Vic’s Teacher-Then, Now & Forever

Toby Karten, Vic’s Teacher-Then, Now & Forever

Being a student’s teacher has no finish line. It doesn’t start in the beginning of the school year in August or September and end at the close of the term in May or June. Being a teacher begins when you first meet a student and then continues for the rest of your life.

It was an exhausting year and it was only May. Emotional and professional events pitched my way were handled with many home runs, while a few happenings inherited were less than desirable ones-with no way to hit it out of the park. Life has a way of twisting and turning but it also has a way of happening.

On my to do list was to organize my office. The piles were just beyond control. With a few publications and professional traveling engagements completed, it was now time to look at the aftermath of the nonstop work. I took myself to Home Goods to buy some canvas bins to organize a few of the items in my office. In my mind, placing them in a pretty container was better than looking at random toppling piles. My husband and I were considering moving and selling our house in the near future. The clutter would not be appealing to potential homebuyers.

I walked into Home Goods and there I saw a former student from over a decade ago. He looked at me; I looked at him.

“Hi, Mrs. Karten, how are you?”

“Hi Vic. All ok-just shopping-how are you?’”

“I am working, and I didn’t go to college. I never liked high school so why would I like college?”

I suggested to Vic that he try a few courses at a local community college. Vic shared-

“That’s what my grandma said I should do.”

He then asked me what I have been busy doing.

“ I’m no longer working at the school but I am still teaching at the University, traveling and doing a bit of other educational things to help teachers with their students, like writing and coaching.”

“Me, I am doing this job because I need the money. But one day maybe I’ll do business.”

“What about a management program, Vic?’

“My grandmother said that too.”

I asked Vic about his sister, who was also my student. Vic shared that she too is working in a local store. And then, Vic beamed that his youngest sister just got a job as a cashier in a deli. Vic, the older brother, shared that his little sister has to learn the value of making money.


I then straightened my teaching hat and asked-

“What would you like to do Vic?”

“I don’t know,” he said- “maybe business.”


“Well if that’s your intention then you know it takes time to make that happen and you have to go through the steps. You can’t blink your eyes and it will occur-one, two, three.”

‘That’s what my grandma said.”

“OK Vic now you have two people who like you who told you that it’s going to take time, but you have to put in the time and steps to make that happen.”

Vic then nodded his head and turned to me and said-

“ Happy shopping, Mrs. Karten.”

“Ha-yes-thanks, Vic.”

I then went about the store aisles and found a few differently sized neutral fabric bins to put files, legal pads, journals, and assorted workshop tools that I just could not part with over the years. I was quite a sight. I was walking around the store probably carrying too many things. I should have taken a shopping cart but a kind store manager who saw my overflowing arms brought one over.

I also bought a planter- it was the spring, time to move ahead. I then found myself on a long twisting check out line. I spotted Vic smiling at me. He was still on the floor putting away items on the shelves. Then his manager called him over to be an extra cashier. Next thing I knew Vic was checking me out instead of me checking him out.

“You look tired, Mrs. Karten.”

I then shared that unfortunately last week I had to put down our dog. Vic said that he had to do that too last year.

Vic and I were at different points of our lives, but somehow we reconnected and were able to share a few moments and a few thoughts. It seemed like it was yesterday, back in that reading lesson, when Vic was one of my students, almost ten years ago. I’d like to think that the moments we shared this week would help Vic to move forward. I told him that I would definitely see him again.

As I left the store to venture into the parking lot, I came across that same kind manager who gave me the wagon. I turned to him and said-

“ I suppose you get people who complain about things but I just wanted to tell you about the great service that I just received.”

He looked at me and I told him that the person’s name was Vic.

“If you’d like you could fill out an online form, because that would really help him a lot.”

So maybe I went to Home Goods to help myself or maybe I went to Home Goods because I needed to meet Vic to realize that life is not about the piles that we have or how we organize the piles but how we organize and connect with the people that are always a part of our lives.

Our students ground us. We are always a teacher. It does not end at the close of the school year, but relationships continue. The students that we meet stay in our hearts and maybe one day we serendipitously meet again and help each other as we go along that path called life. That night I filled out an online store survey about the professional, courteous, and personable service that I received.

