Struggling

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by bethechange, Sep 28, 2013.

  1. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    Sep 28, 2013

    I am really struggling this year. I have taught special ed for the last 11 years, teaching a self-contained autism room for the last 7. The kids are NOT the problem. I love them like my own children, love teaching them, have a good background in autism, know where to seek autism support and resources, and I think I am very good at my job. Definitely above average. I am a leader on my district's autism team, have created and provided trainings in the district and community, and have for the last 3 years co-directed a 5-week summer autism program for teenagers in my town.

    I just am starting to think that I cannot keep up this ridiculous pace. I cannot continue to do more and more every year with less and less. We just lost a para from our building to go to another building where the needs are supposedly even higher. No idea why they can't HIRE someone instead of rob Peter to pay Paul. I work an extra hour every morning, at least one extra hour every night, half my weekends, and half the time am forced to work through my prep because of situations involving basic safety of my students that I cannot cover with para support. I've basically had paras subs in my classroom every day since the school year started. The inconsistency is very challenging and I have a super hard classroom this year with 2 1:1 students who have major medical and behavioral support needs, who I can't put a sub with, so subs wind up "leading" the other 4 students, which quickly descends into chaos............

    I know what should be happening in terms of providing quality, consistent instruction on IEP goals and objectives to my students with severe autism, and I know how to let some things go because I can't be superwoman. But this year I feel more than ever before that at best, I am baby-sitting. I am maintaining skills, not teaching new ones, and I don't think I can do it with the staffing ratio I have. I have brought this to the attention of my administrators several times over the years, and several times this year (I think they are sick of me) and their attitudes about it seem to be that we have to do the "best we can." It makes me insane because I know they would not accept this if we were talking about a regular ed classroom. It would NOT be ok to put on a movie for a regular first grade all day because they don't have a teacher in that room. Why is it OK for them to tell me to do it because I am short on adult support?!

    I am 33 years old. My husband and I desperately want a family. We are not rich, and can't live on one income, but we have a moderately healthy savings account and could frugally afford a little job searching time. Maybe this makes me weak, because I know many people do it, but I think I am coming to the conclusion that I do not want to live this life at work and to come home to a baby and husband and try to have gas left in the tank for them besides.

    I think I'm scared to let go, because this is what I've known, lived, breathed, and been passionate about for half of my life. I still have the passion for people with autism, but I am starting to realize that the system is so far beyond broken (at least here) that I alone can't fix it and maybe can't even hold part of the tent up anymore. I know I have a kick-butt classroom (or at least have in the years past...........not feeling like it this year because of circumstances beyond my control) but I have seen the classrooms my students will go to after they leave me and it breaks my heart.

    I also have tremendous feelings of guilt because I live in an area where there are not a lot of resources for people with severe disabilities, and I know that my classroom is a major point of stability for many of my students and their families. I am awake at 6:30 on Saturday morning with my stomach in knots thinking about possibly having to tell them at the end of this year that I'm not coming back.

    People who have struggled with this: how did it turn out for you?

    I don't know what to do.
     
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  3. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Sep 28, 2013

    I don't have any advice for you, but I wanted to tell you that you're not alone. We have the same challenges at our school. In fact, I had to look and see where you were from to make sure you weren't from my district. I hope everything works out for you with whatever you decide to do. :hugs:
     
  4. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    Sep 28, 2013

    Thanks for the support Bella. It really does help to hear that others struggle with this too, it helps me know I am not weak or crazy. I have mulled over a change of district, change of building, change of specialty, etc. thinking the grass might be greener, but as you said, and from what I have heard from others I know in those places, special ed teachers seem to struggle with a lot of the same frustrations everywhere............

    I think because of our general giving, problem-solving nature we have been the little Dutch boys with our fingers in the dam for so long that people who make staffing and resource allocation decisions have no idea the true scope of the needs of these kids and now it is reaching epic disaster proportions.

    In my district this last year, if you count psychs, speech paths, and OTs, 44 percent of the new staff hired districtwide were SPED staff. (Oh yes, I calculated). In my building alone we've have 4 different resource teachers in 3 years. You'd think someone in administration or HR would notice a problem here!
     
