The new school year started a few weeks ago; since then, my life has been a little nonstop to say the least. Teachers out there, would you agree?!
Being a Special Education Teacher comes with many challenges, way too much paperwork, and lots of patience. But being a Special Education Teacher also means celebrating the simple things, which I love! When I am working with a student and they remember or achieve something that we’ve been working on, it is the best feeling in the world. And not just for the student!
Last year the majority of my time was spent working with two special education students at my school. I also taught several reading groups each day, and handled paperwork and IEP’s for other students, but most of my time was spent supporting these two students and modifying materials and activities for them. This year, I am still working with the same students, but am also the Special Education teacher for a team of 6th grade teachers. In a nutshell, that means that I am responsible for helping to support any special education students that any of these 6th grade teachers have in their classrooms. I modify work for these students, handle their IEP’s, and go into the classroom to help them on a day to day basis.
I have many more students to support than I did last year, so I feel like a first year teacher all over again. Sidenote: I also moved into an apartment (!) two weeks ago and started grad school several weeks ago. And now I can add I was in a rear end accident this weekend and totaled my car. I am ok but will be new car shopping now! It’s been like one long Monday.
Lots of people I talk to don’t know exactly what being a Special Education Teacher means, or what I do on a day to day basis. So I thought I would share some teaching information with you all today! If you’re not a teacher, hang in there because this post is all about the challenges and benefits of teaching. I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures in this post. I usually like to include at least a few pictures, but today I’m sharing from my heart with just words!
Did you write that down?
A big challenge of Special Education teachers is the paperwork. These days, it’s almost like I need to record and write down every strategy I’ve used with a child; what worked, what didn’t, even what I think I might try with them in 5 years. Ok, so I don’t record thattt much, but still an insane amount, in my opinion. We do need to record each time we talk with a parent and why, anytime we keep a child in from recess and why, behavior problems we have with any children and what strategies were implemented in the classroom, how students are making progress towards their academic goals… the list seemingly goes on and on. I feel like I’m wasting my planning time if I sit at my desk at school and work on paperwork, so I end up bringing lots of it home to do at night and on the weekends.
A new IEP system
My county is transitioning from our previous IEP system to a new one this year. Which means all of our students’ IEP’s need to be manually entered into the new system. You would think with technology these days, we would be able to easily transfer data and information with the click of a button… but not in this situation I guess! It has been a very time consuming process so far. I can either look at the previous system, and copy and paste large amounts of information, but that still requires me to go to the old system, find my information to copy, minimize this window, go to our new IEP system, paste the information, and repeat 250 more times. Or I can look at a paper copy of the student’s IEP and manually type the information in. Copying and pasting doesn’t work out so well when you need to enter dates, select testing accommodations one at a time, and add new goals.
Speaking of Goals
Oh, and when I need to add in the student’s goals, there is no copying and pasting or typing information verbatim going on. And that would be because in addition to a new IEP system, we also got a new IEP goal bank online! So when I go to add a goal for a student, I need to rewrite the goal with our new goal bank first. If you can’t find me, I fell into a hole of paperwork.
A new testing system
Every 3 years, we are required to test a student in Special Education to see if the child still qualifies to receive services. We use research based assessments to test their progress in all academic areas. The testing manual we used last year just came out with a new version, so now I have to learn a whole new test, too! I need to learn how to administer the test, how to score it, and how to explain the assessment results to parents. Lots of new information all at once!!
Last year the state test given in all public schools was MSA. This year, students will be tested using PARCC (yes, there are so many acronyms in education!). Here’s where the hole of paperwork gets even greater – if a student has a read aloud or scribe accommodation on their IEP, I need to have a meeting to review that and fill out additional paperwork prior to PARCC in the Spring. Long story short, I now need to hold IEP meetings for all of my students prior to PARCC. I can’t have all my meetings at once, so I need to start pretty much right now. But then we’re back to the problem of entering in all their data in the new IEP system before the meeting!
Since I am responsible for all of the students on my case load, I go into the classrooms to help them each day with reading or math, depending on the activity and if they need help at that time. I love this aspect of Special Education because I get to form a relationship with each one of my students, and let them know that I am there for them, all year long. I love the reassurance they are provided with when I help them in math, and they know that they’ll see me again for reading later.
Simple opportunities to help others
When I go into all of the classrooms to assist, I am not responsible for a homeroom class of students. I love this aspect because it gives me an opportunity to help in small ways. Whether another teacher needs me to watch her class while she takes a bathroom break, copy 3 more handouts quickly because she ran out of papers, or go for a walk with a student who needs to take a break. A homeroom teacher needs to remain with their class all the time, but since I pop in and out I am able to help teachers out and take a break in the classroom to help with simple things or check on a student in another class if I need to.
Celebrating small successes
Since I am typically working with students one-on-one or with a smaller group to reteach a concept or provide extra support, we usually need to review a skill multiple times before the students are successful. When a student does look up and say “I think this square I’m shading in will be a multiple of 3 and 6” after several days of counting by multiples, or uses a vocabulary word (correctly!) in a sentence on their own in daily conversation (not when studying the words) I literally get so excited! I am a firm believer that celebrating the little things and the small successes is just as important as celebrating the big accomplishments. That way, students will feel confident about themselves, and be more likely to continue trying in the future. Focusing on the small successes also gives me an opportunity to develop a positive relationship with that student. When I’m focusing on finding the positives and constantly encouraging a student, they view me much more as a “friend” and know I am there to root for them.
Constant Professional Development
I have the opportunity to spend time in many different classrooms each day! I am able to see different teaching styles and accumulate wonderful ideas and resources to use with other students now or save for the future. It’s like continual professional development and I get to see and help with a variety of activities and lessons. Two teachers may even be completing the same lesson one day so I am able to see different ways of implementing and modifying it.
I could keep going, but these are some of my biggest challenges and benefits I see on a day to day basis! Is Special Education hard and frustrating sometimes? Yes it is.
- Do you teach? If so, what area/grade?
- What are some of the challenges and benefits for you?