How Do I do this again? The Scheduling Nightmare that is Sped Life!

I did this last year, right?

I made a schedule for myself, the students, paras, it had inclusion time, academic service minutes, and everything else you could ever need. .. like you know lunch breaks. On it right?

How did I do it again? How did I make a schedule that fit all the grades schedules, so I am not pulling from any non-negotiable times so that students still feel like a part of their class? But are also getting the academic and speech, and behavior, and OT times they need in order to be successful? Did I give my para’s meaningful work to do not just busy work right?

How? How did I do this? Did it really get done or did a magical scheduling fairy appear and do it for me and then wiped my memory clean so I felt like I did it myself?

I would take a magical scheduling fairy right about now because I am on draft four of my schedule for the year and I just feel like crying! How in the world is it all going to get done in the time allotted? How?

Other people in the sped world, do your in-service days get destroyed by the beast that is scheduling as well?

How do you do it? What makes your schedule run well? Or do we all wipe our memories clean after this every Spring so that we are crazy enough to do it again every Fall?

If you have a formula that works and doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out or your eyes go crossed from staring at your spreadsheet all day. .. PLEASE let me know!!!

-Rae

DIY Pinterest Teacher!

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I have always wanted to be a Pinterest teacher, the teacher that has the perfect room that somehow stays clean after 30 students live in it day in and day out. But it turns out that 30 students or 16 students with special needs in my case can make it pretty easy to turn into an Amazon prime teacher; even easier with that two-day shipping! Like what is this magic?

But this summer I came across this stool at a yard sale for 2 dollars

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I couldn’t resist the idea of a DIY teacher stool project.

So I turned to trusty Pinterest and began looking at people who are actual Pinterest teachers and set to work copying their wonderful work.

The post I found most helpful and the stool I decided to try and recreate came from One Artsy Mama, and you can find that original post with all the supplies and goodies you will need here (.http://www.oneartsymama.com/2016/08/thrift-store-challenge-babanees-inspired-painted-stool.html?crlt.pid=camp.8BUAsF5KNkB4)

I set to work cleaning and lightly sanding the stool before applying my first coat of paint to the bottom half of the stool. I used Folk Art Gold paint and let me tell you, the first coat was ROUGH! I considered starting over with a new color. But after the second coat, it was looking much better, and I set into starting on the top half of the stool.

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After I finished painting and letting it dry I knew I wanted something written on the top along with my name.

I have a shirt with the saying

Be like a pineapple
Stand Tall
Wear a crown
And be sweet on the inside!

I decided that this cute saying also carried an important meaning for my students about self-confidence and so that is what I wrote on the top.

I used the transfer method found here, (http://angelamariemade.com/2016/11/how-to-easily-transfer-a-design-onto-wood/)

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I LOVE the way that the finished product turned out. It is ready to enter the classroom in a few weeks!

And at least for this week, I am finally a Pinterest teacher, take that my Amazon prime addiction!

-Rae ❤

Must Have: Read, Reread, Write Strategy for Older Students! **Freebie**

If you are like me you are always looking for easy independent work for my struggling students, to reenforce strategies we work on in reading group. I have spent hours searching the internet for a reading comprehension packet that was both appropriately scaffolded; but also contained grade level content for my students that need work on their reading comprehension. Every time I could find reading fluency packets, or reading comprehension packets that were way too hard. Or I was stuck with packets that were appropriate but had content for younger students. So after attempting to piece together other peoples comprehension strategies and finding things that actually worked at different grade levels.
 I decided to make one myself.
Enter, Read, Highlight, Reread, Write!
During guided reading groups I use re-reading and color coded highlighting for my reading comprehension groups all the time.  I have found that this ensures the students are reading the text multiple times and also helps their brain locate and remember the important details to include in a written response question.
Many of my students that struggle with reading comprehension are able to immediately recall details and facts about what they have read but are unable to locate it to use in a written response answer. They have not been explicitly taught memory strategies to help them locate and recall important details after a delay.
For many students, explicit instruction is key for improving skills and independence.
These packets are placed in my student’s independent work stations so that they can practice these skills outside of guided reading group instruction. I have used guided reading time in order to teach and enforce the reading, highlighting, rereading strategy so that students are familiar with the strategy prior to independent work time.  These packets include both fiction and nonfiction texts and help build scaffolded study skills and reading comprehension strategies for students while utilizing grade level content.
As students become more familiar with the strategy I may include texts at their instructional level and request that they use a written response question to identify the key points to be highlighted. Effectively increasing their independence and working towards removing the scaffolds I have in place.
Because once they are independent they can use this strategy for ANY text they are given in order to identify and recall key details.
Here is a preview of the second-grade packet, I hope this strategy proves as valuable for your students as it has for mine!
            
