Students' Rights Presentation

Some of you may know that I'm in graduate school, and when projects come along that allow me to expand on my passion in special education, I take full advantage.  I was recently assigned the task of creating a twenty-minute presentation for campus staff by choosing from the bullet points listed by my professor.  I saw two bullet points that interested me:  disability issues and students' rights.  These seemed like two topics that could be perfectly merged.

I've learned that inclusion can be a very hot topic for a lot of teachers.  There are so many variables:  the student, for one, is a great variable.  If the student has been properly placed, if the general education teacher is naturally comfortable and skilled in accommodating work, if the general education teacher has additional special education support in the classroom, etc., are all things that need to be considered.  Inclusion can be a wonderful thing when the placement is right and the correct supports are in place.

One thing that is deeply impressed upon special education teachers that some general education teachers might not fully appreciate is the enormous number of laws regarding students receiving special education services.  For this reason, I made this presentation to educate general education teachers.

What I want to impress with this presentation is that I understand how much teachers have on their shoulders, and because of this, teachers can be seemingly tipped over the edge by additional challenges.  Challenges in public school education are not going away, so sometimes what we need to do is adjust the way we see our students and remember that our ultimate goal is to educate all students so that they can meet their potential.


If you click to view the presentation, you will only see the slides, but if you download for FREE, you will be able to hear the audio presentation through the slideshow.  Remember to click on the speaker to hear the audio.
If you feel that your campus could use this presentation to educate your teachers, you are welcome to download this file for free.  I ask that you please continue to maintain the credit that is due to Kathie Snow and other amazing people who I sourced information from, as well as myself for compiling this presentation.
To view the presentation on students' rights in special education, please click HERE.

*Photograph of Chris Ulmer with his students.  Click HERE for his Facebook page, Special Books by Special Kids.

Apps for Special Educators


Hello teachers!  I'm sure you have been just as busy as me starting the new school year.  This week we're officially a quarter into the school year, and I can't quite believe it.  I've been trying to get to my classroom setup blog post for nine weeks, so I can empathize with all of you who just can't seem to get to things that you want and need to do.

As the first quarter of the school year began and ended, I also saw the completion of several big projects I've been working on, as well as the start of graduate school.  One of the projects I've been working on is reviewing and updating the Monthly Instructional Guides for Region 3.  Over the past two years I've had an amazing experience working with Region 3 educators, and I'm really excited to see this project posted on their website to support teachers in Texas.

One of the attachments that I created for this project is a compilation of apps for teachers.  I love using technology in the classroom, so I hope you find this useful.  Once the updated guides are published online, I'll provide a link so that I can spread the word of what Region 3 is doing to support Texas teachers.

What is an Autism Unit? An Interview with Mona Kemper, Autism Unit Teacher

I started this blog just over a year ago to support special education teachers.  My passion is truly supporting great teachers so that these deserving students can be allowed the best teachers possible.  I've found that there are very few positions that I can hold in a school district where I can truly support teachers other than being a teacher peer.  I can be empathetic and honest, and I know that most of us need that kind of support.

When I started this blog, I knew that I wanted to speak my mind about issues that face special education teachers.  Yes, there's little money in being bluntly honest in public education, but there's a lot of free therapy and positive energy from the people with whom I respect the most.

After several years of teaching, and many, many meetings and trainings with special education teachers, I started to feel like I was swirling in a cesspool of frustration and negativity.  I understood the frustration first hand, but I wasn't willing to give into the negativity.

So, my main intent with my blog was to feature teachers who are just amazing people doing amazing things.  Their ideas can help other teachers, and none of it is up for argument or debate.

This past year got much busier than I thought it would, not only for myself, but also for the amazing teachers who I wanted to feature.  Far be it from me to pile more work on my peers, but I'm excited to say that the first teacher on my list, the teacher who is right at my back door, was ready to answer a few questions.

I really wanted to feature Mona Kemper because she's an Autism Unit teacher.  This world is fascinating to me (she might laugh hearing me say that).  Yes, as an A.L.E. teacher, I teach many students with Autism.  Still, there's a big difference between an Alternative Learning Environment and an Autism Unit.  Because we are teaching more and more students with Autism every year, I was really curious to find out how these kinds of classrooms work differently from a typical A.L.E./Specialized Support/Life Skills Classroom.

Mona Kemper has 25 years of teaching experience, and 15 of those years are teaching in an Autism Unit.   She has experience working in a variety of instructional arrangements in elementary and secondary levels, from a unit for emotional and behavioral disorders to co-teaching.  She has also been an In-Home Parent and Community Trainer for NEISD school district for 15+ years.  She has provided training to teachers within and outside of the school district.

Mona Kemper is currently in graduate school working on her Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis with emphasis on Autism, and she's planning on becoming a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).

I asked Mona questions about how she organizes her classroom to best meet the needs of students with Autism, and I think that she beautifully explains how, ultimately, if a teacher is truly focused on individual student needs, then we will be servicing our students to the best of our abilities.

Q:  How is an Autism Unit different from a traditional specialized support or life skills classroom?

In a typical Specialized Support or Life Skills classroom, there tends to be a larger student to staff ratio and more small and large group activities.  Also, students in specialized support or life skills classrooms tend to have students that attend general education classrooms, so the schedule is often set by the general education bell schedule.

In an AU unit, we do not have students that transition to the general education classroom, so we do not follow the bell schedule.  Schedules are more student driven.  Each student has a visual schedule that reflects the amount of time that the particular student can work or amount of break time that is needed for that student (another scheduling nightmare!).  We try to get a student to work with an adult at 15 minute intervals (with 10-15 second breaks if needed) to make scheduling a little easier.  Typically we attempt to transition within the classroom every 15 minutes with the stations being:  break, independent work, 1:1 (I.E.P. work) and 1:1 or small group (usually no greater than 1:2) for general education concepts work.


Q:  How do you prepare for new students who may be coming to your room?

Whenever possible, I look at the student's FIE, IEPs, PLAAFPs, BIP, AU supplement, and deliberations from the last 2-3 ARDs.  I contact the teacher to request pictures of the student's physical structures, schedule, independent work area, break area and any visuals specific to the student that are generally used in the classroom.  Also, any information regarding behaviors, academics, functional routines, independent work materials, break items and Do's and Don'ts when working with the student are requested.  I also request that the student's schedule and transition marker be sent with him or her.


Q:  What kind of considerations are made when setting up the physical structure of an Autism Unit?

Physical structures are individualized as much as possible.  We have some basic structures:  break area, electronics area, group area, independent work areas, snack area, chill zone (for times when a student needs an area away from others), game areas, small group areas and 1:1 teaching areas.

