A Student of My Students First

I recently reflected on the importance of knowing my students well after a dreaded conversation with my principal.

I’m reading Raquel Rios’s Teacher Agency for Equity: A Framework for Conscientious Engagement.  The book has caused me to question ways in which we attempt to build equity in education.  But no matter what I ponder, I know nothing is accomplished without relationships.  Rios said, “Teaching and learning is an act of truth and authenticity in relationships is required for it to work. It is ritualistic and ceremonial at times but it is also organic and improvised. It is a skill and also an art, it is a science and an act of faith” (p.5). Building relationships with students are all those things.  Read the blog on the Stories from School blog here.

Teacher Agency

After that, read Susan Collin’s blog about the difficulty of learning names as an elementary specialist here.




I struggle with the lack of aligned curricular resources to meet our students’ needs in reading, particularly our struggling readers. And engaging pre-teens in a text that is more than 200 years old is always a unique challenge!  Here’s how I help my students access complex text, like the Preamble, by adding access points for all students.  Check out my strategies on the Educators for Higher Standards blog here.


History Has Its Eyes on You

If you know me in real life, you know I have a *bit* of an obsession with the musical Hamilton.  As in, I regularly perform a one-woman show while driving around the city of Surprise, I’ve seen it live twice (so far) and the call and response in my classroom is: Me: “The code word is Rochambeau, dig me?”  Students: “Rochambeau!”  Me: “You have your orders, now go, man, go!”

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If you’re #Hamfam, you might get it.  If not, I might seem a little off to you, but the combination of history and musical theater just really gets me every time I hear it (which is often).

My friend and fellow NBCT, Susan Collins, find inspiration in the lessons from the Founding Fathers and share part one of a two-part blog post on the Stories from School blog here.


Guest Blog: Teachers Can Move, Too!

Today on the blog, I welcome Kristin Cox.  I was lucky to meet Kristin through my district’s National Board Candidate Support classes and work with Kristin as a candidate.  I love talking about teaching (teacher nerd alert!) but there is something truly magical about talking with Kristin about her students.  I’m proud to know this #amAZingNBCT and that she has thoughts to share on the important issue of teacher certification.

I recently read an article titled “Here’s a low-cost strategy that could help address teacher shortages” that discussed one solution to the teacher shortage in some states is greater certification reciprocity. I said, “YES! That! Exactly that!” The article brought to the surface all of the residual feelings I have about pursuing certification across state lines when I moved to Texas in 2006 and moved back to Arizona in 2013: excitement about starting something new, fear about my ability to actually be able to certify and frustration with the process.


Although I had nine years of experience as a special education teacher, when I moved to Texas I had to start from scratch for certification.  I submitted everything for a “review of credentials” but Texas doesn’t have reciprocity with Arizona so I had to test in Texas. And each test required a fee. I had to take both Pedagogy & Professional Responsibilities and Special Education.  

Silly me thought I would stay in Texas forever so I let my Arizona certification lapse.  But life changes and in 2013 I wanted to move back home. I flew to Phoenix and stood in the Arizona Department of Education office. I showed them all of my paperwork from Texas and Arizona and they informed me that I would have to start over.   So with 16 years of experience and current Texas certification I had to take Elementary Education I: English Language Arts, Social Studies and Elementary Education II: Mathematics, Science, Unified Arts as well as Special Education.  On top of that, the special education licensing requirements had changed, so I had to gather additional documentation for proof that I had taught students with severe and multiple disabilities in order to re-certify in that specialized area, even though I had been fully certified when I taught it my first two years in Arizona.


I began to speak to others about my passion for this issue and one person brought up the objection that Arizona is already bleeding teachers and making licensure easier across state lines would mean losing more teachers to bordering, states while allowing teachers to continue to live in their Arizona communities.   But this has been happening for years already. When I taught in Bullhead City in 2005-06 teachers were leaving to teach across the river because Clark County schools (Vegas and Laughlin) paid so much better, it was worth the hassle of re-certifying.


Another teacher brought up the fact that there are different rules for different states.  While this is true, good teaching is good teaching! The tests I took were not about state rules, they were about what test was preferred by which state.  The testing content was comparable and after teaching nine years and then sixteen years they were not difficult for me. Just a hoop, a very pricey hoop.


I would like us to consider this as one solution, reciprocity for National Board Certified Teachers.  Contact the State School Board and inform them that this could be a path for accomplished teachers to come to our state.  National Board Certification is a voluntary advanced professional certification for PreK-12 educators which identifies teaching excellence through a performance based, peer-reviewed assessment.  To be eligible to pursue certification you must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, have completed three years of successful teaching, and hold a valid state teaching license for those three years of teaching.  There are already National Board Certified Teachers in every state. These teachers are recognized as experts and should not have to jump through expensive hoops to be able to provide accomplished teaching in other states.  Our student population is highly mobile, shouldn’t we as teachers be allowed to move also?



