Saturday, September 29, 2012

A new year

Wow, I'm almost 99% certain I have less extra time with only 3 rather than the 7 my first year!
It's been another great start to yet another great year.
I sometimes feel like I'm in 1950 at the Transition House because, yet again, we are without Internet and looking up everything in a variety of different books. It's been such a long road getting our facility everything needed and within district guidelines of funding. making a funny...this would have been me in 1950....had I been born years earlier. Happy 2012-2013!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

August 1...let the countdown begin!

I have decided that the first thing on my agenda for August 1 (the day my sweet new baby starts daycare) is to block off 4 complete hours to read through all of my friends blogs and see what cool things they've blogged about over the past few months. Then start on all my to-do lists!

I've been able to add a few more blogger teacher friends in between changing diapers, making (or washing) bottles, playing with my 3-year-old and of course the housework. What husband?! ;)

There are so many cool teachers out there. I aspire to possess, even a fraction, of your great talent. Thank you all for being such inspirations to me!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Vote for Mrs. Virdell's Blog

The Fascination Awards
Please go vote for my teacher blog, by following this link!!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A new award!

Awards Emblem
I don't know much about the awards, but I do feel extra special when I get any kind of award! Thank you faithful readers and fellow bloggers! Photobucket

Monday, June 25, 2012

Happy Summer!

Our newest transition family member has arrived, so I'm enjoying this nice summer break with my new bundle of joy, Kamryn.
Closer to August, this blog will be hopping again with great info about the transition program!
Stay tuned and happy summer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The final countdown

I have officially embarked on week 32 of my pregnancy and I am so excited to be finishing out the year with my students before this baby arrives.

It has been such a wild last few months. Having all of my students aging out at the same time creates such a strain on the brain in trying to plan ahead.

If I could wave my magic wand, I would wish for 100% support on the home front in the transitioning process and with that support for my students to continue working post program.

Many of my students have only known public school since they were 3-years-old, so breaking out into the real world of unstructured schedules is tough.

At a network meeting last week, a presenter told us we, as 18+ program teachers, need to be giving parents a blank schedule at the beginning of the program and having them really look at what they want that students daily schedule to look like when they complete the program. I helps to build better IEP's and keeps everyone realistic in expectations. Great idea!!

Everyday is a learning opportunity as an 18+ teacher and the more of us there are swapping ideas, the richer our programs will be!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The mountain tops and slumps

While I would like to paint the picture of being an 18+ teacher as fun 24/7, the truth is, it's not always rosy.

Disappointment is one of the absolute worst parts of being a teacher at any age level, but it really hits you hard with this type of program. Having a student just walk away when they show so much potential, being lied to repetitively, or having to do damage control from manufactured rumors between students and outside sources can get me down faster than anything else.

It is all very trying and many times it's additionally stressful in trying not to make it a personal fault as a teacher, but rather simply a bad decision made by adult students.

The peaks are, of course, the breath of fresh air that help re-gain focus. One such example is me asking a student what she wants for graduation and getting a teary, "Just a pair of shoes nobody else has worn." Yes, I cried too...more like sobbed at the humble request.

It only takes one special moment every once in awhile to erase the bad situations, and that's what fuels me to stay in education. I hope you all have those too.

Concession Stand Fun

Early last week my program decided to take on the task of running a concession stand for our districts 2nd Annual Special Olympics Track Meet.

What an undertaking! One if my students was so bored in his "guard the money" duties that he decided cat naps would help pass the time. I had to share this picture because it's do priceless!

This was our first concession stand so there was a slight learning hot dogs sell (and bring a better profit return) and candy is too expensive to NOT sell out of. I believe we made all of $25 due to a lot of product purchased but not sold, so we are making notes and plan to strategize our concessions better next year!

The silver lining: we had a blast!

New doesn't always mean better

Hi Blogger friends! I bet you think I've forgotten about my blog...I can assure you I haven't. For the past month we have been without Internet at our brand new facility. I'd tell you all the excuses reasons I've been given, but neither of us have the extra free time to read through it. So I'm hoping we will have it back soon and I can catch up on picture-posting and blogging about all the exciting things going on in our little corner of the world.
My home computer doesn't have the photos loaded onto it, so I rely heavily that connection for pictures from the camera, instead of my iPhone.

In the meantime, please watch our Twitter roll!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Hello to all of my blogger friends! I'm sorry for the long delay in posts- it has been such a busy semester....not complaining though...I'm on spring break and finally getting caught up on my favorite blogs!

