This Side of Third

…and second

End the Stigma


In my new role as special education teacher in a BSC setting, my mind is on mental illness a great deal.  All the time. Every day. OK, it’s becoming consuming.

I began my teaching career in a Behavior Support Classroom, not unlike my current room. I’m no stranger to fights, blue language, demographic slurs, and even assault. In that setting, it comes with the territory. What I’m having a difficult time with this second time around, is the mental health behind the behaviors, and the fact that they are elementary students.

Three of my four students’ behavior problems stem from their mental health needs. At any given time, on any given day, it looks like I’m running a three-ring circus. Getting any solid curriculum taught is out of the question. Not to mention, my students range in grades from K to 5th. I’m constantly on my toes trying to keep fights and arguments from breaking out, to keep kids from eloping, to keep on track with pacing/testing/meetings/trainings, having difficult conversations with the kids and parents, and every now and then, teach a good lesson.

Teaching is a tiring profession. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually… However, I have never struggled more, or so early in the year, then I am this year.  My students’ mental wellbeing is front and center of my day. This is where my consuming look into mental health comes in to play.

According to NAMI, the National Association on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year.  Sadly, 1 in 6 children aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.  I encourage you to look here for more stats. It’s staggering, and it’s real. If you read nothing else on this blog post, please read that entire page.

You know someone with mental illness. I absolutely guarantee you do. Just like cancer, mental illness affects everyone. Unlike cancer, you may never know who, unless you know. It’s a hidden illness.  Hidden because, well, it’s your brain, and hidden because over the centuries millions of people have been rejected, abused, incarcerated, dismissed, and exterminated.

Mental illness has been given such a stigma, that people affected feel like they’re wearing a visible stain on them. “Can they see my depression?” “Can they tell I’m about to have a breakdown if I don’t get out of here?” “Do I look OK?” Over the years, adults will learn to mask their symptoms, hide the truth, and act like everything is OK. For kids, they can’t do that, or haven’t learned to do that. Point being, they shouldn’t have to do that.

Instead of acknowledging that a child has had a problem for years and getting her help, a parent may force his child to “act normal” or simply “knock it off.”  How long can this child keep it together before her next episode occurs?  How long can she “act normal” before she implodes and the situation is even worse than ever?

Again, you know someone with a mental illness. Statistically speaking, it’s probably a child.  If you’re a teacher, they are probably in your classroom.

In doing research, I wanted to find out when awareness events occur (I’d seen and heard a few different things). It turns out, there’s two different awareness months, two different awareness weeks, and suicide prevention month. While that may seem excessive, it really isn’t. We should be aware of mental illness, always.

Check on your parents, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, family members, partners, and students.  Check on those with high-pressure/high-stress jobs.  Our teachers, nurses, first responders, social workers, doctors, and military (past and present) are in the thick of this.  Guess what?  They are not immune to mental illness, either.

Imagine you’re a nurse that interacts with mental illness in its many forms during shift. Draining on its own, right?  Now imagine you go home to a son with anxiety and depression who’s having a bad day.  Or, what if that nurse has PTSD, and she’s presented with a trigger? Now her day is exponentially more difficult.

Become aware. Become an advocate.

Be sure you check on yourself, also.  We can get caught up in caring for others, and forget about ourselves. Don’t get so absorbed in others’ welfare that you let yours go.  Taking time for yourself is not selfish.

End the stigma.


Summer is fast approaching!


That phrase can be both relieving and terrifying at the same time. Yay, the school year is almost over and I’ll have nothing to do; however, OMG the school year is almost over and I have so much to do! Time to plan all those summer activities, while still maintaining your rigorous instruction for your students.

I’m excited and delighted to bring you today’s post! is a resource I go to frequently for help with my lessons.  As a special education teacher, I need to access various types of activities to help me help my students.  They know you’re tired of teaching at this point, and they know your students are tired of being taught.  That’s what makes indispensable.  With lesson plans, activities, songs, and stories, you’ll never be at a loss for resources!

Here are some worksheet types to choose from:

  • Maze
  • Matching list of words with images
  • Word search
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Word scramble
  • Subtraction
  • Division
  • Multiplication

They have a variety of themes to choose from, including crawlies, a school themed template, and seasonal themes.

