Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New Teacher Frustrations

There seems to be a common occurrence of teachers moving into our special education classrooms throughout the US (and beyond), who are presented with little or no curriculum for their kids. I get emails almost weekly from these teachers. If you're lucky like I was with my first teaching job (a workability program), you get the opportunity to start in an already established classroom. The curriculum might not be exactly what you would choose, but at least you have something to get started with. 

When I was moved to my new program, 6 years ago, I was literally given 10 kids, 3 aides, and a bucket of crayons. I was starting with nothing and completely overwhelmed. At the time, we didn't even have computers in our classrooms. We had to use one of the two secretary’s computers to work on IEP's and check our email. I would come home from work and literally spend hours searching the internet for anything I could find that my kids could learn from. A deck of UNO cards was probably one of my first purchases, and we played that often during the first couple months. 

One of the first things I did was get myself some 3 ring binders. I think I started out with 6 – 8. Each binder held one subject, and every time I would find a good worksheet on-line, I would add it to the proper binder. Over time my binders started filling. I would replace old worksheets with new ones I found that were better, which were ultimately replaced with my own.

I’m not gonna lie, and say I didn’t spend some of my own money those first couple years, because I did. I almost had to. We were fortunate to have a yearly budget amount those first few years, but that money had to include everything we needed (pencils, outings, craft supplies, printer ink etc). So needless to say, it didn’t go too far. I slowly started accumulating things. I would buy games at garage sales, find activity box ideas and purchase Lego’s on Ebay. I was also able to borrow things like Bingo games and DVD's from other teachers.

It took me about 4 years to get to the point where I didn’t really “need” any new activities for my kids. Of course that didn’t stop me from continuing my obsession of activity boxes but that’s another post all together.

 I still have my curriculum binders, but have narrowed them down to just three. They are pretty thick and are my life. I won't even let them leave my room, lol. Since I find it impossible to follow a strict schedule, I just pull the binder I need (depending on the day of the week) and pick a worksheet that seems fun or appropriate for that day. Then I place a small sticker on the corner of the sleeve so I know that I have already done that worksheet this year. At the end of the year, I take off all the stickers and we start over again. I tried organizing it many times but then Johnny takes Billy’s jacket and just like that, the lesson I was doing on “Planning a Party” has to be replaced by a lesson on “Respecting Others”. So, no plan. If it’s Monday, I pull from the money binder, Tuesday, social skills and so on. 

I would also like to mention how much Donorschoose has helped me over the last few years. Without the kind generosity of many, I wouldn't have some of the amazing things I do. Through them I was able to receive 3 ipads, a karaoke machine, a projector, all our school balls for the last 2 years, a ton of kitchen supplies, books and much more. I highly recommend you get yourself hooked up with them asap.

So, here it is in a nut shell. YOU CAN DO IT!! It's going to take a bit, but steady and slow will give you time to find the things that work best for you and your kids.

Good luck and let me know if I can help!


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  2. YES! I came in to a CBI classroom this year that services K-12 (or age 21 if the parents choose). There are a lot of books and partial curriculum's but nothing complete. The internet has been my best friend! I've been storing all my worksheets in folders but I think the binder idea is much better. Thank you for your blog; it has inspired me to keep on and be strong!!

    1. Wow, that's a huge age range you have there! What do you think teachers did before the internet? I can't imagine!

  3. Thank you for your post and amazing curriculum ideas. The classroom I came into right after college did not really teach much except for job skills.Changing to a classroom where we work on reading, writing science, current events and ectra has continued to be a challenge. SO thank you for your encouraging words and awesome actives.

  4. That's got to be hard. I am thankful I don't have to teacher beyond life skills. You guys have a lot on your plate.

  5. Your blog is such a treasure to me this year! I just started in a new school district thus year, and your blog has been a guiding light when I feel lost. This post in particular has come at a good time. Thank you so so so much for your inspiration!

  6. It's a shame how many of us come in to teaching special ed and are expected to make miracles out of basically nothing. I can imagine the uproar if the same was done for gen ed kids...
    I 100% agree with using Donors Choose. I have been soooo blessed to get things that would not be possible otherwise.

  7. I'm so glad I found your blog! Thank you so much for sharing your awesome ideas for our secondary students. I have taught at the elementary level for 11 years and am moving this year to an 8-9th grade cross-categorical classroom. I love your idea for having a separate binder for each area to add worksheets/materials to. I'm curious what 3 binders you have narrowed down to? Which curriculum areas? Also, I'd love it if you would do a post on your classroom schedule. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Just curious what are the title of your binders? I see in the photo to Social Skills and what looks like a Calendar Skills. I am in love with the idea of binders and stickers!!