If you haven't looked at the Twitter roll on the right of this page, you'll want to see our gorgeous bluebonnets covering the yard at our facility! Wow! Truly the best time of year in our area...everything is in bloom!

Next Friday we are holding our 2nd annual garage sale. When the program started, the main fundraiser was candle sales. Last year we really looked at how our students would truly "fundraise" in their own lives post-program and opted to do a garage sale. I believe that year we made about $400 which is amazing!! This year our donations are down, but it's really about the experience that our students get in putting on a sale. It will go on to serve many of them in the future, very well, I hope. Pictures will follow the sale!

On an exciting note... Our facility is getting an iPad! I'm thrilled about this because it will allow for my job coaches who need to teach students various tools on the job sites, how to do it, using some really cool checklist apps. Do you have a favorite life application app? If so please comment and share!

Have a great Friday everyone!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's here!

This is truly my favorite time of the year...

Texas Transition Conference 2012!

If you are planning on being at the conference, please let me know! I would love to meet up with some of my SpEd blogger friends!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Transition Fair

Two of our local 18+ program teachers, from Westlake (Eanes ISD) and Lake Travis (Lake Travis ISD) put on a wonderful Transition Fair this weekend in Lake Travis.

The fair had approximately 50 vendors from various types of government agencies, private organizations and non-profit organizations, with booths set up and eager people ready to tell you about the services they can offer your special needs child or students.

I wish I could post everything I collected because WOW...these vendors provided such a plethora of great information for the very young students up to adults. One of the stand-outs for me was our local NAMI group. I have honestly never heard of this national organization, but they truly blew me away with their passion and transparent eagerness to help educate families, educators and anyone else who may be effected by someone with some sort of mental illness. I'm going to make it my mission to get these ladies connected to my director and hopefully hold an information session to better educate me and the rest of my SpEd team.

If you are in the Austin-area and didn't get to go, please email me and I'll send the packet via PDF email to you...OR...if you are just interested in seeing what types of services would be offered at such an me. I'm so happy to share this great information!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

About Me

A huge thanks to my blogger buddy, Karlie, over at We are ALL Special!
So here are the rules:

1. You must post the rules.
2. Post 12 fun facts about yourself on the blog post.
3. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post, and then create 12 new questions for the people you tagged.
4. Tag 12 people and link them on your post.
5. Let them know you've tagged them!

Fun Facts About Me
  1. I live in the same little town I grew up in...only leaving for college at Texas State University- San Marcos Eat'em Up Cats!!
  2. I met my husband at a bank...he was the banker and I, his secretary...he loves to tell this story to make it sound scandalist, only he leaves out the facts that we were both in our early 20's and single.
  3. I have one present...but expecting my next little girl in June. Very exciting!
  4. My degree is in Public Relations, but I soon learned it's entirely too cut-throat for me...and went back to my original plan in becoming a teacher.
  5. I could eat Tex-Mex every meal of the day...and, admittedly, have before. If you don't know what Tex-Mex the link to one of my favorite restaurants, Matt's El Rancho!
  6. One of my favorite writers is Lisa Kogan and I only take the O Magazine to read her columns. I recently bought her book and am enjoying very much!
  7. I love to cook and Pinterest makes me want to cook that much more!
  8. My celebrity crush is Channing Tatum...he's stole my heart in Dear John and I suspect it will be the same with The Vow.
  9. I am a very picky, yet widely diverse music lover...I enjoy old country, classic rock and lots of 90's hip-hop and alternative.
  10. My favorite place to vacation is Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Now it's my turn to learn about you....
1. Where do you live/Where are you from?
I live in the beautiful hill country of Texas...almost the same place I grew up!
2. What is your best teaching advice?
Ask a lot of questions in the beginning of any new position, and above all...treat the kids like mini adults. They seem to appreciate the respect and give it in return.
3. If you could only keep one thing that's currently in your classroom what would it be?
I have a very unique "classroom" so I would probably say my scanner. It's cut my files in half!
4. What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend?
Shop of course, but anything that I can do with my daughter and husband is a great weekend...Sea World, Local Zoo, Going to the park, etc.
5. How long have you been teaching?
This is my second year
6. What is your favorite teaching memory?
Doing a community scavenger hunt. I organized clues at various important places around town and they students learned about their community while hunting for some missing pumpkins. It was a BLAST and the places involved got a huge thrill out of it. Win, win!
7. What is your favorite store?
8. What do you typically wear to school?
Right now, maternity khakis, a long shirt and Sketchers...but generally slacks, a blose top and slippers/sandals
9. What is your favorite activity to do with your students?
Anything in the community. That is where they will spend their time post-program and it's a lot of fun to be among our community members.
10. What is your favorite book?
I don't get a whole lot of time to read, but I really enjoyed reading Tina Fey's "BossyPants." Everything is so serious in the world, I enjoy comic relief when I escape to a book.
11. Do you have a Pinterest?
Yes! I'm so addicted. I thought Facebook was bad...geez.
12. What is your favorite restaurant?
When I can afford it, Trulucks...but anytime Matt's El Rancho or Outback Steakhouse

