SPECIAL EDUCATORS-DO WE DO TOO MUCH?

Hats...

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How many hats or duties, do Special Educators wear or have during the course of school year, week or day? Personally I think we have too many to do our main responsibilities particularly well. At least not without putting in a ridiculous number of hours beyond what is normally expected of most teachers.

It seems that this is not understood by many politicians or administrators, because they continue to add responsibilities to our already full plate without removing any.  Typically, many of Special Educators have between 15-30 students on our caseload, have a full teaching schedule (usually English Language Arts or Math), and are supposed to help our students with Science, Social Studies or any other subject the student is having difficulty with.

Then we are expected to put out fires (student behavioral issues or parental generated questions) that come up, advise administrators and teachers about Special Education laws/regulations, liaison between parents and the school and all the other responsibilities that have been added since Special Education came into being.

Teacher – While some Special Educators do not teach a particular subject, many of us do (does HQT ring a bell?), we have to be prepared to teach our students any subject that they need help with.  Being able to teach a wide variety of subjects usually at remedial and varying grade levels has just become a part of our job expectation.

When you add in that our instruction is required by law to be Scientifically Based (which is a whole different post), how are Special Educators expected to meet the “letter of the law” and be in compliance?  While delivering differentiated instruction in a variety of subjects at the same time in the same classroom – usually called the Resource Room.

Oh yeah, then most of our students are required to take the same standardized tests as their grade level peers (with accommodations and modifications) which doesn’t cause any issues or problems for the school or the student?

When Special Educators do teach a particular subject, we are often do not have and are not provided the same training opportunities, included in Department Content Area meetings to improve our abilities in that subject area.  I have heard too often – “you are in Special Ed, you aren’t part of our department”, “you don’t need to be here”.

But we are still required to prepare Lesson Plans, Weekly Plans, maintain Grades and do all the other things that those other content area teachers are required to do for their classes. We try to “get” leadership to allow us to be included in the content area we are responsible for, but it seems that we get “forgotten” for whatever the reason by the Department Chair.

Which makes it difficult to align our mandated Scientifically based curriculum with the regular education curriculum which we are also supposed to follow along with, when we are often not aware of what is going on in those Departments.

Often it seems as though Special Educators are not respected as “real” teachers by content area teachers or administration.  We often hear that we get the “other” students that no one wants in their classroom, that our students can’t learn, we have to teach those students fundamental skills that may be well below grade level, that the level of rigor that we teach in our classroom is not the same rigor that other teachers may have in their classroom, our students are the reason that the school is failing, that we don’t have the background to teach a subject the way it should be (in other words we are teaching subjects differently than other teachers might) and so many other less than complimentary stereotypes or negative stereotypes.

This kind of thinking and attitudes toward Special Educators just gets tiresome to me.  Special Educators are certified teachers, who typically do the best job that they can, with the resources we are provided with.  Sometimes we even surprise everyone and have more than a few our students who do well academically or those that improve their skills socially, even if we don’t always teach by the “book” or use an “approved” scientific teaching method.  At times part of what our students needs is an adult who gives a damn about them and doesn’t give up on them when something goes wrong.

Paralegal – I think that this is our main job in today’s world, doing the paperwork that is associated with Special Education, not teaching our students.  The focus is on completing CYA paperwork has become burdensome to the educational process.  Yes I know that according to the law Procedural Safeguards must be completed correctly, but the number of meetings, Advance Written Notices, participating as the recorder in Pupil Evaluation Teams (PETs), Written Notices (replaced PET minutes in Maine), Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and all the other paperwork that we get to do seems to be a lot of “do work”, not necessary work – but then again anything that could go to Hearing or Court has to be completed “just so.”

I think the longer I am in Education, the more I dislike this part of my  job (the paperwork) as a Special Educator and when I leave Special Education this will be one of the reasons that I do.  I am usually pretty good at the paperwork end (I just can’t proofread my own work sometimes), but I just don’t like the amount of time it all takes to properly prepare this paperwork correctly to meet the legal requirements placed upon schools and the Special Education staff.  We have to know the Special Education
Regulations/Laws for our State and it helps an awful lot to know IDEA, Section 504 and some of the vocational laws in effect that affect our students and their legal standing in our schools, just to ensure we are not missing anything.

One of the biggest issues that I have with being a Special Education Paralegal is that formal training in become or being one is limited.  Initially it is usually one 3 credit undergraduate class and after that training on changes to these laws and forms are few and far between, and usually well after the fact.  It seems to me that something as important as this part of our job is left to informal training methods just isn’t the right way to do things, especially when so much of what we do in Special Education may be contentious and may be argued in mediation or court.

