I believe most people have started back to work in the schools by now. The west coast always seems to be last and next week is our first week with children. When I started this blog, I reflected on when I first started working in the schools. I was uncertain on how to start a year because I did my internship in the Spring. At that point everything was scheduled and running so I had no idea what I should expect. Since that first fateful day, I’ve started school years in about 20 different buildings in 10 different districts with every kind of mix of caseload you can imagine. Some things have changed over those 20+ years, but much remains the same. This post is written for those people starting their first school year experience as a speech pathologist. I thought I would give some words of encouragement because after those first few days of meetings your head is probably swimming.
For your sanity, it’s important to tell yourself you will be overwhelmed for the next few weeks, and that is OK. I’ve been overwhelmed the first couple of weeks no matter where I started. The first thing you will use is your skills of discrimination. You will find much of the information you are given doesn’t pertain to you directly. Try to stay tuned long enough not to miss the information you need and don’t get overwhelmed by the stuff you can ignore. A lot of it is meant for general education teachers only.
As a new person, you need directions on how to get places, such as from the district office to your school/s and the floor plans of your buildings. I am directionally challenged so maps are very important to me. One year I worked in a district that had flipped the High School floor plan of one school to make a 2nd school across town. I worked in both buildings. I spent my year heading out in the opposite direction every time I stepped out of a room. You would think I would have a 50% chance of being right but it didn’t work that way. Other things we take for granted are phone numbers (district and within the building), voice mail, email (you probably have messages and you don’t know it). Some districts are better at setting some of these things up than others. If I travel between buildings, I place all of this information in a folder for easy access. Now, since I’m in one location, I tack all of it to a bulletin board next to my desk.
One of the most important things to do is to get to know your teachers. We may be tempted to do the more tangible thing such as paperwork and bury ourselves in our office. Getting to know the people will be the most beneficial in the long-term. The teachers you work with are your best resource and it’s good to have them working with you. It’s important to introduce yourself so you are on speaking terms and they can recognize you. In my district we are required to make copies of IEPs for teachers, so they are aware of any special needs of students in their classroom. I make copies and hand carry them to the teachers because it gives me a chance to talk to them. I also ask them for their class schedules with circled times of when they would like me to see children from their rooms. This comes in handy when I start scheduling. Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the janitor and office secretary as well.
Many places now use computer programs for electronic IEPs and Medicaid Billing. This may require some training, but it doesn’t take long once you start using a program. I recommend finding a mentor if at all possible to answer questions. Computers have helped with keeping paperwork organized, but I’m not sure it has decreased any paperwork. The paperwork load continues to increase as the powers above keep adding one more form to fill out. The rules can be quite different on how IEPs and CUM files are stored and who has access to them. You will be lucky if there is actually a written form of the rules.
Then it’s time to dig into those files. I usually have files from new kids that have moved in. These need to be looked at and updated fairly quickly. Hopefully someone knows where the caseload files are and can direct you to them. The first year is the roughest because you do not know kids from last year and the file represents all that you will know about a child. I try not to get too hung up on what it says in the files. Most of the time the worse cases in print are not really as complicated as they may seem at first reading. Usually until you put a face to the file you will not remember much of it. I usually read it over and put the goals and objectives on to my data sheets I use for recording information from therapy sessions. This goal sheet is what I use when I do scheduling for therapy sessions because it is easier to manage a one page synopsis when scheduling and making groups. I use a simple excel template for each child. I update the sheet as new IEP goals are written annually. The 1st year involved a lot of time to put them together. After that I’ve saved them from year to year and it has saved me a lot of time and effort as I only need to do the new students.
I do not start seeing children for the first week of school. The scheduling often changes after that first week and I found myself making too many changes. A lot of kids need to become comfortable with their classmates and schedules anyway. I spend the first day in the kindergarten room. They always benefit from a few extra hands to get kids settled and parents assured that Johnny can do without them. The rest of the week is spent organizing the schedule, getting meetings set for new move ins, and checking on kids I haven’t seen since last spring that may be ready to test out. I try to have everyone scheduled for services by the second week.
If anyone wants to chime in and give words of advice that would be helpful. You can use the comment button. I need to approve comments to prevent spamming, so you may not see it immediately, but no worries as long as you aren’t spam.