The Motivated Teacher

Michael Todd Clinton

Teaching Styles: In a SPED Behavior Classroom



When I think of one word that should describe the teaching styles used in a BEHAVIOR classroom I think of DIFFERENT. Different should be what the teacher does to accommodate to students specific learning styles. It is the teacher’s job to educate to and better relate to high risk students; if you are not willing to do this DO NOT TEACH in a BEHAVIOR CLASSROOM. I am going to share with you in this blog a paper I have been working on about my class. I have the opportunity to describe my class and teaching styles and would love feedback from my readers and peers. If something does not make sense for those of you who know me and my class, please advice. I am looking at this writing the same way I tell my students to write. I tell them to ask themselves, would it pass the stranger test? Meaning a stranger should be able to get a good idea of what my class looks like after reading this. The strangers in this case will be professionals not in the education world, so sorry teachers for all the acronyms you already know.

I want to take one second to say THANK YOU to everyone that has sent me emails, comments, and messages. I truly am learning from you, and what we do as teachers MATTER so keep it up! For the seagulls out there that want to fly in and crap on my boat (aka Blog, Twitter page, Facebook, etc) please keep coming back I will continue to feed you with what is on my heart and on my mind. Also, I want to say thank you to my seagulls for giving me a little extra motivation to keep doing what I’m doing. I just pray that eventually what I am doing or saying will make you land so I can get you on board (no pun intended) with my goals to help bring awareness to at risk teens and to motivate myself and others so we can do what is best for our youth.

Also, for those of you I have not responded to or emailed back. I will!

Thank you for motivating me and others- and yes seagulls will always be there so don’t let them keep you from going to the beach. Inspire others!


My paper I’m turning in will start here:

My name is Michael Todd Clinton, I believe wholeheartedly that I was put on this earth to help teach, mentor, and develop at-risk youth. I feel it is my job as an educator in a behavior classroom to create an atmosphere that develops my students not only academically but socially. The skills we teach in my class will help prepare them for the real world. In my class a new student can walk through the door at anytime, from anywhere. I never know the students entire story or past to understand the reasons why my class was chosen as their educational placement. I do know that they must have not been successful in the general education environment, and an alternative educational setting (ADS) was determined at some point. When I get a new student my job is to find the reasons why they were not successful in a general education setting and modify and accommodate to students individual needs. After determining their needs, it is my job to provide them the education they deserve.

I currently teach in a special education classroom that serves students with behavioral disabilities. The students’ disabilities affect their learning process or the learning process of others in a general education classroom. Most of my students have a diagnosis of  Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Emotionally Disturbed (ED). My style of teaching depends specifically on the students needs. As a special education teacher I have to be a pro at developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs). I accommodate to whatever style of learning works best for the student. I have found success in my classroom using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning. I am a firm believer in building positive relationships with my students, which in return allows for me to be more effective in my lesson planning and determining attainable goals for each of my students.

The program I work for within Putnam County Schools is called the TRACs Program (Training, in Responsibility, Accountability, & Coping Skills). While my classroom is at Upperman Middle School, I can have students from any of the middle schools in the county. This means I have students grades 5 through 8 all in one classroom. I have had students from Algood, Monterey, Cookeville, and Baxter. Since most counties do not offer a program like TRACs, I have had a number of students from many of the surrounding counties come to Putnam county just to have the opportunity to be in the TRACs program. The program has been around for many years, but most people in our county do not know a program like mine exist, or at least I did not until I started working in the program. My primary goal as the teacher in the TRACs program is to create an education plan that serves students with significant deficits in social skills and coping skills. In most cases the lack of these skills derive from their disabilities or asociality. To develop these skills I use an abundance of modeling techniques and technology in my classroom to help the students understand, overcome, and accept their disabilities. We don’t just tell the students what is expected in the classroom, we model, re-enact, and discuss in depth the reasoning behind why their behaviors are and are not expected in a school and community setting. In the TRACs program we also work on many transitional and living skills the students will need now and later in life.