Each year I look at the individual needs of the students and modify the areas.  I may add portable walls, move the areas so that staff can either get to or be able to leave an area easily, look at the lighting for an area (does it need light covers or does the student like more light), noise levels in a particular area, and I ask myself if an area gets too much traffic.  The physical structures may change during the year as the needs of the student or the group changes.

I am also very fortunate to have an additional classroom for a sensory-motor lab.  I have swings, trampolines, large balls, basketball game, kinetic sand and a large variety of fidgets and other items.


Q:  Would you explain how visuals are using in your classroom, not only for academics, but also to provide structure and manage behavior in your room?


Visuals are a critical part of my program.  We have visuals for just about everything.  We use individualized visual schedules to help the students to visually organize their day.  We use visuals in the restroom to remind students of the steps to toileting and washing hands, visuals (mini-schedules) to break tasks down into smaller steps, token boards for the student to "earn money" to purchase break time, reinforcers and snacks.  For behaviors, when a student is struggling with self-regulation, we understand that they do not process language easily.  Visuals are used to tell them what they need to do, the consequences for following the rules and the consequences for not following the rules.

In times of high anxiety or aggression, we try to only provide the visual so that the student can understand what to do.  Spoken language is transitory (once it is said, it is gone).  Visuals allow the student to process, remember and refer back to what they need to do.


Q:  How do you organize work systems for your students in order to foster independence?

Work systems are developed to provide maintenance and generalization of skills.  Each student has their own independent work station with an individualized work system.  The work system is essentially a mini-schedule that tells the student what work they must complete.  Typically I have baskets, buckets or other containers for holding the work.  Depending on the students, there may be as little as one container with one activity, or there may be five containers with several activities in each container.  The students' work systems tells the students the order in which they must do the work.

For example, the system may have the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th tasks with matching labels on the containers.  The student follows the system completing the work in the correct order.  A "finished" basket is provided for the student to place completed work.  The work will then be checked for accuracy to determine if the student is maintaining or generalizing the skill.


Q:  Would you explain how communication instruction works in your classroom?

Communication is a central part of my program.  Most of my students are non-verbal and use AAC for communication.  For the students who are verbal, I still have visuals/picture supports to assist them when they are having difficulty with verbal communication.  My students do not get anything unless they make the request, and that includes the break area, snack and lunch.

For the break area, the student must request their desired item, and then they can take it to the break area.  For snack and lunch, the student is required to request food items.  Nothing is withheld from the student, but the student must request the item.  Cues and prompts are provided for the student to assist with communication, and all attempts at communication are honored.


Q:  Working with students who can become anxious or overstimulated, how do you maintain consistency and best meet their needs during these times?

Keeping to a predictable schedule is critical for individuals in an AU Unit, and using an individualized schedule is an essential part.  Students can become frustrated and anxious when they do not know or understand what is happening and what will be happening next.  We do not allow students to become "rigid," and a regular and predictable routine is calming for students.  We teach flexibility by showing the student (paired with a verbal directive) that schedules are changing.  It is also important to rotate staff so that students become accustomed to working with different staff at all locations.

Providing visual/picture supports for schedules, transitions, behavior expectations and work expectations is critical, especially during times of anxiety and sensory overload.  When a student becomes anxious or is experiencing sensory overload, they are far less likely to process language.  Limiting verbal direction and providing visuals can decrease the anxiety.


Q:  What do you think is one of the most challenging parts of your job?

Paperwork for sure is a challenge!  Data is a critical part of the program, and the time needed to collect and analyze the data can be daunting.  Add to that the district requirements, campus requirements, and preparing for ARDs....there never seems to be enough time.

Other challenges come in making new materials for the students to use &/or modifying the existing materials, balancing behavioral needs, academic needs, functional needs and staffing issues.

I try very hard to individualize the materials so that the materials match the individual needs of each student.  Making individualized materials to meet I.E.P. requirements and address the general education concepts can be overwhelming.

Balancing each student's behavioral needs and academic needs can be extremely challenging.  Often the student will have behavioral issues when presented with academic tasks or activities.  This is sometimes because the student does not see or understand the function of or need for the academic tasks.  Making the activities as functional as possible can help.  However, due to state/federal academic and testing requirements, making some of the concepts functional can be difficult and may not adequately prepare the students for the required testing.

Staffing is always an issue.  I schedule my staff so that they are working directly with students or monitoring students that are on their break or doing independent work.  When a staff member is absent (getting substitutes is difficult, and when we do get one, they do not know the kids), the schedule has to change.  When staff has to take their lunch, the schedule is different, and if we are having behavior challenges, then that can not only be a challenge, but also a safety issue.  Balancing so that all staff are working with kids but are also available to support other staff when behavior challenges occur is very tricky, and staff flexibility is critical.


Q:  What is one of the most satisfying parts of your job?

When students make progress, no matter how seemingly small that progress may appear to others, I feel satisfaction.  For example, when a student states verbally or through AAC that he/she wants or needs something, when a student who was previously unable to sit and work without someone in very close proximity completes the work without an adult next to them, when a student with extreme aggression/SIBs (self-injurious behaviors) goes for a longer period of time without aggressing or engaging in SIBs, this can be huge for my students, and it can bring my staff and myself to tears!  Any skill that a student can acquire that will increase their quality of life for themselves or their family is incredibly satisfying, and that is why I love coming to work.


Q:  What advice would you give to a new teacher who plans to teach students in an Autism Unit?

If at all possible, connect with another teacher that has an Autism Unit so that you can ask questions, visit the classroom, take pictures of different structures, works, visuals, etc.  Skype (or other application) is a great way to make contact with teachers that may be too far away to visit -- just remember that students cannot be involved in any pictures or on Skype.  Take advantage of the internet!!!  There are some amazing examples of AU Units available.  Search TeachersPayTeachers for materials.  Also, check out Pinterest (there are great ideas there).  Research, research, research, and get as much training as possible, both formal and informal.

Remember, individuals with Autism are incredibly complex and unique.  You will learn more each and every day!  Try not to get overwhelmed or defeated.  If something doesn't work, ask yourself WHY?, and try something else.


*Just a note:  I have so many photographs of Mona Kemper's classroom, including visuals, schedules, work systems and more.  I spent a lot of time preparing these photographs to include in this post, but when I included them, I felt that they took away from what was being said.  So, in the future, I plan on posting these pictures to inspire teachers in creating their own learning environment.

