Category Archives: Epiphanies

The Beginning… My Beginning

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The Beginning… My Beginning

It’s only fair that I explain how Annie from Gradeschool Brains became a teacher and why she started a blog.

Working with students with Autism is what I know I have been called to do! Some days are better than others. Some days, I can’t wait to research strategies and interventions I can use with my little ones. I go nuts creating multiple projects on donorschoose.org so that I can receive the materials that will enable me to better teach them. Some days, I spend hours choosing the right book or worksheet or activity to expand on the topic for the day. Some days, I can’t believe I’ve reached my dream of educating these fascinating, unique and mysterious students! …Other days, however, I wonder if I should change careers! It’s a fulfilling field but it is also quite tiring and draining. I go home and crash!

So how exactly did I end up here?

It all started with one single video in an education class in college. I had just changed majors from Architecture to… undecided? Yeah, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do from there. Education was sort of my go to option since I had been volunteering as a Sunday School teacher for my church for many years. I figured I had some experience and it was something that I liked and that came naturally. But I still wasn’t sure what field of education to pursue. Then my professor from my “Teaching Multicultural Students” class showed a video I will never forget. THE video that changed my life for the better and led me to my calling in life. I still don’t remember what the video was called. It was the story of the family of a child who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The parents spent a great deal of time and resources trying to get as many therapies as possible for their son- their first born. In the video, they expressed their frustrations and fears. They conveyed their challenges and joys. And just when they were coming to terms with the condition, they gave birth to twin boys who are also diagnosed with Autism/Developmental Delay before the age of 2. Yep! Not one, not two, but three children with Autism! They spent their life savings, they gave up other dreams, they dove into making life better and education more accessible for their sons. One of the many therapies that they were funding for their children was Applied Behavior Analysis. I was sold!!! From that day on, I looked up everything there was to know about Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis with gazelle intensity. Seven years of college, two Bachelor’s degrees and a Master’s later, I am in the field I envisioned my entire adult life.

But why exactly am I in the field?

Resources, resources, resources! The parents in the video lacked the resources necessary initially to help their little ones. As a special education teacher, not only do I get the opportunity to work first-hand with individuals with autism, but I also get to work with the families. I get to guide them and point them in the right direction. I get to provide support and hope that everything WILL be okay. That very part of my job is what makes my calling so enjoyable! And the reason why I am still around. My life’s work will always be providing resources and hope to families. For this very reason, I also started the Gradeschool Brains blog. I want to reach out to families and educators everywhere. Networking can often be the best resource, and is also free of charge!

Are you also beautifully entangled in the field of autism? How exactly did you end up here? What is YOUR beginning? Share in the comments below.

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To My Sunday School Class…

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To My Sunday School Class…

I remember my anxiety levels and the nervousness that would take over me when I first started learning English at the age of 12. I was terrible at public speaking; hated the thought of a crowd with their staring eyes burning holes through me. The idea of being a target of their unknown, cruel and judgmental thoughts, horrified me! And then one day, my pastor asked me to help teach Sunday School! Me! Plain Jane teaching a group of googly-eyed, 5 to 12 year olds when I, myself, was only 16. Or perhaps, more like Plain Juana- I was on my 4th year of English speaking experience and my accent was not the best, to put it nicely.

At first, I began simply helping the person who was originally in charge, then it became a co-teaching effort until I was finally on my own. Thinking back now, 10 years later, this was the genesis of my teaching career. This is how I slowly fell in love with the one thing that terrified me and made me lose sleep at night.

When I started taking classes at the College of Education in Florida International University (Go Panthers!)- my Sunday school students became my guinea pigs. I began implementing strategies I had learned during the week. I began creating teacher-made materials to bring up the level of interest in my lessons. I even spent hours on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings on the floor of my room planning for my once-a-week chance to be a teacher, even if my chance was only for a couple of hours. I remember doing so much with them! And then, I became a public school teacher.

I don’t mean the latter in any negative way. I still teach Sunday school once a week. I am perhaps not as enthusiastic as I once was. I may be a little more tired, a little less creative, and a lot more to-the-point. But I love teaching! Aside from their parents, I am perhaps the first teacher at least half of my students ever had. And so, they are my children; my very first students!