1. Which state/region are you currently teaching?
2. What has been your most awesome "ah-ha" moment in special education?
3. How did you feel your very first day on the job (first year or in a new position)?
4. What age group do you teach and is it your preferred grade?
5. What is one component of Special Education/Teaching you connect to the most?
6. What is your "go to" song when it's just been one of those days?
7. Do you have teacher assistants and what is the best things about having them in your room?
8. What are your hobbies outside of work?
9. Do you have a favorite website that you cannot go one day without viewing?
10. Which store do you find it most difficult not to spend $100 on any given day?
11. Do you have a bucket list and if so, what is one thing you want to do the most?
12. Favorite sitcoms/anticipated movies for the spring?
Thanks for reading! I hope you will all participate so I can learn more about my favorite teachers, inside and outside of the public profession.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Mid-Year Funk

I am really in search of some inspiration and uplift right now. It's January 26th...about the same time last year I found myself in the mid-year funk.

We've had so many changes in our district recently...and for me...added classes on top of now having to give an assessment test....has me feeling really funky right now. I'm sure these changes are all for the good of the children (or at least I can hope) and I'm trying hard to avoid the negative Nancy's who paint the doom-and-gloom murals during happy hour or in passing at the grocery store. But it's often very hard to overlook their, sometimes, very valid points and even harder not to let it get the best of me.

How do you get through the mid-year funk?


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Party Planning Lesson: Creating the Seven-Layer Dip

I'm so sad to say that one of my darling students is flying the coop and moving on to brighter places in the world with her family.

The silver lining (we must always find a silver lining) is now we get to plan a party! I gathered up my "party committee" of students and staff and we voted to have light finger foods and a cake at the going away party.

We've honestly never hosted a party that didn't include a huge meal, as crazy as that sounds, so menu planning was somewhat of a new animal to tackle. One of the suggestions was "dips."

Oh how I love you Pinterest!

We ended up with a recipe from none other than "The Girl Who Ate Everything" (She's fabulous by the way)!

My students had a BLAST with this...the concept of layering really perked their interest and the assembly line we had going was more than comical. The girls had the giggles, I had the was just a great little lesson.

I especially appreciated the fact that one student said, "Now people can't double dip!" What a fantastic point to make! Maybe I'll start doing individual cups, for eveything that can be dipped, at home! (wink)

So this fun little creation will be making a very pretty appearance at our "Bon Voyage" party in two weeks. Pictures will follow the party!


Funday Friday: Bob Bullock Texas State History...IMAX

Photo from the Bob Bullock Website

It's a real world experience at it's best and nothing that I could possibly (want to) manufacture in a classroom setting.


Hello friends! I'm sorry for the delay in posts...getting back into the swing of things and starting STAAR Testing has been my top priority the past two weeks.

Last Friday we joined two area 18+ programs at the Bob Bullock State History Museum...for an IMAX movie. It was awesome to say the least. This is one of the huge perks to being a teacher in an 18+ program...the awesome outings selected by students. The highlight of course is taking a student who has never been outside of the county to the downtown area of Austin. Shock and awe doesn't describe it!

Here's a just a snippet of our many conversations:

Student: "What is that person doing against the wall?
Mrs. Virdell: "Sweetie, he's peeing. Look away"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's changes...

One of the very first things I learned about being a Life Skills teacher is that you have to be flexible and understand an ever-changing schedule. I was leisurely expressing this concept to one of my teacher aides, who was coming into my program from general education, and she said it best:

"It's like a palm tree...if it doesn't sway, it will we'll just be palm trees."

