I know the title may be confusing. So I thought I’d give a quick synopsis before we get into the article. Technology, Teaching, and Tourette’s is a blog article where I interview Andrew Proctor a teacher who taught and is currently teaching about technology. The thing that makes his story special, is how his diagnosis with Tourette’s syndrome has shaped his journey and led him to help kids with special needs.
If you teach, work with, or know someone with Tourette’s syndrome this might be a good article for you to read. If you’ve ever had to work with academically challenged kids or had trouble getting your kids to venture past using the tools they already know, this is a good article for you.
It has been my pleasure as the creator of Educraft Ideas to interview and get to know lots of Teachers. It takes a special kind of person to choose a path like teaching, and it says something very special about a person who chooses that path.
That’s because being a teacher is having to start way too early and having to work way too late. Being a teacher is sometimes feeling underappreciated and unsupported. It’s having to deal with bossy, irate, helpful, hurtful, peaceful, and unsettling parents all at the same time. It’s juggling 15 balls in the air, while people act like you should be juggling more. All that pales in comparison, however, to be a teacher is to be the most important influential person in a new person’s life every year.
I feel justified in saying this because I’m not a teacher, and my words come from a place of objectivity and respect.
EduCraft has afforded me the chance to meet and engage with this amazing part of our society, but every now and then I’ll meet someone who is both inspiring as well as knowledgeable.
In doing research for a blog article, I came across Mr. Andrew Proctor. I was (still am actually) trying to understand how teachers are using presentation style software like google slides or prezi. I learned that he taught a foundational communications class for the low performing students in his school.
I usually focus on the use of Technology by teachers, but I thought his experience and struggles teaching technology to academically challenged kids would have some lessons in it for all of us. I then learned that his new job will involve teaching technology to teachers.
At this point I knew he had some very useful knowledge to share, and that he deserved a blog article on his own.
I wasn’t finished being amazed, though, I later found that the journey that led him here included a struggle with Turrets syndrome.
Without further ado, I give you my interview with Andrew Proctor.
I try to keep EduCraft Ideas focused on teaching and technology (unsuccessfully sometimes) and your story has led you to be involved in teaching technology to both teachers and students. How did you get here? What made you want to become a teacher in the first place?
That’s actually a long story, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school. I had a lot of really influential teachers including my Computer Technology teacher Mr. Annan, my Accounting teacher Ms. Kneale, and my College Algebra teacher Mr. Nightengale.
They all made me want to further my education, and made me want to achieve something significant in the world.
I bet just about every teacher can trace their passion for teaching back to another teacher. When did you first get bitten by the teaching bug?
When I went off to college, I played collegiate soccer for 4 years while dual enrolling in 2 different universities that had a dual enrollment partnership. I was able to play soccer and start off in a small college, Manhattan Christian College, while transitioning into Kansas State University which is a bigger school.
While on travel trips with the soccer team, I found myself tutoring some of the older players in their accounting classes and kind of fell in love with accounting. I ended up taking a few
business classes because they were enjoyable, but then I got “stuck”.
I found myself taking more and more business classes and next thing I knew, I was about to graduate with an accounting degree from Kansas State. It was then that I realized that I still wanted to be a teacher. I enjoyed teaching my peers some of the business classes.
I ended up changing over to Education and coming back to Kansas State University for 2 more years to obtain my Business Education endorsement. It was a wild (and long) ride to get to where I am today.
Ok, we’ll come back to your time at Kansas State. When did you first realize you had Tourette’s Syndrome?
It actually took me a while to travel down this journey with my diagnosis. I was diagnosed at 21, a couple of weeks before my (first) senior year of college. I’d been misdiagnosed 3 times at the age of 10, 12, and 17.
I bet the misdiagnoses was tough.
It was a little disheartening. It was weird not knowing what was wrong with me and it wasn’t going away like they said it would. It was diagnosed as a nervous tic and they told my mom to limit my stress. I was also given medication that made me tired and groggy. It was hard to function in school. It was just easier to deal with the tics rather than take the medication.
When I was finally diagnosed, it was almost like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, but at the same time, it was devastating. I was confused, mad, and scared. I really didn’t know what to do and medication made me nervous. I took some time to think and talked with my neurologist who suggested a low dose medication to ease me into it. It made me feel better and I had a very good support system around me. It took time, but I’ve gradually grown to live with my Tourette’s instead of fearing it.
How did you finally grow to accept Tourette’s syndrome?