Although I teach them about the Word and often advice them in real life situations, I am not sure that I have ever clearly stated how much I truly appreciate and love them. Childhood is such a crucial stage in life. I have read that often times the personality a child will have as an adult is fully developed by the age of 5. Honestly, I can’t attest to the veridity of this statement or to it coming from a trustworthy source; but I can’t help but wonder how much love, dedication and guidance, or lack thereof, make or break a child. I remember when I was in Sunday school, myself, how my teachers and youth pastors reached out to me and my peers and how much their words of encouragement meant for us. It is also not easy being a teenager in today’s day and age. I realized how much more open and straight forward I have to be about how much their lives matter, not just to God but to me.

As we began getting ready to return back to school this past week, I wanted to do something special for them. I had run across a couple of ‘candy messages’ on the Internet, but I never knew when to bring that idea out. After much deliberation, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. I went to the Dollar Store (yeah, best teacher-salary friendly store ever) and bought a couple of candies that could be used to write such messages. I currently have students ranging in ages 7 to 16! So, I figured incorporating a couple of funny-but-perhaps-not-totally-pew-appropriate language would be the way to reach out to them.


In the end, this was the message I came up with:

“My lovely Nerds, this message is for you! I know Reese’s is over and is time to go to school! I’ll make this message short and sweet so you don’t lose your cool. I just wanted to give you some advice because I love your guts, go give the best of you and Crush some homework butt! Sometimes you’ll be quick to think that you’re Air Heads and you’re Goobers. But don’t let people think you’re that! You do more than pick your boogers… Despite the Snickers you think you might get this new school year, remember if you work Extra hard, you’ll be sure to lose ALL fear. It doesn’t matter how many Sour Patch-es you may go through …even twenty! If you place the Lord above all else, you’ll see the Good & Plenty. GO and CONQUER the world my little Smarties. Mounds of Kisses, Annie.

I hope this post encourages someone out there to take the time to tell someone they love how appreciated they are. No matter how creatively, or plainly, your message is delivered, it will one day make a huge difference in the life of your little ones. So go and spread the Mounds of love.

Gradeschool Brains’ “Brand Spankin’ New” Teachers Pay Teachers Store

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Gradeschool Brains’ “Brand Spankin’ New” Teachers Pay Teachers Store

Get to Know Me Cover Pic

So I’ve joined the new movement! A few years back I went and created my pinterest account (www.pinterest.com/SchoolBrains) for which I am EXTREMELY grateful since I have been able to share resources with so many! Not too long after that, I started PreschoolBrains as a classroom website for my preschool parents. Once I started teaching first grade, I revamped it and created the great, the magnificent, the incomparable… and totally-in-need-of-work-since-I-am-still-new-to-this-blogging-scene Gradeschool Brains! I would venture to say I’ve come a long way considering how not-very-techie I am. But that is about to change! And so I am very excited for the new networks that I have joined and the many doors that continued to open throughout this past few years.

I have been creating things for my own classroom for a few years now. Last year, I came across Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) and found some awesome resources. I told myself how great it would be to share my own creations with other teachers and set my heart out to do it… p r e t t y  s o o n. Soon came and went and nothing ever came of it- until this week when I finally made the time.

With the back to school craze taking over me (and many teachers… and parents!) I set out to look for resources as I do every year. Of course, I landed on a fellow teacher’s Teachers Pay Teachers account. The thought came back that I should probably start working on my own account. And lo and behold, here I am! For the past week, I have slept fewer hours than usual with excitement. I have many ideas for great units and products to post on my brand spankin’ new TPT store. It’ll also work as a great way to share my classroom visuals with parents (FREE of course 🙂 ).

Currently I am working on my own seasonal and back-to-school cliparts. (Yes! I made the little apple with the worm hanging out of it on the picture above… completely digital and from scratch. Whoever thought I had it in me 😉 ). I am very excited for the months ahead and truly look forward to sharing some of my new work with you guys. Let the new school year begin!!!

PS. Would you like to take a peek? I have posted my first free product! Go to https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Gradeschool-Brains. Tell me what you think 😉

My Favorite Piece of Furniture

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My Favorite Piece of Furniture

There is a piece of furniture in my house that is definitely my favorite. I keep it in my bedroom where I place my jewelry and hair accessories. It is such a unique and exceptional piece of furniture, however, that I would love to find something to replace its use in my bedroom, in an effort to move it to the living room where it can be showcased.  It’s a tall and narrow one-door cabinet with a set of 8 drawers. It is made of wood and it has a dark brown Mahogany color with the distinguishing carving of a flower on the cabinet. This piece is my favorite not only because it is appealing to the eye, but also because it was given to me by my parents. Two years ago, when I married my husband, we moved into a small apartment and had nothing to furnish it. Around the same time, my parents were moving to a new location and they came across the wooden set of drawers for which this post was written. My mom was cleaning out and getting rid of things in order to have fewer items in their new home. The things they were disposing of, they would offer to us so that we could have some furniture to begin organizing our first home. The Mahogany set of drawers was one of these such pieces of furniture.My Favorite Piece of Furniture