I need to give a HUGE thank you to Mona Kemper for setting aside the time to answer my questions.  She is a very busy woman.  Although many teachers list summers as one of the best parts of their job, Mona has been teaching for 25 years, and I don't think she has taken a summer off in 30! :)  She is the biggest champion of FERPA and student confidentiality that I have ever met in my life.  As teachers, we're always conscious of this and very careful, but Mona takes it to a whole new level.  She is truly protective over her students, but she doesn't shelter them to the point that they can't meet their individual potential.

Mona builds strong relationships with her parents, and at this year's 8th grade graduation, it brought tears to my eyes to see what she had prepared for her students and their families.  In special education, our students' families often deal with the struggle of their children not being a part of the natural progression of coming of age milestones and celebrations.  It may not occur to many people that there are so many families out there who have hopes and dreams for their children, just like any other parent, but they don't get to see their child perform in a play, a sporting event, graduation, prom, and all of the other milestones that help parents slowly let go as they see their babies turn into adults.  Parents of students with specials needs are denied these moments of celebration, in many ways, because their students just can't handle the settings in which these events and ceremonies happen.

Mona is a teacher who is well aware of this, and every year she plans an amazing 8th grade graduation, no matter if it's for four students or one student.  The families of the graduating students are reserved a table of honor, and she prepares the room with party food and celebratory cakes.  She presents each student with a plaque that recognizes them for something that they can do that is like no other student.  She gives a speech specific for each student.  She hangs pictures of each student's middle school journey around the room.

This is the kind of teacher that we all can be if we can learn to set aside the frustration of our job and focus on the positivity that we are spreading in the world by being student focused.  I'm very proud to say that I work with Mona Kemper and that I'm able to judiciously pop into her room (because I'm aware that I might be throwing off the schedule :)  to ask if she has anything that will help me with a particular lesson with certain higher need students or something to promote stronger fine motor skills or anything else that I need.

Mona truly works with some of the most difficult students to teach, but she is an inspiration in the way that she recognizes that every student can and will learn.  She is an example of a member of a community of teachers who supports other teachers, and I know for a fact, not only by working with her and seeing the progress that her students make, but also by listening to her parents, that she has changed many lives for the better.

TEKS Based Lesson Planning

This week I participated in a question and answer workshop discussing Planning for Instruction in an Alternative Learning Environment.  Because I spent the past six months tackling a project to make instruction more enriching my classroom, I want to share this information to help other teachers.  I heard a lot of good questions (and statements) from the groups of teacher who I sat with, and I wanted to share our discussion, as I think it might help a lot of teachers who were unable to attend the workshop.  I also heard questions that I didn't have the answer to, so this opportunity has caused me to do more research on special education laws.

I'm a middle school special education teacher in an alternative learning environment, so I teach 6th, 7th and 8th graders in the same classroom.  Some of my students are with me the entire day, some are with me for core subjects but leave for 1-2 electives during the day, and I have other students who are in LAB classes for Reading, Language Arts and Math, but they come to my room for Science and Social Studies, and sometimes a Social Skills elective.

STATEMENT:  I'm spending all of my time teaching I.E.P. goals.

My first year as a teacher in the alternative learning environment, I welcomed 16 students as their sole teacher.  My students came to my room with 88 I.E.P. goals.  This meant that I needed to collect data points on each of the 88 I.E.P. goals every week.

Remember, that's just data points.  I was told by a coordinator in my district that it's law that you teach I.E.P. goals EVERY day.  This includes prerequisite skills that support I.E.P. goals.  I'm currently doing research on the exact law that mandates that I.E.P. goals and/or the prerequisite skills that directly support each of these goals be taught every day, as I think it's important that special education teachers know the exact laws that they're being held to.

Obviously, there's not enough time in the day to TEACH 88 I.E.P. goals.  BUT, if you're teaching prerequisite skills that support the I.E.P. goals, then you're on the right track.

I spent two years trying to minimize the I.E.P. goals by mastering them (which turned my teacher brain into an anxious mess) or discontinuing goals that were not appropriate for my students.  Even once I was able to cut out the unnecessary goals, I continued to welcome 6th graders each year that came to me with 15+ I.E.P. goals.  If you do the math, a class of 10 students that each has 10 I.E.P. goals means that the special education teacher is required to teach 100 I.E.P. goals on a daily basis (*specifics of the law are still being sought).  This is the situation that many special education teachers are in, and I'm telling you that it is nearly impossible to be an amazing teacher with these hurdles in front of you.

I must say, I'm a fan of I.E.P. goals, of course!  I just want to emphasize the importance of not writing goals for the sake of having goals.  I.E.P. goals MUST be meaningful.

Still, there are several reasons to limit the number of I.E.P. goals for your students:

1.  Again, I.E.P. goals do not benefit a student if they are not meaningful for the student.

It's really important to remember that your prerequisite skills are tied to your I.E.P. goals, so if you're teaching prerequisite skills, you ARE teaching your I.E.P. goals daily.  You may not necessarily be collecting data daily, but you are still supporting their goals by planning lessons in this way.

My continuing challenge is that teaching I.E.P. goals or their specific supporting prerequisite skills daily leaves no time to teach mandated programs in certain subjects or the essence statements that prepare students for the STAAR-Alt. 2 exam, which is also a mandate.  So, for this reason, I think it's really important to have clarification on what the actual law says in regards to the frequency of I.E.P. and supporting prerequisite skills instruction.

2.  Have a plan for what you're going to teach in a school year in all subjects based off the Curriculum Framework.  Write your goals to be based off the TEKS, and find a way to work I.E.P. goal prerequisite skills into multiple areas of your instructional day.  If there are goals that must be taught one on one, ask yourself how much one on one time you really have in a day to provide.  If it's important, then make it happen!  Still, as many students in your room need to be working with YOU as much as possible, try not to write an excessive number of goals that can only be taught in isolation.

QUESTION:  How do I minimize the number of I.E.P. goals for my students?

I started with making a plan to free up more time for me to teach enriching lessons.  The goal was not only to minimize the number of I.E.P. goals that my students had, but to also make the goals that they had more meaningful and allow them to access the full range of curriculum.  These were some of my thoughts:

1.  Some goals NEED to be very specific.  I found this especially in the area of Language Arts.  Some students, if they are capable of doing so, need to learn how to write their name or important information such as their phone number.  Some students need to learn how to functionally use their communication devices.  There are other goals that need to be focused on a specific area because it is truly most beneficial for that student.

2.  Can I write goals that can be taught in multiple subjects?  I've found that, by being creative, the answer is YES.  Many math goals and non-fiction reading goals can be taught during science or social studies.

