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10 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Teaching Special Education

I’m officially one year out of college and I am loving my life as a special education teacher, but man there are times when I feel completely unprepared.  This is a list of the 10 things that I wish someone would have told me about being a teacher.

Number 10

There are two types of special education teachers.  There are those that chose to get their endorsement based on someone’s small-minded comment that “anyone with a special education endorsement gets a job right away.”  Then, there are the people who chose to get a special education endorsement because they genuinely want to work with the population of students with disabilities.  If you are in this spot because you just wanted a job right away, I can imagine you won’t like the job for very long.  However, if you’re in this position because you love the kids, then you are sure to find yourself in an extremely rewarding job.

Number 9

Sometimes you are really stressed out.  I’m not talking the normal “oh, I have so many lessons to plan.”  I’m talking “I have a group of 6 kids and they are all at different levels and I have to accommodate for each and every one of them and keep them all on task and sometimes we switch tasks every 5 minutes just so that the kids are engaged.  Oh, and I don’t have a prep period because I use that to teach social skills and sometimes I don’t have time for lunch.”

Number 8

Your heart will break – in more ways than one.  Not only do you feel sad when you hear about the heart wrenching things that happen at home with these kiddos, but your heart breaks at school when the kids act up because of it.  Kids tell me things that are truly unimaginable to me.  I grew up in a position where I was fortunate enough to always have clean clothes, food to eat, and a roof over my head.  I was never once concerned growing up that I would go without.  Sadly, working in a school with a low socio-economic status means that kids go hungry and they wear the same sweatshirt for 3 weeks in a row without washing it.  It’s not their fault, and you do what you can at school to  make sure they’re going to survive.  If that means that the kids eat cereal for breakfast that I bring from my house, or take an occasional nap during class because the night before was chaos, then that’s just what happens and you are flexible enough to handle it.

Number 7

Everyone thinks you’re the expert even if you aren’t.  If someone is struggling with a student who has ADHD, they will come to you and ask you how to handle it.  Even if you have no idea, you’ll get in contact with your AEA and figure out how the heck to handle this kid that isn’t even on your roster because it’s important to someone else.  You will implement plans for kids that you will never work with, and you will become an expert on lots of things simply because your co-workers have a misconstrued idea of what you know about special education.  In the long run, this is a huge benefit, but when you’re clueless, it’s overwhelming.

Number 6

You talk to parents a lot.  I can only think of a handful of days this school year when I didn’t have some form of interaction with parents.  I email, make phone calls, text a mom who works the night shift, have IEP meetings, juggle custody schedules and manage to find out which parent a kid is with before calling and expressing concerns.  I am in constant communication with parents.

Number 5

Being organized is more important than you might realize.  You’ve got to progress monitor 10 kids several times a week, and you have to organize their information so that you can pull it out and present it at any time for any teacher or parent that might want it.  If you can’t find the data, you’re probably going to need a new way to organize your data.  Any instructional decision that you make is normally based on data and graphs for your students, so if you’re not organized and you aren’t plotting your data, you’ll never know exactly what to do to help your kids learn.

Number 4

People will crap-talk your kids, and it will make you mad.  You work for several hours each week to try and give your kids the skills necessary to function well in the general education classroom.  Sadly, your student with ODD will act up and even your best interventions will fail.  You will get blamed.  Try not to take the complaints personally because in reality the teachers probably don’t understand the extent of the student’s disability, and you will continue to try and get the student to act appropriately in the classroom.

Number 3

Sometimes the most ridiculous things will motivate your students to do the best work.  I once had a student that would work for Skittles.  One Skittle would motivate that kid to read more than anything I’ve ever seen.  One. Stinking. Skittle.

Number 2

Your heart will overflow with pride when your kids achieve things that they thought were impossible.  I had a student read 72 words per minute and he was so excited with how much his graph went up that he started to cry.  I cried too.  Group hugs were plentiful and we were jumping up and down.  The smallest things can be huge achievements for your special education students, and by golly, you celebrate every single thing.  We throw parties when kids test out of skill building, and we have celebrations when kids are exited from our program.  We are proud of our success.

Number 1

You are important to more people than you realize.  The kids thrive on your positivity and in a world of chaos they see your consistency as something that is highly important.  The students turn to you with their problems and open up to you because they trust you.  You are powerful.  Use the power wisely.

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My Very Own Little Free Library

IOWA LIBRARY

About two years ago I found out about the Little Free Library movement by stumbling upon their hashtag on Instagram.  I did a little bit of research and found out that there was so much good invested in the projects that I wanted a Library of my own.  It just so happened that there was even a Little Free Library in the town where I went to college, so I began stopping by frequently to share books.

