Creating a Schedule and Dealing with Interruptions

July 28, 2018 6 min read

Post #1 in Blog Series: “Self Contained Class Sample Schedules”

I don’t know if you agree, but I’ve always thought that determining the daily schedule is the hardest part of teaching, especially in special ed when you have very individualized needs in your class that need to be served.  Scheduling always seemed easier with upper grades since students typically changed classes throughout the day (I didn’t have a self-contained class when I taught high school special ed students).  However, I taught elementary special ed for over 10 years and our schedule had to change multiple times a year due to many reasons. I know this can be especially intimidating for my new teacher friends, but I have to admit it is still one of the things I think about all summer long.

Tip #1: Even after teaching for many years, I don’t expect to have my schedule perfect on the first day or first week of school. However, on the other hand, it is a must to have some type of schedule on the first day of school. It’s better when I expect that it will change, and prepare my paras for the change… then it won’t be so frustrating when it happens. For example, I always try to start sending my students to their inclusion class the first day, but sometimes that can’t be started until the second week. Plus, I may not know the exact day/time certain kids will have additional services such as speech, PE, OT, APE, OI, etc. until after the first week. And then there will be those times when you get 3 new students in one week. There will always be interruptions!

Tip #2: Things to work on before designing your schedule:

  • Do some research. Determine student grades and all services. Do they need help when they are outside of class (i.e. getting off the bus, in the cafeteria, etc.)? If you can, find out when individual students will go to inclusion/general ed class, speech, OT, APE, OI, etc.
  • Start to make a list of Plan B and Plan C activities you can fall back on in emergencies (i.e. GoNoodle, screen time, special activities you only get out when absolutely needed, i.e. legos, special puzzles, etc.). I actually kept my list right on my desk where I could get to it quickly when there was a last minute change and I literally needed to come up with an activity in minutes. I added to the list all during the year.

Tip #3: Write out as much of your schedule as you know. Start with Start time, class time, recess/break, class time, lunch, class time, school dismissal time. Then start plugging in different times for subjects or small group rotations. Here is an example.

Start with a general schedule listing what and when.

Tip #4: Come up with a schedule for the first couple days of school and the rest of the first week of school. Plan for your schedule to evolve over the first week or two. This is pretty important so please read the second blog post in this series which is all about the schedule for the first two days of school.

Tip #5: Even if you start the year with only 8 students, plan the schedule like you have 12, then it will be easier when a new student arrives (I didn’t figure this out until my fourth year teaching a self-contained class!)

Tip #6: I have always used centers/stations in my multi-grade class so I start that right away as I teach expectations, routines, and rules using games, and review activities. We don’t get into the full schedule doing academics until perhaps the third week. However, every year is different and this is just what has worked for me. Or you can read through these ideas and figure out what will work for you and your population. The more kids you have to begin the year, the longer it will take the established routines (so don’t get frustrated when your special ed class isn’t settling down as fast as general ed classes!)

Tip #7: Typically there are special events for the first few days of school. There might be a school-wide welcome back assembly. There might be special school-wide positive behavior training events scheduled at different times.  My favorite (not!) is when the first day back for paras is the same as students, so 1) you can’t plan/train/meet them before students show up, and 2)  they are all pulled out of your class for up to an hour for their training at 9 am. This is why special ed teachers learn to be so flexible!!!  Even if you have the perfect lesson plans, always have a Plan B or C in your back pocket. All I can say is I love GoNoodle more than words can express. (If you don’t know what Go Noodle is, go to the link I provide at the end of this blog post!!) GoNoodle and the computer lab has saved the sanity of my kids and myself on numerous occasions.

Example: After establishing your schedule, when something comes up like an 8:30-9:30 assembly, know how that will affect your schedule. And remember to consider everything from the student’s perspective!  I learned the hard way… So it was early in the school year and we had to stop in the middle of groups to go to an assembly. I wasn’t sure how long the assembly would last, but it ends up we were back in class with 10 minutes before recess. I thought we’d just go to one more group and skip the others. So we tried it and after recess, we were going to move on to the next activity. However, the kids still wanted to finish the groups. A few were ready to have meltdowns over it – I quickly realized the ones starting to meltdown were the ones who didn’t get to do computers/tablets, which is their favorite thing. So we went ahead and finished the groups – only these groups were only 2-3 minutes long. I was thinking I’d still have meltdowns, but I didn’t! The kids were okay because they got their screen time (even if was short). And they kept their routine, more or less. I know that, to me, that still sounds crazy that only 2 minutes of a 15-minute group will pacify the students – but it does with my population.

So here is what I did the next time we had an interruption to our schedule for an assembly.  I shortened all the groups to 10 minutes so we’d get through more of them before the assembly. Then after the assembly, I just divided the remaining time by how many groups were left. Each group got about 5-6 minutes before recess.  And I would still do it if there was only time for 2-minute groups. I guess just having the kids move from group to group gives them closure and the routine they are used to.

Here’s my theory as to what happened: Kids mostly like getting out class to attend a fun assembly, but they hate missing their favorite center/group/station such as computers. However, to me, the most important centers are the ones with adults – teacher time – the time they are actually being taught by myself of my paras, not the independent time when they are on the computer or working on a task box. So I had to think like a kid and realize they’ll be happy even if they only get 2 minutes of their favorite group.  Even though it doesn’t make sense to my adult mind, doing this helped me avoid tantrums in this type of situation for the rest of the year! Then after recess, you are all caught up and continue with the normal schedule for the rest of the day.


I hope this post has given you ideas and things to work on! Click on the links below to continue reading this series. 

In addition, you can get the editable versions of these and all the schedules in my blog series here. I will be adding more schedules to it as I add them to this blog series. The next post will be about your schedule when you are absent and have a substitute teacher.

Ready to move on?  Here are all the blog posts in this series:
Post #1: Creating a Schedule and Dealing with Interruptions (This Post)
Post #2: Schedules for the First Week of School. 
Post #3: Master Rotation Schedule, and What Adults do
Post #4: Schedule/Lesson Plans for a Substitute Teacher.
Post #5: Eight More Schedules
Post #6: Questions and Answers about my Schedules (Including activities and curriculum I’ve used)

You might also like:
Five Time-Saving Tips for New Special Ed Teachers
How to do Morning Meetings/Calendar time in a Multi-Grade Self-Contained Class.

Link to GoNoodle:   Go here to check out GoNoodle!

Use images below to pin this post so you can refer back to it.

How to create a schedule in a special ed classroom. Blog Series.

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