3.  I want to provide opportunities for my students to join general education LAB classes and work with their general education peers.  If I'm limiting my students in what they are learning by creating an excessive number of I.E.P. goals, I'm also limiting their opportunities at school.  Still, I.E.P. goals are so important!  Ohhhh, what to do?!  Year after year I have to remind myself that I can only do my best and put the students' needs first.

4.  How can I possibly be preparing students for the STAAR-Alt. 2 test when I'm spending the majority of my time teaching very specific I.E.P. goals that will likely not be assessed on the exam?  Teachers, I don't have the answer to this one.  I get conflicting information depending on who I talk to, so I'm continuing to be a student of special education law so that I can create the best plan possible for my classroom.

STATEMENT:  Parents might want a lot of I.E.P. goals.

Just this statement alone is not student focused.  Parents wanting to have X number of goals tells us nothing about what's most important for the student.

I've found that our parents might have had experiences that made them feel unsure about their students' education, and I empathise greatly with these parents.  Frequently, at the root, is that they fear that if there is not a goal, their student isn't learning anything.  The truth is, if the teacher is well organized and is truly passionate about incorporating prerequisite skills into their students' education, then padding the goals is actually limiting their students' education by reducing opportunities for their students to have full access to general education curriculum.  Every single goal is time consuming, and when it's necessary because a student truly needs to learn a specific skill, then it's worth it.  When it's there just for the sake of having X amount of goals, then it's not student focused.

Building rapport with your parents is crucial.  I'm not saying to give out your cell phone number and be available at all hours.  Teachers need time with their families too.  I will say, bless you teachers who do hand out your cell number and make yourself available in that way, but that's not the path for every teacher.

I'm saying that it's important for parents to know what your educational goals are for your students.  Try creating a classroom newsletter, building an informative website, respond to emails promptly and handle even the smallest issues immediately.  Share successes in your room regularly and unsolicited.  Express your excitement about student progress, and let parents know what is happening in your room.  Again, this doesn't mean an open door policy; it's important that we always keep student privacy in mind, and frequent parent visits can disrupt the flow of a classroom.  Let parents know what's happening by sending pictures of their students engaging in activities and by sharing what units are coming up.  If you can even find the time, provide parents with developmentally appropriate questions that they can ask their students about their day when their students come home from school.

In regards to specific I.E.P. goal instruction, remind parents:

1.  Many motor goals take away from academic time.  Students who are practicing motor goals, especially gross motor skills, frequently do so in isolation, and this takes them away from their peers and the academic learning environment.  Consider moving motor goals to Adaptive P.E.

2.  If you've built good rapport with general education teachers on your campus, you will be allowed opportunities to include your students in their room for lessons with their general education peers.  The social interaction is invaluable, and it is truly meaningful learning for your students.  The more goals you write and the more specific the goals, the more it ties their student to the alternative learning environment to work on those goals.

3.  Assure parents (only if you are confident that you will do so), that their student will have an enriching school day, even if there is not a specific I.E.P. goal written for it.  Inform them of what you're teaching, and even if the concept seems too difficult for their student, share with them how you're differentiating the concept so that their student will have a hands-on and fun learning experience.

QUESTION:  I teach several grade levels in the same room.  Do I focus on writing plans by grade level, grouping students by grade level and teaching different lessons to different grade levels?

The answer is NO.  You might have students in lower grade levels that have a higher ability level than your students in a higher grade level, and you may have students in the same grade level that do not work well together in small group.

If you study the TEKS for several grade levels, especially if you study the Vertical Alignment Document, you'll see that some prerequisite skills are very specific for different grade levels, and there is some redundancy (with a possible change in words for a slight increase in rigor) across grade level TEKS.  Look for the redundant prerequisite skills.  These are the skills that you can teach to all of your students simultaneously.

Remember that you will get the most out of your day, for your students, if you don't spread yourself too thin.  Find the skills that are at your students' ability levels and are similar across multiple grade levels.  Don't divide your students any further than they are already divided, and remember that for our students, grade is just a number.  We need to be more focused on ability.

QUESTION:  How do I fit prerequisite skills into my lesson plans?

You're going to need to become familiar with the Curriculum Framework for the grades you teach provided on the T.E.A. (Texas Education Agency) website.  Once you identify the skills you want to teach in the amount of time you have available to you, you may find that you don't have the materials to teach all of these skills.

Building a library of materials takes time and money.  Don't overwhelm yourself by tackling it all at once.  Start with the skills that you can teach in a fun and meaningful way with the materials that you have available to you.  Start setting annual goals for yourself of what concepts you'd like to add each year, and stay focused on only attaining those materials.  Instead of trying to tackle the entire Curriculum Framework's prerequisite skills in a year or two, which would lead to far too many mini lessons with not enough manipulatives, visuals and hands-on experiences, focus on what you can reasonably do in a year, and teach those concepts to the best of your ability.  Keep adding new concepts every year as your library of materials grows.


I still see a big problem here.  YES, I.E.P. goals MUST, by definition, be individualized.  In my opinion, this doesn't mean that every student in my room needs to be learning something completely different from the next student.  I know that this is a controversial topic.

As an optimistic problem solver, so I thought, okay, I CAN DO THIS!  For science, I'm going to design a lesson (it's going to have to be on the smartboard, because I'm going to need the digital effects), where there are multiple landforms, each having their own natural habitat, and then a huge weather system blows in, and then I'll obviously show how that weather system is affecting the water cycle.....and then I have to get more creative.  During this weather system over multiple landforms where there are multiple habitats, two hikers approach, and they decide to have a game of tug of war.  I'll focus on push and pull, at the same time focusing on how their musculatory system is being taxed by the push and pull movements.  Throw the mic down!  I just followed the law by teaching all of my students their science I.E.P. goals today!   By the way, that was all just squeezed into 30 minutes, and my students had perfect behavior.

Okay, we all know this isn't going to work.  It wouldn't even be a meaningful lesson for the students if you could pull it off, because it would be too confusing.

Again, I'm continuing to research the laws on how frequently each mandate MUST be taught.  Currently, I've been given conflicting information, depending on who I ask.  I think this is the case for many special education teachers.  It's my understanding that I must:

  • Teach every I.E.P. goal and/or each of the supporting prerequisite skills for each of those goals EVERY DAY.
  • Collect 1-4 data points (depending on who I speak to) on every I.E.P. goal every week.
  • Teach the specific reading program provided by my district every day.  Some say the whole lesson needs to be taught every day, and some say that components of the lesson must be taught every day, ultimately finishing the lesson by the end of the week.  Even so, that takes up my whole reading period, so what about the I.E.P. goals?
  • Teach the essence statements to prepare my students for the STAAR-Alt. 2 exam for each of the subjects in which the student will be tested.  They're all tested in reading and math (with additional tests depending on grade), so again, my reading and language arts periods are already saturated with too much to teach in not enough time.