Kristin Cox is a National Board Certified (ENS-ECYA) Special Education Teacher with more than 20 years of experience working with children with disabilities in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms, resource, inclusion, Deaf Education, itinerant and ECI birth to 3 programs.  Kristin earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education from Northern Arizona University and her Master’s Degree in Deaf Education from the University of Arizona. She currently teaches medically fragile students in 3-8 grades who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices for communication and academics.


Hello, World!

I’ve been busy knee-deep in testing season and preparing for my proposal defense, but my heart has been lifted by my Arizona teacher and parent community coming together to advocate for our students through the #redfored movement.  Please read my latest blog post on Stories From School here.

Revising Results-Based Funding

Hello there!  You may have been wondering why the long wait between my posts…I blame my doctoral program.  However, I have been regularly blogging on the Stories from School Arizona site.  Check out my latest blog with thoughts on what is wrong with Arizona’s current results-based funding formula and what better policy would be here.

Stories from School blog post: I’m Listening

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on my intentions from the beginning of the year.  ICYMI: I’m Listening on Stories from School blog.

From the blog: “One resolution came courtesy of listening to a lot of Hamilton this summer. As Aaron Burr advised Alexander Hamilton, I plan to “Talk less, smile more” this year. Not for the reasons that Burr would suggest, but to create a student-centered and student-driven classroom. My goal is to be present- physically and cognitively. Students are very much creatures of the moment and I want to meet them there. I plan to focus on my students, listen for misconceptions, and look for teachable moments. I want to get to know them better as individuals and enjoy them more.”

April update:

-Still working on Burr’s advice.  Being more present has been a challenge, but a challenge worth working toward every day.  It can be exhausting, living in the moment with sixty-something ten and eleven-year-olds every day.  But it is also very rewarding and helps me to see how precious little people are. I’ve got 5 more weeks with this group of fifth graders and I am not throwing away my shot (sorry).

-Still listening to Hamilton unless my family complains.

Classroom Traditions

Growing up we had a very special Christmas tradition.  We would decorate the Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, listening to Christmas music and tenderly unwrapping each heirloom ornament from its wrapping and placing it carefully on the tree.  Then we would eat dinner on the floor in front of the tree.  We called it a “floor feast” and it is a tradition I’ve maintained as I’ve had my own tree, family, and heirloom ornaments.  It doesn’t quite feel like the Christmas season until I’m eating mashed potatoes on the floor, basking in the glow of the Christmas tree.  

Since I have such a love of the traditions of the season, I bring special routines and traditions into my classroom.  I try to be culturally aware and take the opportunity to highlight kindness and generosity that embodies the spirit of all holidays celebrated by my students.

Through my years in an elementary classroom, I’ve always found the weeks of December loom among the hardest of the teaching year.  Students of all ages can be antsy or snippy because they are often out late, shopping, celebrating and generally having their routines and schedules thrown off and getting less sleep.  I’ve found that creating special classroom routines and traditions is effective this time of year and helps to put a little mindfulness into the classroom during the busy season.  It helps us build our classroom culture as we reflect on sharing the season together.  

One of my favorite traditions is the kind words gift exchange.  We spend the week before winter break creating beautiful holiday presents out of envelopes.  We label them to ourselves and from our class (The Wildcat Class of 2016-2017, for example).  We think about each person in our classroom and write a special note telling them what we like about them or listing our favorite parts of their personality.  It takes about 20 minutes a day to write thoughtful notes to a full classroom of 30 students but it is worth every bit of precious school time.


I spent time at home writing out a special note to each of my 60 odd students (we are semi-departmentalized in 5th grade so I teach 2 classes of students).  Though it is hard to carve out the time during the hectic holidays, I like sitting down with a pen in my hand, thinking about each and every student I’ve gotten to know the past 5 months and their special, quirky personalities.  It helps me to remember how much I like them and have a little extra patience with them during the last week when winter break madness reaches peak level.


One the last day before break, we seal our envelopes without reading the 30 odd notes placed inside by our classmates.  We even tape the envelopes shut but most of the kids can hardly wait to leave school to find out what their classmates wrote about them.  

