, that I am not a member of, kicked in half of the money. Two groups of my friends picked up the rest.

My student gets her new wheels in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Another week, another chair

Sometimes I have to work hard to keep up with The Boss Lady. Last week she had us all involved in a wheelchair rehab project.  This week we started the next project.

One of my students needs a new wheelchair. Her family has insurance and they are six months into fighting and working with the company to get this thing paid for. Last month they were told they needed to pay a co-pay of a few hundred dollars. NOW, since the wheelchair was not ordered in the previous calendar year, the family's portion comes up to $1700.

This family is not destitute.  They are going to find a way.  They will save up and shave expenses and the cash will be gathered in a few months.  Maybe a year.  But I decided to speed things along a little if I could.

I am a member of a couple of men's organizations that do charitable work. At a meeting this week I asked about 30 guys to help out simply by reminding them that they would not want their own kids or grand kids to wait six more months, or six more days for needed equipment.

15 minutes later the family was $200 closer to the co-pay.  Several men, like me, usually, mentioned that they had no cash to drop in the hat, but they want to contribute online and another member offered to set up an online giving page once we had the family's permission.

I was honored to give the student's mom the first of our contributions yesterday and the online page is coming up in the next few days.  Next week I'll hit a different group meeting and I bet those guys will try to fill the hat again especially when I tell them that the first group gave so generously this week.  Nothing like a little MORE positive peer pressure to get something good done!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The power of positive peer pressure

When the Holiday season was in high swing, a friend issued a challenge to her friends via facebook post.  Essentially she asked us all to find something you are good at and help someone else by doing that thing.  And then, find someone else that needs help that you can provide.  Repeat as necessary.

Such a simple concept.

The Boss Lady has taken this challenge to heart and she found a project that ended up involving the entire family.

The Boss Lady rounded up a 20+ year old pediatric wheelchair because she knew of a three year old who was needing one.   Once she brought the project home, it turned into a family affair.  The Princess helped disassemble and clean parts.  The Talker helped scrub and clean too.  The Boss provided most of the time and muscle on this project.  I was the wheel man.

After rounding up new tires and cleaning the whole thing up, we had a working wheelchair almost ready to deliver.  Once-upon-a-time the wheels were easily removable so that the wheelchair could fold and slip into the trunk of a small car.  After 20 years of storage the wheels no longer were quick release.

This morning I hauled the little purple rig down to Racecar Man's garage.  After applying heat from a blow torch, penetrating oil, some force, more heat, more oil and a little persuasion from a big ol' hammer, we ended up with axles that are once again easily removable from the wheelchair frame.

While we were making the chair more functional, The Boss Lady was busy sewing up a new seat cushion.  This evening the kids took turns test driving.

Here she is, refurbished and ready to roll.

Wheelchairs are very individualized pieces of equipment.  And the new owner of this ride will soon need one made specifically for her.  That is the next part of The Boss Lady's project.

Insurance companies are often reluctant to pony up the $$$ to buy pediatric wheelchairs.  (The current version of this chair sells for upwards of $2000.)   As you might guess, the paperwork hassles are enormous, especially for parents venturing into the process for the first time.  The Boss Lady is up to the challenge.  She is preparing to take her paperwork skillz out of the office and she is going to help these parents navigate the process so that their daughter can get the equipment she needs.

Getting a new wheelchair approved, fitted, ordered, built and delivered can be a 3-6 month process.  So now, in the meantime, there will be at least one more happy little girl out on a cruise with her family.