Sometimes I think that general education staff and administrators forget that Special Education is covered by laws and regulations, and are not being made up by the Special Educator just to make their lives miserable.

Counselor – I know that we are not licensed counselors, but it seems as though we sure do provide an awful lot of common sense advice to students, parents, teachers and sometimes administrators for their personal and professional issues.  This is just a part of the job, sometimes it helps to keep our students in school and this seems to become an important part of what we do – honest and sometimes blunt analysis of what is going on around us.  Often what we say is not appreciated at the time we say it, but sometimes it needs to be said.

Behavior Technician – Many times Special Education students have the reputation of having more behavior issues than other students and usually this is true.  But I have noticed that many Resource Rooms or whatever you call them have fewer behavior issues than in many regular education classrooms – I wonder why that is?

I do have a couple of theories, but that is another post.  Special Educators are called on when “their” student’s behaviors escalate to unacceptable levels and the school doesn’t choose or want to use the “regular” school discipline.  We have to use our knowledge of the student or our interpersonal skills to calm a student down enough to stay in school and then get them ready to go back into the general education setting or simply stay in school in an alternative setting.  Sometimes putting out these “little” problems take up a great deal of our day.

Advocate/Negotiator – This is one of the hardest parts of the job.  Yes, we are part of the school staff and the school pays our salary, we share the teacher’s lounge with other teachers, but we are also a Special Education student’s daily advocate within the school, who is tasked with ensuring that their rights are being protected.  This can often sometimes put Special Educators in difficult situations when they point out to the other educators or administrators that they may not be following the student’s IEP – which is a legal agreement between the school and student’s parents.

Special Educators walk a tightrope to ensure that the student’s rights are protected and that the IEP is properly implemented, while at the same time ensuring that the school’s rights/perogatives are also protected and maintaining collegial relationships with our colleagues.

How a special educator performs this duty as a student’s advocate will determine their effectiveness as a Special Educator.  This is an area where we tread lightly, but hopefully stand firmly.  This part of my job is probably the most stressful and the part that will most likely eventually lead me out of Special Education.  You are always in the middle with both sides (parents or school staff) blaming you for what is going wrong.  You are part of a team, but an outsider, because you have to (by law) enforce or put teachers on notice regarding issue that some consider unpopular or not their problem.

Disability Resource Coordinator – Special Education students need accommodations, modifications and assistive technology and taught how to use these strategies, in order to be successful in the general education classroom.  Special Educators need to be aware of the best ways to accomplish these needs for each individual student, then communicate how to implement them into the classroom to those teachers and teach the student how to best utilize them to their benefit.  It sounds easy, but it is not and like the Advocate hat, this one can run into some difficulties when attempting put what the student needs to be successful in the classroom from either the student or the classroom teacher, especially when some teachers disagree with the PET team, chooses not to participate in the PET process or ignore the IEP.

What is the reality – I believe that all of these “jobs” that Special Educators have on their plate, make it difficult at best and at times impossible for them to do all of them at the high level our employers want or society demands, which causes its own stressors.  Most of us attempt to do everything well, but with so many responsibilities versus the time available, often we offset quality of work for quantity and then when we get picked apart by a lawyer, because our paperwork is not just so, our lesson plans are not up to the same quality as the general education teacher or we get angry phone calls and emails from parents about what is or is not going on at school for their student.  All of which leads to frustrations on everybody’s part.

It just seems that the politicians and administrators keep adding more and more responsibilities to the Special Educator’s job description, but do not take anything off that position description.  Leadership seldom checks to see if the numerous responsibilities they have assigned their Special Educators can be reasonably accomplished in the time and with the training that they are providing.

Part of being a good leader is to ensure that people are given the proper tools, training and time to complete their tasks…I believe that in many instances leadership has forgotten to look at what they have been putting on the hat rack or if they do they don’t want to see what is there, because they would have to do something about it.  It is often easier to get a new body in a position and use them up, than it is to change how things are done.

With all the different hats that we wear, sometimes I do wonder whether it is worth being a Special Educator or not.   I love teaching kids (especially the ones that most teachers don’t like to teach) but sometimes the rest of those hats and responsibilities get pretty darn onerous.  Finding a balance between the number of hours that we give freely to special education and having a home life when school is in session is becoming more and more difficult.  Many don’t or can’t find that balance and look to find different teaching opportunities or leave education altogether.