During my 5th year of college, I started coaching soccer at a local high school and fell in love with coaching and making connections with the players. I worked hard to learn how to coach and even harder at making connections with the kids.
It was really those players I had that helped my decision to pursue teaching.
“They accepted my Tourette’s, asked intelligent questions about it, and were so supportive that I couldn’t even believe it.”
These kids were special and they made a real difference in their school and the program of soccer. It was so special to be a part of, and I do think about that first season a lot. Those kids helped me on my road to acceptance of my Tourette’s and if it wasn’t for them, I think I would still be struggling to understand how to cope.
Those kids had some things that made them different too; low-income, learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and some kids that were supposed to be destined for failure.
That’s amazing. Sometimes when we help people we end up getting all the help. Did your coaching experience have anything to do with your decision to become a teacher?
It was after that first season that made me want to pursue education. I did my research and made an appointment with the head of the business education department at Kansas State to see what I needed to do to jumpstart this new adventure in my life.
From there, I graduated in the Spring of 2011 and re-enrolled to KSU for the fall of 2011 to start my new education degree. I went through my education courses and decided it was time to start informing my professors about my Tourette’s.
I sat down when I started Block 1 (beginning of professional courses) and spoke with my professors about my journey, my Tourette’s and my weaknesses. I explained that I’m not making excuses in advance, I plan to work my tail end off to achieve success in these courses and they were very receptive.
It was another good step forward. However, I had to explain to them that there are days when I just can’t win the battle with my Tourette’s. It puts me in a bad mood, mainly embarrassment, and I simply cannot control them (the tics) no matter how much I try to hide it.
“You need to understand that at this point, I was still afraid of telling my friends and peers. It was non-negotiable. I just simply wasn’t ready.”
But throughout Block 1, I made many friends and started to build a professional network with the students. I was starting to feel comfortable.
By the time Block 2 hit, I was making more friends and starting to feel more comfortable around these people. When I get comfortable, I allow my Tourette’s to show a little bit more. To my surprise, no one said anything, no one asked questions, but no one gave me any nasty looks either. It was really okay at this point.
How did Tourette’s figure into your personal life?
By the time I was student teaching, I was driving 25 minutes to the school I taught at, working from 7AM and leaving school at 9PM as I was still coaching soccer there and we didn’t practice until later in the evening (6-8PM).
As busy as I was, I still made time for my new friends as much as possible on the weekends. Enough so that I met a girl.
We had gone through all our Blocks together and I had gotten to know her quite well through student teaching. She was in a middle school and I was in high school so we talked about the differences and similarities in 8th graders versus 10-12th graders.
I finally mustered up the courage to ask her out and after our 2nd date, I felt I had to tell her about my Tourette’s. I was so nervous that I sweated through 2 shirts before I even picked her up.
“That night I told her about my Tourette’s and how I can’t help some of the things I do and say and she said something that has stuck with me to this day: “I know.” “
As much as I had thought that I was this expert at hiding my tics, it turns out that I wasn’t. In fact, a lot of people knew, but they just didn’t bring it up because they didn’t think I was comfortable with it.
She also told me another thing that has stayed with me to this day: “I don’t care.” In my road to acceptance of my battle with Tourette’s, this has the most influence of anything anyone has ever told me. This girl knew I had Tourette’s, she didn’t care, and she still wanted to be around me.
I guess my view of the similarities of Tourette’s to Leprosy was incorrect. In fact, she is still the main support system in my life. We’ve been dating for 3 years (to the day actually: today is our anniversary) and when I have bad days, she knows, but she is forcing me to communicate and become a self-advocate; something I’m not good at.
She forces me to work on my weaknesses and she supports me when I fail. She comforts me on bad days and we celebrate good days. Lately, we’ve even celebrated bad days.
I’ve become more comfortable as of late because of her and am proud to have celebrated National Tourette’s Syndrome Awareness Month during May 15-June 15. I sent out my first tweet about me having Tourette’s and it’s been a positive experience ever since.
My road to acceptance has been a tough one, but it’s definitely not over. I still get embarrassed when I have a bad day or someone asks me if I’m okay.
“Sometimes I just want to scream, “YES I’M OKAY, I JUST CAN’T HELP IT!”, but then I remember that not everyone knows what Tourette’s is.”
It gives me a chance to share my story. I feel that I’ve become an advocate for Tourette’s without even applying for any position. It’s like it’s my destiny, it’s in my blood, but my journey; it’s far from over.
