Wednesday, November 02, 2011


Teaching students to think out of the box

Un till two years ago, I believed that direct instruction is the key for student success. Clear and specific directions and lots of help and repetition aid in effective learning. However, this teaching principal of mine was challenged when I was part of the Math Leadership in my school.

There was a discussion on how there is a need for student directed learning than teacher directed learning. I was not ready to accept it. Being with students who have cognitive, behavioral and emotional needs, I felt the burden on them should be lessened by giving them precise directions and teaching them to the point.

However, I wanted to experiment how this new method of initiating critical thinking would help my students. I was amazed by the results which made me shift my teaching style.
I discovered that:
Students were actively engaged
Instead of giving the answer and going in a sequence, when they were given the opportunity to come up with their own explanation, every single student participated
They were elated when their findings matched with the answer. If it did not, it didn't matter as they were trying to figure out where they missed
Most of the session was spent on discussions and demonstrations
Thinking aloud helped the students in reasoning out whenever needed

However, the issues I had were,
Instead of completing a lesson in a 60 hour session, it took me 3 sessions to finish the lesson
Students always wanted to explain their answers even when it wasn't needed, which is not really bad
Everyone wanted to share their thoughts which was sometimes tough

I was excited that the students labelled as having "Learning disabilities" and Cognitive Impairments" could come up with their own answers. Changing my style of teaching has helped me immensely. Now, when i introduce a concept, I give time for the students to explore what they understand by it, I ask more questions than give them the information and there is never a right or wrong answer, it is just a different answer.


Where am I heading to ?

It's been quite a while since I updated my blog. Now, I feel the urge to once again publish my rantings. I have nothing to be sad about. Everything is moving pretty well for me. I have a job which I love. My husband is awesome and extremely helpful and my daughter makes me smile.

As per the Maslow's law of hierarchy, I have reached a point of self-reliazation wherein I am once again searching for a new purpose in life, a goal I want to achieve, not for my selfish purpose but something which will help me contribute towards the betterment of the society.

11 years ago, I was extremely ambitious. With meager resources, I struggled and worked towards achieving what was then nearly impossible, But I did it. I updated my skills, pursued my ambition of completing higher education in a good university abroad, suffered in my first year of teaching in the US and now can handle the toughest of the kids with confidence. After reaching a saturation point, I decided to shift gears and instead of confining my self to my classroom decided to explore beyond the four walls. Now, I am no longer a home room Special Educator, but a Resource specialist who takes kids from three different grade levels, tries to push into the classrooms to help some other kids not on the caseload, learn the dynamics of different grades and implement strategic based intervention.
I love this new challenge. It keeps me going. I love the fact that I can visit classrooms, observe different teaching styles, hone my teaching skills, experiment with various teaching methods and also have time to see how effective they are.

However, I feel the need to have a direction, a goal I want to achieve. I don't wan to end up being a teacher for the rest of my life. Not that I hate my profession because it is one of the noblest profession and I am proud to be an educator but because I feel I have other skills which haven't been harnessed yet. Apart from teaching, I want to explore what else I am good at, what are the other skills I have, how could I use those other skills and my current expertise for the benefit of the society, who will help me to discover the hidden potential in me.

After 11 years and lots of success, I feel I am once again at the crossroads, trying to decide if I need stability in life or a challenge to try something else.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Workshop at Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan

During my visit to India last summer, I wanted to use some of my time productively. Teaching individuals with special needs is a challenging job as you have to be very diligent and also creative. Most of the times, you run out of ideas or do not exactly know what to do next. These were the same challenges which motivated me to pursue a Masters' degree in Special Education.

As I had been working with students with Learning disabilities, I was very eager to share it with my Indian counterparts. With the help of the Zilla Parishad Chairman of Ongole District, Andhra Pradesh, I was able to conduct a Q&A session for the headmasters from the district. They were very enthused and enjoyed the session. The Project Director of Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan gave me the opportunity to conduct a workshop for all the Special Educators working in the district. After a small discussion with the Project Director, I decided to come up with a generalized content matter on "Special Education with an emphasis on "Learning Disabilities".

The title of the workshop was " Workshop on awareness on individuals with special needs and their effective management"
The workshop took place on August 16th, 2007 from about 12:00p.m-4:00p.m.

About 20-30 teachers working in Special Schools,home-bound programs and in Community centers attended the workshop.
All the teachers were young, dedicated, enthusiastic and eager to learn more. They were not paid to attend the workshop. Moreover, it was a hot afternoon when there was no electricity in the hall for more than 2 hours. However, this did not deter them from asking me more questions and extending the 2 hour workshop to another 2 hours.
I was only glad to answer their questions and give them the information they wanted.