For those of you that don’t know, a Little Free Library is ultimately a book swap that’s placed in neighborhoods that could use the help.  The Library is monitored by a person called a Steward, and they make sure the Library is kept up and has appropriate books inside of it.  The Library is registered online in a database so that anyone can find them while out and about.  The Library is free for anyone to use, and you can take a book, leave a book, or just browse the selection on your trip through.  As a teacher and a reading enthusiast, I instantly fell in love with the idea, and the fact that I live in a low income community means that many families wouldn’t be able to afford new books for their children.  While the public library is always available, some students don’t have a means to get to the library, and other people just don’t use it.  By placing these Libraries in communities like mine, literacy is able to be promoted to those that might not be able to have it at home, but it also provides great books for people that just love reading.

So, when I was about to start my student teaching in July of 2014, I figured that I was close enough to adulthood that I would have the time and money to support one of these Libraries.  I got online and looked around and saw that they were much more expensive than I thought to make and on top of that you had to pay for the plaque to make things official if you made one yourself.  After a bit more researching, I found that I would be able to apply for something called a GIFT library, which ultimately means that someone in the world loves reading enough to donate the money to a person to make and promote a Library in their community.  I filled out the GIFT application and two weeks later I heard back from a man named Brendan from Little Free Library.  My application was not accepted, and I was not going to be receiving a Library at this time.  While I was slightly upset, I did realize that some day when I had a house of my own and more financial means to get a Library, I would be able to do it myself.

I didn’t pay much attention to the Library idea for a while, although it was rattling through my mind.  I ended up finishing student teaching, graduating college, and began substitute teaching when I received a phone call from an unknown number on my cell phone right before Christmas in 2014.  I answered pretty hesitantly, but it ended up being Brendan from the Little Free Library again.  He said that he had a GIFT donor that wanted to donate a Library to a possible Steward in Iowa.  My application was still in their system, and he thought that my reasoning for wanting a library meshed with the GIFT donor’s wants, so I was chosen to receive a Library.

At this point I had no idea on a time frame for the Library to make its arrival at my house, of if the GIFT donor had even given the money yet, but at least I was approved, which meant the world to me.  Fast forward a couple of months to February 2015, and I received an email from Brendan again double checking my address because he was going to be packing up and sending my Library to me that day.  He even included a picture of my Library which is at the top of this post.  It’s ocean themed, and I just love it! I can’t wait until it’s at my house and I can start filling it with books to share in the community!

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Scholastic Dollar Days Book Sale: Review

scholastic1

For those of you that know me, I’m a HUGE fan of the Scholastic warehouse sales.  I live close enough to Des Moines that I can make a quick trip to the sale on either a weekend or an evening, and I always score great deals for myself, my students, and my daughter.  Most books are only $1-2 and they even have a spot where you can fill a box with books for $24.99.  Last time I went, I had over $300 worth of books in that one box, which is a great deal for any teacher or parent.

When I received an email saying that Scholastic was doing a sale called the “Dollar Days” sale, I was confused because it wasn’t advertised the same way that they advertise the normal warehouse sales.  So I went ahead and signed up, received the same FastPass coupons for some extra savings, and decided to head over after school one day in order to check things out.  Here are my findings, as well as similarities and differences, between a regular warehouse sale and the Dollar Days sale.

When I pulled up to the parking lot of the warehouse, it was much less crowded than it normally is during the sales.  This was the first time that our warehouse was doing a Dollar Days sale, so I was a little concerned about the lack of people present.  When I entered the building, there weren’t as many books, but I still ended up finding some great deals.

If you’re been to a warehouse sale before, you know that the entire warehouse is pretty much open and stocked top to bottom with books that are between discounted at 30% to 90% for teachers and school employees.  This sale was different because it was only set up in the entry to the warehouse, and there wasn’t even an entire aisle of books to look through.  Our selection included several holiday books, activities, and a lot of upper elementary level chapter books.  There wasn’t much for lower elementary or early readers at this sale, but I’m sure it just varies by the warehouse that you use.

All of the books were 50% off, and some of the prices were already severely discounted.  Several books were listed at $1, and some were even as low as 50 cents a piece before the additional percentage off was applied.  I ended up getting an entire box of books in a huge range of levels.  Since we have a 4 year old, we were able to pick up some great hardcover story books, and I also picked up several other chapter books for Michael’s fourth graders.  I had a whole box full of books for $40, which was quite the savings off of what you would pay if you bought the books from the Scholastic flyers every month.

As with every warehouse sale, there was also a FastPass coupon that was able to be used.  This gains you $10 off a purchase of $40 or more, and $25 off a purchase of $100 or more.  I was able to use this and paid only $30 for all of the books that were purchased, which will help refresh Michael’s classroom library, and encourage reading for our daughter.

I’m not sure if I will attend another Dollar Days sale at our warehouse, but I will certainly still shop at the normal warehouse sales which occur in the winter and spring each year.  I’ll probably do a post after my next warehouse trip to share more pictures and information on what a typical warehouse sale looks like for us, as well as information on the Build-A-Box program that they use at the bigger sales.