Happy back to school week, for those educators in New England who had last week off. I know for me waking up to an alarm again and dragging myself into school by 7am the last two days has been a painful experience.
Okay, so, I am just going to dive in to today’s topic.
I have this reputation at work with both the kids and my co workers for being very “busy.” Like, during my prep hours I am CONSTANTLY working on something. Students will stop by my classroom to say hi (my room is right beside a bathroom so kiddos are always stopping by to waste time when they get their hands on a bathroom pass) and I’ll wave them away as I rapidly shuffle papers and/or type something at a mile a minute. My co-workers laugh at me all the time because when they say hi to me in the faculty lunch room, I sometimes don’t notice and don’t respond as I pour over paperwork and annotate my to-do list while eating my lunch.
This leads to a question I get all the time, sometimes in a nice way, and sometimes in a mean-ish way: What do I do all day?!?
Well, obviously for 4/7 blocks each day, I teach. During those blocks I have students in my classroom who I tutor and support directly, or I travel to other teacher’s classrooms to support the students with disabilities in there.
But what about those other 3 blocks? What AM I doing when I’m so hyper-focused that I can’t talk to my co-workers? What could possibly be more important than chatting with a student who is trying to milk their bathroom pass within an inch of its life?
Well, I’ll tell you.
- Writing IEP’s: All special educators are responsible for writing Individualized Education Plans for students with disabilities. These documents use psychological testing and other educational data to determine what a student with a disability needs in order to be successful at school. So I end up spending a lot of time reading quantitative psychological evaluation results and crunching them into qualitative actions that need to be taken. So, like, if a student scores in the 23rd percentile for Executive Functioning skills, they probably won’t need chapter summaries for grade-level reading, but they might need regular one-on-one organizational support and access to a special app on their i phone that alerts them about upcoming assignments and assessments. I spend about 4 hours a week on this stuff.
- Continuing Education: I am often working on online courses to advance my license or just reading up on new and interesting teaching practices. Since I run, volunteer and tutor after school, I often use my lunch breaks to work on this kind of thing. This takes up 1-2 hours of my week and is super boring.
- Planning/Adapting Lessons: Okay, so, in my current position I don’t have to plan lessons, although I have had to do so in the past. Right now I often adapt lessons with my co-teachers, which involves re-formatting worksheets to be more visually friendly to students with reading disabilities, replacing paragraph-style questions with checklists, and re-writing texts for students who aren’t quite at grade level with their reading yet. This might not sound like a big deal, but have you ever played with formatting in Microsoft Word? NIGHTMARE.
- Meeting With Parents/Prepping to Meet with Parents: I hold a lot of parent meetings. See, every student with a disability has a team meeting at least once per year that includes them, their parents, their special education teacher and a general education teacher. Some students need more than just one meeting each year to stay on track. I run these sorts of meetings about once a week. These meetings require a slew of official, legal documents to be filled out JUST SO with specific language and many, many signatures. Making sure I have all the right stuff going into the meeting is half the battle; it takes me about 45 minutes to prep for each meeting.
- Emailing: Ah, email. this takes up the majority of my time, admittedly. I work at a school that’s made up of 5 buildings; we’ve got almost 2000 kids and over 150 staff members. Email is the only efficient way to get the word out about anything! Additionally, I get a lot of parent emails; these range from “John has a cold and won’t be in tomorrow” to “I need you to meet with John and his history teacher about a major assignment that John was unable to complete due to his disability.” The latter sort of email can lead to some pretty challenging communications as I work to figure out if my student’s disability related needs are or are not being met in any given classroom.
- Coordinating Accommodations and Services: This is another huge, huge undertaking for special education teachers. But with so much focus on mental health and disability rights these days, it is so critical that I do my part to make sure my students are getting exactly what they need. I work with guidance counselors and school psychologists and speech language pathologists to make sure that my students are supported more than just academically. Often times coordinating these sorts of things takes a lot of legwork; I need to meet in person with multiple teachers, gather written observations about a student’s behavior and performance, and present this to parents and supervisors and service providers. It’s like being a lawyer, but instead of lawsuit money a child’s educational and psychological future is at stake.
- Organizing Paperwork: Most general education teachers have “piles” of stuff on their desk; not so with special education! Our paperwork is confidential. So whenever I gather documentation, host a meeting, or write an IEP, all of those things need to be filed away in a very specific, legally-mandated way. Once I lost an attendance sheet from a meeting and had nightmares for weeks. I found it months later tucked in the back of one of my notebooks and I felt terrible about myself.
- Editing Student Work: These days, my students do all of their writing on Google Drive. The first thing they do is share the document with me, and send me a pleading email for help. I spend an exorbitant amount of time combing through student writing, leaving comments, linking resources, and correcting spelling and grammar issues:) I love helping kids with writing, but sometimes when all the 10th grade teachers assign a 5-page essay in the same week, I end up with 100 pages of poorly-written writing to edit.
So…there it is. This is what i do all day when I’m not directly instructing children. Now, most teachers aren’t as intense as I am about paperwork, and many are comfortable taking work home at night on a regular basis. I am not. It took me three years to get myself to a place where I no longer HAD to take my work home each night. For my first three years out of college I often spent my prep time goofing off, and then I averaged 5 hours of sleep a night and had a teacher bag that was constantly loaded with paperwork and grading. Now I use my prep time to prep, and I sleep better at night:)
Now You Tell Me:
- What’s your workstyle?
- TEACHERS! Are you super intense about your use of prep-time or are you a little more relaxed than I am?