Get ready for summer with this kayaking themed word search from! Find more ways to practice spelling here.

So as you’re checking off your to-do list, check out  Have a great end of the year!


This May Be The Year That Breaks Me


For many years I’ve taught multiple grades.  As a special education teacher, that’s pretty typical around here.  I love it because it keeps me busy, and I get to know many kids. The down side of that is that I am very busy, and don’t get as much time with students as I want, or they need.  I’ve always made it work and it’s been pretty smooth sailing.  Then there’s this year.

This year I had two grade levels; one that switches rooms for math and ELA, and one that does not.  A scheduling difficulty, sure, but not impossible, unless you account for the times I’m not allowed to pull the kids to work with them.  We’re in school 9-3:30 and in that time the kids have 45 minutes for specials, 30 minutes for lunch, and there is a 45 minute reading block which they can’t miss to go to related services.  That’s 2 hours per day for each grade that I need to work around. Still not impossible, but problematic.

The caseload of the grades combined is 20, plus one student in the process of testing for special education services. That’s an entire classroom, split between two grades in 4 different rooms.  I also have three 30-minute blocks of reading intervention, daily.  ‘Overwhelming’ is an understatement.

I’ve never complained, but I have asked if I could hire an intern or assistant.  That was declined.  I even offered to look around for a good-looking guy assistant.  No go.  I also suggested that maybe we hire another special educator to take over one of the grades, but you know how that goes.

It was suggested by our principal and building coordinator that we split my one grade level up among the other special educators in the building.  Ugh.  I felt like crap.  I felt like a bad mom who was having her children taken away and given to someone else because I couldn’t take care of them.  But, it was true.  I couldn’t properly take care of all those kids in a manner in which they needed.  I knew that, but still felt awful.  Really awful.  Much crying ensued.

We met as a team and figured out when the special educators could take over some of the hours, freeing me up.  It worked beautifully, every child was covered, every hour was met.  No one knew who was in charge of the individual IEPs since the students were split up among so many different teachers, but we’d figure that out, or as Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”

Teacher’s schedules were changed, dozens of emails were exchanged, and small groups were rearranged, and in a few days we were ready to go.  Day 1 of my new normal begins…and everything gets thrown for a loop.  We have three new students starting.  One on my would-be caseload, and two in the specialized classroom we have in our building.

I could not, in good conscience, ask anyone else to take over part of my caseload when they now have more of their own.  So I took back (most of) my kids.  I spent HOURS, possibly a solid 8 hours figuring out a new schedule that would allow this to be successful for all involved.  More crying ensued from the frustration and stress.  Finally it was done and everyone was on board, all hours were met, we knew what we were doing.  All was (almost) right with the world.  Then I sent it to my principal.  Within minutes I had a response, and it was not the one I’d hoped.

And so we met again, this time with the grade level in question, to try to solve this problem.  The problem I just spent days solving.  No mention was made of my efforts, no mention was really made toward me at all.  I don’t need the attention.  Honestly I don’t like attention, and would rather be left alone; however, this has been a PITA for two weeks, and perhaps a “Thank you, but…” could have been thrown out there.

In the end, I’m back to only one grade level plus my reading intervention groups; a schedule I’m perfectly happy to have.  The other grade continues to be serviced by several special educators, none of which know who are in charge of each IEP, data points, progress reports, testing, etc.  The new plan has also caused a personnel issue with a new project implemented this week, but that’s now up to others to solve.

The politics and policies of being a special education teacher are wearing me down. Wearing us down.  We walk on eggshells fearing that we’ll be dinged on evaluations for the slightest things.  Trying to fix this mishegas was supposed to help that, but only led to more.

Twenty-two years is long enough, right?  But what else would I do?  I’m too young to retire (let’s be honest~I’m too poor to retire).  How much is the Powerball this week?  There’s the bell.  Have a great day, fellow teacher warriors.