This NO PREP preview will be available for FREE on my TPT store, you can find that here, www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart , so that everyone can try this strategy out, then full reading comprehension packet will be available soon, organized by grade level for easy use!
-Love Mrs. H

All the things I didn’t know teaching was. . .

 

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When you decide, hey I am going to become a teacher, you think of the little smiling faces, the children, you think of reading lessons, you think of addition and subtraction, you think of hugs and bubbles in the hallway, and watching little people grow up into bigger people

In my case I even thought of the terrible behavior, the hitting, spitting, cussing, and crying. I thought of the ways I would have to teach them things that most students learn inherently, they ways to speak to each other. The ways to treat people with kindness and communicate your wants and needs. All the ways I would help the world see my students for the wonderful people they are. I thought of all the things that I would teach my children and the things they would teach me. I did a residency year so I had been in the district for over a year already so I think I was more prepared than other new teachers but I still walked into that first year as a teacher only to be blown away by the things I did not expect. . .

  1. The politics, the teachers union, the disagreements with the district, the school board, the superintendent and the instructional superintendent’s.. . all the politics Teacher-meme-05-political-view-on-teaching.jpg
  2. Speaking of politics, why was my worth, my salary, always up for political debate. I was not prepared to be so frustrated with people who have never taught or in some cases even been a student in a public school continually telling me that my job was worth less than I was already receiving. Essentially telling my students that they are worth less
  3. The nights up thinking about my children, wondering if they got dinner, whose house were they sleeping at tonight. Did student Z get to speech therapy on time? Did student J make it home on the bus okay? The amount of time outside of the classroom that I spend just worrying about them.
  4. Also that fact that I started calling my students, “my children” I have no biological children but every year I gain a few more of “my kids” and I will do everything in my power to know I love them just that much.
  5. The amount of work I would do outside of the classroom, that wasn’t “teaching” I was prepared for the weekly staff meetings that for a special education teacher, rarely, were applicable to my teaching life. But I was not prepared for the hours spent at home researching the new teaching styles, ways I could reach a difficult student, ways I can improve my teaching practice. The hours that I was not worrying about my students, I was  planning for my students.
  6. Being a boss. . . so this may be a little unique to the special education world but I walked out of grad school and into supervising 12 students and 3 paraprofessionals full time. Now I knew I would be supervising these three paraprofessionals and I walked in with their beautiful schedules in hand ready to kill it at being a boss. But then relationships happened. . . and I realized that I was managing one woman who had been a para almost as long as I had been alive, one girl who got the job because her aunt worked at the school and had never worked in special education before, and one girl, my age, who wanted to be an art teacher. How could I offer advice to the woman who could have been my teacher? And I quickly learned that the other two would be more drama than the students. . . It took me a few months. okay, maybe a year to figure out the balance of being a friend, a boss, and a teacher. . . okay maybe I am still working on the balance but we are figuring it out.imgres.jpg 7.How much I would live for the good days! I wrote a blog post about this earlier explaining in detail how much a good day can mean in the special education world. The smallest things can make a huge difference because, without the little things, there would be so many reasons to stop being a teacher. But with the little things, by becoming excited when Suzy read 5 words correctly today when last week she only read 3. Sharing the joy with a student when they didn’t hit anyone for an entire day, and then an entire week. Cheering as a student begins to speak more clearly, or communicate their needs in any way.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Now, these little things may look different in a general education classroom but they are still there, all of the little things those students bring to your life, the reason that we think about them at night. The reasons we care about them, the reasons we continue to do what we do. When the politicians tell us it is not worth it when the salary means you cannot buy a house in your own city when you watch little people have to deal with things no one should ever deal with. Remember the little things, remember why you started teaching think back to hugs and bubbles in the hallway, think about the smiling faces and when a student accidentally calls you Mom. Because no matter what things come up that we didn’t expect these are the reasons I am a teacher!

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This is an Instagram post from that first year teaching when we were celebrating one of those little things!

Let’s go back, back to schoooll!

How many teachers change room every year? This is my first year having to change classrooms over the summer and it has me spending my days dreaming of classroom decor! How will I set up my space, my tiny space! How will I use the walls to enhance student learning and of course look cute!