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Navigating the Core Curriculum: RTI Strategies to Support Every Learner

Diminishing Barriers to Learning

Sneakers, planes, rockets, and boats. Getting from place to place happens with a structured itinerary, whether one is on foot, in the air, in space, or on water. Education, like navigation embraces the planning, collaboration, and knowledge. Early civilizations like the Minoans and Polynesians used the stars, wind, and ocean; Portuguese sailors also used astrolabes, and today’s modern navigators have access to all of those tools and resources, along with an array of digital ones. Despite a multitude of weather conditions, mindsets, and experiences, the navigation from place to place continues. Those of us in the field know that education is a journey that shifts and expands, however the core principles of both navigation and education value the people, tools, starting points and destinations, and the evidence-based practices. Propulsion, momentum, motivation, time, cost, and knowledge are a few variables. Barriers exist, but getting “stuck in the doldrums” is not an option in our educational waters. Navigating the Core Curriculum: RTI Strategies to Support Every Learner invites you to diminish learner barriers with a RTI process that circumnavigates the challenges.

The process need not be a complicated one, when step-by-step approaches are infused-


The key to pedagogically navigable waters includes responsive intervention that fine-tunes and individualizes the instructional practices to reach and teach each and every learner. Navigating the Core Curriculum includes K-12 lessons that offer multitiered systems of supports across the disciplines. The fact that some learners require stronger and more intensive interventions needs to be acknowledged and embraced. The identification of the literacy, mathematics, or behavioral levels begins the journey. The RTI process continues with the responsive instruction, student connections, staff engagements, and collaborative inquiry. Professional integrity to the students and practices propels the journey. The goal is to recognize, capitalize, and expand on each learner’s strengths. This resource offers staff applications that value collective responsibility, creativity, and critical thinking skills to reach students where they are and where they need to go. It takes several oarsmen for a vessel to safely navigate rough waters; some students require the same hands-on approach to stay afloat as they continue on their path to successful destinations.


You are invited to explore more about this publication and scheduling in person professional development at your site by contacting Solution Tree.



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A Sage & Inclusive Video

I was honored to be interviewed by Sage Video to offer inclusive

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insights.  As a collective group of professionals, families, students, and communities, we need to propagate, catapult, and monitor the infusion and progression of the skills and knowledge for learners of all levels of disABILITY.  Ultimately, inclusive school environments in turn lead to  inclusive and collaborative societies that prepare each person to capitalize on his or her strengths.  Each learner is one flower in a societal bouquet. In addition, as each flower has many petals, students are complex and diverse.  Roses, tulips, daisies, lilies, orchids, and sunflowers are all flowers, but each one has its own characteristics and needs. As indicated by this video, each student is a flower, ready to bloom with the appropriate supports. However, rhetoric is just that; now let’s collaboratively “walk the inclusive talk.” Knowledge is malleable, so  I invite your feedback-





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Learning & smiling is nonnegotiable:-)

Life is filled with many surprises as we continually blow out one more candle and, sometimes not by choice, a tire as well. One thing I have learned in almost 60 years of candles is that we can only control, shall I say for lack of a better word, the stuff that we can. Although we are not responsible for things like the weather or whether the union decides to hold a job action on your scheduled training day, or if a deer is on the runway and delays your flight, we can choose to bring umbrellas and smiles.

So, a funny thing happened on the way to a professional development session scheduled for Accident, MD. Yes, you may see where I am going with this. I boarded my plane at lovely Newark, NJ, which miraculously took off on time and had a brief layover in Dulles. During my 25 minutes on the ground in Washington DC, I received a phone call from the MD hotel clerk, who asked for my approximate arrival time. She was informing me that the hotel was closing early due to hazardous road conditions. I needed to arrive before 9 pm because they were sending all employees home. Hmm…given this news, I had to make a quick decision. I either board the plane or take this as an omen to, as they say in Brooklyn (where I was born), just fuhgettaboutit!

Yes, of course I boarded the plane and arrived like a trooper at the hotel at 8:55, surreptitiously following a de-icing highway truck. I even slept later the next morning since the District had a 2-hour delayed opening. I’m heading back to Accident in 2016 and may be chancing fate, since the return plane was delayed due to an uninvited deer on the runway. Not a normal occurrence for a Jersey/Brooklyn girl, but one that generated a smile!

