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  #1  
Old 02-25-2011, 05:44 PM
Mellz Bellz Mellz Bellz is offline
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6th Grade Inclusion Teacher
New teacher feeling overwhelmed

Hi everyone! I am new here and am posting for a bit of advice. I graduated from college about four years ago with a dual certification in both general and special ed birth-6th grade. I was subbing up until this past school year when I finally decided that I needed to move out of state to find a job or just find something else to do with my life. Thanks to a very dear friend of mine I was able to land a postion as a self-contained Special Ed teacher in another state. I am definitely grateful to have a job finally and I feel comfortable in both general or Special ed.

What I am having difficulty with is how the Special Ed department is ran in my district. I started the year off with four boys, grades 3-5. It was great! All of a sudden halfway through the year I am up to NINE boys and the spread is from K-5th grade. I do not believe that it is developmentally appropriate to put a 5 year old who is on the same social level as a 2 yr old in the same class as an 11 yr old. Not only do I have the age spread, but my room is cross categorical and encompasses any and all areas of exceptionality. In my room now I have three ED (we are talking regular furniture throwers) one diagnosed with autism, two or three others that have tendencies plus ADHD, and then I have two that are just low functioning. The only classroom support my students get is myself and one TA. I feel like the place is a zoo! All my classroom management seems to have gone out the window because there is just too much going on. My ED students are demmanding all my attention lately with their behaviors and making it impossible to give my help to the students who need the academics. I do not get any prep time during the day and I am beginning to feel myself sinking.

Does anyone have any advice for me? I have already tried talking to my principal and our head of Special Ed and I was kind of told that this is the way it is. They pretty much laughed at me when I approached them about getting me an additional TA. I really feel like my students are not benefiting from being in my room which frustrates me. Everyone in my building has made it clear that they are impressed with how I am handling the classroom, but at this rate I don't know if I can make it to June!
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  #2  
Old 02-25-2011, 05:58 PM
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mopar mopar is offline
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Kindergarten Teacher
Welcome!

Are any of your students in the regular education classes for part of the day. Maybe you could work it so that your 5th graders are rarely in the room with your Ks. I would take a hard look at my schedule and see if there is any wiggle room to play with the times that kids are in your room.
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Old 02-25-2011, 06:03 PM
waterfall waterfall is offline
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K-3 Sped Resource Teacher
Welcome to the boards! I'm a new teacher as well but I'm mild/moderate. I also approached my district about getting a ta- I'm the only sped teacher in my building and I have at least one student that would benefit from someone being with him all day. He is a student with ebd and his regular ed. teacher literally spends 90% of her day dealing with him and the other students suffer. I also pretty much got laughed at when I asked for a para for him- so I know what you mean! You mentioned that you moved to a new state- do you know all the sped laws in your state really well? I found it was hard for me to figure all that stuff out when I moved (I also moved states for a job). It sounds like you're teaching in a severe program- and in my state for severe needs legally you can only have up to 6 students for one teacher, and there has to be at least 3 paras/TAs. It was the same in my old state. Are you sure that your state doesn't have a similiar rule? I'd look into it if I were you- it may be that your district is taking advantage of you. 11 students with one teacher is definitely not a good situation! My other thought is does your administration understand how bad this current set up really is? Do they spend a lot of time observing in your room, etc. They may just honestly not realize what you're dealing with. Maybe you could approach one of them and describe a situation that you're having trouble with (one of the ebd kids or something) and ask that they come and observe and maybe give you some feedback about how you could handle things. That would at least force them to take a look at what's really going on.
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  #4  
Old 02-25-2011, 06:04 PM
EdEd EdEd is offline
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Hey there! Welcome, and I think I know the number of your classroom . Well, not really, but a very similar classroom pops into mind from a few years back.

I guess you've talked to the right folks about finding out how things are there, but (unless you happen to be working in the same school/district I did) unfortunately that does happen, and for different reasons. The particular classroom I worked a lot with was a "developmentally disabled" classroom in a district where the DD label went up to age 9. Because it was far easier to get kids qualified for services when they were 5 or so under the DD label, that's often where they ended up until they were 8 and needed a more permanent placement.

I've also worked with a few other classrooms where the needs of individual students were so overwhelming that treating the room as a whole or as a group was impossible - they simply weren't able to function in groups yet - many just simply hadn't gotten to that developmental level, yet unlike some other classrooms where there were 1:1 aides, no such like in these other classrooms.

The most immediate, and probably only, long-term solution in those classrooms was this: Assign individual, engaging, work to each child that s/he can complete independently or with very little supervision. Then, work with 1 or 2 kids at a time (whatever is appropriate - may even be able to to get a few more kids in a group with some of the higher functioning kids) on individual objectives/goals. The bottom line - because most kids can only work individually or with one or two other kids, you'll have to do that, and in the meantime find activities that the other kids can do on their own, with a TA rotating between them.