In my old classroom I had both a sign language and braille alphabet hanging up on the walls, they were there for students in my classroom to understand the differences in how some of our students communicate. I had one student who was blind and wrote and read in braille, the braille alphabet helped many adults in our classroom to help teach him. The sign language alphabet sparked more thought and admiration from my other students than I could have ever imagined. I would find that students would stare at the hands the shapes on the wall, studying them much more than they wanted to study their letters on the page in front of them.  When students were unsure of their answers they would stare at those letters and sign their answer instead of saying it out loud. I loved the discussions about sign language we would have and the ways they grasped onto it as a form of communication.
So now as I am moving into my new classroom I wanted to be able to display these two languages again for my new students, to see the ways that the visual representations of language help students grasp onto language in a way that letters don’t for them.  In order to show these languages and also save some space since my wall space is very limited, to achieve both of these things we came up with an alphabet that contains all three! And here it is!
 
These visuals will be displayed as part of my word wall in my classroom! I am so excited to be able to use them as conversation starters and as visual cues for language for my students.
I can’t wait to do a “classroom tour once my little room is all set up! I can’t wait to show you the ABC’s in their . place and our little speech/OT corner.
We share a room in my school myself, Speech and OT. Speech and OT are online services at my school,  we are in a remote location and this is the best solution to still meet our students needs. I want to create a classroom that really shows a shared space, so I am developing a speech and language area, complete with posters and speech and OT visual cues. So that my students feel connected to more than just their instructors and the computer, I want to create a classroom experience for them.
 
I can’t wait to set these up so that the students remember that they are using multiple parts of their body when they are speaking. That they are active participants in the activity and that it involves more than just their voice.
These back to school set up ideas are available at
teacherspayteachers.com/store./my-spedtacular-special-heart
I can’t wait to share this year with you!
-Mrs. H

Watch Them Grow with Growth Bins!

Hello from “Teacher Summer”. . . where we spend all of our days drinking margaritas and lounging on the beach, while we laugh at our friends that are still working. And we never spend our days in teacher trainings or anxiously trying to plan how to move classrooms in two days before the students come, we never start back to school planning in the middle of July right? No, no that would mean we work during the summer. and that could never happen. . .  right?

Now Welcome to Real Teacher Summer where at least part of our days are spent thinking about, planing and anxiously awaiting next years students, and if you are like me, you are trying to get some of your back to school planning done on those amazing free days you get. Enter my new multi-syllabic word flash cards!

This year I am  moving into a new position and as a result I am going to try something new. I have been teaching a self contained special education classroom for students in 3-5 grade for the last 3 years. This year I am going to be teaching intervention and resource room students with mild to moderate disabilities in grades K-12. Yep K-12 terrifies me as I think, how will I meet all their needs, how will I put students in groups, how will I help students in such a wide range succeed. Then I found a blog about IEP boxes, you can read the original post here, http://www.thebenderbunch.com/2016/06/iep-tubs.html

She was using these tubs as she called them for an elementary classroom, actually a self contained classroom but I thought this could help with some of my anxiety and allow me to hit multiple students in multiple grade levels during overlapping times and still be working directly on their goals. So this summer I have been building these boxes. I am going through each students IEP goals and finding different activities to hit these goals and still keep students organized. Within each student’s box will be a classroom timer like these ones.  Which I guess are really kitchen timers I got on amazon for 14.00 for a pack of three.
Many students will be working independently on fluency or in partner pairs with another student or myself of an aid. They will be using these timers for self timed, math work, fluency work, or just to set a timer for how long their independent work in their My Growth Bins. For some students the time .set on these timers will grow throughout the year so they can increase their independent work time, for some students it will simply be a way to keep them on track.

The actual work inside each bin will vary depending on specific goals for each student, many of my students in the middle grades are working on fluently reading multisyllabic words, and so I created easy to copy and use flash cards, for these students. These cards contain 2, 3 and 4 syllable words and are scaffolded to included words broken down into syllable and ones that are not in order to help reinforce the strategies students learn to read these words fluently, and then allow them to show growth.

 Here is an example of the flash cards broken down into syllables. I have these hole punched and laminated for easy reuse from student to student.

The students other work varies from math practice, to social skills, and WH questions, and reading fluency and comprehension work. All work that they are able to complete independently for the first 10 minutes or last 10 minutes of our group.

Each student will have a bin that is color coded, without their name on it, this helps some of my older students especially feel less self conscious about the work they are doing. They are able to focus on their own work without being worried about having their name and therefore grade  or age attached.

I use the color coded system in all aspects of my classroom from data binders too graded work and displayed work for multiple reasons but this is a big one. Future blog posts on the color coded life to come!