And now you know why I love her so! If only she would paint it on a piece of weathered wood and sell it on Esty. I'm certain it would be a hit with other special education teachers.

So being a palm tree...I had to re-apply that concept when I was told in November,
"Oh by the way...I know we are three months into the school year already, but on top of your job, you now have two HS Life Skills classes, twice a week that you will need to teach (and do paperwork on)."


You can probably guess that conversation is quickly followed up with,
"Oh by the way, you're also responsible for doing all the testing administrator training, teaching and End-of-Course testing all of the life skills juniors on US History and English III."

And we're swaying....

I know with the budget crisis hitting many of your schools (and let's be honest, you personally), there is a lot of swaying going on. Some days, everything blowing your way is much harder to deal with, but I'm certain that with a positive attitude...and remembering the love we all have for these children and of course  the almighty paycheck too...we will survive!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012 Liebster Award nominations go to....

As mentioned a few post Liebster awards go to....

Adapting Creatively

This is one of my go-to blogs for many things. Rose-Marie highlights some very poignant aspects of educating and raising children with special needs.

Ideas From a Busy Bee

This is one of my favorite blogs...and not just because she's from Texas. (wink) Andrea is a Special Education teacher who happily shares lots of wonderful ideas...and freebies!! You must check her out.

My Photo

Karlie has one of the most fun blogs because it has a very personal aspect to addition to the awesome freebies as well. I love to read about the ups and downs she endures...because let's be honest, as SpEd teachers, we sometimes feel like we are on a remote island!

AND I'm still working on the other two!! I promise to have them posted by Friday.


Tour of MFISD Transition Facility


My very first blogger award...woohoo!

As a fairly new blogger, I have been coming across so many great and resourceful blogs that are chock-full of fabulous awards. I've secretly pined for one and new friend, Claire at Special Speckled Eggs nominated me for the prestigious Liebster Award!


I could not have received it without the nomination by Claire and if you haven't hopped over to her blog, you must check it out. She's got such a contagiously fun personality and great ideas for the elementary classroom!


So the rules of the award go as follows:
  1. Show you appreciate the blogger who nominated you with a thank you shout out!
  2. Nominate 5 other blogs, who have 200 followers or less, by leaving them a comment
  3. Post the award on your blog
  4. Keep up with the blogs you've given the award never know when they are going to hit the blog world, big time!
So with that said...I am having the hardest time finding people without 200 followers because you're all so fabulous and have so large of a following, but in making those newbies like me extra special...I'm going to create an entirely seperate blog to highlight them whenever I find all of the ones I would like to use!

Thank you again for the nomination!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The new look

Quick question....has anyone else switched to the new interface of Blogger, via Google Chrome? I'm not opposed to change, but this new interface has me searching for everything!


From my prospective...knowing what's appropriate and inappropriate

One of the discussions I hear a lot in my 18+ circle is "How do you know what's appropriate and inappropriate?" It seems like a reasonably easy question, but it can be applied to so many things in this unique type of program and with this age group of students. I find myself asking this question a dozen or more times throughout the school year...every year...and the jury is out on if they are all the right answers.

When dealing with students age 18-22, there are a lot of things to take into consideration, that teachers in many other, younger, age groups don't have to deal with...such as...

1. Consuming alcohol:

One of my sweet and precious students asked last year, while having lunch at Chili's,"Can I order a Margarita?" To which I squealed in sheer horror, "No way!"

And then reality set in...the student asked because legally, he CAN drink.

This topic always provides teachable moments, but sometimes I have to really consider that, unlike high school students (under 21), these students are in fact of age and can purchase and consume legally. And sometimes, the teachable moment is for me!

So the lessons now are generally about responsible drinking, how much is too much, and the wrecks and effects of alcoholism.

It was, initially, very hard for me to allow myself to acknowledge their age and accept that it is a reality that must be taught, not avoided...and very appropriate for this age group. But accepting it and talking about it could be the seed planted that saves them from a very rocky path.

2. Interactions with other LIFE students:

How easy is it, when you want to get together with another group, to just pick up the phone and schedule some sort of group activity with another LIFE group in the same school district. So easy!
But is it truly appropriate?

Sometimes, my sweet and precious students tend to forget they are "of age" while other students in our district are not...and dating is not "ok" for, let's say, a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old. What gets me most is the parents of the older student questioning why isn't not acceptable and perplexed as to why the younger students parents are threatening a protective order. How easy it is to forget that the rules still apply to our students with disabilities as the general population.

