As special education teachers, we know our classrooms need a lot of differentiation and accommodations. And that doesn’t just mean in our instruction. Our lunch schedules, picture day routine, fire drill protocols, and all other types of school wide activities might need to be individualized to fit the needs of our kids. And we are the ones that have to advocate for our kids in these ways. Yep. Another thing to add to the to do list. Creating curricular materials, writing IEPs, training staff, and implementing behavior plans isn’t our whole job. We have got to make sure the school community can help meet the needs of our classroom. And sometimes that means we have to ask the ridiculous question. It’s that ridiculous question that you really wish you didn’t have to ask. You wish someone else would have realized this or thought of it already. But you’ve gotta ask it and then help your admin figure it out.
What about my prep time?
Dang this is a loaded question. But it’s one a lot of us have to ask and it’s also one I don’t have an easy answer for. In our multi-grade classrooms the schedules rarely line up nicely where 3rd graders, 4th graders, and 5th graders all have their specials at the same time (next question is do you even have enough staff to make that happen, see below). When the schedules don’t line up, you are stuck without a prep period. As a first year teacher or a new teacher to a school or position, we sometimes do the don’t-worry-about-it-I-don’t-need-a-prep-period thing and I passionately urge you not to do that for a few reasons.
- You do need a prep period. You’ve got to make your own curriculum. You’ve got to write 9 million IEPs. You’ve got to go to the bathroom once in a while. You do need it.
- You are entitled to it. Enough said.
- It sets a risky precedent. You don’t take prep period this year and then you’ll blink and be on year 9 of no prep period.
So ask the ridiculous question. Make sure your admin helps you figure out when that prep period will be. Ask for the master prep schedule and see if you can figure out any creative solutions. Be wild and dare to suggest even switching other class’s prep periods if it could make your schedule work. Try you hardest to make that prep period not be when kids are in the room. That is not a true prep period. If it has to be when kids are in the room, then take you laptop and work on IEPs in the teachers lounge. If you stay in the room, you will keep teaching. If the schedule is a mess this year, ask them how you can work together next year to avoid this. It’s easier to make those changes and requests before the master schedule is made.
How can I send my students to 3 lunch periods with 2 aides?
Maybe this isn’t specifically your question but it’s likely some variation of it. In our multi-grade classrooms, we may have events at different times without enough staff to have coverage for each kid. In this situation, approach your principal, case manager, or special education director with your excel staff and student schedule that illustrates your lack of coverage. Also come with a suggested solution. In my experience, our administrators can be so busy that often times when we come in with a reasonable solution to a problem they may be likely to say yes. Ask for a different paraprofessional to provide coverage for a short time period. Ask if you can group two grades of students together. Figure out what would work best for your students and lead with that.
When will I get the rest of the staff I need?
Another big time question with no easy answer. Often times the amount of staff that is listed in our IEPs is not what’s reflected in the real world in our classroom. Maybe you have 3 students with one on one paraprofessionals and the district only gave you two. Continuously talk to your administrators about this. Of course, be polite and respectful – their hands may be tied too. But remember those IEPs are legal documents and those children’s parents likely fought hard to get that one on one in place. If the student’s needs have changed, have a meeting with the parent to discuss changing the IEP. If the needs remain the same, continue to bring it your admin’s attention. Sometimes we bring things up in the start of the year and then make due and make it work the rest of the year. Do your best to make it work, but continue to remind them about the lack of staff and why it’s critical in your class.
What curriculum should I use?
When I was a naive 22 year old first year teacher, I seriously thought that one morning someone would show up with big boxes of materials labeled Johnny’s Curriculum and Max’s Curriculum. I kept waiting for “the stuff” to arrive and no big surprise it never did. We have two full time jobs. We are teachers and we are curriculum developers. And we aren’t just developing one curriculum for our class – we are likely develop 9 curriculums in our class. The textbooks and programs that the general ed uses doesn’t quiet work for our kids. So what do we do? Ask for what you need.
Create a list of the things you need to create a curriculum for your class. Laminating pages, velcro, TpT Purchase Order, online subscription, assessments, etc. Approach your principal. Explain why the general education curriculum does not work for your kids and explain specifically why you need these things. You’d be surprised that maybe your principal will say yes. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I have no idea if this is true or no but as a young teacher – I told my principal that my students were entitled to and allocated textbook money from the district or state and since they didn’t use the textbooks these were the things I needed in place. Yes, I seriously said that and yes, it worked and I literally have no idea if that’s a real thing. I just started every year then turning a list of supplies that I titled “Supplies in Place of Textbook Funds” and the list was purchased. Worth a shot 😉
Why can't my kids be in the spelling bee?
If you are a newer program or classroom, you may get unintentionally left out of things. There is likely no malicious intent and may just stem from lack of awareness and understanding. Educate your school on how your kids can be involved in different school wide events. The spelling bee example is a real life question I had to ask one of my first few years teaching. You can only guess the annoyed and furious tone that the question came out with when I was told my students couldn’t be in the spelling bee. Don’t worry. I set them all straight. And in the end it was a great experience for my kids, the other teachers, and the whole school. But yes, I did have to ask that ridiculous question.
Can you please knock before entering my class?
I don’t know if this happens in all classrooms or if it’s because we have so many people (therapist, case managers, etc) that need to come in and out of our rooms but the revolving door can quickly get out of control. Our kids may be more likely to get distracted having people in-and-out in-and-out all day is not a good fit. No wonder we can’t get much done. I think it’s perfectly fair to ask people to knock before they enter. Or give a subtle (or not so subtle) reminder to enter quietly and respectfully.