My class is considered a self-contained classroom where my students are in our class all day. I have students arrive at 7:15 and leave at 3:30 and many times earlier and later than that. The students that are in my class full time never leave my sight or the sight of my paraprofessionals. We eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks together. In the class we share a bathroom, water fountain, refrigerator and all the joys and pleasant smells that a classroom full of boys would have, basically we live together eight hours a day, five days a week. I spend way more time with my students than with my family during the school year. The joy of being in a self-contained classroom is that there are so many teachable moments that myself and paraprofessionals get to address. A few examples of this include: proper bathroom etiquette, nutrition and wellness, and daily living skills and habits. Teachers that are not in a self-contained class do not have the privilege of teaching most of these skills. Being in a self-contained class provides students with a learning environment they feel comfortable in, especially students that have anxiety and social phobias. While in my class we are able to teach coping skills for these problems and hopefully prepare them for their return to the general education class and life.

This year in my class, I have started a student led project that has opened my eyes and my student’s eyes in what they are capable of accomplishing on their own. This is how I described the project in a grant I recently applied for. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a book.” The project is obviously a video project titled: “The School Perfect Project,” but our students and viewers know it as just  “School Perfect”. The project was created to demonstrate inappropriate behaviors that take place in our class, and it has grown to include many students outside of my class. Now that the project has spread, we are sharing it with the entire school, through student led presentations, our twitter page and YouTube channel. In the project the students do the filming and are the filmed characters. After filming funny inappropriate behaviors, we discuss the negative aspects of the observed behavior and possible alternatives to their behaviors. This is beneficial on several levels: the students become aware of what they are doing and discuss ways to change their behavior in a more appropriate manner, they are being introduced to the technology of video, and they can channel their energy into creative aspects. These videos are not only shared on YouTube, but also Twitter, FaceBook, Teachtube, and Instagram. I can not put in words the change in behavior, attitude, and confidence my students are now exhibiting because of this project.

I am blessed to teach in a school and county that believe in the power of technology. The special education department has loaned my class the video cameras for our project, and my school has one-to-one student computers which is unheard of in a county the size of ours. I could write a whole book about how I use technology in my class from google classroom, twitter, extensions, apps, add-ons, website design etc. In short I love technology, and by the time this gets read I am probably using new technology that I would be telling you about anyway. I have taught for a few years now, and understand why our school system believes in technology and uses any excess funds we have to purchase computers, ipads, etc. Technology not only has improved my student’s test scores, but it also is preparing them for the future. Since we use technology and social media daily,  I put an emphasis on teaching digital literacy daily to my students. I explain and demonstrate to my students the importance of understanding their social media footprint and the pros and cons of the online digital world.

Since my classroom is a self-contained classroom, we teach all subjects and content areas. This means that myself and paraprofessionals  teach Math, English, Science, Social Studies, RTI, and all encore areas (P.E., Art, and Music). We teach all these areas and make sure to accommodate and modify to meet the needs of each student’s individual goals that is addressed in their IEPs.

I have three paraprofessionals in my class, and by no means do I take full credit for everything I am telling you about.  I do wear the hat as the teacher of the class, but without them the things we are doing would not be possible. We do our best to group our students in small groups to meet their individual needs while covering each grade level’s common core standards and accommodate to their IEP goals. If for some reason I am honored to win a monetary amount from the rotary club, I will make sure to split the money with my paraprofessionals because they deserve it too. I have been a paraprofessional and you don’t do it for the money, you do it for the love of the kids.

This year I have been putting more of an emphasis on using music in my class and teaching some theory behind songwriting. I have been blessed to have some talented individuals come in and play for my class and can not believe the response I have seen from my students . I have found music to be a great outlet for students that struggle with depression or have trouble with written word. Since we constantly use songs and music to relate to our students, I have been implementing comprehension strategies with these songs. I have even had students re-write songs and change the words to more relate to their own story. By doing this it allows them to interpret the meaning of the song, which in return helps the students express what the song means and better understand concepts of writing.