This year, my husband and I were blessed with the purchase of our first house where my favorite furniture is now located. My parents have been coming faithfully to our place almost every week to help us with anything that may need to be fixed around our fixer-upper. Just a coupe of days ago, during one of their ritualistic visits, I told my mom about my desire to move the set of drawers to my living room. I told her about how much I liked that particular piece of furniture and how I was not really sure why they would even want to get rid of it. Her response left me a bit confused, initially, and later made me open my eyes to the reality of being a parent. She said that they were not planning to get rid of it. That they in fact loved that piece of furniture very much but that because they knew I needed some furniture, they went ahead and offered me the one they really liked. This was new to me. For the past two years, I’ve thought that my parents simply got rid of the beautiful set of drawers and gave it to me. A furry of thoughts came to my mind with this new revelation- what else have they given to me just because, that they would have otherwise kept? For one, their time!

Mami & Papi

No amount of words can describe how thankful I am to my parents for everything they’ve done for me. Just as I’m sure– although I’m not a parent yet– that no amount of words can describe the love a parent has for a child. It may seem like such a simple concept: giving a piece of furniture; giving to others; giving the best; giving as an act of love; giving, giving, giving.The conversation I had with my mom that day may have seemed so worldly; almost ordinary. But I learned so much! Parenting is about giving your time, your best, your life, yourself for your little ones and your not-so-little ones.  I was immediately compelled to write a post on it. This blog is not only geared toward other fellow teachers but also toward parents. So this post in specific is to thank all of the parents who have given their children their best piece of furniture, and all of the parents who ever will. Thank you for spending a lifetime doing what you knew would be the best for your children. Thank you for giving them the best and for dreaming of giving them the most. Your children would not be who they are today if it wasn’t for you.

Autism Awareness for the Gradeschool Brain?

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unnamedLaughter, smiles and rushing feet; maybe some hopping and skipping. Not many words. My students were excited to walk into the playground just as we do every day after lunch. Following bubbles from the bubble machine, going up the tunnel and down the slide (over and over and over again), and getting tickled are some of their favorite activities to do in the playground. However, something happened today. Something that helped me realize I need to do more outside of my classroom.

As one of my students flapped his hands towards the trees—as he typically does since he enjoys the sensory input he receives from watching the branches move with the wind—a Kindergartener of typical development saw him, pointed at him, and laughed as he showed his friends. My first reaction was to become upset, very upset. My students don’t understand what it is to be bullied or to be made fun of because they’re different. They don’t understand social situations, whether positive or negative. My students have Autism…

I do not take situations like this lightly; if I don’t interfere, who else will? The anger I felt was quickly replaced by understanding. Many of our general population students have not had an opportunity to interact with our students with Autism. They have not been explained what it is to have a disability or what it is to ‘behave’ different. And this was a Kindergartener for goodness sake! As I walked toward the kid, I wanted to sit him by me and explain all I know about Autism. I wanted to talk to him about the big responsibility he has of showing respect, empathy and understanding. I wanted to let him know that he can make a difference by simply showing kindness and acceptance. So I did. I walked to him and was overtaken by a great desire to teach. My words were simple and quick. Enough to let him know I noticed him. Although he was a little scared to see me coming toward him- my demeanor might have been a bit scary- I could see I sparked some interest in him. That’s all I wanted; to plant a seed of curiosity so that they may continue to be haunted by the thought that everyone is different and that different is okay.

My students didn’t notice; but I did. It’s about time I make a difference outside of my classroom. It’s time to teach awareness and kindness to the little ones I pass by every day and ignore because I am so busy supervising my students with disabilities. Perhaps I can make a difference one student at a time, just as I did today. Or perhaps, I will get together with other Special Education teachers in the Autism Academy at my school, we’ll plan a simple informative session we can teach to grade-school students about how to treat students with disabilities; perhaps this will change their lives and they’ll grow up to be thoughtful, caring, kind and accepting people who treat everyone fairly… One can only dream.. and take action! Today was an excellent day!