Wow Andrew, that’s an amazing journey. How did all this lead you to Education Technology?
After I graduated, I accepted a position teaching Special Education at Junction City High School. My first year, I was assigned to co-teach the communications classes with our 4 communications teachers at our Freshman Success Academy (it is its own separate building).
We did not have a foundational communications class that first year, but developed it for my second year where I co-taught the class with one of my colleagues. In her communications class my first year, we implemented all sorts of new technology projects because I was comfortable with it and made some recommendations to her.
In our second year teaching the foundational class together, we implemented even more tech into the lessons and finally, my third year, I designed the class around project-based learning with technology that included simple office suite items, but giving the students options.
It took more work upfront to teach all of the options, but ultimately, it was up to the student to decide which option they wanted to pursue.
“I found that with my special education students, they tend to lean on comfort rather than challenges.”
Though I was trying to give options to help them venture away from PowerPoint, I still saw a lot of PowerPoint projects because they were comfortable with that.
Along with that, we began using OneNote 2013 to turn in assignments, take notes, and even collaborate with each other on topics and discussions. I brought in the tech to the class because I felt that these students needed new, exciting 21st century skills and abilities that they may not have had otherwise.
I thought to myself that if I could provide them with new ideas and challenges, they may reach out and take a risk. It was tough for some of them, but they did it. We used different programs throughout the year and most of them were very nervous about using them, but in the end, they tried something new and had to learn, try, and persevere through their difficulties.
Why did you design your class around project-based learning?
I decided to design my class around project based learning because I knew that the kids that I had were supposedly the lowest performing students in the school. A lot of them read at about a 2-5th-grade level according to their test scores, and a few of them had some behavior problems.
From the very beginning of the year, we started reading a book (Making the Most of your life) about making choices in life that would set you up for success. They were little essays that we read together and the book was at Lexile (grade level) low enough that these kids could read and comprehend. They ended up loving the book! In fact, they did so well that I think this book was BELOW what they could accomplish.
It was during this unit when we were just doing discussions and small activities that I realized a test wouldn’t be the answer to assess their learning. Instead, I designed a “choice” project where the students were given options of different tools to use to create a presentation about their favorite essay in the book.
In the beginning, I had to look at all the options and keep the items simple enough that any person, no matter how techy they were, could figure it out. I started with PowerPoint, included Prezi, Microsoft Publisher (for making posters), an infographic website, and a few others.
I ended up with 8 options of things to use. I thought to myself, these kids are pretty bright, but will they be able to figure out how to use any of these options on their own? In fact, would the list scare them and intimidate them into sticking with something they know, like powerpoint?
I was right. In my first project of the year, of the 8 students I had in my class, 7 of them did a PowerPoint. The other one made a poster by hand. It was then that I realized in our next book we were exploring, I had to change things up. So we did. I decided to jigsaw the book and assigned every student a different “Life Law” from Jay McGraw’s Life Strategies for Teens (Jay McGraw is Dr. Phil’s son).
After assigning each student a life law, I stood up and taught EACH option of things they could choose from. I skipped PowerPoint, but related it to Prezi and Publisher and Piktochart (Infographic website). I taught them all.
I still gave them the option of PowerPoint as a fallback, but gave an extra 5 point incentive if they didn’t use PowerPoint and broke out of their shell. A lot of them did! I had 6 of the 8 not use PowerPoint. I felt like that was a win in my book.
I feel like it’s great that students are good/comfortable with something, but students need to learn problem-solving skills while learning a new program. If we just let them go through school being comfortable then they will never learn how to use those problem-solving skills
You mentioned before that you’ve made a slight change in direction with your career at some point.
I really enjoyed teaching Special Education to students who had deficits like I did in high school. However, on that ride I fell in love with educational technology and have since taken a new position in my school as the Educational Technology Coach. I am very excited to get started in this new position and look forward to working with many different teachers on how to implement technology into their classrooms.
What would you say is one difference between teaching technology to teachers and teaching technology to students.
Well, one thing I’ve noticed already is that you have to differentiate. There are teachers who are awesome at technology and then there are some who don’t care for it or are just getting into it. By differentiating or accommodating you can get on a teacher’s level to make a positive environment, but still challenge them to learn something.
If you want to keep up with Andrew and find out what he’s up to you can follow him at @CoachProctorJC . If you liked this article please leave a comment or sign up for the email list below. If you think an interview article about you or someone you know would be interesting, leave a comment or sign up for the email list and send me a note.
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