Yes, I feel like I've created a pretty amazing plan for my classroom, but jeeeez, am I still breaking the law?  It puts a pit in my stomach.  I know I have an enriching classroom.  I know my students are constantly learning and engaged and having fun!  That's so important to me, but still, are there so many unreasonable mandates that it is truly impossible for a special education teacher to do everything that is required of them without breaking a district rule or even a federal law?


QUESTION:  So do I teach I.E.P. goals AND lessons to teach prerequisite skills every day?

Now we're getting into an area where I prefer to have my attorney sitting next to me whispering in my ear.  I'm continuing to do research in this area, and I don't want to give any bad advice, so I'm going to artfully dodge this question by providing a few creative ideas.

Although your I.E.P. goals are labeled as subject specific in the program where you do your do or die paperwork, they are not subject specific in the classroom.  I have my students' I.E.P. goals in every subject area on a list every week.  I know that, based off of my lesson plans for the essence skills lesson I have planned for the week, there are just some goals that I NEED to set time aside for.  They're just not going to blend into any lesson.  For this reason, I do have days on my weekly plan that I set aside specifically for working on I.E.P. goals.  Yes, I said it.  I'm just an anxious person and there are some goals that I'm too worried will be passed over by Friday, and I want to make sure that I get to them.

On top of being anxious, I'm also creative, so I use that list to keep track of what goals I've addressed each day.  I sort of turn it into a game for myself where I figure out a way to touch on as many skills as possible.  Do I create the above, drop the mic lessons?  NO.  Our students wouldn't even enjoy lessons like that, because they'd be confused and overwhelmed.

So, I already know that I'm always going to be stretched too thin in reading.  Reading is one area where your I.E.P. goals are bountiful and the district provides you with mandatory programs.  Reading is like the popular kid on campus, and social studies is the kid brave enough to show up without a date.

I weed through the reading goals and find any other time of day to practice these goals.  Easy peasy is a reading goal that addresses nonfiction.  Hands down, you want to teach this goal during science or social studies.  The student who has a nonfiction reading goal can read the text to the whole group, small group or peer during science or social studies.  Depending on their goal, you can collect data on their reading fluency or be prepared a few minutes before the end of class to present them with a few comprehension questions about what they read.

Another cool friend of the reading goal is the math goal.  Math can, again, be worked into multiple subject areas.  Let's say a student has a measurement goal.  If you're creating a timeline in social studies, ask that particular student to measure the timeline.  The next day, you can explain that the timeline has grown with new information, and it's important to you that you have new measurements.  If you are in science, you might find it absolutely crucial that the student with the measurement goal take measurements of the planter.  If you have a student who has a goal working on equal groups, you might have a pressing need in science to sort your lab tools into three equal groups.

Be creative, and express to the students how important these tasks are to you.  Find every way to teach reading and math goals in areas where you have more time, and save reading and math allotments of time for the goals that are just too specific to be taught during any other time.

QUESTION:  How do I write a lesson plan that doesn't take me five+ hours per week?

DO NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL EVERY WEEK.  The key is creating for yourself a template that includes important information that does not change on a weekly basis.  Writing lesson plans is very complicated, as all of our students are very different.  Still, there are ways to write a template that needs parts revised annually, parts revised every few weeks, and other parts revised weekly.

I could go on about writing lesson plans.  For years my passion was behavior and classroom management, but my newfound passion is planning for instruction in an A.L.E. classroom, so rather than rewriting the 80 pages in this blog post that I've already written, please see below for the link to my newest Lesson Planning Guide.

Because I'm a Texas middle school teacher, this guide is specifically based off the prerequisite skills for a middle school alternative learning environment.  By reading the description, once you click the link, you'll see how this will save you 6 months of reading and dissecting 577 pages of curriculum framework, finding redundancy in prerequisite skills across 3 grade levels, creating a year at a glance, scope and sequence and pacing calendar for your classroom.  I created this for my classroom, but nothing is best left in a bubble, so I truly hope it helps save you time, takes stress off your shoulders, and helps support you in making your classroom the most academically enriching classroom that you can possibly make it.  I'm well aware of the amount of time spent on behavior, critical skills, ARD paperwork and parent communication, so if you have a leg up on the academic planning, you're a more empowered teacher.



For those of you who are elementary or high school teachers, I haven't gotten there yet :)  If you're feeling ambitious, though, I also uploaded the templates that I created for my Guide.  All of the templates are in PowerPoint format and fully editable.  I hope they can help you to create your own amazing plan to educate your students.



BloomBoard Collection: Strategies for Teaching Students with Down Syndrome

Last semester I was asked to write a Down syndrome 101 presentation for the Statewide Low Incidence Disabilities Network.  The presentation will be turned into a webinar that will be used across Texas to teach classes on strategies for teaching students with Down syndrome.

As I began my research, I was contacted by BloomBoard.  They asked me to explore their site, and if I was interested, they wanted me to be one of 20 featured education bloggers in the month of February to share a collection of learning resources.

BloomBoard is a new site for teachers, so I was curious as to what it was all about.  I was excited about the innovative way that they support teachers in compiling resources and how they make it easy for other teachers to access those resources.  Basically, BloomBoard is a place where educators can learn, share and discuss the best teaching ideas to solve everyday classroom challenges and improve their practice.

Teachers who want to post a collection of resources on BloomBoard can do so easily, and the submitted resources are screened and approved by the BloomBoard team before being posted.  This process ensures the quality of the overall collection.  Teachers who would like to learn more about a topic or solve a specific challenge can run a search of collections to find resources on their desired topic.

Because I was in the process of researching strategies for teaching students with Down syndrome, I decided to submit some of the resources that I had come across as my collection.  In my collection, you'll find an instructional video on strategies for beginning readers with Down syndrome, charts to teach to students' strengths, overviews of health concerns that may affect learning and so on.  Each of my resources includes a synopsis of the resource provided, and the downloads are all free!

If you work with students with Down syndrome, I sincerely hope that you find this collection helpful.  I work with this student population every day, and I have found through research that there is always more to learn.  If you're not a special education teacher, you will still find a wealth of topics that target your specific needs.

Teaching Strategies for Students with Down Syndrome

If you're interested in the February schedule for bloggers who will be featured, visit BloomBoard Blog to see if there's a topic that interests you.  Yesterday's blogger offered a great collection titled "Teaching Engineering is Not Scary!"

