Meet Samantha and her K-6 Classroom!
My classroom serves students age 5-11 with a variety of needs. We have some students in wheelchairs with very little functional movement that participate in the MOVE program, some with Autism, some with Down Syndrome, and others with a mix of needs. We currently have three verbal students and 7 non-verbal. Our class is located in a “permanent portable”. We have two Rifton Pacers, a Dynamic Stander, two Rifton seats, and an adaptive Bike. This is in addition to our 5 wheelchairs, desks, tables, and two rifton toilets in a corner for practicing toileting skills. We also eat in our classroom since the cafeteria is too overwhelming for most of our students and many of our kiddos need help with feeding. Safe to say it is a bit crowded!
That being said, we structure our class to have a break area, a work area for our students who can sit and work independently, an area for our therapists to work, and my desk area, and we try to keep the middle area as open as possible for all of the transitions we do.
We use Unique Learning Systems as our main curriculum and I love it, however it is impossible to implement every single lesson so I pick and choose 6-8 lessons to focus on based on the core concepts I want to teach (vocabulary, math skills, number or letter recognition, and comprehension usually). I try to include it into our independent work time, circle, table work, and group work.
Staff and Student Schedules
Our philosophy is “flexible structure”. I try to keep to our schedule as much as possible to assist our students with Autism. We have implemented a picture matching schedule for our mobile students that has helped tremendously with transitions. Students that are able carry small picture schedules throughout the day. When it is time to transition the students will match the picture to the appropriate place. Knowing where they are going next helps with interfering transition behaviors. We use First-Then schedules for choosing reinforcers for difficult tasks such as desk work and sitting for Circle time.
However if something happens that throws off our schedule such as a behaviors, bathroom incidents, or random school events, we don’t let it stress us out! Things happen, and if we miss a worksheet or small activity it isn’t a big deal in the long run. If you are stressed out about the little things your students will pick up on it (and probably add to it)!
For staffing, I try to keep One staff with 1 – 3 students (depending on needs) for two ‘shifts’; Before Lunch and After Lunch. We change this schedule up every few months. Staying with one student for a larger chunk of time helps reduce confusion of “who has who right now”, and also allows us to really focus on that student and learn more about them and their goals. Then switching it up helps the students learn how to better handle change as well as prevent staff burnout with certain more challenging students.
It’s a team effort: even for data collection!
I have 3 permanent paraprofessionals and one provided by the district this year to support one of their students. When I started at this school 3 years ago, two of my paraeducators had been in the same classroom for 20 years! That puts a lot of pressure on a relatively new teacher! It took me a while to overcome my insecurities about being a young teacher, and I soon realized that a good relationship with your paraeducators is more important than making sure everything is perfect with academics or data collection. I try to listen and be flexible, and if there is a project or activity they want to do or create I give them free reign.
We have created a great bond these past three years, working on changing things one item at a time. They are all amazing Data collectors now and while they follow the assigned schedule, they are observant enough to jump in and help each other and me with behaviors or transitions when needed!
Words of Wisdom:
If I could talk to my first year teaching self, I would definitely tell her to not be so afraid of adults! As a younger teacher just starting out, I had heard lots of horror stories about parents suing schools. I was always professional, but had a “Me vs Them” attitude when we had meetings or IEP’s. Which is crazy! We all want what is best for the student and while parents can have some unrealistic wants for their child’s schooling, it is important to build a relationship with the parents. they are trusting you with their baby who may not be able to tell anyone if something bad happens. As a new mom I can definitely say now this is a CRAZY amount of trust! I had to interview over 10 daycares to find a good fit, and our parents don’t get to choose their teachers!
But this also applies with paras and support staff. You do not have to overcompensate for your age by trying to be the ‘Best’! Accept help from others, learn from your para’s and your therapists, and enjoy your students! Learn as much as you can and try to implement things you think will help your kiddos, but also know that you can’t do it all, give yourself a break and leave work at work whenever possible!
Hi! My name is Samantha Roan and I am a Severely Handicapped Teacher in Galt, California, a small town about twenty minutes south of Sacramento. I work for the County Office of Education and my class covers K-6 students with severe needs (academic, behavioral, or medical) over three smaller districts. While I work for the County, our class is on a Galt District campus with access to their general education peers for socialization and mainstreaming. I received my liberal studies degree from CSU Sacramento and my Master’s Degree in Special Education and Moderate/Severe Teaching Credential from National University. This is my 5th year as a teacher and 3rd with the County, and I was also a paraeducator during college. I have worked in a large spectrum of placements including Non-Public Schools, In Home ABA, Middle School Academic Intervention, Intensive Autism Intervention, and Elementary Special Day Classes.
I love Special Education and specifically the Moderate/Severe realm because every-day is different, and every child is their own unique puzzle. What works one day may not work the next. I get to create meaningful resources and teach things that will matter for these children’s lives. I am a data nerd and love seeing the tiny things we do daily create big (or even little) change. While the job comes with paperwork, IEP’s, and data analysis, I am never bored! You can check out some of my opinions, tips etc at funfunctionaleducation.wordpress.com or Fun in Functional Education at TPT! <3