What are the answers?  I am not sure, but it has to do with real education reform, not just the Testing and Standards reform mandates that are on the table today.  Special Education students usually don’t or can’t meet many of these reforms and then the schools and soon Special Education teachers will be penalized for their student’s lack of progress – which may be beyond their ability to control.  Maybe I am naive, but testing a student at an 8th grade or high school level, when it is acknowledged they are at a 3rd or 4th grade level, is not an effective use of the school’s, teacher’s or student’s resources, time or energy.

I do have to ask is the present system of FAPE, IDEA or Section 504 as interpreted by the Courts and State Regulations, the appropriate educational system for our Special Education students?  There are more questions than there are answers to me at this time and there are no easy answers.  But in my opinion the present system is often not working for the student, their parents, teachers or the school when it comes to educating Special Education students..

With all the above negativity, why do I stay a Special Educator?  One reason and one reason only – I love teaching these kids, otherwise I wouldn’t put up with all the other things I have written about.

What do you think, am I being too negative or not?  Have I overlooked any of the other duties that Special Educators have to do?

“There is no try, only do.” – Yoda

GETTING RID OF EMAIL ON THE iPHONE

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I have decided to delete email connectivity from my iPhone.  I know that many people out there love being able to keep up with their email from their mobile phone and I thought that I did also.

Over the course of the summer it was great to be able to check my email anywhere/anytime.  But this morning I received an email about work from a parent of a student that while important (not anything bad, but very work related), is not something that I wanted or needed to worry about at 7:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning.

However, I did read it, I did worry about it, I did dwell on how I would respond to it later on (no I haven’t responded to it yet).  I bring enough stuff home as a teacher and then when you add in  reading work related emails anywhere or anytime has added to my stress level, when I should have been relaxing and enjoying the morning instead, just seemed wrong at the time and still does now.

On reflection about this (it is not the first work related email that I have fretted about after reading it on my iPhone at some weird time or place) I have come to believe that being able to see my email anywhere/anytime has become too much.  I don’t need to dwell on work related issues anymore than I have to at home.   These emails will or can wait until I either open up my laptop or when I get back to school.  The ability to worry about work 24/7 is not the direction I want my life to go in, I need some down time and time away from being a teacher.

I am not so important that I have to check my email at all hours, no one will die, be hurt or injured if I wait until I get on my laptop to check my email.  Simply having the ability to check email 24/7 anywhere/anytime has become a unnecessary distraction to my life at this time.  I have reached the point where too much information is too much.  I need time just for me and my life at home.

So after I finish this post, I am going to de-activate my email capabilities on my iPhone and enjoy all the other applications that will still be there, but not email.  Who knows maybe this will help reduce my stress/anxiety level a little bit.  I still read my email on the weekends, but I really don’t need to do it first thing in the morning or whenever my iPhone goes bzzzzzzz or beeps at me and the last thing before I go to bed.

Here is to one less thing to stress me out.

“There is no try, only do.” – Yoda

GOOGLE-APPLE SYNCHING – SOLUTION FOUND

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I have had my iPhone 3G since May.  I really love it and to say it has become an extension of many things that I do is an understatement.

However, I am finding that the iPhone and other Apple products do not natively or sometimes easily interact with Google Docs, Contacts or Calendar – I understand the competition between the two companies, but it is a pain in the butt sometimes when I want them to synch up easily and they don’t.

I use gCal a lot with my blogs and Google Sites for my classroom, but I like the desktop Apple counterparts most of the time for working and inputting information (plus I like the clean look better too), they are there if there is no Internet connectivity, which can be an issue in some places.  I was having a lot of trouble synching them up and keeping the information the same, which almost made for some embarrassing situations last year and this summer when they had different information that didn’t synch correctly.

I tried Apple’s Mobile Me and was not impressed with its capabilities and lack of ability to use its calendar information in Google Sites or for the price for the service.  Why pay almost $100.00 per year for something you can get for free at Microsoft, Google or somewhat cheaper from other services, just because it has the Apple tag on it (my pragmatism or cheapness is coming out here).

I cancelled my Mobile Me before the free 2 month trial was over, it was not what I was looking for at this time.  If I didn’t depend on Google Apps products so extensively in school it might have been a good solution, but I do, so it wasn’t.

I sent a tweet out to my Twitter PLN, asking if anyone had a solution to my synch issues with Apple and Google products.  @dancallahan provided a potential solution in Spanning Synch, which I have been trying over the past couple of weeks.  It has simply worked.