I'm now happy to introduce the next featured blogger in this campaign.  Lindsey Petlak is a Golden Apple award-winning educator with over a decade of educational experience, both at the classroom and corporate levels.  She served as a national consultant for ETA/Cuisenaire for nearly two years, training teachers, coaching in classrooms, working with students, and creating hands-on learning products across the nation.

Teaching all grades from K–4 at North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Illinois, Lindsey is currently a 4th grade teacher and believes passionately in making learning hands-on, fun, relevant, inquiry-based and dependent upon authentic assessment. 

She has the pleasure of contributing to blogs for Scholastic, Class Dojo and GoNoodle, along with her own classroom blog called The Open Road: Route 125, where she creates adventurous learning experiences for her students by implementing yearlong thematic instruction.  Additionally, she has been featured in Scholastic Instructor magazine, SmartBlog on Education, and Education Talk Radio.

Outside of school, she is mother to a precociously wonderful four-year-old son and married to her best friend.  She loves life and tries her best to live it to the fullest!

Teacher Evaluations

I recently received an email from a teacher out of my state concerning her upcoming teacher evaluation.  I'm not going to copy her message, as it was surprisingly honest and vulnerable.  I will say that what it portrayed to me was beyond frustration, but more of a sad complacency in her position as an educator in an inclusion environment where she felt unsuccessful connecting with the students and general education teachers.  She was most concerned with her disappointing teacher evaluations that may lead to her losing her job.

Obviously, the ultimate goal is not to pass the evaluation, but a passing evaluation is an indication that you are meeting the ultimate goal of being a successful teacher.  Reading between the lines, I saw weak relationships with coworkers and a lack of rapport with students, and there are many different factors that can lead to this kind of a situation.  The pass or failure of an evaluation is only a symptom of a bigger problem.  Still, when it comes down to maintaining a job, evaluations can be very stressful.

I don't know the specifics of this teacher's situation, but I do know that there are some things that teachers can do to make themselves better at their profession, and in turn, it will reflect in their evaluations.  Essentially, it comes down to communication, clarification, self-evaluation and of course, planning enriching lessons.
Evaluations can be very stressful for special education teachers for a few reasons.  First, the evaluation systems used by most states are written to evaluate general education teachers.  In Texas, teachers receive two 15-minute evaluations and one 45-minute evaluation each year.  The 15-minute evaluations can happen any time during the year, unexpected, and the 45-minute observation happens any time within a two week window.  There are many, many things on the checklist that the administrators look for, and they go down the checklist while they're in your classroom observing.  Here are a few thoughts that might go through the special education teacher's head:

1.)  If I'm an inclusion or co-teacher, I hope the administrator comes when I'm in the room with the teacher who allows me to collaborate, and not the teacher who doesn't want me in the room and treats me like an assistant.

2.)  If I work with students with significant behavior needs, I hope they don't come in right after a student has had several morning meltdowns and the only thing that keeps them calm is sitting on a bean bag.  Oh no, I don't want someone to come in and see kids sitting around, but I spent all morning diffusing aggressive behaviors or emotional outbursts, and they are finally content & using their calming strategies.  If I try to teach this student right now, he'll explode.  Please, oh please, don't do my observation right now!!

3.)  If I'm a resource teacher, I'm not going to hit barely any of the check boxes that they want to see.  I'm supposed to be teaching very scripted programs.  These programs are designed to be scripted and repetitive because data has shown that this is what this group of students needs.  Still, I'm going to get knocked for not using technology, for not using creativity, for not.....you fill in the blank.  This is the job I have, but I'm set up for failure with my evaluation.

So, we're going to be graded off of a system designed for general education teachers.  That's the way it is until there is more CHANGE.  How do we cope until that change goes into effect?  I'm going to give a few suggestions, and none, one or more may apply to you.

COMMUNICATION

"My students don't want to be called out." (from her email)

This is a hard one the older students get.  Students absolutely don't want to be singled out as special education students around their general education peers.  Believe it or not, this is even an issue in a specialized support setting, but it is one of the biggest challenges in inclusion.  You're trying to tackle a huge social hurdle.  Some students would rather fail than have you near their desk.  This is so frustrating for teachers who know how much support their students need.  How is it possible to be discreet?  Well, you definitely don't want to pull them out of the classroom.  That's even worse.  To be successful, you have to be the teacher available for all students in the classroom.

I encountered this issue as a co-teacher.  I made it a point to initially spend just as much or even more time with the general education students.  I made every attempt to not park a chair next to anyone.  Even when I could see one of the students in special education struggling with an assignment, I knew I had to build rapport with the whole class in order to be embraced and effective.  It also helped me to build rapport with the general education teacher.  When the entire class saw me as a resource, I slowly began to spend a little more time with the students who needed my time without having as aggressive of an approach.  I was available to ALL students.

Now I know the cynics will chime in with the fact that this will limit their ability to collect the data they need to collect on certain students.  If the students you're supposed to be supporting are rejecting your help, are you really collecting good data anyway?  Be subtle and sneaky :)  Just like your own kids at home, don't let anyone know which one is more challenging.  Love them all.

"...nor does the regular ed. teacher want me in the classroom." (from her email)

Whew.  This one stings.  As a former co-teacher in an inclusive environment, I understand how this can happen.  In a perfect world, we would be provided lesson plans by all general education teachers the week before, along with all assignments and assessments, so that we can review the week and have time to individually accommodate for every student.  We don't live in a perfect world.  It's very difficult to be effective when we don't know what's planned, and we're somewhat dependent on the general education teacher's plans in order to do our jobs successfully.  These tiny points of tension can build a wedge between teachers.

Still, there are other reasons why the general education teacher might not want you in the room.  Here are a few personality profiles that we may work with:

1.)  I've begged for more support in my room and I love that you're here, but I just don't have the time to get you the plans and assignments early.  I post them right before 8am Monday morning.  I hope you have time to look at them before class.

2.)  This is MY room, and I'd rather not have other teachers in here.  I work best on my own, and I don't like to collaborate.  Those students over there are special needs, so that's where you can put your chair.

3.)  I'm excited you're here and we're going to be a great team!  ...oh wait, a student with behavior needs is requiring your time elsewhere?!?!  You can't do that!  What are we going to do here without you?!?!  You've abandoned us!!!!  The principal said you need to be with that student?  Well, you better figure out a way to get another teacher in here!!!

4.)  Your time is spent in so many rooms that you couldn't possibly be effective anywhere.  To me, you're an assistant, because you either don't have the knowledge to teach general education, or you don't have the time to prepare for what you need to do in my room.  Sorry.  Your job is useless.  I'm not going to utilize your talents.

5.)  There's a personality conflict.  I don't really want to work with you.