Another time, when stopped for a speeding ticket in New Mexico, my first Corwin book, Inclusion Strategies That Work, Research Based Methods for the Classroom (now in its 3rd edition), saved the day. Not that I’m making excuses, but I was following all laws, driving within the speed limit, until the road sign abruptly changed from 75 to 35 mph. The police officer glanced at the ISTW book sitting on the passenger seat and saw that the license he was holding matched the author’s name. Thinking that I must be someone important, he offered a verbal warning with advice to exercise more caution on my continuing travels.

My point is, we do not always choose the events, but we do choose our attitudes. I did get a tire blow out, returning from an NYC engagement, but was luckily able to safely pull to the side of the road. Life throws you a few curves as well as a few giant lifesavers – best to have your pitcher catching mitt ready! A kind driver/angel in the car directly behind me saw the whole thing happen and in approximately less than two minutes replaced the flat tire with that donut in the trunk reserved for such an unwelcoming event.

Despite these short glimpses into a few travel glitches, I continue to present in locations that are not within walking distance from my New Jersey home. If you travel a bit, you undoubtedly have an arsenal filled with funny, yet sometimes frustrating travel anecdotes as well. Ironically, I wrote this piece on an Amtrak train that was delayed four hours from NYC due to a badly burned out compressor, and required a tow to my Syracuse destination. I chose the train because on my last flight to Syracuse the plane was delayed four hours for the one hour and twenty minute flight. Who would have thunk?

Let me sum up by giving a shout out to the Memphis educators, who I was honored to collaborate with in June 2015 with Corwin Professional Learning. To boot, thanks to the Corwin sales force; the District also purchased 550 copies of my last publication, Inclusion Coaching for Collaborative Schools. The TN director reached out for me, since she remembered me from a Dallas session I presented back in 2008 for NSDC, now Learning Forward. Point is, years later, you never know the seeds that you plant and the resulting fields of flowers. The Memphis elementary, middle school, and high school teachers rocked the 12 sessions in three days of incredible learning. Appropriately so, I began my presentation with a slide entitled Rock n’ Roll Inclusion. Sidebar, I did not rent a car in Memphis, because the hotel had an airport pick up service with shuttle service provided to the training less than three miles away. To stay with the current times and this upcoming technology, I even Ubered it to Elvis Presley Boulevard. The whole experience was a dream engagement! I texted the attached photo from a cinema billboard to a friend who asked what I was doing on the day before the whirlwind TN presentations. I prefer walking outside rather than exercising in a hotel gym. Since they haven’t figured out a way to generate income from speed walking, I thought that walking was a healthy and somewhat safe thing to do. I happily discovered a fun theater and saw an excellent movie as well. As depicted in the shot below, we sometimes create the picture and sometimes we are unknowingly a part of the landscape. As an author and educator, I am honored to impact professionals in the field and ultimately the next work force generation. So, bottom line-ultimate takeaway-if you have a chance, figure out your own umbrellas, but learning and smiling is non-negotiable!

Respectfully yours,

Toby Karten


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Inclusion Strategies That Work-NEW EDITION!

I am beyond excited to share that ISTW will be released in January 2015 in its 3rd edition! The research-based interventions are connected to the CCSS.  In addition there are innumerable online downloadable interactive resources for planning, instruction, collaboration, and documentation.  As the author, I loved updating this resource.  Enjoy the read!

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ELPH-Easy Look Up to Phone Home

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Common Core State Standards in Inclusive Classrooms


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Special Education Marries General Education: Strategies for a Spectrum of Learners

Here’s info about an upcoming November graduate course through Regional Training Center and The College of New Jersey. Strategies for a Spectrum of Learners offers educators and related staff providers practical ways to reach and teach ALL learners with the appropriate interventions across the curriculum that connect to diverse populations. Focus on differentiation, collaboration, CCSS, and most of all learning and professional growth! You also have the option of bringing this course to your school district. Contact RTC at 1-800-433-4740 for more information.RTC-SSLNov2013GradCourse.23 PM copy

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Strategies for a Spectrum of Learners

Professional development opportunity to earn 3 graduate credits from The College of NJ with the Regional Training Center. All general and special educators and related staff are invited to attend. Affirm and expand your strategies! This link offers registration information.Toby Karten SSL 2013 nj

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Inclusive Education on Pinterest

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