I plan to use these during overlapping time for each grade level, the way my schedule is set up there are a few minutes where I will have a variety of grade levels in my classroom at one time. This allows me to easily progress monitor goals, make sure that they are working specifically on goals and increase independence. If you are looking for a way to help your students reach these goals please check out my “Growth Bin” products here, http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

You can download the multisyllabic words flash cards for FREE here http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/store/my-spedtacular-special-heart

And follow me on Instagram here @my_spedtacular_special_heart_    for more spedtacular ideas!

I hope you find something helpful to use with your students, whether finding a way to differentiate in an general education classroom, a resource room, or a self contained classroom all students need something a little speducatular!
-Mrs. H

School of the Special Hearts (The Lucky Few)

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People spend a lot of time talking about my “special heart “when they here what I do for a living. And then they double that when they here that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE what I do and who I do it with.

I spend a lot of time annoyed with the people who just don’t get it! They don’t see the beauty, the love, the pure joy that comes with spending my life with children who have disabilities. Sometimes it feels like they are living in a black and white world and just don’t see the color that is all around them because they spend their lives on the outside of my little world with these students. How could you not love them, and want to spend your time teaching and learning from them.

But then I read the book “The Lucky Few” by Heather Avis and it was like I was staring into the face of someone who just GOT IT! She was saying all the things I feel and she was preaching it to the world. She was shouting the worth of her children and all children that are born with down syndrome or other special needs for the world to hear. And the world needs to here it.

That doesn’t mean either of us were born “getting it” at one point or another the idea of spending our lives with children with a few extra chromosomes terrified us; Heather talks about how much life with her children, “wasn’t her plan” she just wanted a healthy baby as all new parents do. But that was not that plan God had for her and once she said that first yes to adopting her daughter she was diving head first into a world that holds so much beauty.

She looks at her relationship with God in new light around every corner of this book. She sees his hand in the darkness in the loss of the ability to have children and the beauty in the gift that he gave her through the children he provided. Because she just had to remember he’s got this. He knew she would be one of the people that “gets it” she would take the lives of these beautiful children he made, and yes I totally believe he made them with that sneaky little extra chromosome on purpose, and she would show the world just that. That they were created, that they were no ones accident.

With each of her  yes’s she learned a little more about herself and about the kind of heart that God has for her and for her children. She continually said yes to the hardest things he was asking of her and gained a beautiful life from those yes’s. She learned something new with each of her children.

I think one of the most beautiful things I learned from Heather was from her struggle to bond with her middle child Truly. If you know anything about this family you know that sassy miss True is the only Avis child that does not have down syndrome. She has the typical number of chromosomes but more than makes up for that with her amount of sass.

Heather shares the struggle she had to bond with this little girl with all the will power and beauty. To most people they would say oh a “normal” baby that would be the easy one to love and fall in love with. I love that she shares the struggles here just as much if not more than with her two children with down syndrome. In this light you can see how much you have to learn from all different types of children, they all open your heart and pour something different in.

Heather opens her heart to God and repeats over and over, “Yes, you got this. . . Yes you got this!” And because of that she has walked into the life made for her. I hope that even when I am staring into the darkness, facing what seems like an endless amount of NO’S, I can continue to repeat, “Yes, you got this!” And walk forward into the space that is given to me!

The Lucky Few the people that get to spend their lives learning and sharing with something with down syndrome are just that so lucky. It took one of what I like to call the “best good morning hugs in the world” The full body, wrap their legs around you, lay their head on your chest, good morning hugs that in my experience children with down syndrome are the absolute best at giving. It took me one of these hugs and I just knew. I was meant to be a part of this

The Lucky Few.

Heather Avis’ book comes out on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21st 2017. (How perfectly fitting right?) It is available for pre-order NOW! Go, buy it! Welcome yourself into the BEST club!

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I live for the good days!

 

I live for the good days, they may be few and far between and of course they never come for the whole class, over even two people on the same day. But whenever 1 person has that rare, beautiful shining day it makes the terrible days. Which of course come for every single student on the exact same day.

The days when you are not sure you are going to make it through the blow after blow that come from seemingly all directions when all the kids are having break downs over the fact that they are not at home with their dog or because I won’t let them eat the glue cap or the marker or the magnetic letters, Hell because I won’t let them eat anything except food, or because god forbid I won’t let them eat lunch after taking only 5 pretend bites and pouring your milk on the floor so you could avoid drinking it. And yes these are all reasons that we have had break downs in the last TWO weeks.!

But goodness gracious on the good days they are full of love and sweetness, when you can see them light up after learning something new, those are the days you know for sure you are where you are supposed to be.