  5. ecteach

    ecteach Devotee

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    Sep 28, 2013

    Am I following you correctly in that you have 6 kids and 3 adults in your classroom? I need this clarified before I can reply. Also, who told you to put on a movie?
     
  6. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    Sep 28, 2013

    If you need to make changes so that you can have a family, now is the time to start planning. There is nothing wrong with reevaluating your situation and making adjustments so that you can have children.
     
  7. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    Sep 28, 2013

    Ecteach, it was my SPED coordinator told me to put on a movie when I have subs, which goes to show how clueless he is because only 2 of my 6 kids would probably even watch a movie for a short stretch if I did that. The others lack the attention to be able to sit and focus without uberstructure for more than 2-3 minutes.

    I do have 6 kids, 3 adults, myself included, which I realize sounds like a pretty sweet setup. However, 2 of my 6 kids have all-day 1:1 adult support written into their IEPs, and trust me when I say it is absolutely necessary for basic safety (their own and others). My other 4 kids are amongst the neediest elementary school kids in the entire district. I think I am really good at grouping creatively, and I believe strongly in fading adult support, even with my 1:1 kids. However, it takes time and consistency to teach them the skills to be more independent.

    My biggest issues come when trying to figure out how to get adults to lunch/breaks safely and when I have subs, who I cannot put with my 1:1 kids. I can manage my other 4 kids fine, but I have 11 years of experience and an autism background, which most para subs do not. It quickly descends into utter chaos when we have people who don't know the routine, and it goes down like dominoes from there. I had been able to borrow support from other rooms to cover people's lunches/breaks, but now with our school being down a para, that is no longer possible.
     
  8. ecteach

    ecteach Devotee

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    Sep 28, 2013

    Okay, so this first part is going to sound harsh. But, please understand that it comes from a good place. I teach self-contained special ed and I truly know how you feel. I have a kid who stays in the floor about 90% of the day. In my county we do not have 1:1 no matter what. I have 9 students and 1 T.A. I do not have a planning period or a lunch. I had to have a meeting with my principal the other day to do some paperwork, and I had to take my most difficult student with me, because he can not be left alone with a non-certified person. Did it phase her? No. Did she say, "Dang, I wish you didn't have to take him everywhere with you?" No! Did she even think twice about it? Absolutely not. I do realize that with low functioning, highly aggressive children living with Autism more adults is better. But, it's not going to happen. Stop asking. You're not going to get it. The days of getting what we need is gone. Over. Done with.


    Now, for some advice. Can you do ANY whole group stuff at all? If so, I suggest doing that. Can they sit still? How long can they attend? Even if you do 5 minutes whole group and then have them work independently on a simple part of the lesson while you check for understanding. They are all going to have to do the same lesson. It's the only way you can get anything done.


    Also, what about related service personnel? Can they help while you try to teach new skills? I know our OT is very helpful. I normally do writing when he is there, and he helps a lot. Even our speech therapist was helping me in class the other day. She was helping a kid add like fractions. (It's easier than it seems...adding like fractions, that is.) She was giving him a song-type thing to remember to the steps. (Add top numbers, bring bottom number over.) She also helps with writing specific directions for problems, or using boardmaker to print out pictures for specific things we are doing in class. Both of them are a Godsend. It takes some prior planning, but they are both very flexible.


    Please know that I feel your pain. But, if your county is anything like mine, you're not going to get what you need and you have to make it work regardless.


    As far as leaving, if that's what you feel like you need to do, then I say go for it. You might be able to make more of a difference in another setting. Maybe you could open an Autism center of some type for after school or respite services. GOOD LUCK!
     
  9. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Sep 28, 2013

    What sorts of things are taking up so much of your time outside of school?
     
