The school district I am teaching in is growing. And fast. They have just finished building two new schools, an elementary school, and a ninth grade academy which is big enough to be used as a second high school if deemed necessary. The school I am working in is one of many elementary schools, grades 1-5 (as they have one school designated for Kindergarteners) and has a student population of about 500. For North Dakota, this is the most diverse school I have worked in. We will lose and gain about 100-150 students through the duration of the school year.
Along with the growing size of our district, there have been many major changes. Not only has the high school switched to block scheduling (consisting of 90 minute blocks), but so has all the elementary schools, with eight 45 minute blocks. There are multiple reasons for the change to block scheduling.
- One, it is "supposed" to help make scheduling easier. For example, if we have a group of fourth graders who need supplemental help in the area of reading, we "should" be taking them out of their reading time in the classroom. Makes complete sense. But, where it gets tricky is when we have 6 groups of kids that need supplemental reading help, with only 4 special education teachers, and most of their "scheduled" reading time in the classroom takes place at the same time.
- Our week is no longer Monday through Friday. It is day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5. That way, we can pick up where we left off when it comes to shorter weeks. And it works with the rotation. Rotation works in such a way that for example, grade 5, will rotate their first two blocks for specials, and this allows the classroom teachers to sit and collaborate with special ed and ELL teachers. That is if the special ed teachers are not already busy with other groups of students.
- Third, we have incorporated into the schedule what we call "I/E" time. It is a 45 minute block that each grade has that allows the teachers to break their students into groups based on similar levels of learning to "enrich" their learning. This gets tricky because special education teachers are "supposed" to be present for this time. Hmm.
On top of scheduling difficulties with the block scheduling, we as special education teachers have had new requirements rested upon our shoulders. Now, for me being fresh out of graduate school, this comes as no surprise to me and in fact I am happy, for the most part. Most IEP's consist of goals and then objectives to coincide with each goal. Well, the state will be changing this soon (and our district is piloting it during this school year), requiring just "measurable" goals and NO objectives, unless the student is receiving alternate assessment. I know that this may not mean much to y'all, but it is a big change to special ed. But, I was told of this in my graduate classes, and have learned how to appropriate write objectives to meet the states standards, so this is not too much of a big deal to me. With that, they want us to chart each goal and objective for each and every student. Now that is going to be a lot of paperwork, but if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing with your students, it doesn't take that much work. I know this change to make more special education teachers accountable for their work, and to have visuals for parents. I don't mind it. I kind of like that kind of stuff. But, when we have a few special education teachers and speech/language pathologists that have been teaching for 20+ years, this is hard for them. Very hard. And a huge adjustment.
Today, on the first day of school, I did not see any of my students. It just wasn't possible. We were still working on our scheduling, and mounds of paperwork. I was attempting to put together materials to use with my "groups" and then some placement tests for reading and math. I want to make sure my groups of students are grouped according to their ability, otherwise we are just wasting our time. So, come tomorrow, I will be introducing myself to my students and hopefully completing these placement assessments. I hope the students are grouped accordingly. I would hate to have to change our schedule further more.
I may sound as if I am complaining, but I am really not. Okay, I am. But I know it is part of the "new year stress". It's just that it is a little bit more difficult than it really should be! This is something we all have to deal with and all of us educators need to be understanding of what the others are going through. I really look forward to working with my students. I know the day will just begin to fly by once that starts....
I will leave you with one of my favorite poems.....
The Star Polisher
"My job is to take the stars in, and shine them and buff them
and then send them out into the sky"
I have a great job in the universe of occupations. What do I do? I'm a "star polisher."
It's a very important job. If you want to know how important, just go out at night and look at the stars twinkling and sparkling.
You see, I'm a teacher. The stars are the children in my class. My job is to take them in - in whatever shape they come - and shine and buff them and then send them out to take their places as bright little twinkling beacons in the sky.
They come into my room in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're bent, tarnished, dirty, crinkly and broken. Some stars are cuddly, soft and sweet. Some stars are prickly and thorny.
As I buff, polish, train and teach my little stars, I tell them that the world cannot do without them. I tell them they can do anything they set their minds to do. I tell them they can be the brightest, shiniest stars in the sky and the world will be a better place because of them.
Each night as I look at the sky, I'm reminded of my very important job and awesome responsibility. I go and get my soft buffing cloth and my bottle of polish in preparation for tomorrow and for my class of little stars.