The One Where I Call the Pizza Guy

A Day in the Life 1

Ahhh, the life of a multi-tasker.  I’m never just doing one thing.  For those of you who are not teachers, dialling 99 is how you reach an outside line on a school phone.  So, when I absent-mindedly do this on my cell phone, it never really works out.  And believe me, I do it quite often.  Every single day at school I’m calling parents.  I’ve never talked to parents more in my life!  I swear I talk to them more often than I talk to my own parents.  In the Dev Ed world, talking to the parents is a large part of the role.  Not only are my students extremely complicated medically, but they are also almost all non-verbal.  So literally, I have to tell the parents everything that happened in the day that might influence their night at home.  You know, they never really taught us this stuff in Teachers’ College (or… Bachelor of Education if you’re reading this Dr. W-H!), that one day, you too could be paid an awful lot of money to track someone else’s poop schedule.  But, alas, these are the kinds of conversations that I get to have with parents on a daily basis.

Every time something of note happens, I get to pick up the phone. Oh, someone had a seizure? Call home.  Someone is running out of food at school? Call home.  Someone forgot their AFOs at school? Call home.  Someone is running a fever? Call home.  Someone is in pain? Call home.  Someone threw up? Call home. Someone’s wheelchair broke? Call home. And every time I call home, I have to remember to press that dreaded 99, or I have to start all over again once the phone denies me by blaring obnoxious noises in my ear.  There are a lot of things that happen throughout the day, thousands of decisions I have to make, and while some of these things can wait to be written in the communication book at the end of the day, many can not.  It is because my students are not able to tell me how they are feeling, or what is going on with them that I have to call parents.  They are the experts on their kids, and will share valuable insight with me at a moment of need in order to help make the best plan of care for their kid.  Also, its just basic common courtesy to tell a parent why their kid is coming home wearing someone else’s pants.

As for the second part of that Facebook status, a lot of people have asked me “but what do you teach in a Dev Ed classroom”, and I always answer with “What don’t I teach!”.  I suppose the answer here would be like theoretical physics and advanced calculus, but I do a lot of things that “ordinary” teachers wouldn’t be doing.  Spending hours surfing the app store for that one picture communication app that just might work, is just one of them.  Do you know how hard it is to find apps that are both age appropriate for teenagers, AND ability appropriate (which is roughly pre-school or less?).  The answer is impossible.  There are a lot of excellent apps out there designated as “Special Education Apps”, but within those are mountains and mountains that are just too sophisticated for kids who are learning how to just use an iPad at all. And don’t even get me started on how much they cost, and how annoying it is when you thought you found one that would work, only to download it and find out that it is way too complex.  So, it really isn’t all that unusual to find me on a Friday night, or accidentally still at school at 7:00 PM on a Tuesday while I sit and surf the app store, trying out any combination of words like “communication” and “toddler” and “cause and effect”, to find that one app that might just interest one of my 14-21 year old students.

And that’s why the pizza guy knows that the address I gave him is “the school”.

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A Day in the Life?

IMG_6785.JPGSo, what does a day in the life actually look like?

8:30 AM: Whole team meeting about the day, set up activities for the day, do laundry, email, phone, or text parents about student attendance.

8:50 AM: Students arrive by bus and are met by staff, get dressed and ready for the day, some students are fed snack, some students have diapers changed or use the washroom.

9:30 AM: Retrieve the SMART Board with a student helper, set students up in a circle, and have circle time. Circle time is my only full group instruction time in the day.  I will break down my circle time routine in more detail in another post.

10:00 AM: Gym time.  Before we leave the classroom, we check to see if anyone is in need of a diaper change, and transfer my student who can walk to his walker.  Once we are in the gym, we crank the tunes and work on individual gross motor goals for each student. For example, one student is able to walk, ride a bike, or ride a scooter, while another is working on wheeling himself around (and I do mean around because he only uses one hand, so he goes in circles…), and yet another is working on accuracy in various ball games, and retrieving her equipment independently.  Others have walkers, and others just enjoy being walked around in the gym, listening to the music.  Sometimes, we break out the giant green soccer ball and play wheelchair soccer as a class, which is always fun!

10:30 AM: We return to the classroom and separate out into individual instruction time, and personal care.  Throughout the day, some of my students need alternate positioning time, AKA time out of their chairs, so they lie down on beds in the classroom.  Since they are teenagers, we use a Hoyer lift and a sling to lift them out of their chairs and into beds.  We also need to do this to lift them onto the change table for changing.  One of my students needs to wear orthotics for 30 minutes a day which stretch his legs into a straighter position, as his muscles are very tight, so he does this lying down.  During this time, you can find me working 1:1 with a student on sorting activities, fine motor skills, or playing adapted iPad and computer games.  Each one of my students is on an Individual Education Plan, and so the activities they do during this time are working towards achieving those goals.

