Scheduling Tips and Strategies for Itinerant Teachers

Making my schedule might be the most stressful part of my school year. I get my caseload and immediately feel the pressure to get every student scheduled as fast as I can, mind you my students are in different buildings, grade levels and districts. So there lies the issue-how do I get it all to work?

I have started to look at my schedule as a quest, a game, a challenge-making magic happen on paper.

Once Upon a Time

I used to schedule my students in a very different way. I would run around and collect all the kids/teachers/bell schedules. Go home, lay them out on my dining room table and CRY. Depending on the year I would have at least half a dozen different schedules. I know all teachers have their struggles, but only an itinerant teacher will understand why this mess of schedules might cause tears.

Is it the schedules? The students? The teachers?

No it is the immense pressure I put on myself to make sure it is perfect, it is right for each student, it works for the classroom teachers & therapists and it all fits with safe travel time. So, with all of these factors swimming around in my head I would sit there and pencil my heart out. Multiple schedules were probably made because some email or factor to consider would pop up and I would adjust, readjust and adjust once more. This was very stressful and not the way I wanted to start my year, so this planning princess needed to change her September story. Battle Plan

Possibilities & Priorities

When I receive my caseload sheet I try to remind myself that all of these students will fit in my day and I will try my best to give them the best time possible for them-not me. I am the grown up and I can suck it up. It will all work out even if I can not see it from a list of names and locations…it will all fall into place.

  • How many students do I have/session times/consults?
  • How many buildings/locations- can I put students back to back in locations?
  • Grade levels-I find high school and middle school are more difficult to schedule.
  • Is this student new to me OR a former student?
  • Do I know the building? Teachers? Guidance Counselors?

After I answer these questions I arm myself with tools to make this process quick, efficient, and as painless as possible.

Scheduling Toolbox

These are the things I bring to make this quest for paper perfection lighter and easier.

  • Folder-to hold all of the information I get from teachers
  • Pencil-nothing is permanent yet
  • Eraser- this is self explanatory
  • Highlighter- I highlight blocks that are more difficult to move or accommodate
  • Legal Pad- I have found this is my favorite type of paper to create my initial schedule. Size matters here.
  • Sticky notes-to write comments and leave information with teachers
  • Schedules- Some years I reach out to guidance counselors and get older students schedules in advance. This way I can see or start to place them in the schedule first. I put my littles around these times.

With all of these things in my bag, I set forth with a smile and a positive attitude.

Setting the Stage for Success

If I have a sense of where I am going and who I am working with I can start to mentally lay out how to see my students. I try to think about personalities, ages, levels/abilities, frequency, and programming. If everything is new to me I feel as if I am going in blind, but I keep that smile and pep in my step. Everyone is stressed out in the first week of school. No one wants a negative, drama queen at their door demanding times.

  • Never PROMISE a teacher a time -too soon
  • Be as flexible as you can
  • Remember they are possibly struggling too
  • Ask about block schedules, specials, other therapies and just terrible times that won’t work for them.
  • Consider travel

If I can I will pencil a student into a square (putting travel in above and below the student session time). I will tell the teacher that the time seems OK for now, but once I start scheduling other students I might need to adjust-so I always ask for a back up time that could work….maybe not be the first choice, but can happen.

After I am done in each building I go out to my car and look at what I just received or was told. I look at how this new information can fit into the legal size puzzle I am generating. I will write in times/students that seem to have tighter schedules, so when I travel to the next teacher I can present less times. I find most teachers look at my folder and legal pad with shock and horror. They often piety me running around like the gingerbread girl, trying to make magic happen, and they will work with me on fitting a kiddo in. I want to be clear about this…I allow a teacher to see the “schedule”, but I do not let them have power of the pencil and tell me where I am putting our student. One year it seemed as if all my elementary teachers wanted the same time. It’s just not possible. I have a whole day to fill, so this is where the highlighter comes in….I start to block out times. They pop off the page.

Making Magic Happen

After I have all the schedules, comments and information needed, I sit down in a comfortable place-typically the couch and with wand (pencil) in one hand and coffee in the other I start to make magic.

  • Make sure you have all the students accounted for
  • Travel Time
  • Lunch
  • Planning/prep
  • Log Notes/Data Time
  • Consults

I find that writing out my students in a list and noting their frequency is very helpful. I will tally up or count them in my rough schedule. Nothing worse than thinking Sally is seen 2 times a week and really she is 3 times a week….been there!

Make sure the travel time is safe and realistic. You need to pack up, put on a coat, talk to a teacher and maybe….just maybe use the bathroom. Don’t schedule the times so tight you can’t breathe. I have done this for various reasons over the years and it never is good. By June I am beat up and cursing myself.

Eat lunch. I say this because it is important. So many of us eat on the run and this is not healthy. I am not suggesting where you eat, but just eat. All of the classroom teachers get a lunch and they typically take it. I find that itinerants sacrifice this very basic need to make everyone else’s life better. Self care my friends….EAT! You deserve that 30 minutes.

Abracadabra

Once I have this draft schedule completed I typically feel good. I know that it could have changes. Sometimes a teacher forgets, has their schedule change or I made a mistake in my planning. I tell myself that this is still fluid and I will try my best to accommodate possible changes. I also tell myself I can tell a teacher no. As itinerants we are running all over and sometimes a change can not work. Other students and people are counting on us to stick to the plan. I am a people pleaser, so this is hard for me, but I can not change multiple schedules around to accommodate one, especially if it is due to a preference not a real scheduling issue.

After a week of running this rough schedule I will make adjustments if needed and then put PEN to paper….well really fingers to a key board. I type up my final schedule and send it to my supervisor. I love this moment. After 2 weeks of stressing and smiling I can take a breath. I realize that students can drop and add throughout the year and what looks magical in September may be different in June, but in that moment I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Being an itinerant teacher takes a special type of person. We some how make it work-year after year. I think if we remain flexible, positive, realistic and passionate magic can happen.

Leave a comment, share your scheduling ideas….I would love to hear from you.

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