Here’s The Thing


I don’t have biological children, so my students are my kids.  It’s always been that way.  They are fiercely mine when I have them as current students, and they will still be my kids long after they’ve left me.  I love them, am frustrated by them, despise them, cry for them, cry with them, and lose sleep over them.  I want them to succeed, to be safe, to be cared for when they’re out of my care, to be productive members of the community, and to know that all I want is the best for them.

There have been many I’ve wanted to bring home and raise, because all other options were bleak.  I’m hard on them, have high expectations of them, push them, and am sometimes borderline mean to them.  I listen to, joke with, poke fun at, question, cajole, admonish, sing with, dance for, and play with them.  I’ve been called mom, dad, and sir.  I’ve been hit, kicked, cursed at, had my thumb broken, scratched, bit, and had whiplash twice.  I’ve been in special education for 20 years.  It’s an amazing job.  It’s a fun, scary, awful, crazy, beautiful, bittersweet, sometimes tragic, always changing, and rarely easy job.  I’m overwhelmed, under paid, and angry a lot of the time.  Nevertheless, these children are mine, and I love them.

So here’s the thing.  Regardless of whether its gun control, mental health, poor parenting, or a combination of myriad reasons, the government is letting us down.  They refuse to create and pass legislation concerning guns, but have no problem cutting back on health care, specifically mental health care, that people so desperately need.  Until such time as it is OK to send kids to school without fear of them not returning home, we should consider allowing our own protection in schools.

The argument has been made that schools cannot afford basic necessities, let alone provide their staff with arms, training, certification, etc.  Don’t arm everyone.  Not everyone is willing to carry a firearm.  Not everyone believes this is the answer, and that’s fine.  It may not be the answer, but until something else changes, why not at least try something new.

Keep a firearm in the safe that only two people can access, and only two people are trained and certified to use.  Ask for volunteers.  You may be surprised at the number of people who want to do this.  In fact, I volunteer as tribute.

I’ll purchase my own weapon and pay for training out-of-pocket.  I’ll pay for time at the range and become the next Annie Oakley.  I’ll pay for a concealed carry permit.  I’ll do what I need to do to keep my kids safe.

I’m not scared that this could happen at my school.  I’m pissed that this is happening at any school.  I’m pissed that we’ve had to teach 5-year-olds what to do in an active shooter situation in a place where they should be playing with friends, and learning to read, count, and share.

Our government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, seems to have forgotten about its most vulnerable people.  We the people need to change this.  Call, write, vote, protest, Tweet, post, blog, study, and fight.  No child, family, or community deserves this tragedy.


There’s No Place Like Home


I wish I had one.  Technically, I guess I do.  There is a classroom in which my desk, chair, and a few of my belongings live, but I’m hardly ever there, and I won’t be there next year.  I pack and move classrooms every. single. year.

In my district, all special education students are taught in the general education classrooms.  To be sure that the same GenEd teachers don’t always have the kids who struggle, the classrooms where the special ed students are placed rotate every year within each grade.  With that comes the rotation of the SpEd teacher. Hence, the moving, the lack of permanency, the misplacement of more things than I can remember.

There was one year that all SpEd teachers and paraprofessionals were housed in one room.  It was awesome! We were all in one, central location making it easy to collaborate, cover, help out, and really function as a team. Unfortunately, a few GenEd teachers got butt-hurt and felt that we were a club, a clique if you will.  They protested our togetherness, and instead of backing us and the design of, and reason for, the grouping, administration disbanded us the following year.  Luckily we were able to keep a form of togetherness as we were separated into primary and secondary teams.  Then someone had to go and ruin that.  Now we’re scattered throughout the school and I really have no idea who the two new SpEd teachers are, what they do, or who they work with.  It’s pretty pathetic.

As for organization, since I move so often, color coordinating is my friend.  So are stickie notes, my large desk that I shove stuff in, and that giant tub of teaching gear I keep in the bedroom.  The cat loves it as she can sit in her bed and look out over the back yard.

