Just Sick About It

First-year resource teacher Reggie Swift finds out how demanding her job can be as she tries to negotiate her tricky new working environment, satisfy her job responsibilities, and meet the needs of her special learners, all in the same day.

Shirley Mitchell (Instructional Coordinator) asks Reggie Swift (first year resource teacher for 5th and 6th grades) for her instructional plan.

I popped open my can of Mountain Dew and sat down to review the day’s events.

Reggie Swift

I was new to teaching, new to the school, and new to special education. When I accepted this resource position on a provisional license I’d had no idea that the learning curve would be this steep. I took a sip of my soda and thought back to the start of my day…

7:56 A.M.

It wasn’t quite 8 o’clock in the morning when I heard Shirley Mitchell, the instructional coordinator, carefully, but unmistakably demand, “Ms. Swift, I need your nine-week instructional plan. You know, the one that was due a week and a half ago?”

“Shirley, I’m so sorry I haven’t finished it yet. I’m working until bedtime each night on the next day’s lessons and just haven’t had one minute to complete that form for you. Plus, I’m having a hard time with some of the sections…”

See Reggie’s nine-week instructional plan below:

“Well, ask one of the other teachers to show you hers,” she softened, glancing toward Erin, the other resource teacher with whom I share this cramped room. “I know you are busy, but we’re all busy, and I need to show these to my boss. Please turn it in as soon as you can. I’ll expect it to be in my mailbox SOON!”

Erin, taking Shirley’s hint, offered hers. “Reggie, here’s a copy of mine to review. I put it together before we came back to school. I’m planning to work on fables with the children. I will give the students weekly book choices and teach them to compose their own fables on the computer using Hyperstudio. You are planning on using technology, aren’t you? It is one of the areas we have to address in this instructional plan.”

“Y..Y.. Yes,” I stammered, “but I’m not sure exactly where I can fit it in, yet. Uh, I’ve never used Hyperstudio.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Erin soothed. “Most of the kids can show you how to use it. Maybe what you should do is concentrate on the other areas of the instructional plan, like, uh, what you are going to teach!”

Reggie reflects on her exchange with Mrs. Simmons (5th grade general education teacher) and her effort to help Barry, James, Lisa, and Courtney (students with disabilities) with their social studies worksheet.

Nearly finished with my soda and still shuffling the piles of papers before me, I was panicked. What AM I going to teach? Every night I go through the same

Mrs. Simmons

angst. Planning for everyday is such a struggle. I’d thought I would be working with a small group of children all functioning lower than their peers but around the same level. I would remediate skills all morning and move into the general ed classroom in the afternoon where the general ed teacher would take over the planning. Principal Groghan sure misled me when she described the job to me. Plus, she never mentioned I would have an instructional aide, Sally, who I would also have to plan for. I don’t even have her the periods I could really use her help! Click here to see Reggie’s class schedule. To make matters worse, Sally is definitely not happy; she is no longer full time with Erin, with whom she worked for the last six years. This job is nothing like my student teaching placement!

My thoughts again drifted back to the day’s events and my morning conversation with Mrs. Simmons.

On the way back to the room I remembered that Erin had six students at this time. “We had better find a different place to go. It’s going to be too crowded in our room. Let’s try the workroom upstairs.”

Looking over the worksheet I realized none of us had the social studies book with us, and since this was the first time I had seen the worksheet, I prayed silently, “Please let me know all these answers!”

Settling at a table in the workroom upstairs, I asked Courtney to begin reading. I figured she was a safe choice, because she was only reading about a year and one-half below grade level. I was right. Courtney stumbled on a few words, but after I supplied them, she eventually made it to the end of the paragraph and the first question. Realizing none of them knew the answer (and neither did I), I said, “Barry, run downstairs and grab your social studies book. I want to show you all how to locate and verify answers.” Barry raced away.

“Ms. Swift, can I read the next paragraph?” James asked.