While I love to to teach all subjects and encores to my students, my favorite thing to teach is social skills and social emotional principles. To do this I use a very popular curriculum used by counselors, mental health agencies, and teachers that work with high risk teens.  The program is called the “Why Try Program.” This program was created to help students such as mine overcome their challenges and improve their understanding in different social settings and educational settings. The program addresses bullying, peer pressure, understanding why we have laws and rules, and that life is about consequences good or bad. The program uses all of the same learning styles I previously talked about visual, auditory, and body-kinesthetic. We have obviously put our twist on the why try program to better relate to the students we currently have in our class.

“Why Try” is an awesome program, but I learned very quickly that students could not do it every single day without burnout, especially those that have my class for four years. So, when I completed my masters at Tennessee Tech, my research was done on a program I created to teach social skills and life skills called “ The New Day Program.”  The program is a motivational program and is based on building communication skills and relationships with students. Weekly it changes so it does not get old. In the program we meet different motivational individuals in person or I find video’s and biographies of individuals who have overcome different obstacles in their lives.  We also have weekly words, quotes, questions, and weekly independent living skills we teach in the program. The program also uses a tier-three behavior intervention that includes a daily check in check out (CHICO) folder that coincide with our daily power points. The students’ folders are used to help support them with their individual goals and school-wide expectations along with determining a daily percentage that helps them progress through the TRACs program. This is just a few small pieces of “The New Day Program.”  I love this program, and I am proud of it. Not only did my research conclude positive results, but I see it in my students now and the students I have had in the past. My past students come back and speak to my class and still send me motivational individuals they think my class should meet. My students also make their own New Day Programs, and it is amazing to me to watch them present theirs and the motivating things they come up with to share with their peers. I always love to use their ideas because who relates more to students than students. Their presentations and New Day folder is something they can take with them when they leave me in the 8th grade and will remain in their social media cloud forever. With this they will be able to see all of their growth and see what helped them get through good times and bad.

The name of the program comes from  a quote we read every day which states, “ No matter what may of happened yesterday a NEW DAY of fresh possibilities has dawned and you are not the same person today as you were yesterday.” -author unknown. We read this everyday because I want my students to know that with me and my class everyday is a New Day, and they have the opportunity everyday to change their past and choose to live a better life. During my time as the TRACs teacher I have been hit in the face, kicked, spit on, and much more but I won’t quit. I am going to be there for my students because in most cases they have not had that constant in their lives, and they use the things listed above as defense mechanisms so people will give up on them. I will not and I want anyone that uses my program to know that everyday must be a “New Day No Matter What.” This goes for teachers, and students. I tell them their will be consequences good or bad, happy or sad, either way its a New Day.


In my opinion the purpose of education is to help students reach their full potential that will allow them to have a fulfilling life after their school years. Areas teachers should address should be academic (learning process), physical (health), and social(communication with others). Education is the roots or foundation that builds a person’s character, career and legacy. I can not imagine where I would be now if it wasn’t for my education and teachers that would not give up on me. This is the mentality I bring to my class everyday that every child, regardless of age, race, or social class deserves to learn these skills in the public education system. Through the practices I teach in my classroom, I feel any student can achieve any goal that they choose to accomplish.

It is hard for me to believe that I am filling out a form and being considered for rotary teacher of the year. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at the noon rotary and breakfast rotary in my suit and tie trying to build relationships to become a better banker. Obviously God had a different plan for me, and for some reason, he gave me the courage to walk away from what I think is the best bank in the state, or at least the first (First Tennessee) and pursue a career in education.

Different teaching styles matter, I believe teachers are not suppose to be robots and there will never be a one size fits all classroom. I am proud to say mine is different, and I will keep my classroom unique as long as the students continue to improve educationally and socially. I welcome anyone to come to my class. I am proud of my class, my paraprofessionals, and the program. In my class on any given day you may see us shooting basketball as an assessment tool, acting like DJ’s to spark learning, building things using real life math scenarios, and much much more.

I am honored to be filling this out and hope that by doing so will help bring awareness to classes like mine. I hope this awareness will create action and possibly get me back to the noon rotary so I can further explain the importance of my class, high-risk students, and my program.

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