The hand out for the participants included the following information:
Definition of the term " Individuals with special needs",
Definition of Learning Disabilities,
Identifying individuals with special needs
Teaching Strategies
Behavior Management
Classroom Management
Building Parent Teacher Communication

In the Beginning:
Every one introduced each other. To get an idea of the information the participants had, they were asked questions relating to Special Education. There was a discussion on the types of conditions classified as disabilities. It aroused some interest in the audience. Even before I could go any further with my introduction to Learning Disabilities, a lot of hands raised asking me about the definitions of ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Asperger's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Mental Retardation. They also asked me about the methods to identify individuals with the above conditions. I was surprised. All the Special Educators, who were in that room were expected to have some knowledge of some terms like Autism, Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injury and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Irrespective of the length of their coursework, they were expected to know about the above conditions ( at least their definitions and how to identify them). But, I also knew that they were skeptical about my knowledge and were trying to test me before confiding in me. So I spent some time in explaining them the above terms and definitions.
Once they were confident about my knowledge, they sat down quietly and participated with enthusiasm through out the workshop.

During the Workshop:
The participants/audience were introduced to some of the informal and formal tests which are helpful in assessing and identifying students with disabilities. Now came the part of discussing about the teaching strategies. The participants named Shaping, Chaining, Reinforcement, Modeling, some of the teaching strategies which can be used. These were the same strategies, I was introduced to when I was pursuing my course in 1997.

To make sure everyone knew what they really meant, they were asked to do an activity. The participants were divided into 2 groups. The strategies were shared among them and they were asked to come up with a simple definition and an example for each of the strategies by discussing among their group members. After the group discussions, each group came to the dias, posted their definitions and examples on the wall and a member of the group explained them. Any one who did not agree with the definition or needed clarification was helped. I facilitated the presenter and at times, helped them to correctly understand the real meaning of the terms they used.

After the discussion, the participants were divided into groups of 3 and each group was given a task of coming up with skills in 3 academic areas:
Pre Reading skills
Pre Writing skills
Pre Number Skills

After the discussions within their groups, a couple of members came up to the dias from each group, posted their work on the wall and shared their work with all the groups. Once again, my job was to facilitate the discussions and add in extra information wherever possible.
After the discussions, I gave the participants some input on classroom management, behavior management strategies and building communication with the family and the individuals.

At the End:
There was a discussion session wherein the participants asked questions related to Behavior management, classroom management, teaching strategies and the Education system in the USA. They presented case studies with some problems which they encountered and sought guidance for their problems.
The discussion went for for more than an hour and the Project Manager had to intervene and set up a formal close up ceremony for the workshop.

Most of the members spoke of how the workshop was useful and what they needed more information in. I was thrilled to learn that every participant in that hall enjoyed the workshop and found it quite useful. They expressed their need to know more about teaching students with Cerebral Palsy, handling them appropriately, helping students overcome repetitive behaviors, how to help students with transitions and many other topics.

I was very overwhelmed with their needs and wish to do more to help them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


More work less talk

It seems like my husband can study me very well. He knows when I am happy, uncomfortable, excited or anxious. He tells me that not only my body language but my skin complexion also helps him predict my moods. He can also guess my mood by hearing me talk over the phone. I am really surprised as to how expressive I am. Am I really that expressive or is it that my hubby is a great observer? I am not sure about that but I do know that my students also know to react to me well. Most of the time, just a look of mine does it. I just have to look at them. If they are not looking at me and continuing to goof up, their neighbors gesture them and the kids just freeze. They stop their silly acts and get back to work. I am not exaggerating but telling the truth. After a disastrous start in LA County as a special educator, I moved to Boston school systems. Here I regained my confidence as a capable teacher. My previous experience and consulting of senior teachers helped me to manage an otherwise tough classroom with ease. And, it was surprising to see that the students who would drive others insane were very courteous, polite, and obedient and everything they are supposed to be. Just a look from me would freeze them. If they didn’t, they knew what was coming. Nope! I am not supposed to spank the kids or abuse them. But, I have a behavior management system in place. So the kids lose their stars and also a chance to earn more rewards at the end of the week. The better they behave the more rewards. The less they try the more negative consequences. Moreover, they were also watchful of my big emotional sermons/lectures as to what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Most often they had to experience it and hated it. To add up to it, they knew they could have more fun by listening and doing what was expected of them. I never had any boundaries for their wishes. If they craved for a party, we had it. If they wanted to have some fun time, they got it.
Moreover, after every test (small or big) we had to celebrate the hard work they put it. They just loved to relax after straining for the test (big or small).
Thus, they never complained of tests. They knew something fun was coming up. Hence I had a system set up to take care of their frustration, to encourage the positive effort and also a system in place to discourage a negative effort. I didn’t have to repeat myself at all. My students knew their expectations.