A great example of how important it has become to me was when I agreed to Mobile Me’s try new beta calendar program, I didn’t realize it would wipe out my other calendars (it did) (I should have read the documentation more closely) and I would have lost my current iCalendar info, if I hadn’t been for Spanning Synch being there to quickly and easily synch my information back on my iCalendar from Google Calendar.

It has shown itself to be what I was looking for and I am going to buy it this weekend.

To put it simply, it works in the background without me messing around with it.  Using Spanning Synch to synch Google and Apple products has made it one less thing for me to worry about.

Thanks Dan.

Disclaimer:  No no one requested, paid me or gave me anything to do this review, yes I will be using a $5.00 off promotional code that was provided to me by @dancallahan.

“There is no try, only do.” – Yoda

PAPER AIRPLANE LESSON PLAN 2010

This is one of my favorite all time lesson plans, I have updated it for this year’s class and plan to use it on Tuesday.  I was also wondering if anyone had any constructive criticisms or suggestions that I can use to make it even better.

Also if you see that it fits under any other of the English Common Core Standards (I could probably add a math one in if I really wanted to – measurement, mean, mode, etc).
Paper Airplane Lesson Plan

Author: Harold Shaw, Special Education Teacher Suggested Grade Level: 6-12 Subject Area:  English Language Arts Time Required:

2-4 Periods Common Core Standards

Standard Title:  Writing Standards 6-12
Standard Language:  Text Types and Purposes

3.    Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
a.    Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
b.    Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
c.    Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
d.    Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.
e.    Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events. Lesson Objectives

(a): This exercise is to promote the idea that the students can follow instructions and that teachers can help them to do something better than they can by themselves, but most of all that they can learn.

This is an introductory narrative writing assignment to help determine the student’s ability to  describe the classroom and their personal activities while making and flying paper airplanes in the classroom using the appropriate sequence, descriptive details and effective narrative writing techniques. This lesson can be used as a stand alone icebreaker lesson and/or as a precursor to the Introduction to Google Doc Lesson plan to introduce that tool to the students. Hook:  Who ever heard of making and then flying paper airplanes in class with the teacher’s permission? Preparation Required/Preliminary Discussion:
The teacher will introduce to the students that they are going to create paper airplanes in the classroom individually without any help from other students or teaching staff.  Remind the students that this is supposed to be a fun activity, the teacher should be upbeat and positive about the activity. Modeled Lesson (to):

Not applicable – this is a “cold” start lesson for the students. Guided Practice (with):

Task #1
Do not allow students to make fun of each other’s planes – the students should remain quiet and respectful of each other’s work.  Teacher should intervene immediately if any students do this.

Each student will construct 2 paper airplanes independently (should be done in 5-10 min), they can only use the paper given them (no tape, staples, paper clips).  The work needs to be completed independently, teachers should not help students with this initial activity.   While the students are making their planes, the teacher(s) should be making at least one paper airplane as well. Keep reminding students that this is supposed to be a fun activity, some students may complain or get frustrated and have to be kept on task to complete their plane.  Students should write their name under the wing on their planes.

  • Take a picture of each student and their airplane (just the airplanes are okay if student doesn’t want picture taken).
  • Students will fly their paper airplanes (irregardless of how complete it is – even if it is a crumpled up piece of paper) to see how far they go.
  • Students will keep track of how far their plane flew.

Task #2
Students will individually write the following information in paragraph form either in long hand or using a word processor :

  • Have you made paper airplanes before, how do you think it looked and why did it look that way?
  • How did your plane fly today?
  • What were the other students doing while you were trying to fly your plane?
  • What did you think of this activity?

While students are doing their reflection, teacher is writing down quick points that they observed during the activity.

Note:  If a word processor is used – the teacher should download the photos to a thumb drive and allow the students to insert the pictures of their paper airplane into the document. TASK  #3

After students have written their reflection on their first airplanes and its flight, pass out two more pieces of paper and ask the students to just sit there.  Tell students we are going to build the next airplane as a step-by-step process and that no one can go ahead and that we have to do it together and wait for each person to complete that part of the process.  The teacher will go around and help each student to complete each step in the process. Below is a picture series of how to build one type of paper airplane.