My thoughts wandered, “Why does James always ask to read? He knows he can’t read the words on this worksheet. It will take us an hour to get through one paragraph at the speed he decodes, when he can decode! That’s why I picked Barry to retrieve the Social studies book, so he wouldn’t ask to read. James reads as poorly as Barry. Maybe I should have sent the two of them together…”

“Ms. Swift?” James continued.

Fortunately, I heard footsteps. “Oh, look, Barry is back with the social studies book. Let’s find the answer to number one and then you can have a chance to read, James.”

Locating the answer and forming a complete and coherent sentence took longer than I had expected. Glancing at the clock, I realized it was time for them to return to class. “Ok, finish this for homework. Do the rest of the questions the same way.”

“But Ms. Swift…” Barry started.

“Barry, have your mom or dad read this to you tonight. Just do your best,” I interrupted.

“Only my mom is home, and she’s always busy,” Barry argued.

“Ok. Here are passes for all of you. We’ll finish this at lunch,” I offered.

James quickly objected, “I ain’t comin’ in at lunch. I’ll do mine at home.”

“I’m not coming in at lunch,” I corrected.

Reggie reflects on the writing lesson in Mr. Jacobs’ (5th grade general education teacher) class. Mr. Jacobs asks Reggie to teach the following day’s lesson on sentence variety while he attends the Language Arts Department meeting.

8:45 A.M. – 9:45 A.M.

When I agreed to work with the students on Writers’ Workshop within the general ed setting, I had no idea it would be like this. In my student teaching, the Writers’ Workshop was very loose. The children were able to write about anything they wanted. There were no mini lessons or actual steps to the writing process. Where is Mr. Jacobs getting his mini lessons from, and why don’t they seem connected to anything else?

“Ms. Swift, would you help me?” Aatira asked.

I went back to where three of my students were working on computers to see what I could do to help.

Aatira continued, “I want to change the order of the slides in my slide show, but I don’t know how to do that.”

“Well,” my face reddened as I realized I had no idea how to do that either, “let’s see what happens when you click on…”

“I know how to do that,” Ricas interrupted. And, he did. Talk about feeling out of the loop.

“Oh, thanks, Ricas,” I mumbled. I moved quickly to where the children were writing with pencils, hoping I would be able to actually help someone.

I sat down next to Nina who was doing nothing. “Let’s brainstorm some ideas that go with this topic,” I offered.

“I don’t know anything about this topic,” she mumbled.

“I’m sure we can come up with a few ideas together,” I persisted.

Just then, Jay stuffed his draft in my face and said, “Mr. Jacobs wants you to edit this with me.”

Bryan, a student seated next to Nina, whined, “But he said he wants Ms. Swift to conference with me!”

“Ok, ok, one at a time. Let me help Nina get started, and then I’ll edit and conference with you two boys.”

“Ms. Swift, take those two boys out of here right now! Jay and Bryan aren’t going to stay in my room and fool around with the fish tank while everyone else is working hard. They are welcome back only when they are ready to work!” Mr. Jacobs demanded.

“Oh, and I told tomorrow’s substitute that you would be teaching the mini lesson on sentence variety. Remember, I have that Language Arts Department meeting?”

“Yes, sure I remember, but I….”

“Thanks, now kindly remove those two boys from my sight.”

Students argue as Reggie looks for a math warm-up. Robby loses his temper and becomes violent.

9:45 A.M. – 10:30 A.M.

What a group! Yolanda and Brad, who need specific skills instruction in reading; Tamarah, who is an outspoken young lady; Robby, who has something called “running seizures” and has had “explosive episodes” in the past; and Anthony, who is not medicated but should be, are together working on reading and math.

“Ok, I have a warm-up in math for you guys to do. I just have to find it,” I said shuffling papers in my bookbag. “Have a seat.”

“MS. SWIFT, Anthony flipped me off,” Tamarah said annoyed.

“I did not, you big baby!”

“You did too!”

“Nobody was talkin’ to you, Robby. It’s none of your business.”