However, when it became tough for the subs to manage them, I had to use the same strategy of making them hear my sermons, creating a situation they created for the substitutes and making them experience how horrible it was to learn and always made them responsible for their behaviors. Irrespective of the person who is teaching, they were told to show their best. I didn’t have to struggle for a long time after that. My students would stay quite even when there was a substitute and did their best every time it was needed.

I do agree that they, like my husband could study my mood but they also accepted the rules, respected me and did not give me a chance to speak my mood out. I feel every teacher can do this. They need to set a structure for the students about the positive and negative consequences. There needs to be constant shaping of the behavior towards the positive and away from the negative behavior. After a strong foundation, you as a teacher do not need to yell at the top of the voice or even say it slowly. Just a look will do the trick. Or may be the color on your face will☺

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Familiarity breeds success

Especially in the field of education, familiarizing oneself with concepts, learning strategies and new methods of learning helps one to gain confidence and expertise in that particular area.

This is more relevant in the field of Special Education, wherein the students need to be familiarized with routines, with learning strategies, with steps involved in understanding concepts etc. Being familiar to the situations helps them to cope up with their difficulties more successfully.
Hence a lot of emphasis is laid on drilling the concepts, practicing the skills, familiarizing the routines.

Hence every concept or lesson involves, steps wherein the students are transitioned “into” the concept based on their past knowledge . The connections between what they already know and what they need to learn are built. The connections are then reinforced using new situations, new areas, through guided practice. When the students are familiar enough, they practice the new concept independently. Familiarity with the subject helps in expanding the scope of the subject area and also provides area for new knowledge. Thus there is a positive cycle of learning which keeps building and enhancing the cope of critical thinking.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Personal tips on job hunting

Job-hunting is a tedious and time-consuming process. However, if one is organized, things become much easier and you can taste success pretty soon. Though I am still working on improving my organization skills, I am happy to have achieved some success in it.

The steps, which I follow while, job hunting:
1. Prepare your resume
One should always remember that your resume is a reflection of yourself. "The more organized it is the better". Make sure to follow the pattern consistently, include your qualifications, memberships, experience, other skills and extra curricular activities. I constantly work on updating my resume and improving it. At times, when the content is more than 3 pages, I try to condense it and include the most pertinent information. It always helps to have your resume handy (both in form of hard and soft copy).

2. Organize your paperwork
Always have hard and soft versions of your transcripts, work experience and your recommendation letters. Also have a soft common cover letter in the MS word format. Whenever needed, you can add in the details of the school district you are applying to.
Most of the websites of the various school districts require you to mail them the copies of your transcripts, certifications, letters of recommendations, resume and cover letters. Excluding the cover letters, make packets of all the required paperwork. Having them handy saves 80% of your time and reduces a lot of confusion. At times you might also need to download the application form or submit it online which is different for each school district. Having the rest in place will help you finish filling out the application forms and mail it immediately.
3. Visit the DOE
The Department of Education of that particular state has tons of information regarding certifications, tests which one needs to take to get certified, laws guarding the school systems, the school districts in the state and also the job opportunities in the DOE as well as the various school districts. You can also get other important information like the NCLB test scores of the school district, the demographics, salary scale and other important information, which affects your job. For all those who have an out of state certification, it is a must to visit the DOE of the state they would like to work in.

4. Do your homework
Search through various search engines. At times, the particular state has a special search engine, which enlists all the teaching jobs in the state at one site. (E.g. for CA). So go ahead and google "teaching jobs" and you shall find tons of pages full of information. Some of my favorite stops are:
Make sure you are confident of what you are looking for in your future job. Visit the websites of the school districts and look for the HR department link or the employment opportunities link where the jobs are listed. You can get more information about the school district by going through their website more carefully. This will also help you in being specific while writing your cover letter. Being specific and including something about the school district surely impresses the reader.
Find out more information about the school, you can visit which should help you in giving a more detialed profile of the school district.

