Friday, July 29, 2016

A New Direction

I have finally figured out what I want to accomplish with this blog! I realize that as a special ed. teacher, I should be really good at implementing goals. I can write and make a plan for my students, but for me, I struggle! I have decided that I need to share more of my experience with teaching students that have emotional and behavior disorders. I can find very helpful blogs that deal with elementary students, students with autism, students with cognitive disabilities, but not so much with behavior disorders. My students typically work about 1/2 to 1 year below grade level, in reading and/or math. Some of my students have been 3 years above grade level! My students just need extra social skills training and coping skills training.

I run my classroom like a typical 3rd and 4th grade classroom, for the most part. I teach to the common core standards, we use grade level texts (when appropriate and when we have access), and I use centers along with direct instruction. The school that I teach at is kindergarten through 12th grade and all students are on an IEP for an emotional and/or behavior disorder. We have some students that are diagnosed with autism, attention deficit disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, traumatic brain injury, and hyperactivity. The difference in my class (and school) from the typical room is that we are a separate facility and self-contained classrooms. I teach everything to my students, except for physical education. We have a wonderful p.e. teacher that comes in twice a week. Also, my students are referred and have to go through a process to get placed into my room. I work to get the student back to their home school. In the school, we are the last resort for the students before incarceration or residential placement. So for the most part, I have the students that have the most trouble sitting still and following directions. I have been cussed out, called all sorts of names, spit on, kicked, hit, bit, threatened, had items thrown at me (desks, chair, stress items)and thrown-up on! Even with all of that, I love it. I see the potential in my students and keep trying. Some days are harder than others to see the potential, but I have kept going back! This will be my 19th year teaching at my school, and I can't wait to get back!

So, with my new focus for my blog, I'm hoping to blog about my room and how it's going throughout the school year. If there is anything you are wondering about, please ask me. I don't always have all the answers, but I can try!

Monday, December 28, 2015

New Year, new goals!

Last year I decided not to make the usual New Year resolutions. I made a 2015 bucket list. I included things that I wanted to see, create, and places to visit. I'm glad to say that of my list of 12 items, I crossed off 9! I organize my home office, left school at most days at 4:00 (setting my alarm on my phone helped with that), having my lesson plans completed by Thursday the week before, visiting family, and started a herb garden. I got the idea with seeing people create bucket lists for summer with their kids and thought it would be fun to try to do in a year. Some things will go back on 2016's list- like losing weight, creating something once a month by knitting, re-purposing, refinishing, paper-crafting, or on the computer. So here is my bucket list for 2016:
 1.  Visit my hometown's botanical garden. I haven't been there in over 15 years and live only 5 minutes away!

2. Lose weight. I want to lose one pound a week. I have motivation as my son is getting married in 2017!

3. Create and complete a project a month! I have supplies to make sensory items, scrapbook pages, and a camera that needs to get out of its bag!

4. Leave work at 4:00. I need to set my alarm everyday at work- it forces me to work smarter and not get distracted!

5. Save $10 a week for next year's Christmas.

6. Blog twice a month.

7. Organize my kitchen cabinets- I swear there are items I haven't found since we moved in 2 years ago!

8. Travel to New York City to see my youngest son.

9. Go to an auction this summer- I love the action and looking at all the items for sale.

10. Journal.

11. Take time for myself- I focus so much on everyone else and especially school that I neglect taking care of my emotional and physical well-being.

12. Try at least 4 new things in the new year. It may be a type of food, a craft (we have several wine and paint classes and a local garden shop has several classes over the winter), game, or place to visit.

What are your plans for the New Year?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

New design, new motivation!

I'm loving my new blog design by L. Paull Designs. Lindsey did an awesome job with it, don't you agree? I love the colors and the little schoolhouse, too. I once lived in an old  one room schoolhouse that my grandfather had attended. My father also had been born in the house (after it was converted to a house. I'm hoping that this new design will give me the motivation to blog on a regular basis. I have some ideas for topics in the coming weeks. I have been going on full steam with my class this year. In one week, I gained 3 new students! I now have a total of 10 students- all with severe behavior and emotional disorders and 4 of them are girls! I have never had that many girls in my classroom before!

