Saturday, July 25, 2015

#SpedChatSaturday Back to School

Welcome to the first #SpedChatSaturday topic! Today's topic is Back to School and this linky party is hosted by the lovely Ashley at Lattes, Lesson Plans & IEPs. Today we talk about all things related to Back to School. Not that I am ready for school yet! I feel like I just finished ESY and the summer is just getting started.

But let's jump in. There's a lot to talk about! First up, what's on my To-Do list?

There is always a ton to do before school starts and those first few work days back. We only have two prep days before the students come. That means I have to have all of my general education communication materials prepped ahead of time. I want to be able to approach each mainstream teacher on the first work day back with my mainstream folders in my hands and be ready to talk about students. (I will be sharing all about my mainstream folders and how I communicate with general education teachers coming up on August 8th as I host #SpedChatSaturday - "Special Education and General Education Together is Better".) So before school even starts I prepare a mainstream folder for each student that will be mainstreaming. I also prepare a folder for each staff member (in my case, educational sign language interpreters) with information on the student they will be working with, expectations, schedules, etc.

On the first prep day I am at a half day Back to School meeting with my County Office. The second part of the day I am RACING around trying to sweet talk general education teachers into mainstream with my students. Seriously. Does anyone else feel super awkward about asking teachers to mainstream with your students? An extra student. At least 1 extra IEP to attend. An extra adult in the room. It's not always an easy conversation. Especially when general education teachers already have so much on their plate.

Usually this is not too much of an issue finding someone to mainstream with at each grade level. I tend to mainstream with the same teachers each year that I am familiar with and "get" my student's needs. I've already talked to several teachers before the school year ended and they have agreed to take some of my students. Our site principal does not place our D/HH students since we are a County program on a District site. It's a bit complicated.... and always a stressful process for me... since the responsibility is on me to run around and ask people to mainstream with my students, what their schedule *might* look like, etc.

After I have a general education teacher for each student in 1st-6th grade, I have a better understanding of what the schedule will look like. This means I can finally pair up students with sign language interpreters and start a *rough* schedule for the interpreters to work with that first week of school. Let's talk about schedules and juggling that many recesses, lunches, etc.! Holy moly. But you guys get that for sure! Scheduling is a whole other topic for another day.

So ALL of that happens on the first day back to work. On the second prep day I have a staff meeting with the sign language interpreters assigned to my class and my signing instructional assistant. I go over expectations, schedules, duties, which student they will be working with, student goals and individual needs, etc. At that time they each get their folder with information on the student(s) they are working with, expectations, and a rough schedule with their assignment and duties.

Whew! I am tired just thinking/typing about this whirlwind of Back to School! How do I keep it all organized?

Organization is my love language for sure! But let's be honest. You just need to make it through that first week back! So let's focus on that first!

Student Information: Each student is going to bring that huge Back to School packet of paperwork the first week of school. Before school starts, look through that packet and make a simple spreadsheet of what paperwork you need returned. As they bring back these forms, check them off. You'll know who has turned in what and what you still need. Sort these papers into stacks as they come in.

Staff Information: We all work with a lot of extra staff in Special Education. Make sure you have an area for a mailbox for each staff member. I also post the school's weekly news so each staff member is responsible for knowing what "extras" are happening that week. I don't have the time to tell each person individually about the upcoming fire drill or assembly.

Teacher Information: You know that huge packet of Back to School information you get from your County Office or District? Your class budget, the new rules and regs, etc. File that and get to it later in the month. You need to survive the first week and this is so not important right now!

Lesson Plans: Now *this* is where you will need to spend lots of time prior to the start of school preparing for! It will save your sanity when you are exhausted those first few days. Your materials will be ready and you can walk out the door and actually nap when you get home rather than stress about what you are doing the next day. You know which subjects you will be teaching. You might not know when, but you know what. So plan ahead of time. Also, plan lots of extra activities just in case. That first week moves really fast and you need to be prepared for extra time in the day. After you have spent a few days with your students you will be able to make plans for the second week.

I always spend way to much time trying to make my classroom look just right rather than having a plan for the first week. Not this year. I already have my first literature unit picked out and TpT units purchased. ;)

Now.... on to wishes. A girl can dream big, right?

Scheduling mainstreaming for grades 1 to 6, along with four staff to cover 7 kids is always a nightmare. I already know I don't have enough interpreter coverage. I just pray that the stars and moon align and the schedules work out perfectly. Enough said.

When you work with that many extra staff in Special Education there are bound to be staff issues. I am just hoping for an easier year than last year in this department.

My goal is to be proactive and prepared enough to be out the door and headed home by 4pm each day. We're contracted 8 hours a day. But who only ever works their "40 hour professional work week" as a teacher???

Speaking of... how do I manage my time?

Each day after recess my students have 15 minutes of free time in the classroom library. They can read, do puzzles, or build. During these 15 minutes I lesson plan for the following week. This way I can put together a to-do list for my assistant with copies or examples that need to be made. I don't get a "prep period". I constantly have students in my classroom.

Each of my students get at least 15 minutes of general education consult time per month. That means I am running around after school trying to catch certain teachers. This year I plan on scheduling these times in advance so I am not wasting time trying to track teachers down. Email is a beautiful communication tool meant to make our lives easier. I am constantly emailing teachers to set up a time to talk after or before school. 

How about a promise? 

This year is full of changes for our program. I have a new supervisor and will be working with new staff in my classroom. I just need to embrace these changes and not worry about things I cannot control. I often tell myself to just "shut the door and teach". Do what I can with what I have.

Here's to a great start to the 2015-2016 school year!

Back-to-School Link-Up


  1. Kelly,

    Thanks for linking up! I must say, I admire your work and dedication for teaching students with hearing impairments. Do you have an example of your mainsteaming folders. I want to make something similar for my gen ed teachers as well. I know I want to include an IEP Quick Peek / At a Glance, and possibly an observation sheet, but I'm not sure what else to include! What a smart idea it is to block out those 15 minutes just for prep. It goes a long way when you plan it into your schedule. I know it'll be hard to be out of the classroom around 4pm, but I think I'd like to add that to my "Wish" list! Hold me accountable to that? :D

    I can't wait to see your school year unfold!

  2. I love the idea of a newsletter for sped staff! That would make it so easy to get everyone on board with the current happenings of our kiddos.

  3. I can't imagine having only 2 days to run around and sort everything out for all your students! That's crazy! I have 5 planning days and our administration places our students into a mainstream class for us (too bad if the mainstream teachers don't like it!). It's hard enough with all the meetings and such I have to attend- I'd NEVER get it done with only 2 days! Kudos to you! :)
    X is for Apple

  4. "I just pray that the stars and the moon align and the schedules work out perfectly" HAHAHAHA I literally laughed out loud at that ridiculously TRUE comment. Scheduling with aides, teachers, AND interpreters is always so hard! I hope your year goes great!