5. Apply for the jobs
When you find the vacancies in the area of your expertise, go ahead and apply for the jobs. Make sure you include all the information asked for. Or else, it is just a waste of your time and energy. If you have followed my sequence of having all the paperwork ready, then it should not take you more time. You would only be working on your cover letter, application forms if needed, and will be al set to mail the packet to the school distinct. Being prompt, and sending in all the required materials always helps

6. Follow up
Most of the times, it is difficult to get a response from the school district. The HR dept of the school district is the only office, which is open all year round. However, during the vacation times, you find more than half of the staff taking their time off. Hence it is one's own responsibility to call them and follow up with their application packet. Your call indicates that you are very much interested and your packet might receive special attention.

All the best with your job-hunt!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Important information for aspiring student teachers

Teaching is a noble profession. The amount of satisfaction you get when you see your students improving and progressing is invaluable. You share your knowledge and skills and help others see the light while you keep on improvign what you already have. Most of us beleive that teaching is something which anyone and every one can do. Well, as a matter of fact it is not. It needs real talent and hard work. Moreover, it is a struggle right from the college years as most of the departments in Universities are not well funded. The coursework is also very decentralized and tailored to suit the needs of the surroundign school districts. So, when the person decides to find a job in some other state, it beecomes really tough for them as they have to go through some rigorous tests and be certified in particular areas and soemtimes end up taking more courses to satsify the reqquirements of the hiring state .

Here is a list of facts one should be aware of before entering the field. Well, I am not trying to discourage anyone but would like to help the aspiring educators to be mentally prepared.

1. Be sure of what you want to teach. Especially in the field of Special Education, they’re a wide number of choices.
You have a) Early childhood special education
b) Special Education for individuals with developmental disabilities
c) Special Education for individuals with mild/moderate disabilities
d) Special Education for individuals with behavior disorders/emotional disorders
e) Special Education for specific learning disabilities
f) Special Education with emphasis on vocational training
g) Special Education for individuals with multiple disabilities
h) Special Education for individuals with mental retardation
Though most of the above fields can be intermixable, one needs to be aware of what they really want to pursue

2. Choose a school which has flexible tuition options and which can provide you with some sort of financial assistance. One should be aware of the fact that most of the projects in the dept of Education are not well funded and one might end up taking a lot of loans from eh bank. However, if the school provides tuition waivers or has any assistantships, it surely helps

3. It is a clever thing to enroll in a program, which will lead to certification in your field of interest. Even if you are planning to do your PHD as soon as you graduate from your teaching program, your certification/licensure will be of immense help in securing you some kind of assistantship. You will also have the opportunity to tutor. However, if you are thinking of teaching as soon as you graduate then "BEWARE". NEVER enroll in a teaching program, which will not lead into a certification/licensure. It is absolutely necessary to get licensed in your field to land up with any job opportunities.

4. Check with your school/college about the NCATE or TEAC approved. This would help you in securing a job more conveniently when you relocate from one state to another without going through the hassles of waiting to get a licensure for that state and then searching for jobs.

5. Be sure to keep record of all your assignments and your materials. These will be of immense help when you take up the responsibility of a class teacher

6. Make sure you keep all the student work with you, as you may have to work on a portfolio or present in during your job interviews. It for sure will create a good impression about you.

7. Make sure you are affiliated to some or the other professional organizations of your interest and field of study. It is absolutely necessary to keep updating your knowledge and question the new practices/strategies to help you in the classroom

8. Volunteer for some agencies, which are involved in tutoring/teaching. This would be a good add up on your resume and would give you some experience in teaching

That’s all for now. Will keep adding more information as I come across. However, keep checking for more updates on steps to follow while searching for a job, experiences in teaching etc.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


NCATE : What every aspiring teacher should know before choosing a school

NCATE or The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is a national accrediting body for schools, colleges, and departments of education authorized by the U.S. Department of Education. NCATE determines which schools, colleges, and departments of education meet rigorous national standards in preparing teachers and other school specialists for the classroom.
Professional accreditation of preparatory education programs is the bedrock upon which all professions (e.g., architecture, engineering, medicine, law) have built their reputations. It assures that those entering the respective field have been suitably prepared to practice through assimilation of a body of knowledge and pre-service practice in the profession. Accreditation of schools of education indicates that the school underwent rigorous external review by professionals, that performance of a teacher candidate in the program has been thoroughly assessed before he or she is recommended for licensure, and that programs meet standards set by the teaching profession at large.

So when someone is selecting a school for pursuing their Bachelors or a Masters in Education, it is always best to consider a school which is accredited by NCATE. This also assures that you will be able to secure a job more easily everywhere around the US. Especially if you are planning to move to different states, you will have less complicatiions in getting an initial license in the state you moved if you had obtained your degree and license from an institute which is NCATE accredited.

For more information abotu NCATE and institutes which are accredited by it visit :

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