11:30 AM: Lunch time. Of the eight students in my class, no two students feed the same way.  A nurse and a personal support worker visit my classroom every day to feed and deliver medicine to my students who are G-Tube fed.  One student can feed herself independently, while three others need to be fed.  For those who do eat, feeding is written into the “Building Independence with Daily Living Skills” section of their IEP, so lunch time is teaching time.  Some students are working on communicating with staff while feeding, while others are working on guiding a spoon into their mouth with staff assistance.

12:30 PM: Rest time.  By now, all students are fed and are given an opportunity to rest, either in their chairs or out, on beds.  Sometimes there is a diaper change that needs to happen, or a student who does not want to lie down.  One of my students is very active, so he often goes for additional walks during this time, instead of lying down.  This is also usually my lunch time.  Between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM, each of the four adults take a half hour lunch break, and I usually go last.

1:00 PM: Snack Time.  By now, everyone is up from their rest time.  Usually, someone needs to be changed or go to the washroom, and a few of the students eat a snack.  This is also a good time for me to squeeze in a few more minutes of individual instruction.

1:30 PM: Sensory Room.  Since every student in my school has significant special needs, our school has a whole classroom set up as a sensory room.  Essentially, the room is kept quite dark, with a few twinkle and fibre-optic lights, and there are a variety of places to sit and chill out.  There is a ball pit to play in, and two swings to soothe.  There are mirrors, trampolines, and beanbags. Since my students are in chairs, most of them simply enjoy the atmosphere and quiet time.

2:00 PM: Clean up and pack up.  We go back to the classroom and get ready to go home. While students are getting dressed by the EAs, I am working on writing in each student’s communication book.  I use this book to communicate things like how many times each student was changed, whether they ate their whole lunch or not, whether we need any more clothes/diapers/wipes/food at school, whether there are forms for parents to sign, and a brief description of how the student’s day went.  This kind of documentation is more important than you think, as it has allowed me to notice trends and keep careful track of behaviour and whether a student is having more good days than bad.

2:30 PM: Students depart for home on buses.  Another team meeting to debrief the day, collect observations, share ideas, etc.  We also do laundry, tidy up, and answer the piles of emails that I get throughout the day.

3:00 PM: EAs leave, I continue to work on paperwork, documentation, emails, calls to parents, planning, collaborating with other teachers, etc. until I leave for home, which is usually around 5:00.

So, there you have it.  That is our day.  As you will notice, there are no nutrition breaks, planning times, or extra-curriculars.  This is different than just about any other school, but the structure works for the kind of clientele we have. If you have any questions, just ask!

Oh hey! You have somehow managed to stumble through cyberspace and ended up here. Welcome! You’re in for a treat today, as I regale you with tales from the inside of my classroom. My goal here is to demystify the Developmental Education classroom with a heaping pile of bad humour.

So, this is me.  Nice to meet you.  I am an elementary teacher from Ontario, and as of September 2016, I have been teaching a Developmental Education: Medically Fragile class.  This was a new venture for me, as in previous years, I had found myself teaching pretty much everything from Kindergarten Music to Grade 8 Math.  I had special education experience, of course, but it was never a full time gig. Primarily, I had spent my previous four years (slash only four years) teaching music, as this is what I had spend my university days training for (spoiler alert: this has been a huge asset). But now, here I am, teaching eight young adults with considerable intellectual and physical disabilities with a wonderful team of three Educational Assistants.

I have always been the person who “finds the funny” in even the worst situations.  That is how I cope with life, I make jokes and observations that poke fun at the world around me. Naturally, I record these jokes and observations, like the good millenial that I am, on Facebook. I titled this series “A Day in the Life of a Dev Ed Teacher”, and somehow, it gained a lot of positive attention. Just yesterday, I was at an ETFO presentation, and a fair number of colleagues mentioned how much they liked the series.  Even my mom’s friends have commented to her about this. But, I’ve never felt like the whole story behind each post has been told. Even when I feel like I’ve shared just about everything with everyone, there are still a mountain of misconceptions about life in a Dev Ed classroom.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am writing from a place of immense privilege as an employed, educated, able-bodied, settler, caucasian, Canadian woman. My work in the classroom comes from my own direct experiences and revelations, which are influenced by my privileges. I recognize that I do not speak for all, nor do my experiences resonate with everyone, in or out of the teaching profession.  I welcome constructive dialogue, and do not even begin to see myself as an expert.  Simply put, this blog is a day-to-day recount of life in a congregated special education classroom, with the intent to demystify and normalize the experiences of myself and those I serve.

So, hold on tight, because here we go…