As a special education teacher in any of these scenarios, you may want to scream out, "I can help these kids!  I can do this!!"  A lack of communication is a roadblock, and this will eventually decrease the morale and feeling of worth for any teacher.

I want to point out that it goes both ways.  The only way to improve upon these situations is by being completely honest about the various situations that teachers are put in on many, many campuses.  To be fair, I'll point out some vents I've heard about special education teachers from general education teachers.

1.)  I never know what time the special education teacher will be here.  If I could depend on them, then I could plan their instruction for lessons.

2.)  The special education teacher who comes into my room just sits in a chair and doesn't say anything.  They don't seem to be passionate about their job.  They don't know the kids or what they need.  I really don't know how to work with them.

3.)  The special education teacher in my room seems like a great person who is excited to help, but I don't think they know what they're talking about.  They don't know the strategies that I'm trying to teach the students, and they make more work for me than they do help.

4.)  The special education teacher who comes into my room has a very limited understanding of their role as a teacher.  They think it's only to answer questions, only to administer tests, only to teach strategies, only to redirect behaviors, only to make copies and laminate, etc.  I have to do so many tasks, and they seem to think that they have only one role.

5.) The special education teacher in my room is too demanding!  They act like I haven't spent hours planning for the best possible lesson.  They want to change things and they don't take into account all of the responsibilities I have as a general education teacher.

Is your head starting to feel hot?  There is a lot of miscommunication going on here.  If you're a special education teacher, then you're probably all over the place, and you need to keep your coworkers informed.  Earn your peers' respect by consistently touching bases with them.  If you're going to be late or away from their room, let them know immediately.  Give them more information than necessary, and don't make excuses.  Special education teachers need to be masters of communication.  Our schedules and duties are unpredictable, and a general education teacher in a classroom, not seeing us there, doesn't know that we may be handling a volatile situation.  All they see is that we are not there.  Securing a safe environment for a student or other students who need it takes precedence over everything else, but we need to communicate this to other teachers who are counting on us to be there.

If you work with several different teachers, or if you're trying to build stronger communication with one or more teachers, there are a few things you can do:

1.)  At the beginning of the year, make sure that you provide all general education teachers with the accommodations and modifications for all special needs students in your room.  Make sure that you have teachers sign a receipt of special education records, as I promise you it will come in handy if a teacher says they were never provided this information.


2.)  Schedule a meeting with the general education teacher to discuss all of their students' behavior and academic needs.  Discuss what kind of supplemental aids you plan on using during the school year, and brainstorm with the teacher other supplemental aids that they think might be useful.  Be educated about what you're providing, as some aids can be made available during instruction but not during testing.  If you know what you're talking about, you'll earn the respect of the general education teacher.

During this meeting, ask the teacher what role they'd like you to play in the classroom.  This is a good chance for you to feel out how active they see your role.  Remind teachers that if they would like you to play an active role in the classroom, it's crucial that you receive lesson plans and assignments in a reasonable amount of time.  If the teacher prefers that you work with only special needs students, point out that, the older a student is, the heavier of a social stigma is attached, and the less impactful your instruction will be.  If students are still young and can be pulled to a small group table without social stigma attached, ask where your work station will be and how comfortable they are with you supplying that area with the materials you will need.

Ask the teacher who will be the one to notify parents of issues and how it will be done.  Ask the teacher how and when you'll be able to access their lesson plans.  Make teachers aware of anything you know about why and/or when you may be pulled from their room for a pressing matter.  Make teachers aware of your ARD/IEP meeting times.  Discuss with teachers the kind of data you will be collecting and the data you will need them to collect.  If you need teachers to collect data, train them on how to do it, and don't assume they already know.

Remember, special education students in inclusion are the responsibility of both the general education teachers and the special education teachers.  It will take a collaborative effort to set these students up for success.  Don't take it all on your shoulders, and don't put it all on the general education teacher's shoulders either.  These kids need a team.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with a teacher evaluation.  It's all about collaboration.  If you are comfortable with your peers and your peers are comfortable with you, then planning will be easier, teaching will be more fun, and your administrator who visits your room will feel that magic.

We can get so caught up with our students, that we don't think about building rapport with our peers.  A cohesive working environment must be created with coworkers in order to be an effective team teacher.  In many ways, you must see this as a professional marriage.  You are tied to this person, and they are tied to you.  Neither of you can succeed without the other.  If there's discourse, you have to make it work, for the kids.

I feel for so many special education teachers, because our day can get watered down by having to be at too many places with too many students.  This is how special education teachers reach a point where they walk into a room feeling unwanted and feeling that they're not teaching to their potential.  No one dreams of showing up every day to a place where they are not wanted.  To piggyback on that, people don't usually want to be the reason why someone else is having a horrible day.  People just don't usually realize they are making others feel that way.

Building solid professional relationships is easier for some than others.  If you find that you're just not getting in your groove on a particular campus or with particular people who you must work closely with, something must be done about it.  Be proactive.  If you're deep into the year and you're hitting communication roadblocks, set up a time when you can meet to discuss your role in the classroom.  Come prepared so that you can make the meeting productive.  Ask for clarification on things that might be confusing for you, and ask how you can better support the learning environment.  Share ideas that you have and talk about goal setting, both for yourself and for the students.  Let the general education teacher know what kind of a role you would like to take in the classroom.   I'm not suggesting everyone become best friends.  I'm just saying that time and effort should be paid toward building a relationship of mutual respect.  Make yourself valuable.

If you're an inclusion teacher and you're in your evaluation window, you MUST communicate the importance of this to your general education teacher.  Whatever communication roadblocks you may have had in the past might be remedied by expressing your needs at this point.  Plan activities that showcase your talents and include you more in the classroom.  Doing this might also open the general education teacher's eyes to your value in the classroom when planning in the future.


CLARIFICATION

Every state has their own evaluation system for teachers, and like I said, most are designed for general education teachers.  This is why it's important for special education teachers to be familiar with the way in which they will be evaluated and then ask for clarification on areas in which they think they may score low.  If your administrator doesn't seem to be using any sort of a consistent system to evaluate you, then this needs to be addressed.

I recommend meeting with your administrator when your evaluation window opens and discussing the process.  Be familiar with the components of your state's system of appraising you, and be prepared to discuss what they may not see because of your setting or role as a teacher.  Also be prepared to point out what they WILL see that isn't in your evaluation template.  A fair administrator should realize that your setting and role as a teacher is going to be different, and they should take that into account.

Get clarification on what they are specifically looking for in your appraisal.  If you have concerns about a component of the evaluation, express those concerns to your administrator.  For example, if the administrator is looking to see how you use technology in the classroom, but you do not have access to technology, you should probably ask about this.

