The very best teachers call their students their “kids.” It’s a fact!
Meet Amanda Jones.
Ms. Jones is one of those teachers. She treats her school “kids” the same way she does her babies at home- lots of affection and a healthy dose of tough love.
Amanda is the Special Education (SPED) department chair at the middle school where she works. Her “kids” are a group of 8th graders that come to depend on her as their school mom, second mom, cheerleader, teacher, mentor, and the list goes on…!
As a lifelong learner herself, Amanda is currently working on her PhD while being an amazing wife, mother, and teacher.
HOW does she do it all?
Read on to learn about how she creates a sense of community in her 8th grade SPED classroom while being a major rock star!
As a SPED teacher, how do you create a culture of community in your classroom?
In the first week of school I explain to my students that they are now “my kids”. I will have their backs, support them, listen to them and be there for them but I’m also going to push them. I believe in each and every one of them and I know that they can be successful this school year and in their lives. I share that they can always come to me and tell me the truth..even if they made a mistake or did something wrong, if they are honest with me I will try to help them out. As an 8th grade student in today’s schools, life can get very hard, very quickly. I want them to know that they have someone on their side that cares about them and believes in them. I also explain that now that they are one of “my kids” they will always be one. Already this school year I have had past students come and visit me at the middle school. I love that I have created a safe place where the students feel welcomed and loved!
What is your favorite tech tool to use with your SPED students?
In my classroom, we do not have access to a smart board or document camera or anything super cool like that. I don’t know if this is considered a tech tool or not but I am in love with the Synergy program. Once a week I conference with each student one on one and review their current grades with them. This program allows the student and I to sit and review each grade and all of the scores and assignments that have made up that grade. I am able to show the students what assignments are missing, what quizzes they did well on, etc. This type of student conferencing encourages students to be responsible and accountable for their academic progress.
Can you tell the readers a bit about the letters you write to your 8th graders?
As an 8th grade teacher it is so bittersweet sending “my kids” off to high school. I am so proud of them for taking this next step in their lives but I know that I will miss them so much! At the end of the school year last year I had my students self-address envelopes to themselves and I kept them. I explained that I would be sending them some mail at the end of the summer. So in August, I took the envelopes out and wrote each of them a letter. I wished them well in high school, reminded them to respect their mothers, as I know they want what is best for them, and then something personally addressed to each one.
For example, to one of my girls who would often focus more on a boy in class or drama in the hall, I reminded her how smart she is and how she should keep her focus on her goals because I truly believe that she can achieve them. To one of my boys, my most challenging student, I asked him to give his next teachers a chance to get to know him. I explained that they will love him if he let them. I reminded him to ask for help when he needed and to control his mouth and his temper. And I reminded him of the contract that he signed stating that I would provide him $100 cash on his high school graduation day because his mother and I will be sooo proud to watch him walk across the stage WHEN he graduates, not if. 🙂 I encouraged them to have their parents to email me if they needed anything and to always keep in touch. I hope these letters brought them confidence about starting the new school year and helped them to remember they CAN do it!
How do you maintain work and life balance between your precious family, getting your PHd and being a SPED department chair?
The only way I am able to even attempt to earn my PhD, be a good educator/department chair, a wife to my police officer and a mother to my babies is with my amazing support system. My parents, my husband, my mother in law and both of our families have supported me, pushed me and have helped me every step of the way. They bring me up and encourage me when I am doubting myself, convincing me that I can do it all. And for these individuals, and my two sweet children, I am dedicated and committed to reaching my goals. As far as getting the actual tasks done…when I am at work, I am at work. I often pick one night a week to stay late to finish things up and truly utilize and appreciate every minute of planning I can get. Once I am off, I am off. I am in family mode; mom mode, wife mode, homeowner, “what am I going to cook for dinner” mode until about 7:30 p.m. Once the babies go to bed, I get into the PhD mindset. I work on assignments, papers, readings, etc. until my husband finds me asleep on the couch. And hopefully, most of the weekends are for family and fun! There is no way that I would be able to be anything without my amazing family!
What is your favorite part of teaching?
My favorite part about teaching is working with the students. I love watching them grow and change into young adults. As a special educator I think we are the most blessed (I am probably biased) because we have the opportunity to see such immense growth in just one year. Many of the special education students that I work with have behavioral and learning disabilities. In my classroom they learn to work hard on their assignments but also their behaviors and social skills. I am hoping these skills that they are learning with me will continue with them for the rest of their lives. I hope to make a difference in their lives as much as they are making one in mine.
THANK YOU, Amanda for taking the time to let me take a “peek” into your classroom. Do you want to be a SPED Rockstar? Check out the tips below!