While you are reading this today (Aug. 21), I am enjoying my first day of classes with my new students. My day began around 7:45 a.m. when they started exiting their buses and happily making their way into the school building for breakfast. Attendance has now been checked, the Pledge recited, and they have arrived in my classroom. We are learning about our daily routine and making preparations for our engaged learning. Before I move forward, however, I need to back up just a bit and tell you how I got to Aug. 21, 2012.
Last week was a fun week. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was hired in to my current position with about 12 weeks remaining in the 2011-12 school year. Thus I really did not have to prepare a classroom for my students’ arrival; it was more like the students prepared for me. This year is different.
At the end of the previous school year, we packed all of our stuff because we were moving to a new, improved, and bigger classroom. When I arrived on Monday, there was my new classroom full of bulging boxes, numerous desks, plastic containers, mats, chairs, tables, more boxes, papers, posters, crayons, games, glue, and a whole bunch of other stuff I did not recognize as mine. I was a bit overwhelmed because I did not realize how much stuff I had collected in the brief 12 weeks at the end of last year.
And it was all mine to start unpacking, unwrapping, organizing, putting away, inventorying, and thinking about potential uses. It is now Tuesday, Aug. 21 and even though much still needs organized and categorized, all of our educational materials are now ready for use. The classroom is neat and orderly. Setting up a classroom from day one is a lot different than going into an already prepared classroom when beginning an internship in order to meet student teaching requirements. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made about what to keep, what to discard, where to put this, and where to put that. Still, setting up a classroom—especially a classroom for EBD students—is a lot fun and a lot of work.
Last week was also an educational week because I volunteered to go to several training sessions. Training sessions, as I noted, were voluntary, but they are worth the effort. In the first session I went to we learned about this exiting tool called Mimio® and a Web site to download all sorts of exciting (free!) classroom tools for use on the Mimio. The Mimio® software is very friendly and I envision hundreds of uses in the special education classroom.
My second training session was for Odyssey® from Compass Learning. This, too, is really useful computer software that designs tests (pre- and post-) based on state standards and then creates a learning path for students to follow (obviously, there’s more to it than that). I encourage you to give this software a look if you have the time. It is great supplemental computer-based curriculum that students can use in school or at home.
Finally, I attended an all-day workshop on hosted by the Common Core Institute concerning (drumroll…) Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I had heard a little about CCSS during my internships (I sadly cannot remember spending too much time on it in graduate school because Ohio only adopted the CCSS in 2010), but this meeting was really eye-opening and I am, for one, very excited about the teaching possibilities we will have available to us through CCSS (especially in special education).
I have heard it said that this is a very difficult time to be a teacher in this country. Maybe. It could be that some folks are not happy about CCSS. I don’t know. Either way, I look at it differently: being a new teacher, this is all very exciting to me because, among other things, the CCSS approach fits well with my teaching style. Furthermore, CCSS is a lot easier to follow than those colossal standards books that the state (Ohio) publishes for us. I like the idea that literacy is the responsibility of every teacher and not just the language arts teachers. I like the idea that we are all teaching the same thing(s) to our students. I like the rigor of the CCSS.
Last week was also a very busy week. I participated in my first ever open house. I had to have my classroom ready by Thursday—stuff put away, trash removed, posters on walls, computers set up, chairs, tables, and other furnishings arranged appropriately, among a million other things. I was expecting my students and their families to show up—and they did, but there were more. Part way through, our new high school principal showed up with his wife and our director of services for an introduction. A little later, the entire school board showed up with our guidance counselor and I met all of them. As the night wore on, other teachers were hanging around the room and there was a lot of conversation and hubbub. It was a whirlwind of activity and when the evening was finished (it had been about a 12+ hour day for me), I went home thoroughly exhausted.
I also conducted an IEP meeting. We had a generous lunch period on Friday during which I conducted an IEP meeting for one of my students. The meeting ended up taking around two hours (probably not normal, but we had a lot of things to discuss and finalize in the document). I actually enjoy IEP meetings because I like hearing the parents’ input on such important issues as those discussed in an IEP meeting. Still, they are an exhausting effort sometimes. After the meeting was completed, I went back to the workshop for the final two hours of CCSS.
On top of all this, I had a lot of preparatory paperwork to finish: daily behavior passports, incident reports, IEP tracking sheets, Daily Report Cards, and seating arrangements (and more). Thankfully, one of my para-professionals generously donated some time and came in to decorate walls, unpack boxes, organize my thoughts, and help me throw out items we will not use or have no space for otherwise. I also had to continue planning curriculum for my EBD kids: planning calendar time, social group time, math, science, and so on and so forth. I have the best para-professional in the world!
Yesterday (Aug. 20), I had an all-day, prior to the first day of students, in-service filled with more meetings. Since I bridge two schools (Elementary & Junior High), I attended meetings for both schools, a special meeting for the special education department and general departmental staff meetings. Thankfully, the day began early with a nice continental breakfast. There is something exhilarating about being a part of such a great work in which teachers are involved. Excitement is brewing. There’s electricity in the air. But I’m new at this, so what do I know?
And, thus, we have arrived back at today, Aug. 21, my first day of school. I am glad to be here. I am glad my kids are here with me. My para-professional is here. I have had my morning tea and bagel. I am in a new, highly organized and neat classroom. I am ready to get on with the business of educating this fine fistful of scholars. I am even ready for all the messes that will invariably be made as the days, weeks, and months of this year progress.
I am ready for today, but tomorrow is another day and there are a lot of questions that remain. When will our first meltdown occur? When will I have my first disagreement with a colleague? When will I need a substitute teacher? Are my lesson plans ready? I am ready for today, but in the EBD classroom, tomorrow is a different day, and we all know about the best laid plans.