This envelope of kind words becomes a meaningful keepsake for my students.  One mom told me last year that her son read the notes to himself each night before he went to sleep.  He did this for months while he was going through a rough time with his feelings of self-worth, his mom told me with tears in her eyes.  Former students come back year after year, popping into my room with Christmas goodies and cards, reminding me what I wrote in their note.  

Families love this tradition, too.   Who doesn’t love to hear nice things about their child and get a glimpse into their child’s school life?  There is one special family in my community who’ve had several kids in my classrooms through the years in various grade levels.  They have a tradition of opening the kindness gift around their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.    Some families tell me they’ve saved the envelope in their holiday decorations and re-read the kind notes year after year.

I sat around my Christmas tree this morning after we had opened our presents and I opened my envelope.  The first note that fluttered out was from THAT kid.  You know the one…major tough kid attitude, sullen, hard to reach, a tough nut to crack.  That student told me that I am “funny, fun, cool, and talented.”  It is safe to say that I will return to school in the new year even more determined to make an impact on that student.  I’m getting through, even though it doesn’t show on the outside.  I wonder what my students have read about themselves on their kindness notes.  

What are your favorite classroom traditions?  How do you reinforce classroom culture in December?


Happy Holidays!  My best to you in 2017!

Beth’s Books – Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

I bought Ghosts because it was Raina Telgemeier’s latest book, not realizing that I would have a deep, emotional connection to it.  My fifth-grade students, my daughter and her third-grade friends and I have loved her semi-autobiographical Smile and Sisters. This crazy thespian also especially related to Drama.  I also enjoy Raina’s graphic novel re-imaginings of Ann M. Martin’s classic The Baby-sitters Club series, a favorite of mine growing up.

            The main character of Ghosts, Cat, has a little sister, Maya, with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a disease which affects 3,000 Americans and is genetically handed down through generations of families.  Families like mine.

I first heard of CF when a routine blood test when I was pregnant with my daughter came back with a red flag.  I remember a nurse saying, “We’ll need your husband to give blood so we can see if he carries the gene before you start to panic.”  Too late.  It was an anxious few days as we waited for the blood work to come back from the lab.  We rejoiced when it was clear that my husband is not a carrier of the gene.

Later my sister became pregnant and got the same red flag on her blood test.  “Not to worry,” I told her reassuringly.  “Steve just has to give some blood and everything will be fine.”  Except that, it wasn’t.  Steve is a carrier, too.  The chances of the baby having it were 25%.  Cate was born and had to have stomach surgery right away to fix an intestinal blockage.  CF affects the entire body but it is most brutal on the lungs and stomach.

I read the book in one sitting, expecting to cry.  After all, this is a lot of baggage to bring to a book.  Instead, I amazed myself by laughing.

We spent some time with my niece this summer and got a lesson in the treatments she has to complete daily when she’s healthy.  She has to take enzymes to eat because CF makes it impossible to digest food.  She has to be given twice daily thirty-minute breathing treatment to loosen the sticky mucus buildup in her lungs along with inhaled medicines.  And that’s just when she’s healthy!  When she’s not healthy, she needs four vest treatments a day and it takes a long time and a lot of medicine and sometimes lengthy hospital stays to get her well again.

My mom, very well-versed in giving this rambunctious two year old her treatment, grabbed her favorite books before getting her into the vest.  I had to laugh watching the process – it looked like my mom was trying to put socks on an angry octopus.  Like her mother, grandmother, aunt, and cousin before her, books are the choicest form of entertainment and one of the few things she will sit down for.   Cate selected the fabulous Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin.  Great choice, Cate!  One of my favorite series for little people.  Vest treatments are designed to shake the sticky mucus loose from the lungs so they can be coughed out.  Cate’s tiny, raspy voice (another side effect of CF) shook and trembled as she read along with her grandma, “I love my red shoes!  I love my red shoes!”  It was a moment my husband and I will never forget as we laughed and laughed at that little voice.

Ghosts had realities that people with CF face: vest treatment, frequent, long-term hospitalization, and shortened life span.  But it also had love and hope and laughter, just like all of Raina’s books.  New treatments have added years to the lives of people living with CF. Today their life expectancy is close to 40. This is an improvement from the past when a child with CF rarely lived past ten years old.

Ghosts is currently being passed around my classroom with high praise from all who read it.  Many of my students like the Dia de Los Muertos theme and the slightly eerie setting in northern California.


There is currently no cure for CF.  But researchers are approaching new medicines that have the potential to significantly lengthen the lifespan of a person with CF.  If you are so moved, please donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation https://secure2.convio.net/cffh/site/Donation2;jsessionid=74EF1DA9F9D559FFE65DCB760E0F8CDD.app212a?1761.donation=form1&df_id=1761.