I know, I know but how do you get through all of those bad days, holding out for a good one? Because those good days are like the perfect good morning hug, the full body, arms around your neck, feet off the floor kind of hugs. If you can’t get through all the bad days waiting for one persons good day this job probably isn’t for you, because hell those breakdowns come multiple times a day and the good days come much much more rarely.

Today was one of those days for one of my students, she has not had the easiest transition back into school, well really she has been the reigning “Queen of the hotmess” in our classroom, full of breaking eye glasses, spitting on teachers, throwing chairs and a whole hell of a lot of “fuck you Ms. Kelsi’s” but today on week 3 day two she had what we like to call a GREAT day! A day where her entire behavior chart had smiley faces, and that thing is broken down into 15 minute periods so 26, 26 15 minute periods and she was a great listener and kind friend through all of them!

You know what happens when you have a GREAT day in Ms. Kelsi’s SpedTacular classroom. You get to pick the dance at the end of the day, of course she chose the “Whip Nae Nae” you get about 15 hugs an Ms. Kelsi is going to tell everyone that will listen that you had a great day. Because my lovely little Queen of the hot mess you deserve to know how well you did, and better believe you just gave me the “good morning hug” feeling and I need to hold onto that as long as possible. Because who knows what Week 3 day 4 is going to bring!

My life is Spedtacular!

Welcome to Spedtacular Me! I am a special education teacher in an elementary school, I teach in a self contained classroom my students by definition have an intellectual disability of some kind they range in ability level and disability about as much as as they range in personality. I love being able to spend my life with them and I frequently share quotes on facebook and I have been told they are people’s favorite updates so here I will share more specific stories about my students, their lives, their disabilities, how other people perceive them and of course my life as well. I am working on writing a book about this topic so I will share some pieces of that as well. Welcome to my world.

 

How #Lucie is Light changed my life.

So up untill 2 years ago I had never even heard of the band Gungor, and then I started going to Bloom, a church that they founded, and to be honest I was quite proud of the fact that I had never heard of them before, I was proud to be the person going to church for church and not for the off-chance to meet a celebrity.

Ok I have to be honest it was pretty cool the nights that they would lead worship, we would get to sing their songs as a congregation and it was like a min-concert. I fell in love with Lisa Gungors voice when they would sing I would find myself hoping that she would sing more and more. But aside from that I never really jumped on the Gungor band wagon. I never bought any of their music, I never listened to them outside of church and when they held a concert I didn’t feel the need to go. But they were cool enough.

And then they had Lucie. . . their second daughter who happened to be born with down syndrome and the way that they handled that birth and transition was one of the most loving and God-Like things that I have ever witnessed. They made it clear that they were initially heartbroken, this little girl they held was not the little girl they had imagined for 9 months and probably longer, your dreams and visions for their life have to be altered (You can read more about that here http://www.gungormusic.com/blog/2014/10/lucie-is-ligh) But they also discovered something in her, something that is so pure and wonderful that radiates out of their every picture of her and story about her, and mostly from their new song. Light.

Light is on the Gungor’s newest album, One Wild Life, which is also one of my favorite and most played albums now, I sincerely hope everyone will go out and listen to it now it is beautifully done. But Light is gorgeous. .

They found a perfection in the imperfection, they were humbled and shocked, and in love with this little girl, who by all standards was DIFFERENT!

As a Special education teacher who watches parents handle the nuances and challenges of having a child who is by all means different and the way that they handle these things in varying manners, This realization was something that I clung too,

Thought I have never officially met the Gungor’s I have seen them from across the basement of Bloom, I have felt joy and sadness at their instagram pictures, I have heard stories from mutual friends, but I love these people I feel a sense of togetherness with the Gungor’s, they found their light in a beautiful little girl named Lucie who happened to be born in a way that will make the world forever stare at her, and call her different.

And I find my life over and over again in the students that God has placed in front of me, the students that have all sorts of differences, the students that are constantly fought against and put in the “other” category. I see God in these students, I see the ways that he can make all of us unique and the way that all of these challenges bring us closer to him, and closer as humans.

This is the way that God has made the human condition and I wish that more people could see the beauty in our differences the beauty in the little girl that has to have an adult come with her to third grade, the beauty in the little girl who has a hard time keeping her hands to herself, or the little boy who can’t see and has to use a cane to get around, beauty in the boy who has not learned to control his emotions and throws chairs when he gets upset but so desperately wants to fit in and be accepted by his peers.

These are my beauties these are the children that have completely changed their parents lives, the children that were supposed to have a different life, but have shaped and changed the world in so many ways.

These students are beautiful, these students are light.

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❤ Kelsi Rae