  10. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    See, this is my exact point. This is NOT okay. What do you do when your para goes to lunch? In my classroom, this would be an insane safety hazard and someone would get seriously hurt or possibly even die if I were alone with all 6 kids, and I am not exaggerating. It pretty much takes an act of God to get a student a 1:1 in my district too, and both my students who have one also have severe and potentially life-threatening medical conditions as well as autism. I also consider myself a pretty d*** good classroom manager, and there is NO WAY I could do it alone. I do group my 4 other kids together for most of the day, even though they have very different needs. From the standpoint of proactive behavior management, and facilitating independence, it is ridiculous to expect me (and you!) to do more and more with less and less like this.

    I do not mean this negatively or critically, and I am sure you have lots of good support stuff in place for this kiddo within the confines of your situation, but I would not be OK with a student of mine spending 90 percent of the day on the floor. I'd prefer to work on ways around that non-functional behavior. One of my 1:1 kids has made huge gains in reducing her dropping and aggressive behaviors in the 3 years I have had her, but this is due to her having the high level of support and lots and lots of hard work and black-and-white, super consistent behavior support. One of her goals this year is to sit in a chair and refrain from grabbing others during a group activity for 10 seconds without physical adult redirection, so I am working on grouping her too, but it is slow going.

    This is why I referred to us as little Dutch boys holding back the tide of the flood, and this is exactly what I am getting so burned out on. I also have gone without lunch and prep time for years because I have to in order to keep my students safe and/or productively engaged. How do they expect us to provide quality lessons, not to mention tackle the mountain of paperwork without time to do it? I am tired of begging my administrators to come visit my classroom to both see the levels of needs of my kids and the AWESOME things they can do if properly supported. And my body does not tolerate 8 hours without eating or peeing like it once did.

    I do like your ideas about becoming an autism consultant or doing private work. Do you know anyone who has done this? I have toyed with both of these ideas. I do truly enjoy very low kids and I think my great strengths as a teacher are proactive, positive behavioral support, visual communication strategies, and teaching functional life skills.

    Caeser, to answer your question, this morning I spent 2 hours reviewing baseline data and writing a draft IEP, BIP, and Positive Behavior Support Plan for a student whose meeting is next week. I also drafted a new data sheet for a student whose IEP I just had. I maybe wind up with 1 hour of prep during the school day a week if I am lucky, and that is usually used on parent communication and preparing for upcoming schedule changes. Tomorrow I will probably spend 1-2 hours on making/adapting materials. Nearly everything I use I either find, adapt, or make myself.
     
  11. ecteach

    ecteach Devotee

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    It's not okay with me that he stays in the floor most of the day either. But, I have had this child for 3 years. I have one assistant, and we're both tired. I spent 2 years neglecting the other students by spending most of the day making him get back in his seat just to have him be back in the floor when I turned my back for 2 seconds. He does his work while he's on the floor; what little bit he will do. (Please don't label me a Negative Nelly...I'm just realistic.) I have been observed 4 times a year for the 3 years I've been at this school. Each time he has been in the floor the whole time, and it has never even been mentioned to me during my post conference. (Imagine that.)


    I do know people who have gone into the private sector. One has been very successful with it, and another was not. I'm not brave enough or financially secure enough to do it. Have you thought about case management? I did that for 2 years, and LOVED it. But, I had to come back to teaching, because I was "on call" a lot, and my husband works nights.

    I love teaching, and I understand your frustration. I do NOT show movies unless it's a small clip introducing something we are learning. I HATE the perception that all we do as special ed teachers is show movies.

    My assistant goes to lunch when the kids and I do. She eats in the classroom while I go with them to the lunchroom. There is another special ed teacher across the hall, and we walk up together so there are two sets of eyes. My assistant is required by law to get a lunch because she is an hourly employee, but I can go without. (Once again, go figure.)

    I still don't fully understand why you have subs for T.A.'s instead of a reliable person who can learn how to work with the kids. Did I miss that? I would hate having a sub in my room everyday, let alone two. Sorry you are dealing with this.
     
  12. ecteach

    ecteach Devotee

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    Who keeps your kids when you have your prep time? Just curious.
     
  13. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    We have recess at the end of the day with 2 other SPED classes, so we (teachers) alternate going out and supervising both classes and staying in. Most weeks we get 2-3 20 minute chunks while kids are out and then paras put them on the bus.