I came to the realization very quickly, during my first year, that intermingling my adult students with those at the junior high and high school level is more inappropriate than appropriate, so we've had to scale back how much time and when it is acceptable, to not encourage these emotional relationships to develop. This probably lends its self to a good, old fashion lesson on stalking and harassment as well, I just haven't been able to figure out the gentlest way to present this lesson. Any ideas?

3. Technology and all its glory:

Technology is a very beautiful thing...or maybe a rotten thing...I haven't made up my mind just yet. Having technology and using technology for purposes intended is the beautiful aspect. Having technology and using technology to look at dirty websites, send nude photos and harass others is a rotten thing.

This year brought the adventure of dealing with some real-life issues...using technology...which provided some very rich teachable moments and the opportunity to teach very honest lessons for those not directly involved. If you don't have it worked into your lesson plans somewhere during the school year, it would behove you to add in "sexting" which will lend its self to "pornography" which could lend its self to "harassment" and "cyber bullying." Those are all very real topics that are becoming increasingly talked about in our society and issues all young adults are experiencing.
It's ugly, but it's real.

I know there are many more moments that will arise which will beckon the question, "Ok, appropriate or inappropriate," and I'm confident asking myself those questions and being reasonable with the answer will only make me a better educator to my students and steward of my society.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Monthly Income....desires vs. reality

This year, since 80% of  my students aging out, it was determined that there needed to be some definition in, the desires we've talked about for the past two years, versus the reality of what their monthly budget might look like post-program.

One student expressed in her ARD that she's interested in moving out on her own, into an apartment. She also would like a car to get her to and from work. We did a week of research on the apartments close to her job and called around to those apartments to gather information on availability, move-in costs, monthly costs and any misc. information we could think up (i.e. "Do you accept pets?") We also looked at vehicles and contacted our local State Farm office to get an insurance quote.

That Friday, my staff and I took the entire group and met with local realtor, Ashlee Clark of Keller-Williams, looking at the various types of rentals, just to we could gauge what the rental market in our area looks like.

Once the student (mentioned above) and I had gathered all of our information, we layed it out on the white board so we could really get a true look at the reality of her moving into an apartment, on her income. This is what it looked like:

This was a great way to really bring this student into a more realistic setting and provide real numbers instead of guesstimates. She was able to see how fast the small expenses add up and what type of apartment housing she could afford at her income level. This also helped us moved into a more open-minded position, to even start exploring group home options in our area, where she can live with little to no cost and also have support as needed.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy 2012!

Happy New Year to all of our friends and family! I can't believe we are already into 2012...where did time go?!

We are starting out this year, the final chapter of Transition for most all of my students, by really focusing on each students needs and fears in completing this program. For some three of my five, they have been a part of this program since the doors were opened three years ago, so the final semester is very bittersweet for them.

One of the things I'm trying to do this year is focus on the needs post-program, by offering some after school and additional services to them and their parents. Each student was given a letter to take home offering three opportunities for growth:

1. DayHab/Group Home Exploration
A scheduled visit for myself, the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) to visit day habs center and group homes in and around our area. For some parents it's of interest, but they just aren't sure about what these services are and what is entailed for their adult child. A day-long visit, as seen with one student and parent last year, puts their imagination into new focus and mind at ease in knowing exactly what services are being offered and what the environment looks like on a daily basis.

2. Daily Home Living home!
I appreciate getting feedback from parents more than anything about what works and what doesn't. One parent, who's child aged out last May, contacted me earlier in the year and said, "He can't do anything at home! I thought you said he could cook, clean and do laundry?!" It's true...this student was amazing at all of those things at school, but didn't have the proper transitioning of those skills to his natural environment at home...where mean old Mrs. Virdell wasn't hovering to inspect the quality. What he was lacking was the desire and experience with doing those same tasks in his own home.
So this year I'm offering to meet my student and their parent at home, after school hours, to help transition them into doing things in their natural environment, hoping it will help transfer those honed skills, learned here, to their own home.

3. College Visit
I have a few students who would do very well in a modified college setting and have expressed an interest in doing so. Austin Community College, in Austin, offers what's called VOCAT courses for adults with developmental disabilities. The courses vary in complexity and interests, but all offer a variety of skills levels that college experience. It is my hope that those who are interested will apply for and complete this really neat program and with a visit to the campus, I'm positive that the students and parents interested will be sold too.