When meeting with your administrator, be sure to point out issues in a very positive way.  If you have students with emotional outbursts, be sure to explain (without venting), that you have a student who has significant behavior needs.  Although you have planned a lesson, there may be an interruption that will cause you to stop the lesson, in turn not allowing your evaluator to observe everything they came to see.  If your administrator comes in on a tough day, for example, they may observe a student lying on a bean bag chair.  This isn't because you "parked" the student there.  It's because this is the break time that the student needs.

If an administrator comes to observe you on a day when you have had significant behavior challenges, politely explain that it's one of those days, and ask if they can come back on another day.  There's nothing more frustrating than knowing how much hard work you invest in lessons and then being observed on an "off" day when students won't allow you to teach them academics.  You've probably spent most of the day teaching important social skills and calming strategies, but those components aren't on the appraisal.

Beyond a face to face with your evaluator, the only way to truly know what you are being appraised on is by becoming familiar with the actual appraisal system for your state.  If you're a Texas teacher, I'm posting several guides that will help you.




SELF EVALUATION

Assess your classroom and your role as an educator.  In what areas are you strong and in what areas could you strengthen?  We all have both.  The best way to do this is with a rubric or a checklist.  I'm posting several options that may help you.

I evaluate myself constantly, and when I do so, I post it for everyone to see.  "These are my strong areas, and these are the areas I'm working on.  It's my goal to strengthen this area by X date and that area by Y date."  Rome wasn't built in a day.  Visitors to the room, including an evaluator, will respect your reflection and goal setting.  As they say in special education, if it's not documented, it didn't happen.  There's no credit for stuff in your head!

If you don't have your own room, find the teacher with whom you're most comfortable, and ask for a small area where you can showcase your accomplishments and goals.  This is a great example to set for your students as well.

You can review all of your state's guidelines for a teacher that exceeds standards, but a lot of it comes down to a few simple components.  If you're not passing your teacher evaluations, no matter your setting or role as a special education teacher, it's probably because your evaluators are not observing you:

1.)  incorporate technology.

2.)  give students enough feedback.

3.)  share your time with as many students as possible.

4.)  make learning fun or engaging students.

5.)  differentiate for students.

It's not that you're not doing this, but it isn't being observed at the time that the evaluator is present.  This is why it's important to keep your work documented and showcased.  It's also so important to teach from lesson plans that plan for all of these components.  Don't expect that it will all come at the right moment.  It's better to have a lesson plan prepared and not have it go as planned than to have no lesson plans and have nothing to say when the lesson falls apart.

You can use the following forms to evaluate your classroom.  You can also ask another teacher or paraprofessional to observe you and use one of the forms to evaluate you before your formal evaluation.





ENGAGE STUDENTS IN AN ENRICHING LESSON

A fun and educational lesson will engage most students and gloss over any blips in the observation.  We work in a world of variables.  Embrace the chaos, but also honor yourself as a professional.  Lesson plans are difficult to write for special education teachers.  Beyond student behavior being a variable in the equation, it's also difficult to plan if you're in multiple classrooms or if you don't receive the initial plans from a general education teacher.  This is still no reason to omit a plan.  No matter your grade level or subject area, create plans that engage and excite students.  Create a plan that you want to show off, so that rather than feeling your stomach sink when the administrator walks in, you're excited that you're about to show off your hard work.

Some might say that it's all of the variables that get in the way of being a good teacher:  the other teacher won't let you teach, the students won't let you teach, the setting doesn't allow you to get that perfect score......I'm here to tell you that it's still possible.  I've taught in co-teach, redirect, self-contained and alternative learning settings, and every year I've been rated exceeds standards.  I finished my first year as a special education teacher realizing the hurdles in front of me and feeling disheartened that perhaps I wasn't meant to be a teacher.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to get a rhythm.

Despite any cynicism that may have popped into my head, I tried to always meet the students with positivity and excitement.  I went to work with the purpose of teaching somebody something with happiness, and every day the joy grew.  When I was having fun teaching a lesson, I found that the students followed.


When you are going to be evaluated, you MUST be an active part of the learning environment.  You can't be submissive, because this is your classroom too, and your job is on the line.  As I explained earlier, this can be done by genuinely connecting with people.  You are educated and prepared to teach students!  If you've been collaborating and planning, then you're ready.

Finally, try not to be nervous or over-think things.  At the foundation is making connections with students and other teachers.  If you've made those connections, then everything should flow, despite the unknown, which you've hopefully prepared your administrators for based off your own circumstances and preliminary meeting.

Whether you're beginning your career or finalizing it, finding your worth and place as a teacher means much more than an evaluation by administrators.  If you are an inclusion teacher working in multiple clasrooms with many students and multiple teachers, you really have to take control over your work environment, and you need to show people why they should respect your place in the classroom.  The system is set up the way it is because sometimes classrooms need more than one teacher based off the student population.  If that has been determined, then you have to make your place valuable.  You're the crucial piece that is needed to make the plan work.


My blog tends to focus on new/new-ish teachers, because this is the population that seems to be seeking the most support.  New teachers are searching for guidance and they tend to be open to new ideas.  The creeping claw of cynicism hasn't yet gotten its claws on their throats.

Seasoned teachers remind me of when I worked on a car lot years ago.  The people who had been selling cars for 25+ years were called "old dogs."  They knew every trick in the book.  They weren't going to be phased by pep rallies to sell or new ideas.  They were set in their ways.  At teacher trainings, these are the first people to raise their hand and argue with cynicism.  I get it.  Many things in education are cyclical, and it's reasonable that over the years, people can become cynical.  I appreciate these people, and I usually wish they were voicing their opinions on a stronger platform for change, such as with their teacher's union, and not toward the teacher training the group.  Teachers of trainings aren't usually as effective of an outlet as contacting people within your state who affect change, no matter how great of an argument.

There are a lot of things to complain about if you choose.  Most of these issues are not going away any time soon, but life would be worse without a job.  Steer your focus away from what you cannot change, and try to remember what you love about your job.

Change can be a great catalyst for future successes.  Change keeps us learning and evolving as educators.  What's important, when you find yourself in a world of change, is to not dig your heels.  A more satisfying and productive response is to be resourceful and seek the knowledge that you need in order to find that force of change within yourself.

You have a challenging and sometimes seemingly impossible job.  For this reason, there is a shortage of special education teachers in almost every state.  If you find that, even if you're working as hard as you can, you're not meeting expectations, then try something new.  Be an ambassador for change in a positive way, and meanwhile, enjoy your students every day.  Just like you do for your students, teach yourself a new strategy to make yourself successful!