    There have just been a series of unfortunate events this year that have necessitated people taking a lot of days off. One of my T.A.'s is now on extended leave, and at least I have been able to work with the sub office and (now) get a consistent sub who I have started training.

    I'm not sure what you mean by case management as a job. Did you work for your county?

    And I totally know what you mean about being tired, doing your best, picking your battles, and administrators looking the other way. I think that is the thing I am so frustrated with more than ever before.
     
  14. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    I have no experience with teaching the population you serve, but my heart goes out to you and to your students. You are all being done a disservice. The public should know what is going on. Is there someone who could tip off the media on your behalf?
     
  15. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    There are a lot of nonprofit agencies that serve people with Autism. In my state, the agencies often pay for your services via Medicaid Waivers and in some agencies, it would be based on yours and the family's time schedule. It is very much consultant like.
     
  16. ecteach

    ecteach Devotee

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    No, I worked for a behavioral health center. (Think social worker without the social work degree.) I would go into the homes and train the parents/siblings/babysitters of individuals of all ages who were living with all kinds of disabilities. The youngest I had on my caseload was 3, and the oldest I had was 74. The 74 year old lived in a group home. I loved so much about that job. But, I just couldn't do it with a child. I tried, but I was spending almost as much on child care as I was making. It required a lot of night hours. It was a full time job, and I had benefits. What I loved most about that job was seeing the differences in families. I had one family who still used an outhouse. The home was about 5 miles away from all humanity. On the flip side, I had a family that had heated sidewalks, and built a room onto the house for their dog. It was a free program, and all the parents/guardians had to do is apply to the state for the help. It was a "Waiver program." Waiver is not the term used everywhere, but most states have something similar.
     
  17. bethechange

    bethechange Comrade

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    Well, after a lot of soul searching and tears, I have come to the conclusion that this will be my last year. I will finish it out and give it my all, but then I need to do something else. It would be one thing if I could tell myself this is just a bad year, but so many things have changed and not for the better since I started teaching 11 years ago........and I don't see the trend reversing any time soon. I think for my own mental health and the health of my marriage and family, it is time to move on. Don't know what I will do and am scared to death, but having had the realization that being scared is better than being constantly stressed was very eye-opening for me.

    Thanks everyone for all the insight and godspeed to you all.
     
  18. deefreddy

    deefreddy Companion

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    Totally, absolutely, feel your pain, and in some sad way, I am glad that there are others who feel the way I do on a daily basis.

    I have had subs for TAs for 2 years. My district knew for 6 mos. that my fantastic aide was retiring. They placed an ad for her replacement 3 mos. after she left. She had a 6 hr position with benefits. They will now only hire 3.7 hr per day TAs with no benefits. The pay is awful for someone who is expected to deal with aggression, changing diapers, dealing with body fluids, seizures, and the daily grind of getting someone to count to 5. Plus, since I'm in HS, most of the students are larger than me or my TAs and require lifting, positioning, and pushing. My ads have run for over a year, and at this point I take good subs out for dinner and any other incentive I can think of to keep them showing up every day. It's sick.
     
  19. Nate

    Nate Companion

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    Sorry to get to this so late, but I'm in a similar position, similar age, new baby at home, and what you're saying sounds very familiar. I have had the same struggles, and had the same thoughts. I'm starting out an exceptionally good year this year, but I'm coming off a string of rough ones.

    Three thoughts--Getting home to see my son has snapped a lot of stuff into focus, and I'm able to let a lot of stuff that doesn't NEED to get done go. Almost every teacher is an overachiever, and it's rarely healthy.

    Second: I started taking anti-anxiety medication this year. No side effects, no noticeable change in my personality, it just unties the knot in my stomach and cuts way down on the nights I wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest. Talk to your doctor. I may still walk away from this job (or the field altogether), but the meds will help me make a rational decision.

    Finally, this is just a job. You owe the people signing your paycheck the services you've agreed to provide. That's all you owe anyone. Once you leave the job, it's over. There shouldn't be any guilt about it.
     

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