Essentially, this is the same concept/model as reading groups with independent stations/reading with the rest of the class, in which 4-5 kids come for a guided reading small group with the teachers, and the rest of the kids rotate between centers. Only in this case, rather than working independently in groups (4 kids working on the same activity individually or as a group), each child has his own set of activities.

Of course, I don't know the specific needs (including IEP goals, instructional levels, etc.) of each of the kids, so it may be possible to work with some of the older kids in one group, or some variation of that, but you get the idea.

One other caveat - with the child who is at the 2-year-old developmental level, or even with other kids who may not be able to focus or otherwise work well independently, you may have to REALLY scale down work - even to the point of just playing with blocks, etc. I don't have a lot of experience with instruction with really young kids, or kids who need on instruction on that level, so I'm not the one to ask, but I do know that the magic secret of this "model" of instruction is lowering the instructional level of the task until it can performed independently without a lot of behavior.

I will say that these ideas here aren't best practice necessarily - just a reality of how to structure things with a group of kids that are instructionally so heterogeneous that whole group or even small group instruction is rendered impossible. That you're forced into this situation is a matter of finance/resources (can't afford 1:1 instruction or aides), understanding of special ed, etc.

So, I'd be really curious to hear if others have found themselves doing things differently with such a diverse crowd?
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  #5  
Old 02-25-2011, 11:39 PM
bros bros is offline
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Is it a self-contained classroom?

If so, depending on the laws in your state, students with that large an age difference being in the same classroom may violate the law.
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  #6  
Old 02-25-2011, 11:47 PM
waterfall waterfall is offline
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K-3 Sped Resource Teacher
I also just noticed that you said you do not get a prep time- why is that? I am almost certain that is illegal- are you a union member? If so, I might bring that up to them. Even kids with severe needs should be going to specials as well, so that could be another legal issue right there.
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  #7  
Old 02-26-2011, 12:23 AM
Mellz Bellz Mellz Bellz is offline
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6th Grade Inclusion Teacher
Thanks for all the suggestions. To answer a few of your questions I have looked into what the state law is and according to the other sped teacher in my building who looked it up for me, it is 10:1:1. (I'm at 9 now, so I am almost at that limit). I definitely feel like I was taken advantage of a bit this year in that I am still trying to learn all the state laws and how things are ran down here versus NY. I know in NY (in at least the district I subbed in and student taught in) classes were grouped by disability and the limit depended upon the category. Like I know and LD class was 15:1:1, but they would be placed by grade level, so it was more likely that they'd be closer in ability levels. EBD was 9:1:1. I student taught in a self-contained classroom with multiple disabilities like I'm in now, but the students were only 1st-3rd grade age and we had a classroom teacher, two full time TA's, and a part-time TA, plus me for 8 or 9 students.

I have tried to talk to my principal about this and although he is understanding of how difficult my job is, he acts as though his hands are tied. He's very approachable, but can sometimes be very passive-aggressive which is frustrating at times.

I try to give independent work while I work with smaller groups, but a lot of my boys are so needy that they need assistance with the simplest of tasks. It's not that they are unable to do the work. They just need someone to sit by them for comfort. As I mentioned before, I have one EBD kid in particular who flips when I cannot be by his side helping him. Today he threw over a table and purposely spilled an entire bottle of water onto the carpet all because I had chosen to work with another child who often gets pushed to the side and needs the 1 on 1.

The lack of planning time is definitely an issue. My principal wants all my boys to attend their special area classes (gym, music, art, etc) with their grade level peers. Because of this my room is a revolving door and I never have a time where I do not have kids. Even if I set aside some quiet time for myself during the day something happens that prevents me from getting anything done. I am finding myself staying after school until 5pm every day trying to juggle lesson plans, paper work, and other school obligations and still oftentimes have to bring work home with me. I am not part of our "union" (it's not called a union, but it does basically the same thing) this year because I just had so much going on at the beginning of the year, but I am definitely going to join next year. I also am definitely going to put my foot down on a lot. I just have to make it through this year first.
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  #8  
Old 02-26-2011, 01:10 AM
EdEd EdEd is offline
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Yeah, you definitely have your hands full, whether its illegal or not . Not sure if it makes you feel better or worse, but I do know of other classrooms like this - doesn't make it okay, but may let you identify with the abstract "others" out there in the educational world - you aren't alone! Still, complacency isn't the answer, as you have well noted.

