Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gettin' Edge-cated

Summer plans are frighteningly busy for me this year. I've already attended two meetings around curriculum development and have homework assigned for developing a plan for teaching a Language Arts Study Skills class for SPED.

Next week I spend the first three days at my own school working on scheduling 200 students in the Health Community. We've never done the actual "computer" scheduling before, so factoring in the learning curve time, I figure we've got about 15 hours of work ahead of us.

Also next week I start three hours of graduate credit toward my SPED certification. I'm 18 hours into acquiring the 36 hours I need. This summer's course is called SPED Technology and I'm not looking forward to it -- in fact all the courses still ahead of me make me pretty disgruntled. It seems I have to take a whole heap of courses for teaching elementary education and functional students. The SPED Technology course is geared to students who are much more disabled than the ones I work with. I admire those who can deal with functional kids -- those who are more profoundly disabled than the ones I have in my collaborative setting -- but I'm very clear that these students are not the ones I'm destined to teach. I simply don't have the patience or the motivation to cope with their problems. In the same vein, I have no interest or ability to work with elementary kids. I spent seven years early in my career with middle school kids and thought that was my milieu -- but the first year I was transferred into high school, I realized I had been wrong. The 14 to 20 age bracket is where my abilities shine.

Before I left teaching in 1990 I had been coordinating and developing a college preparatory program for inner city high schoolers -- freshman through senior. So it was quite a change, when I came back to teaching 16 years later, to enter into the special education classroom. I'm not sure that in 1988 I was geared to teaching SPED, but the intervening years away from teaching taught me more patience and gave me a different perspective on life.

The business / construction world requires nothing if not patience. Folks come to work at 8 a.m. and sit around. They work maybe two, three hours tops. They go to meetings and sit around. They take hour lunch breaks -- maybe longer. They schedule meetings outside their office -- and drive around the city. They talk on the phone when they feel like it -- making PERSONAL calls all day long. They chat at the copy machine, in the hallway, in the break room. They can eat anytime during the day. They have cafeterias that serve full course meals at breakfast, at lunch, and then prepare food you can buy and take home with you for dinner -- and the food is healthy and delicious (NOT corn dogs, corn, pudding, and milk). They can actually go to the bathroom whenever nature calls -- and not wait until passing period or when they have a planning period. It was an amazing world to me, in business / construction. Sure, there were hectic times during the year -- but even then people took hour lunches and went to the john when they needed to. My doctor laughs and tells me that women teachers have the worst urinary tract infections of anybody she works with -- because we're required to hold "it" for hours at a time -- and certainly that's been my reality in the classroom.

However, in the SPED room we move along at a slower pace. I do have less students -- this year only 11 on my caseload -- though the year before I had 21. Then we hired another SPED teacher to carry part of my load. The kids understand if I have to go the bathroom. They like the lunches I bring from home and want to share. It's okay if I need to pop out a bottle of water to get me through the 90 minute periods, as long as they get an applesauce or a breakfast bar in the bargain. For the last three years I had a paraprofessional at my command who could sit with the kids if I needed to leave the classroom. This year she's been fired and will not be replaced due to budgetary demands. Yes, my workday starts at 6:15 -- but I'm on my way home at 3:00. I have two weeks vacation at Christmas, a week of spring break, all the major holidays off (President's Day and Martin Luther Kings birthday -- you never get those in business) and two months during the summer. Yes, I'm back in grad school working on my second master's degree -- but that's okay, too, most of the time. The district is paying my tuition and buying my books. Because I have years of experience behind me I'm pretty quick at making lesson plans -- and because I'm a SPED teacher I get a full 90 minute break, where I usually get most of my planning accomplished. Because I'm a collaborative teacher, I don't have the massive papers to grade, except that now I'm actually teaching three English classes. Still, I'm experienced enough to know how to get that accomplished with minimal effort on my part. The only onerous chore I have is the SPED paperwork required (IEP's, SOP's, etc.) that have to be completed in timely fashion. An IEP is truly a "labor" of love.

This summer I'm going to be busy -- at least during June. The state college I'm attending tries to make education for busy people accessible -- so my three hour class is schedule for six classroom hours each week during June with the class ending July 2. The curriculum workshop planned to have all its work completed by July 1. Scheduling of the Health kids will only take three days next week. I'll be busy in June -- I hear the Technology class requires a lot of outside the classroom work -- but in July, I'll be reading novels and eating bon-bons. Or cleaning the bathroom. Whichever seems more important.

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