Since I don’t have my own room, I’ve decorated my desk with fortunes, stickers, signs, and notes. Right now it’s pretty clean and organized since I just did that last week.  I figure by the end of the month I won’t be able to see the top of my desk again.  I should really clean out my filing cabinet…

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I have been gone from blogging for far too long.  Unmotivated, busy, stressed, distracted, knitting, good books, and a host of other things are to be blamed.  In fact, I think I only posted twice last year. My Tweeting dropped off, my attendance in Twitter Chats is non-existent, and I haven’t done a thing with my SymbalooEDU account.

Typically I make a hefty amount of NY resolutions.  All of them, save one, (OK, all of them) fall by the wayside.  This year I’ve made no such promises to myself.  The only statement about 2017 I’ve made is to simply “Try Harder.”  Whatever that may mean.  This blog post is my second attempt at Trying Harder at something.  The first attempt has to do with boring work stuff, and you don’t need to hear about that.

I have a blogroll of other sites I’d like to visit, blogs I’d like to read, ideas I’d like to try…but who has the time?  When I do have the time, it gets spent on reading, knitting, bingeing, etc.  You know, me-time. I never even think about other blogs, which is sad because there are great ones to be sure.

I guess one of my goals for completing this challenge is not only to rejuvenate my own blog, but to really invest in reading others’.  We all have a story, and we all have something someone else needs. Your crappy day may boost someone else; your students’ projects may inspire a new way to think; your Michaels/JoAnn/Hobby Lobby on-line coupons may save an otherwise doomed lesson.

So now I’m off to update my About Me info and scroll through the themes.  If I’m going to do this, I at least need to Try Harder to make this blog look good.  Happy blogging, friends!!

You Want Me to Relax?



I can not relax this summer!!!  What is it?!  I just will not settle down.  I had to force myself to read and knit last night and that wasn’t until 8 p.m. and didn’t last long at all.

I always save “things to do” during the school year that I need to conquer in the summer months.  You know, the big stuff: Cleaning out drawers, closets, the pantry, cabinets; scrubbing floors, scrubbing appliances, finding the source of that smell of death in the basement (Hubby left steaks out of the chest freezer, which then fell into a tub of other things, and they thawed.  Weeks ago.  After yesterday I am now capable of cleaning up any crime scene.).

I get these to-do things done immediately upon vacating the classroom so I can enjoy the rest of my summer.  This generally means, voracious reading, knitting, beach trips, and crap TV.  This summer, every time I finish one household project, I purposely find another to do.  I’m getting anxious and nervous when I sit down to do relaxing stuff, like I should be doing something more important. I have to force myself to relax this summer, and I’m not being very successful.  I had an anxiety attack today and started pacing the floor when I’d finally decided to sit down and begin a task I’d been looking forward to for months.  What the hell is wrong with me?!  I need a summer vacation from my summer vacation.

I can’t imagine other teachers go through this.

My hubby’s physical health is not so great, and he’s also struggling with some issues that weigh heavily on his mind.  I’ve had to pick up the slack in areas I can usually depend on him to cover.  Am I picking up on his anxiety? Am I afraid to relax?  Am I worried that I might miss something?  It’s like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but there are no shoes.

Maybe it’s all the staff changes in the coming year.  I’ve never seen so many teachers leave one school in one year.  11 teachers are moving on to other schools, other positions, other states.  Incredible.

I’ve got to snap out of this. I’m wasting my summer.  Tomorrow I’m heading to the library to check out copious amounts of reading material.  I’ll finish my current knitting project and get started on those baby booties I need to make (twins!~no, not me).  I’ll find some crap TV to watch.  I’ll have fun this summer, damn it, if it kills me!





In recent years I’ve come across presentations and on-line discussions using a little-known (to me, anyway) application called VoiceThread.

VoiceThread is an interactive collaboration and sharing tool that enables users to add images, documents, and videos, and to which other users can add voice, text, audio file, or video comments. You can post your VoiceThread on your website or save it to an MP3 or DVD. (


VoiceThread is a cloud application, so there is no software to install. The only system requirement is an up-to-date version of Adobe Flash. VoiceThread will work in any modern web browser and on almost any Internet connection.

Upload, share and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files and videos. Over 50 different types of media can be used in a VoiceThread.


Comment on VoiceThread slides using one of five powerful commenting options: microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload.