You mentioned giving individual work while in smaller groups, but that kids are still needing you to be 1:1 with them in order to complete it - the work is still probably above their level because of the behavior implications. It may be within their instructional or even mastery level academically, but especially with kids with a lot of issues, considering whether a child can behaviorally perform independently is as or more important than academic independence. So, I guess I'd say drop (or change) the expectations any more. The natural response to this suggestion is, "But, if the expectations are dropped below a certain point, then education isn't occurring - it's just babysitting." This is a very true and valid point, and the best response would be change your situation (you seem to have these longer-term solutions well in mind - research the law, join the union-type organization, work with administration, etc.), but given the current situation, its either you drop expectations even more and only provide an education to one child/group at a time, or let chaos reign, be disrupted from even your 1:1 group, and because of disruption essentially having no meaningful instruction occur.

You may have to drop the expectations to such a degree that its not really even instruction anymore - literally just may be "enriching activities," or possibly even just structured play. Yes, it sucks, and just sounds bad even typing the word "play" , but in light of an alternative, it may either be that or temper tantrums, total loss of instruction, etc.

So, I hear you that you've dropped instructional levels and given independent work, but you may need to go lower, or at least different. Totally doesn't take away from the awful situation you're in, though - hats off to you for being there for those kids when it seems not a lot of others are.
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  #9  
Old 02-26-2011, 10:58 AM
Mellz Bellz Mellz Bellz is offline
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6th Grade Inclusion Teacher
Thanks ED for your advice. Maybe you are right. I may be shooting too high. I guess being a new teacher I am still at the point where I think I can rescue all my new students and change them. I am the only self-contained teacher in the building and the other sped teacher who is responsible for push in and pull out services is not much help. To be blunt he's kind of an idiot. He has some deficits himself and already this year I have caught him in some major paperwork errors that could have resulted in law suits. (Ex: A child being in the program since 06 and never having a re-evaul, a child whose IEP was due for annual review almost three months ago and overlooked). So he is not exactly a valuable resource. I have been in contact with another self-contained teacher in the district which has helped. I even went to observe her, but her classroom population is completely different than mine. (She has 5 kids: two kindergarten girls, two 5th grade boys, and a 3rd grade boy who is there half a day. None are behavior issues. They are all just very low academically, lower than my students.)

Also when I started this year I walked into a situation where these boys had absolutely no structure. Their previous teacher had been injured by a student and went out on disability mid year. A steady replacement was never hired. They just had string after string of subs. There were no plans and a lot of the subs here don't have formal teacher training, so they just winged it every day. As a result there were a lot of behavior issues. The first month or so was just me trying to get them in the habit of a routine and that yes, we were actually going to do work this year. It's just every time I feel like I'm in my groove and things are becoming comfortable, ANOTHER student is added and sometimes one student can overthrow the whole system (especially when they are EBD) and I have to start back at square one. Now my students from the beginning of the year have to get used to something else. It is definitely frustrating, but I guess so is the life of a Sped teacher
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  #10  
Old 02-26-2011, 01:18 PM
EdEd EdEd is offline
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Yeah, that would be immensely frustrating to keep finding success only to lose that success with continual mid-year additions. It's a different situation, but I worked with a classroom several years ago that worked with almost all migrant families, and every week of the year there would literally be 1-3 new students - the population at the end of the year was 80% different than the beginning - the teacher loved her job and was happy, but I could never figure out how she was satisfied with such high turnover! You definitely have a tough job, and although I advocated above for dropping standards even more, I definitely wouldn't lose that passion for saving every kid - its not that you can't get there, you just may need to start at an early start point, go a little slower, and deal with a whole lot of variability along the way.

I'll be really honest with you - I really love helping kids who are struggling significantly, but I personally have a very low tolerance for bad working conditions - there are several teachers on this forum who so admirably put up with so many different things and people that distract them from doing their best, and I can't even begin to say how awesome that is that there are those people out there. Me personally, though - I can deal with the worst behavior in the world, and the lowest academic levels, with amazing patience - but, I have very little patience for adults who don't know how to structure SPED services/departments or otherwise make decisions that are uninformed and end up hurting kids.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think its right or wrong to put up with a lot of crap or to leave jobs where you have to do that - its about where you serve best, and what you can personally deal with while serving kids. I know that I can handle a lot more severe behavior than most, but I can't handle school politics worth a darn . At the end of the day, you probably just need to figure out what you are willing to deal with, what you CAN actually deal with, and make the best decisions for yourself, keeping in mind that you will only be effective if you are happy at your position. Yes, it may "be the life of the SPED teacher," at least at that school, but it doesn't have to be your life if it doesn't fit for you. It sounds like you are doing amazing work with what you are being handed - I'd encourage you to keep up that amazing effort and skill, but keep your eyes open for other schools, districts, or even other nonprofits that may give you an even better setting to change lives - that is, after all, pretty much the only reason why we're here .
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