This is one of the toughest school years I've had in a long long long long time. It just doesn't STOP!! First we had a very very short summer school session (4 hours a day for 16 days in June), and while that is better than nothing it KILLED my kids. We were still in recovery mode into November and had just started moving forward again when Christmas break hit followed by crazy inconsistencies in the schedule due to weather, inservices, and days off. BLEGH! Then for some reason this year my para staff has been extremely unstable. We started off the year with 5 students, 3 paras and myself, and we needed a 4th para. My favorite para of all time left us in the spring but was able to come back in September. All is well, right? WRONG! Here's the run down: I started the year minus Para A but Para B and Para C returned and we inherited Para D. We were still one para short. Then Para A returned in September (fully staffed at this point) and we added another student (oops, need another para). Para C left the first of October (make that 2). Hired Para E to replace Para C. Para D's deficiencies became very obvious at this point and I started gathering the plethora of information required to terminate a para in our agency. Still one para short here. Then Para C was able to return after Thanksgiving (yay! fully staffed!) and ended up resigning again almost before she (re)started (boo! so done with that!). During the process of terminating Para D, she decided to walk out and not return two weeks before break (yay! the stress level in the room went waaaaay down even being so short handed) leaving us again short 2 paras. Hired Para F to replace Para D with a January start date (now short 1 para). Meanwhile Para B had a family emergency that required her to take a 4+ week leave in mid-January and to have to work half days for a few weeks after that (back to being short 2 paras). And Para F is in nursing school so has class two afternoons a week. I am now in the process of hiring Para F to re-replace Para C, but she also has college classes so is only available the second half of the day most days (which, incidentally, is when we really need the help; plus she's in school for music therapy so how awesome is that?). Confused much?
We gained two new students this year, for the first time in almost 5 years. One was expected (moved up from elementary school) and one was a surprise ("we just had a family move in to our district and one of their kids is one of 'your' kids; they'll be there this afternoon to enroll and they don't have time to meet with you to discuss their very complex daughter and we don't have the IEP yet and they want her to start tomorrow"). WHAT?!?!?! This was the day after I had taken custody of our new three-month-old son and was planning to work half days for a couple of weeks while integrating him into our family, loving on our then-17-month-old daughter, and dealing with the very very needy three-year-old living with us at the time. I was only at school that day because ALL my IEPs were scheduled for September and I needed to do paperwork and my home computer was dead. So ended up waiting all day for the family to show, baby in tow. Thanks to a snafu from the sending district they didn't show for 3 more weeks. We DID get the intake meeting (yay) but I lost out on hiring a potentially awesome para who was also an LPN who could have handled all the (extensive) medical issues arising in my program (boo!).
The months of August and September were entirely blown with IEP meetings, court hearings (I had three, one of the paras had one for her child), numerous doctor appointments and other planned absences, and chronic short-staffedness. I don't think the kids noticed, however, as they were all still struggling with summer break recovery. I have had times before where I felt like we were barely treading water, but we were in full out drowning mode until December. And now we are into state assessment season, which requires more of my time to do paperwork than to work with students. And it seems the more paras I hire the more staff absences we have. UGH!! And I'm not even going to go into the nightmare dealing with the transportation departments of five different districts has been (I know you can't please all of the people all of the time, but COME ON! Give me a break already!). Or the extreme challenge of dealing with a difficult team member once a week who is constantly finding fault with something we do (or don't do). Certainly hasn't made it easier to fight my very strong desire to just stay home with my babies (oh, if only I could afford to do that and could bear to leave "my" kids at school and the program I've worked so hard to develop). To say I've been a bit unmotivated to be innovative and creative is putting it lightly. Thus the reason for no blogs since, what? June? July? I never really understood "burn out" before. And no, I don't think I'm suffering from that malady, but I can certainly see where it comes from. I've been doing this for 16 years, year-round, with almost no extensive breaks but I still love my job (mostly). God called me to this work and thus far I've had it fairly easy. He's putting me to the test right now and I just need to have the patience and fortitude to work it through (breathe in, breathe out).
It hasn't been entirely awful, though, and we have had quite a bit of fun along with the headaches. We did a literature study on Nim's Island which was very enjoyable and are now deep into learning about pirates while reading Fish (great book with lots and lots of potential for extensive lessons in all subject areas). We did another Mad Science party. We found some fun new paras to liven the place up. We had a penguin party. Several of the kids are succeeding with new communication systems (when they choose to talk to us anyway) and learning programs. We are excited to be getting expanded digs in the forseeable future (right now we feel rather like sardines and I'm slated to get two more students; they'd like for me to have them now but I just don't have space for them). Now that "grouchy para" has left we spend more time laughing than complaining/grousing/moping/being miserable. It's mid-February and while we've only touched the tip of the state assessment iceberg, that's also just a few weeks until spring break and shortly after that the end of regular school (I have no idea if we will even have summer school, how long it will be, or where, but we'll cross that bridge after we hurdle state assessments). We are excited to be doing a pirate party when we finish our current literature study. As far as state assessments, my high schoolers are almost to the point of NEVER HAVING TO TAKE THEM AGAIN! They will all have two to do next year then they are DONE DONE DONE!! So that work load will go down tremendously, just in time for all the changes I know 2014 will bring. My oldest student (homebound) is graduating this spring so we'll have some fun planning a celebration for him too.
I'm not going to promise to blog more. Life is just too overwhelming right now for me to make any more commitments. But I'll try to drop a line now and then. I hope some of you who used to follow me are still out there somewhere. Those rare comments really mean a lot (except for you spammers; you are just a bunch of bummers getting me all excited about someone liking my blog then turning out to be junk and can stay away!).