Keep a VoiceThread private, share it with specific people, or open it up to the entire world. Learn more about sharing VoiceThreads.

Download the App and sign into your account to:

  • Capture images from your camera or upload them from your photo library.
  • Flip through slides with the flick of a finger and annotate while you narrate.
  • Share VoiceThreads as easily as sending an email.
  • Receive notifications for new comments on your VoiceThreads.
  • Access the extensive catalog of existing content on

A single educator registration is $15/month which includes the following:

  • 50 student accounts (add more at any time for $2 each)
  • Create student usernames (email address not required)
  • Automatically be made an editor of student work
  • Manager tool to create classes and student accounts
  • Custom web address to easily share public VoiceThreads



I am Very Popular


I have a date every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights.  Actually, I have two dates on Tuesday nights.  I am THAT awesome.  I don’t even know the real names of many of the people…only their screen names.  And there’s many of them.  Sounds sketchy, right?  A little freaky?  Actually, it’s all on the up and up.  I’m really not that awesome.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, I’m chatting with fellow educators through different Twitter Chats.  Twitter Chats are a great way for like-minded people to interact with each other about specific topics, on set days, at set times.  For example, on Monday nights at 8:00 pm (EST) I discuss topics on #edtechchat (educational technology).  Tonight’s 8pm chat for #mdedchat (the Maryland education chat) is focused on Starting Strong as we head back into the new school year.  I also participate in #spedchat (special education), and #symchat (SymbalooEDU user group).


The best way I’ve found to approach multiple chats, as well as my own Twitter feeds, is through TweetDeck.  TweetDeck lines up all your Twitter feeds into handy columns.  Below is a screen shot of a portion of my deck.  My columns include my professional and personal feeds, and the four chats I participate in each week.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 2.56.24 PM


It really is exciting to connect with colleagues from around the world.  There are so many ideas shared, and questions answered each week.  I highly recommend joining one or more of these each week.  There is a list of weekly education chats that you can access here.

It’s easy to be as popular as I am!  Sign up for a chat that interests you and join in–they’re addictive, though.  One chat turns into 5 in a matter of weeks!  Here are a few steps to help you get started.

Good luck, my friends!  Have fun!  @thissideofthird


Time Keeps on Slipping, Slipping, Slipping…


Teachers work all hours of the day, every day.  It’s just something we do.  It’s something we’re used to.  We don’t even think about it anymore.  Let me ask you this: Why?  Why are we used to this?  Also, when did this become the norm, and how did we miss this conversion?

My co-teacher and I were talking the other day about how much of teachers’ own time is used in planning for our school day.  She is a 29-year veteran and I’ve been doing this for 19 years.  She asked me, “Do you remember a time in your career when you didn’t spend so much out-of-school-time planning?”  I do.  We both do.

I remember teaching in MA where I not only taught classes, but also had my special ed caseload.  We didn’t have a special ed secretary, or a building coordinator, so I did everything from initial contact and testing through to the development of the IEP, including all paperwork and meetings.  I was still able to work a normal day and leave work at work. Of course there were times when I needed to play catch-up and bring work home, but that was far from the norm.

There was even a time when I starting teaching in in MD when I arrived at 8:15, left no later than 4, and brought nothing home with me.  Over time, I began arriving at work 15 minutes early, then 30 minutes, then 45…now I get there at 7 every day.  I’m not required to be at work until 8:15.  You would think that extra 75 minutes would be enough overtime to get the work done.  As any teacher will tell you, it’s not.

I bring home a minimum of an hour of work each night, and many more on the weekends. From plans, to IEPs, to reading professional literature, to misc. paperwork…there’s never a night I don’t have something.  Again, I ask: When did it get like this, and why?  And why do we continue to do this to ourselves?

I may not have the most packed social calendar, but I do have things to do outside of work. Even if it’s only watching the Eagles while I knit, it’s something!  I’d like to go back to a time when it was ok to leave work and have a life.  If we do that now, teachers either feel guilty, or overloaded when it’s time to catch up.

Just because it’s Labor Day Weekend, don’t take that to mean you must labor all weekend. Take some time for you and your family.  Do something fun! 🙂

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