WARNING! This post is brought to you by a really frustrated and discouraged education consultant!
Just stop. And don’t tell me that what you provide in those buckets, bins and packets is actually reflective of goals you wrote in the IEP. Because if you really wrote goals that can be addressed with this kind of work, you need a lesson in IEP writing.
In this age of cross categorical special education programs, teaching has become even more of a challenge. Special education teachers are now meeting the needs of an even more diverse group of students. And to make things more challenging, special education teachers are to provide services in a mind boggling variety of ways because we must offer a continuum of services. Collaborative co-teacher, crisis responder, resource support that includes remediation, reteach, introduction to new content, guided support using gen ed teacher’s assignments, and don’t forget there are always a few kiddos thrown in that need to be with you all day. All. Day. Long. And they usually arrive mid year after all routines have been established and things are running smoothly.
Need lunch? Need to pee? Need to collaborate with colleagues, call parents, make community connections on behalf of your students and their families, assess, monitor, collect data, observe, write IEPs, FBAs and BIPs? All of these things make for quality special education teaching and delivery of appropriate services per a well written IEP. Yes, eating and peeing are included in that. And all of this stuff has to be done.
So the default setting that allows us to attend to all the above is too often work buckets, bins and packets. Anything that buys us scraps of time throughout the day to get this stuff done.
Unfortunately these buckets, bins and packets contain meaningless work for kids. They require unreasonably long periods of kid’s butts in seats, are under stimulating, boring, tedious and usually trigger some kids enough to engage in unwanted behaviors. And then that turns into you managing those behaviors, so all that stuff you thought you could get done while the kids are working, doesn’t get done.
There is no doubt that what all teachers are expected to juggle is unreasonable if the net result is supposed to be quality education.
I know there is precious little time to reflect and plan engaging lessons. Too many spinning plates on tall poles.
And every plate is just that close to crashing. So we make a giant thinking error. We see all that must be done the next day, so we stay late and copy a bunch of worksheets at each student’s independent work level, fill work bins with sorting, cutting, magnetic letters, word lists, Unifix cubes, lacing cards, picture books, staple large packets together…
And I get why we do this. I get it. There are only so many hours in a day and way too many needs to be met. We need to catch our breath.
It’s when these buckets, bins and packets are our whole program that we fail. This makes me crazy. It makes our students crazy.
And way too many programs are run this way.
What our students need most is time with us. They need our attention. They need our specialized instruction. They need to be engaged in meaningful work that allows them to progress and grow, to feel useful and connected.
Master teachers run programs where all students are engaged and interacting most of the day. Where the students learn as a group even when the ability levels are as wide ranging as species of birds.
Where differentiation and UniversalDesign are used in every lesson. And yes, master teachers have a plan for when they are called away to do other parts of their jobs. And sometimes that does mean individualized buckets, bins and packets. But most often it means things like listening to audio books as a whole group or an extra structured recess, board games and scavenger hunts supervised by our paraprofessionals.
And do not tell me that your students do not deserve these sorts of activities, can’t handle them. Every single kid deserves these things. And how the hell do you think our kids will ever learn to handle these activities if we don’t provide practice opportunities?
When we keep kids in bins and buckets and packets, they miss all sorts of opportunities to question, reach high, explore, interact with each other, see new perspectives. They miss opportunities to figure out who they are, how they want to define themselves, develop a healthy sense of self.
There are so many resources, there really are no excuses.
Go here to learn all about Universal Design.
Buy this book, for sure.
If you are a bucket, bin and packet kind of teacher, I politely ask you to take the summer to learn about Universal Design, become well-versed in differentiation, see your students as whole beings that deserve so much more than what you are offering.
If you just can’t or won’t do it, then I ask you to please step away from the classroom and maybe become a supervisor in a sweatshop. Because you are highly qualified to do just that.