First, I think it goes without saying that teaching is exhausting work. It may or may not be typical of most teachers, but I arrive at 7:30 a.m. each day and I typically do not leave before 5 p.m. My day is filled with managing schedules, writing curriculum, practicing IEP goals/objectives, recording data, bus duty and so on and so forth. Somewhere in the midst of all this I also get to teach to a group of students whose ages range from 1st grade to 7th grade.
There are a host of other activities too, such as meetings with my mentor (since I am still a resident educator), principal and collaborations on interventions…sigh…honestly, 7:30 a.m.-5:00 pm. is not enough time in the day to get it all done. People talk about rookie professional athletes hitting a wall midway through the season. I will bet even veteran teachers hit that wall two months into a school year. It’s probably important to learn how to pace oneself, but the truth is: who has time for pacing?
Second, who can figure out the English language? Seriously. I no sooner teach students that ‘when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking’ then I learn that it is only true about half the time. And then there are verb tenses and all those irregular spellings. Homophones. Homographs. Homo Sapiens. Antonyms. Synonyms or is it cinnamons? And please tell me why the word ‘giraffe’ cannot just be spelled with a ‘j’ and why the animal on the ‘g’ flashcard cannot be a goat instead of a jiraffe? And please don’t get me started on the letter ‘x’!
Who came up with all this stuff anyhow? Add on top of all that a learning disability here or an Autism Spectrum Disorder there and what it ends up being is madness. I jest, of course, because part of the fun of being a special education teacher is that we get to invent all sorts of ways to teach these tricky ideas and rules to our students. Or we get to build strong relationships with the general education teachers who can guide and direct us toward grammar righteousness.
Third, I have the joy of working as a math and reading tutor in our camps each month. What I notice is that the students who come to the camps are struggling learners, who may be a little behind, but they learn quickly and when a concept is introduced it only takes a few times of repetition for them to ‘get it.’ This stands in contrast with the students I work with every day. I have to repeat some concepts literally 50 times a day, day after day and still there is a struggle to comprehend or retain.
Please do not misunderstand me: this is no complaint. This is Reality101. This is what we do as special educators. One of my professors used to remind us that with our students we might have to repeat something 100 times and they might never get it. But then, as if by magic or miracle, on the 101st time it clicks.
For example, one of my students could look at the suffix ‘-ing’ on paper and not pronounce it as a whole. He would get all the sounds, but could not connect them. So I just started to ask him randomly throughout the day, “What sound does ‘-ing’ make?” Sure enough he would get it. Back to paper, it was forgotten again. Such is our world, our students. We must persist in our efforts and encourage our students to do the same because we hope that during one of the trials, the switch will click and the light will come on, the lesson learned. Yet every day, it is back to square one.
Fourth, I am not ashamed to admit that I get resources from wherever and whoever I can. If someone in our building is throwing something away, he or she comes to me first. Just before the beginning of the school year, I was treated to a massive amount of stuff from a discontinued tutoring program. But I am not afraid to ask either. Is a teacher in your build retiring? Ask. I shop at Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sales, Half-Price Bookstore, Salvation Army stores. Teachers, especially special educators, can make anything into an educational tool for students.
I get a lot of ideas from Pinterest (an invaluable resource for teachers), Teachers pay Teachers and teacher blogs. One of my paraprofessionals is a Pinterest junkie and she is always pinning stuff—educational stuff—to her board. Sometimes just seeing another person’s work is enough to spark an idea for a ‘job’ or a learning tool.
I see no reason to re-invent the wheel. My advice? Get help, get an idea, get whatever you can to get the job done. Beg, borrow, (don’t) steal and find a way to incorporate them into your curriculum. Do not be too proud to admit you are scarce on ideas. They will come to you, but take what you can. And, again, carry a journal at all times.
Fifth, Monday, Dec. 3 I was given another full-time student. He is now in my class along with three other boys. This presents all sorts of unique challenges, but none that I am particularly fearful of—except that, well, there is another student in my room. I am thankful, once again, to have awesome paraprofessionals who stayed late last Friday and rearranged the room to accommodate this new student. I am so dependent upon them it is not even funny.
Sixth, it is important to have a friend in the school, someone you can talk to, vent to and go to for support, strength, encouragement or a reality check. That is all I need to say on this matter. Have at least one friend.
Seventh, and finally, I have realized how utterly, vitally important organization is in the classroom. I have told you before that I keep mounds and mounds of data on my students and the addition of another student at this juncture of the school year caused me to recognize some deficiencies in my data collection and storage. I had to rearrange a few things, make adjustments to other things and streamline some other things.
I’m fairly organized anyhow, so to admit that I needed to make mid-course adjustments is a huge thing for me, but it underscores a vital lesson I learned in graduate school: the teacher is always, always, always reflective. We are never satisfied that we have done enough for our students. We are always looking back, fine-tooth-combing our lessons, stretching ourselves to do more and to do better.
Half-way through my first school year, I am learning that I must improve upon my work every single day. I must think about what worked and what did not work. It is not always easy to admit that something did not work well and sometimes it is dangerous to admit something did work well. We should daily and soberly and cautiously be introspective of our work. We expect our students to be prepared for assessments. We too should be prepared by assessing ourselves daily.
Happy holidays to all who read the Reality101 blog. I am grateful to be a part of this project and send warm holiday blessings to all who have read, commented, edited, ‘liked’, +1ed, tweeted, or written during the last 18 weeks. You are truly a blessing and encouragement to me.