Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oh Brother

When my brother (above left, my sister, on right) was in kindergarten, he was diagnosed with ADD and with learning disabilities. Although, I'm almost eight years older than he, I was too young to understand that there was something different with this boy. Apparently, my parents saw him struggle with everyday tasks and activities from an early age. School was never easy for him and although he had a ton of friends, academically, he battled on a daily basis.

When I entered college, he was in middle school. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career, but interested with my brother's journey in school, took an introductory class about special education. It was if I was meant to be there and the rest, as they say, is history.

After I declared my major and got into the field, I found a particular interest in emotional disabilities. Almost simultaneously, my brother began having more behavior problems at home and school. There were more office visits, calls home and outbursts. As I moved closer to my graduation date, his behaviors became much more problematic and bizarre.

My first year of teaching was an adventure. I lived at home and tried to help my brother, as well as, figure out how to just keep my head above water. It was my idea to have my brother evaluated at the end of the year for an emotional disability. He met the criteria. The following school year, he was also diagnosed with a devastating mental illness. So now he was labeled ADD, LD, ED and mentally ill. That's a lot for scrawny 17-year-old shoulders to bear and, let's face it, it can be hard for a school to know how to best educate a student with all of these challenges.

Luckily, I had already done a lot of study and research about people with emotional disabilities; which includes students with mental illnesses which impact their education to a marked degree. Finding the best ways to educate, include and appreciate my brother and his struggles became my passion. While other professionals could only see his labels, I was able to see past all the labels and still see him... my brother.

I'd love to say that he made it through school without any further problems and that I was somehow able to magically find the key to make things "click" for him. I was and still not able to do that for him. I wish that I could. However, he did "graduate" and continues to work diligently on obtaining his GED. To date, he's taken it three times and is so close to passing. He plans on trying again this spring. His mental illness has taken a big piece of who he is, but not all of him and certainly not his spirit. Managing life with certain differences and disabilities is and will continue to be a life-long endeavour.

Tomorrow is his birthday and I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life. The gifts he has brought to me outweigh any negatives. For this I am truly thankful. I am a better person, friend, sister, human being and TEACHER because of him. I am passionate about the work I do because of him. I strongly believe that ALL students are entitled to a quality education, despite their disability. But, most importantly, I am able to see my brother in all of my students and remember that they are not identified by the label placed on them, but rather of the people we hope or know they will become.

I hope you will see my brother in all of your students too.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What Is Your Life's Blueprint?
Six months before he was assassinated, Dr. King spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967.

I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life's blueprint?

Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life's blueprint. Number one in your life's blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you fell that you're nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life's blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You're going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life's work will be. Set out to do it well.

And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you--doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, "If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

This hasn't always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don't drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you're forced to live in — stay in school.

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

— From the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two Writing Teachers

If you haven't checked out this site yet, please do. Ruth & Stacey have LOTS of great info to share about teaching writing and the writing process. They also share lots of inspiration.

Check out Two Writing Teachers by clicking below:

Friday, January 18, 2008

A bit stuck...

I'm ba--aaaack! I've been struggling to know exactly what to write. I'm not sure if it's being out of the routine or what, but I've just not been able to put much down in terms of organized thought.

I keep a running list of ideas, when I actually have one, that help spark the thought process. However, I've not been able to finish a one. So, I'm writing about that. Just how hard sometimes it can be to have a bit of clear thought or follow through.

The thing is, I've noticed that with a few of the students too. Just some who came back from break irritable and cloudy. Some just can't get back into the swing of things and are fighting it... big time. While others, just came back as if there hadn't been any time at all. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

I'm hoping that by next week, I will have transitioned back into my routine. I've got a lot of stuff that I want to say and post, so stay tuned.