“Well, I’m makin’ it my business,” Robby said pointing a dirty index finger right in Anthony’s face.

“BOYS! STOP IT RIGHT NOW AND SIT DOWN,” I shouted as I nervously threw myself between the two posturing adolescents.

Just then, Erin appeared at the door with her next group. “Ms. Swift, is everything all right?”

“Yes, we were just about to start our work…”

“Yeah, but Anthony flipped me off,” Tamarah added.

“Enough, Tamarah, it’s over. Let’s get to work,” I insisted.

Robby and Anthony were still fuming.

Making room for Erin and her group, I started a direct instruction reading lesson with Yolanda and Brad, counting on the other three to begin their math warm up (which I had finally found) and the math assignment from their general education teacher.

See the math warm up below:

“Ms. Swift, I don’t know how to do this. You’re supposed to be helping us, and all you do is teach them reading,” Robby said with clear annoyance in his voice.

“Ok, Brad, Yolanda, go ahead and do a lesson in your Multiple Skills books and we’ll finish this in a little bit,” I said, acquiescing.

Switching gears, I quickly wrote the math problems on the board and said, “Math group. Eyes up here. Where do you start working on this problem?”

“I’m already done with that problem, Ms. Swift,” Tamarah interjected, “I’m already on the fourth problem.”

“Yeah, I’m on the third problem. You slow or somethin’, Robby?” Anthony said antagonistically.

In my head, I keep replaying what happened next, like a video tape that I rewind and rewatch with horror. Robby shoved one desk into another, then picked it up and threw it down on its side. Books, pencils and pens flew through the air and scooted across the floor as if trying get away. Chairs bounced two and three times before coming to rest. Then, Robby stood there, stiff as a board, with clenched fists, screaming, “NO, I AIN’T SLOW. COME HERE AND SAY THAT. COME HERE AND SAY THAT!”

I had read about this behavior in Robby’s records. When he felt like he was being confronted he sometimes “went off,” exploding and destroying things. It had something to do with the medical condition he had, but his mother really pushed him to be out of his former alternative educational placement, saying it was his right to be in the “mainstream.”

See Robby’s Social/Cultural Assessment below:

Standing in front of Robby, but not blocking the doorway, Erin ordered, “REGGIE, GET THE REST OF THE STUDENTS OUT OF HERE. NOW.”

Shaking, I snapped out of the daze I was in and ushered everyone out of the room before anyone could get hurt. “Go back to your classes, children,” I commanded, and practically ran down to Mrs. Groghan’s office where I could report the incident.

Reggie wonders about the efficacy of the “watered down version” of word study for her students with disabilities.

10:30 A.M. – 11:15 A.M.

Back in the general ed classroom for word study, I could hardly concentrate.

“Ms. Swift,” Ms. Woodbury started, “I need to step out to a gifted eligibility meeting, can you please give this spelling test to the class? We can use the results to set-up our groups.”

“Sure.” I sighed and wondered what I’d do with the class after the spelling test was over. Before I could even ask, Ms. Woodbury was out the door. “OK, get out some paper and number one through twenty-five.” As the students got their papers out and numbered, I looked around for a read aloud or something else to engage them with after the test. I’d been in so many rooms, I didn’t know where anything was!

“But I don’t have any paper. I can’t find my notebook!” one girl cried from the back.

“You can’t find anything,” one of her classmates answered.

“Me neither,” I thought.

See the spelling test results below:

Reggie eavesdrops as Sally (Instructional Aide) and Erin (veteran resource teacher for 6th grade) talk. Principal Groghan informs Reggie that Ms. Soloman (6th grade general education teacher) is going home sick.

11:17 A.M.

As I rounded the corner on the way back to my room, I overheard Sally and Erin talking. I stopped to listen.

What a day it had been. Finishing my soda and worrying about the lesson on sentence variety I had to plan, I thought I felt the first signs of flu symptoms.

Principal Groghan and Reggie