Have a wonderful week and stay tuned for more posts!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What? They Never Taught Me How to Work With a Para in College!

In all of my special ed. studies in college (Go, Falcons!) I was never taught how to work with a paraprofessional. Crazy,, right? Of course, for the first few years of my teaching career, I taught students with learning disabilities and didn't have any paras in my classrooms. When I started teaching at my current position (17 years ago, yikes!), I gained my first para, Mrs. B. Mrs. B. quickly became my teammate, mentor, and friend. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started teaching students with emotional and behavior disorders! Through the years, I have had other paras, good and bad in my room. Some have talked during quiet work times, read the newspapers that I brought in for student work, and sat on their phones!! When the paras are older than you, it is hard to correct their behavior, besides you have to deal with students and paperwork! So here are some ideas that I have learned through the years.

1. Decide what your para is to do during the day. If he/she is a one-on -one aide, are they to meet the student as he/she comes in the school, or can should the para sit next to that student or in general quick access to the student? If the para is for the whole classroom, what will their responsibilities be? In my room, my classroom para is in charge of making sure students that ordered breakfast get breakfast- we eat in the room, take orders for lunch, take attendance, and give all paperwork (breakfast, lunch orders, and list of names that are not riding the bus). All of our students ride the bus- we do not allow students to walk to school, due to behaviors. Most of my one-on-one paras have been able to greet their student in the room and have not had to sit next to the student, unless that student really needs them.

2. Make a list of tasks and responsibilities for each para and write it down. I type up everyone's tasks so that everyone is clear about who does what. This helps when there are more than 2 or 3 paras in the room. One year, I had 5 paras! It was a nightmare- too many cooks in the kitchen! Of course, on everyone's list is that they all could cover for each other- some of our most neediest kids will burn you out if you always have to handle their crisis-es!

3. At the beginning of the school year, sit everyone down and go over all the lists of responsibilities. I also go over the rules of my classroom- no phones, be observant of working times, side conversations with each other, how we talk to our students and each other, break times, and my discipline policy.

4. Make a plan to meet up each day either before or after school for a quick 5 to 10 minutes to go over what went well and what could be improved in the classroom. Several times, my paras were able to point out or give me great ideas to improve my classroom management, flow, or things that needed to be changed- like our recess time wasn't working, because another class was in the gym or outside. At first, I meet with my paras everyday, but then as we get into the groove we meet together at least twice a week. We still talk with each other everyday before and after school, but it's more informal. When there has been a crisis or meltdown that day, we go over what happened, how we reacted, what could we have done differently, did we act quick enough, and how it was resolved.

5. Also make sure that all of your paras are getting a break for lunch and make sure you also get a break! Some years I thought that I had to be with the students every minute of the day to keep the behaviors under control, but I made myself CRAZY! Everyone needs some time away, even if it's just 5 to 10 minutes, due to behaviors that are happening in the room.

6. Listen to your paras. Remember, you are a team working together for the students. If a para isn't comfortable in leading a small group in science or math, find something else they can do during that time. I have my paras work with students during centers and give each para a lesson plan so they know what exactly to work on. I have had paras that just couldn't help the students with math (when I taught high school ED) so they sat back and worked one on one with a student that was working way below grade level or sat at my teaching table with me to help keep kids on task. Sometimes my paras have told me that they didn't feel very effective with a certain student and we talked about what could be done and brainstormed ideas together. I have even asked for advice about lessons and what my paras thought of the ideas.

7. If you are having trouble with a para, and you have met with them, talked with them about the problem, and nothing seems to be helping, get your principal involved. Have everything documented- yes, it's one more thing, but important. Talk to your principal or director or supervisor about the problem. One year, I had a para that kept falling asleep in class, came in 15 to 20 minutes late everyday, yelled at the students, and just wasn't working well in my room. Nothing helped. I met with him, went over the school and my classroom rules and procedures- he would tell me that he would do better and the next day it would be the same. I talked it over with my supervisor and she came to observe "the room" and saw some of the problems and then she talked with him and it was decided that he needed to take a leave of absence and then be placed in a different position.

