My school has a four block schedule. I teach for three of them. Because I also coach soccer, I have my planning period during fourth period so that I can prepare for practice during that time. Right now I don’t have any coaching responsibilities during my planning period, but stay tuned during the spring semester to hear how juggling coaching, teaching, and spring IEP season is going.
Last year I taught one period of resource for students pursuing a regular high school diploma and two periods of employment training for students pursuing an occupational diploma. This year I am teaching only employment training. We have three levels of employment training (employment training I, II, and III). For students preparing to graduate, our goal is that they spend the majority of the school day at a job site in a job they could transition into after graduation. I work closely with the job coaches and job placement coordinator to find jobs for the students in my class and to know what skills need to be addressed in the classroom.
In the classroom, I teach skills such as how to fill out an application, prepare for an interview, and work well with others. We also cover many money skills that students need to use a cash register or read a paycheck. Most of my time, however, is not spent in the classroom. I spend three days a week at “Cavalatte.” Cavalatte (Dorman’s mascot is the Cavalier. See what we did there?) is the student-run coffee shop that serves as an on-campus job placement or employment workshop for students in the employment training program. I’m a barista!
The coffee shop is a great way for me to see my students in action. I get to assess their skills in authentic work situations and then address weaknesses on the spot or in the classroom. I see my students making change with money, problem solving with customers, and working as a team with coworkers. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday my students spend the whole class period in a room off to the side of the cafeteria making sweet tea, coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade slushies, mocha freezes, and all kinds of smoothies. Students get to use their own creativity in blending flavors and making special creations for certain times of the year. The coffee shop is a very fun environment, but it also presents its own challenges.
As far as challenges go, one of the biggest is a lack of a strong curriculum. I have lots of resources available, but as you can imagine, no one has come up with the perfect curriculum for this unique situation. For lesson planning, I spend a great deal of time going through many books, curricula, and other resources looking for materials that could be helpful. One of my favorite resources is Tool of the Week from CEC. I highly recommend it for special education teachers at any level. Tool of the Week is a weekly e-mail that contains a downloadable resource.
One I have used already this year is the Parent Input Form: Employability Skills. This checklist was very helpful in identifying weaknesses that parents see at home. It was also a great way to communicate with parents about what we would be covering in my class and to get them involved in the classroom even though they may not be able to come to school often because of work schedules.
This past week, we filled out job applications in employment training. One thing I have found helpful is to use real applications from local businesses. I am using a Yogurt Mountain application that my students get very excited about. I tell them they have to fill out one for me to grade, but after I grade it I give it back to them so they can turn it in to actually apply for the job. Next week we are working on interviews and beginning training for Cavalatte. Our goal is to be ready for customers in the coffee shop by the first week in September.
I would love to hear from other teachers that teach in a non-typical classroom setting. What challenges do you face? What positives do you see to teaching in your setting?