Thursday, March 9, 2023

TCEA 2023

I have been an active member of CUE since 2015 and have attended numerous events affiliated with the organization.  For those unaware, CUE (formerly Computer Using Educators) is an organization formed in 1978 to further the use of technology in education and is based out of California, with affiliates all over the state, as well as Oregon and my home state, Nevada.  However, over the last few years, the organization has widened its scope into many more areas of education, including but not limited to leadership, equity, eSports, and more.  Another organization, similar in scope to CUE, is TCEA, the Texas Computer Education Association.  I have been wanting to attend their annual conference for a long time, and this year, I was finally able to do so! 

This year's conference was held in San Antonio, a city that I have always wanted to visit but had never had the opportunity.  When looking at the weather report in the days leading up to the conference, I packed for weather in the 50s and 60s with a slight chance of rain.  The day before the conference, a Sunday, I arrived to sunny skies, thick humidity due to a rainstorm earlier in the day, and a temperature near 80.  My instant thought was that I did not pack for warmer weather, but Monday morning brought me back to reality and then some.  

The colder weather "forced" me to go
buy a hat to keep my bald head warm!
For the remainder of the week, it was in the high 30s/low 40s and raining/ice (if you paid any attention to the news in early February, you saw that Texas was walloped with an epic ice storm that shut down cities like Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, and to a lesser extent, San Antonio).  While not necessarily in town to sightsee, the weather impeded my ability to play tourist enough that even though the Alamo was two blocks from my hotel, the best that I did was stand in front of it (and didn't even take a picture because I thought I would be able to later in the week).  

So through a cold drizzle, I worked my way to the convention center on Monday morning for the opening of the conference.  I made sure to get there early just because of the sheer size of the convention center, hoping to get my bearings before sessions started and minimize the amount of time trying to find sessions.  I had done my homework ahead of time, selecting sessions and adding them to my calendar with locations so I could move between the sessions quickly.  I noticed right away a lot of things about the schedule that I really liked, especially in comparison to other conferences that I had attended in the past:

  • Session start times were staggered at half-hour intervals, allowing attendees to go to a session, figure out in the first few minutes if they wanted to stay, and if not, find another session to attend without having to wait nearly an hour for the next sessions to start
  • Rather than having keynote speakers, a series of "featured speakers" were scheduled for each day, much like a keynote. In addition, other sessions were scheduled during the featured speaker time if attendees didn't want to attend the "keynote"
  • Session lengths were varied, from 60, 90, 120, and 180 minutes; most conferences that I have attended tend to stick to the 60 minutes or less format, with a few exceptions
  • To enter a session, a conference volunteer scanned your badge before entering the room to ensure that there was still room in the session to sit.  If you're like me, you have walked into sessions only to find out that there wasn't any room, thus forcing you to leave
  • The convention hall was open on Sunday for attendees to check in, minimizing the amount of time needed on the opening morning, and sessions started as early as 7 AM and lasted until 5 PM starting on the first day, giving attendees an entire day of learning for 3 days, plus sessions that lasted until 2 PM on the fourth day
  • And while I did not partake in this particular feature, the exhibitor hall had a traveling beer cart where attendees could purchase a beverage to enjoy while checking out the various vendors and their products!
Clockwise from the left: me, Stevie
Frank, Debbie Tannenbaum, Andrea
Cook, Melody McAllister, and Jaki
Thomas enjoying the one day of 
decent weather!
Over the course of the four days, I attended a ton of sessions and checked out a variety of different products in the exhibitor hall.  However, like any conference, it was about human connections.  While I did not know a lot of people from previous interactions, there were still plenty of people that I had met before.  There were still more that I had been connected with on social media for a long time that I got to meet for the first time.  One such connection was with Stevie Frank, an educator from Indiana, that showed up at a restaurant on Sunday after I sent a tweet that I was having a drink and watching a band play, which I thought was really cool!  Then there are the people that I met for the first time without any previous connections,  including an educator from Dallas/Forth Worth named Dillon Johnston (@dillon_johnston on Twitter). 