Wow! I didn't realize how much I had to share about working with paras! I hope that I helped. How do you deal with paras in your classroom? Do you have any other ideas? Let's share!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Who's Watching? A new way to connect on Periscope

How many of you have joined the Periscope revolution? I just happened to find out about it last week when Angie and Ashley periscoped from Vegas last week. I have been watching others jump aboard and it looked like it was something I could try. So I did my first scope today. It wasn't too bad, there is definitely a learning curve! At least now I know how to flip the camera on me!! If you want to replay my broadcast, just search for me Teaching Special Kids, I'm also on twitter as teachnspeckids. My old twitter name was catherder79, because sometimes it feels like I'm herding cats! I'm trying to change my display name on periscope to teaching special kids, but can't as of this moment. Anyways, we all need to connect with each other and collaborate for the better of our profession and for our students! Just do it!!

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Sometimes my students don't like to talk. I have one student that when he is upset, frustrated, anxious, or angry he completely shuts down. He doesn't say a word and just looks at me. I have tried asking him questions, but I think this makes him more anxious and he can't get his words out. I've had some success in asking him yes or no questions that he can nod or shake his head no, but this can be exhausting and frustrating for the both of us. When he is in a good mood, he is able to talk and let us know if he needs something, so it's not like he can't talk at all. I decided last weekend to make a communication type board/folder for him when he is in his shut down mode. We practiced using it while he was in a talking mood, just so like fire drills- it's important to practice what to do when in crisis while we are calm. I had to change a few things- some of the emotions/moods/feelings he didn't think were necessary, like happy or calm, and I had to add hungry and annoyed. He and I came up with the coping skills together also. I also explained that if he was unsafe, he may have to wait to use some of the coping strategies until he was safe. My goal is to use this folder before we get to that, though. I like to catch them before they start hurting themselves, others, or me- but sometimes it happens (more to me than anyone else).

I laminated the questions and answers and then hot glued them on the folder. I only have access to a personal laminator, but maybe I'll go to Office Max over the next week to laminate a full folder for added durability, especially since he ripped off the questions the other day.

In case you can't see, the questions are on a flap that open up to show the possible answers. All my student has to do is point at his answer. It has worked 5 out of 8 times, so I do think it's worth keeping with him. I just have to make it stronger!

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Daily Schedule, take 2

This time I'm linking up with a fun monthly linky party with Schroeder Shenanigans in 2nd for
My daily schedule is quite different from the norm. I teach in a separate facility for students with severe emotional and behavior disorders. Every classroom has a behavior specialist that comes in the room to teach social, coping, and life skills to the students. In my 3rd and 4th grade room, the behavior specialist comes in twice a day for one hour each time (yes, a total of 2 hours per day!). It is the most difficult time of my day! My students don't like to talk about their choices, feelings, or habits, and they REALLY have a hard time sitting through an hour long lesson! I've tried explaining this to the specialist, which I would think would realize this, but they are still expected to sit and listen. Next year, it is changing to just one 30  to 45 minute session- I'm so excited that I get to teach more! Anyways, I'll stop venting and get on with my schedule.

As you can see, this year I don't have a lot of instructional time and with those pesky new assessments- it is making it difficult for my students to pass them. I know that I give them 2 free times, but with their behaviors they need sensory breaks to keep them motivated. I also use my science and social studies time to teach reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. In my math, because I have students ranging in skills from a first grade level to a fifth grade level, I start out with whole group, then meet with smaller groups while the other students are completing individual work and/or centers. My students also come from 9 various home schools and ride the bus anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to get to school or back home. 

I have enjoyed seeing other bloggers schedules for their classrooms and how they manage various groups and students. Hopefully, someone can also look at my schedule and gain some insight for their classroom!
I guess I need to get back blogging more, since I totally messed up my post the first time!