Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tips for SPED Teachers To Stay in the Game

I hear a lot of teachers venting about doing a lot of work: doing daily work assignments like tutoring, achievement test proctoring, hall duty, lunch duty, recess duty, heading an extra curricular activity. This is on top of Special Education teacher's duties and responsibilities in the IEP process as a case manager of at least 15 special needs students, and our role as a member of the IEP Team in assessment compliance.  Of course, we will never be called "teachers" if we do not have any role in the academic process to support student achievement. Oh yes, contrary to what others say about us, we do a lot of work.

Many times when SPED teachers complain about "doing a lot of work", it is because we are not clear about our roles as a special education teacher or that we are not taught how to do the work which can lead to frustration. It sometimes drives us nuts especially when the politics of education are getting on our way! But there are healthy and not-so-healthy ways to deal with these things to make sure that we stay on top of our game.

1. Know your duties and responsibilities as a special education teacher.  Do you know what is expected of a well prepared special education teacher? As special educators we are guided by the profession’s ethical and professional practice standards. We are expected to practice in multiple roles and complex situations across wide age and developmental ranges. Special educators engage in professional activities and participate in learning communities that benefit individuals with exceptional learning needs, their families, colleagues, and their own professional growth. It helps to know the limits of our practice and practice within them!

2. Stay calm, remain professional at all times. We sometimes get overwhelmed by the work that we are subjected to the moment we enter our work premises. Do I still have time to eat a decent lunch? Nope, not when I am at work. Extra duties are a fact of life, attend to them. Good news is,  administrators do not consider themselves exempt as they once did. They are in the cafeteria standing right next to us! Research says that the average person faces around 30 frustrations (or minicrises) every day, and a high proportion of those frustrations occur at work. Rough moments happen to all of us, but losing your temper over a faulty copy machine or an insulting colleague by going into high-drama mode will end up hurting far more than it helps.

3. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! As teachers we are usually experts in reaching out to people and building relationships based on trust, we do this everyday with our students, parents, colleagues. Extend your collaboration to people outside of your school building, and extend your enthusiasm about what you do to your community. It would be great to solicit their help to volunteer at least an hour of their week to help in the noble work that we do with our students. Be innovative in building your professional learning networks (PLN) by using social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs to connect with teachers in other school districts. You will be surprised to know that we are all in the same boat and that they might have found a solution to your concerns so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. It helps me keep my sanity when I get positive and encouraging messages from my blog, FB (new page BTW!) and Twitter followers and I learned many practical things from them too!

4. Know when to tune in and tune out. The heat is on, they call it education reform. You know it well, you watch it on television, you hear about it in talks and forums, you read it in major newspapers and blogs. It is not advisable for us who are in this playing field to lean back and watch the highlights of the game unfold before us without being in the game, read and learn as much about education policies that matter most to our profession. But never read newspapers before going to class, most of the time they are filled with horror stories about how ill the economy is that unemployment is rising. Not to mention articles about how bad schools and teachers are. It will either depress you or fire you up, which can ruin your day before it even starts. Tune in to your teacher mode before you come in your building, show them how excited you are to touch their lives and make a positive difference each day.

5. Have a break when you need to. My students and colleagues know that I'm always on the run and when I'm not with them I'm doing something important. They also understand when I put on the sign "Do Not Disturb" on my door meaning I need just a moment of silence so I can recharge myself and be with them again on my "teacher mode". We also need to get enough rest just like anybody else. My sleeping time is usually earlier during dark months, it really seems to help. Take an occasional mental health day, call in sick if you need to (yes, you are sick.). Nobody else will take care of you better than you do, so use your sick leave that you are entitled to as part of your teachers union contract with the school district.

Finally, I would like to share my favorite quote of all time: "Tough times never last but tough people do". This profession entails survival of the fittest, this is for YOU!

1 comment:

Candi Peterson said...

I would add that in the special education department or any department, we have to be willing to work together as a team. Together we can accomplish more than as individuals. I see some people who see this as a competition when it is not. Departmental meetings are important and sharing with colleagues of what may be useful to one teacher could benefit the whole group. We also have to be willing to reach out to our colleagues who are struggling and may be in need of mentoring and additional support.

BTW, I am returning back to blogging more regularly beginning February 2012. There are so many great topics out there to write about.

Your fellow blogger

Candi Peterson
AKA The Washington Teacher

Promethean Planet


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