I met Dillion standing on a street corner, freezing in the rain, waiting for the light to change on my way to find some lunch.  We got to chatting about our conference experience thus far and how we were braving the elements to find food that was not the typical convention center cafeteria food, especially me, since I wanted to experience some true San Antonio fare.  As the light changed, Dillon asked where I was heading, to which I responded that I was going to try a Tex-Mex place called Casa Rio.  Dillon asked if he could join me, to which, of course, I obliged!  Over overflowing plates of Tex-Mex staples, we had a great conversation about education, our careers, and life in general.  A lot of people may not have asked to join somebody that they had just met if they could join them for lunch, and a lot of other people may not have been comfortable with dining with someone they just met, but I am very glad Dillon opened that door; I hope to connect again someday! 
Casa Rio on Commerce Street in Downtown
San Antonio was definitely worth the stop!

And for the record, the food and drink game in San Antonio is superb!  A few places I recommend if you are ever in San Antonio are Whataburger (I know it's a chain, but I had never had it!), Schilo's German-Texan Restaurant, Queso Pan Y Vino (a speakeasy with charcuterie boards and pizza), Pat O'Brien's (New Orleans style bar and restaurant), Waxy's Irish Pub, and Devil's River Distillery (no food, just whiskey, and whiskey cocktails).  I look forward to returning to San Antonio just to explore the food scene a little further!

While the entire week at TCEA was inspiring, I will say that it is partially because of TCEA that am becoming more active on social media again and writing my blog.  I had been stuck in a rut for quite a while and getting to spend time with passionate educators and spending time learning again was a breath of fresh air.  As I write this, Spring CUE is just around the corner in Palm Springs, California, and only expect to be further inspired to continue to learn, connect, and write!

Until next time... 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

What is a SEIF?

In 18 years as an educator, I have served in many roles.  For the first 11 years, I taught high school social studies, mainly United States history of differing levels ("regular", honors, and Advanced Placement [AP]), but I also taught American government, both "regular" and AP.  After a short stint as a technology learning strategist, I moved into administration as a middle school dean, but after about 6 months, I moved back into the classroom, falling back on my minor in college, physical education.  From there, I left my district and moved from Las Vegas to Reno, Nevada where I got a position in special education and earned a master's in special education in the process (in addition to my master's in education and educational specialist in school administration).  After four years as a special education teacher, a unique opportunity presented itself.  

In the spring of 2022, my principal announced that she wanted to bring on a second special education instructional facilitator at my school.  The position would be a teacher's schedule, salary, and contract, but would not have classes or students.  For many schools around the nation, a position like this is referred to as a teacher on special assignment, or TOSA for short.  The position would still involve interacting with students, but the bulk of the work would involve reviewing paperwork and working more closely with teachers on special education matters.  

After a couple of exploratory conversations with my principal, assistant principal, and the current special education instructional facilitator (SEIF for short, rhyming with reef, beef, and leaf), I decided to apply for the position.  After an interview with my principal, AP, and the current SEIF, I was offered the job.  Now the question became, what exactly is a SEIF and what will my role be?  

When people ask me what I do, I always struggle to explain in just a few words.  My typical response is that I am responsible for ensuring that special education paperwork, such as IEPs, is in compliance and that they are being implemented properly.  But there is so much more to my role, and in all honesty, I cannot begin to explain everything that I do, so here is a list that includes, but is not limited, to my duties as a SEIF:
  • Reviewing IEPs prior to meetings
  • Serving as the LEA (local education agency) for meetings
  • working with educators to ensure that IEPs and behavior intervention plans (BIPs) are implemented and in compliance
  • reviewing students' specialized instruction to ensure that they are in the correct classes and are receiving their services
  • communicating with related services personnel (speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, etc.) to evaluate students and ensure services are provided if needed
  • assist in collecting data on students to drive decisions in determining placements in the general education versus the special education environment 
  • running various reports on enrollments, services, etc., and fixing any errors
  • assisting teachers with any of the above and more
  • much, much, much more...
I take a lot of pride in being good at what I do.  The biggest struggle for this school year is that I am not that good at my job right now, even after several months.  I am not terrible at the job, but there is simply a lot about it that I don't know about.  I joke with my colleague that works in the same position that she has forgotten more about being a SEIF than I know (she has been a SEIF for 16 years).  I am also very fortunate to have her, as I would most likely be very lost and/or buried if I was on my own.  It is great to have somebody to guide me through the nuances of the position and answer questions any time I get tripped up. However, I am definitely better now than I was in August 2022 when I started.

Was I 100% qualified for this position?  Most likely not.  But as in other instances in the past, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself and was fortunate enough to earn the opportunity.  And while I am improving each day and, for the most part, enjoying it, I may decide in the future that it is not for me.  I took a risk and will learn from the experience, whether it is a positive one or one that has more negatives than positives.  

Until next time...