Monday, August 27, 2012

What I have to do vs what I want to do

I work in a special ed district, D75, in NYC that encompasses all 5 boroughs, that serves the neediest students.  There are a number of stand alone buildings and a lot of off-sites - a floor here or there in a community school that are co-located. (Which gets just as weird as charter / public school co-locations, I'm sure) This school year, my site is moving to brand new campus: I'm told it's a nice building, Smartboards in every room, etc. So I suspect at least my classroom will have at least a fresh coat of paint. Tomorrow, the teachers and unit coodinator will meet there to check out the place and start unpacking. I got an email today asking for a brief meeting with everyone in order to discuss goals for the following year.

This is the time of year that I'm most idealistic and gung ho - and it usually lasts until I arrive for the first - day -of- school - for - teachers PD and receive a laundry list of ridiculous hair-splitting tasks. Then I lose my enthusiasm. But, I'll save that for another post.

Now that I've been at this for 6 years, my idealism and gung-ho edness has become decidedly less idealistc and gung - ho. The gap between what I want to do / feel is best for the students and what I have to do to make it look like the children "is learning" is becoming much wider. All over the country, this disconnect is infuriating teachers - and I think that us special ed teachers are feeling it the most. In particular, those that teach the students who have the most severe cognitive limitations.

But in the spirit of a new year, and for posterity's sake, here is the best balance between what I have to do and how I'm going to reconcile that with what I believe is best for the students

Have to: Use the language of common core in student IEPs at grade level, in 2 reading, 2 writing, and 2 math standards
Will do: Utilize the option to create short term objectives to create more developmentally appropriate goals that will also teach living skills
Example: Most of the students I teach can't count very well, but I am supposed to teach fractions. I will create real world examples of fraction use: measuring while cooking, 4 quarters make up a dollar, etc 

Have to:  Document progress in common core standards in student portfolios
Will do: Document the level of independence a student achieves within that goal - reassess the goal as needed
Example: Johnny counts out that 4 quarters are in a dollar with full assistance, a little help,or independently. If he can do the task independently within a few months, or it doesn't seem like he's getting it, then the goal will be re-assessed

Have to: Document student progress is 2 other optional areas other than the 6 discusssed above for each student
Will do: Optional area #1 will be a "reading" log. Optional area #2 will be a target behavior log
Example:  Since most of the students are non readers, the log will incorporate how long a student can, say, attend  to a read aloud in a small/ large group, if they can point to targeted sight words, if they looked at it with a friend,. did they discuss and comprehend the pictures? Students can chart the books they've "read" and  get a prize for every 10 or so. This will, I believe, get them excited about and interested in books and give me ideas about what their strengths and needs are. 

Have to:  Not teach spelling or multiplication or any of that stuff by memorization or rote
Will do: Just do it anyway.  The students I teach really need to sing the alphabet and practice counting by rote and all that stuff. . I will be sure that I note on IEPs that students need frequent opportunities for repetition and practice. Keep a number of my textbooks from grad school around to back me up on that.
Example: "Hi Mister or Miss Quality Reviewer - if you refer to the IEP you will see that the student benefits from frequent opportunities for repetition and practice, if you look at this book...." 

Have to:  Make an aesthically pleasing classroom that looks cute and teacher-y and is functional -
Will do: Put books in bins on the bookshelves, hang some posters, also be sure to write in IEPS which students benefit from an environment with few visual and auditory distractions. 
Example: Most of my students benefit from a place that has few visual and auditory distractions - I write that in most IEPS. 

Have to: Make sure anything and everything looks good enough for "visitors" to not "question" (I'm quoting my administrators from the last Quality Review)
Will do: Make sure anything and everything is user friendly for the students and adults that are in the classroom daily. Be ready to explain those decisions.  Put them in the IEPs - Offer opportunities for large, small group activities, write the rules of those  and display them in the classroom so a "visitor" who might ask a "question" will see that it does happen
Example: Poster titled, "Group Activity Rules" with stuff like "keep hands feet to yourself" on it. 

Any other ideas out there?

1 comment:

  1. Whenever one of my new teacher "mentees" asks me if they're "allowed" to do something, whether it be a lesson plan or activity or whatever, I almost always tell them to just do it anyway, as long as they have a good reason for doing it that they can explain to admin or outsiders in "their language." Seriously, it's a lot easier to just do it than to constantly ask permission from an AP. Plus, you're the one who knows your kids best. That's usually how I reconcile the "want to" with the "have to."

    For example, two years ago I had to teach one period of Social Studies every week, even though we had a Social Studies cluster teacher who came in on the other four days. She told me that was plenty of time for her to get the kids to complete the SS portfolios, complete with AGLIs, checklists and tasks. So instead of teaching them from the curriculum, which would have been redundant IMO, I turned the one period a week into a "Social Skills" period where we would split into groups and play games. All of my students had social skills goals on their IEPs, so this was a good way for them to practice turn taking, communicating with peers, and responding appropriately to difficult emotions (like not winning). We had fun with the games, the kids actually made some small gains in social skills, and no one ever questioned me on my choice (although I like to think I would have given them a real earful if they had)!