1.  Fold the paper in half

2.  Fold back one corner

3.  Fold back the other corner

4.  Fold the turned in corner parallel to center.

5.  Fold the other side parralel to the center line.

6.  Fold paper once more to create the wing.

7.  Fold the other side to complete the other wing

8.  On each wing tip fold about one inch of paper to form stabilizers.

Each student will have a completed airplane that looks similar to the last one above. Independent Practice (by)

After the students have built the airplane using the above steps together, allow students to build the second plane independently, but with help from the teachers if they run into difficulty.

  • Take a picture of each student and their airplane (just airplane okay if student doesn’t want picture taken).
  • Students will fly their paper airplanes to see how far they go.
  • Students will keep track of how far their plane flew

Fly the new set of planes (hopefully they look better and fly further than the original).
Using the same piece of paper or word processing document as their original reflection, students will individually write the following information in paragraph form and insert their photographs into their document:

  • How your original paper airplane looks compared the other two you made, please explain the difference(s) between the two.
  • How did the second set of planes fly compared to the first set?
  • What were the other students doing while you were learning how to make the second set of planes.  Did everyone pull together and help each other out, did everyone wait for the instructions?
  • What did you think of this activity?
  • What did you learn from this activity besides how to make a paper airplane?

Note:  If a word processor is used – the teacher should download the photos to a thumb drive and allow the students to insert the pictures of their paper airplane into the document. After student complete their reflection on the paper airplane activity Write on the whiteboard  “WHO CAN LEARN?”  Then go on to discuss your observations of the activity, solicitating the students views and opinions about what happened.  Focus on the students ability to learn how to do something new or how they learned how do something differently than they had in the past in the classroom.   Extension:

Ask the students if this is the only way a paper airplane can be constructed, discuss the various other ways to build paper airplanes and ask the students to try it at home and write about their experience with other types of paper airplanes and bring their results back into class in the morning.  This is a voluntary assignment to create more independent writing opportunities. Closure:

Discuss with students that learning can be fun and that they all showed that they can learn during this activity.  Grading of this lesson is optional.  It is more important for the students to learn that teachers are there to help them do things that they didn’t do as well prior to the activity.  The biggest accomplishment that students should have at the end of this lesson is to know that they can learn something new or how to do something better than they could previously. If grading the students during this activity is desired, teachers can use a locally or classroom holistic participation rubric and Writing rubric to score the student reflections. Vocabulary:  paper airplane, reflection, instructions, step-by-step, narrative writing, fun, learning, individual, Materials and Resources Required:

  • 2 pieces of blank paper
  • If writing reflection in long hand paper/pencil or pen
  • If using word processor – Computer & word processing software
  • Digital Camera
  • Thumb Drive
  • Masking tape – to create a line for students to stand behind when throwing their paper airplane

Accommodations/Modifications:

  • Extra help for students for whom folding paper is difficult
    Extra Time for completion of assignments
    Use of Word Processor to complete writing assignment
    Multiple re-learning opportunities
    Review student IEP (if applicable) for further Accommodations/Modifications

If you can use any portion of this lesson plan in your classroom please do, all I ask is that you attribute my work and not try to sell it.  – Harold Shaw

“There is no try, only do.” – Yoda

THE WEEK IN REVIEW – SEPTEMBER 4, 2010

Hurricane Earl at peak intensity on September ...

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This was quite a week, with arrival of Hurricane Earl, the heat wave we have been in is officially over.  We survived.  In my area in Maine we set, equaled or came close to a record temperature every day this week, along with the high humidity made the classrooms unbearable.  I really doubt a lot of learning took place during this week because of the weather.

We were lucky that Hurricane Earl only brushed the coast and didn’t make that left hand turn after Cape Cod.  We only got a bit of rain and it stopped soon enough this morning that I didn’t get very wet during my Bennie walk.

We had our school open house on Tuesday and I thought that it went very well.  But the great news is that all the 7th & 8th graders have been issued their MLTI MacBook laptops.  Now the fun begins and I am looking forward to teaching next week.

As a result of being completely brain dead and wiped out every night this week, I didn’t post very much to my blogs or participate in Twitter conversations.  I kind of expected a reduction over the course of September, but I didn’t expect almost a complete “all stop”.  Hopefully, with more seasonable temps, I will have some energy left for blog entries and being on Twitter.

Below is a review of my top 5 posts for the week:

  1. PERSONAL APPEARANCE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
  2. MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY – 2010
  3. THE DIGITAL LIFESTYLE
  4. SURVIVING THE HEAT
  5. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES – 2010

Thank you everyone who has taken the time to read my blog.

“There is no try, only do.” – Yoda