Donors Choose

If you have been teaching in a public school, hopefully you are aware of the website donorschoose.org.

I’ll admit it…I think my colleagues think of me as some kind of Donors Choose hoarder.  During the beginning of the past two school years, it seems like I have a stream of packages coming in to our main office with my name on it.  Someone always has some sort of comment, whether it’s signifying they’re impressed or weirded out.  Maybe they suspect I have some sort of school supplies sugar daddy or something?  Sometimes I feel sort of weird, but then I think, why should I?  Our kids has very specific and unique needs, which are challenging to meet the limited amount of supplies we are allocated in our school.  Why would I let my kids go without when there are people who are very willing to help?

With 22 completed projects under my belt, I would love to share some of the little gems I have learned along the way:

Think big or basic
What could make your teaching better?  You could really think either way.  I have found some people really love projects that are not the typical when it comes to classroom materials (for example, I had a project for cooking supplies funded in less than a month).  Try to think outside of the box of what people think when they think of proper classroom supplies.  On the other hand, you might find there’s a need for really basic materials (binders, Velcro, etc).  If you need basics, ask for the basics (for once, its okay to be basic).\

Pack some punch
To me, nothing is worse than a teacher that writes a boring project description (im scared to imagine what your okcupid profile looks like).  How the heck are you going to get people excited to drop money when you barely sound excited about the project?  Put that high school creative writing class to work and make your description sound somewhat interesting. Make a couple of lame jokes, and don’t be afraid to use some exclamation point when appropriate). Also, make sure you keep in mind your target  audience is (usually it’s not others in the education field).  Don’t forget to think up a snazzy title.

Thank your donors

Take a moment to say thank you whenever someone donates.  People love donating to classroom projects but they love it even more when they are personally thanked.  Include their name (if they are not anonymous), and make sure you use some variety so that your project page is not just a wall of “Thanks!”

Get low

I know it’s really tempting to add a bunch of stuff to your Amazon shopping cart and call it a day, but please, try to keep your cart low.  A goal of $500 is way easier to meet than a goal of $2000, and people get dissuaded when they see a project still needs $1500 to meet the goal.  If necessary, you can always divide your one big project in to two small projects.  Even if only one gets funded, it’s better to have some of the stuff you requested than nothing at all.

Have you ever used Donors Choose?  What have you received?  What tips do you have for new users?

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Preparing for the Beginning of School when you Actually Have No Time

My school has never had the luxury of going back a week early or even coming in on our own free will.  This year, our orientation days got cut from 2 to 1.  YIKES.  In my first years of teaching, I think I had trouble understand what was most important to get situated during the beginning of the year.  This lead to me always having these grand ideas about enters and schedules, just to get throw to the wayside when they year started getting to hectic.  I think no matter how much time or how organized you are, the beginning of the year can feel really frantic.  Since my colleagues and I are going to be super limited going back, I’m really trying to think of the most time sensitive and most important things that NEED to be done.

Centers- set up your centers using any bookshelves or dividers you can get your hands on.  Don’t worry if the shelves are left barren for the first week or so, it is just important to get your centers situated so you can move on to number 2.

Scheduling- make a bare bones schedule of how the class is going to run.  It’s a good idea to get the students in to some sort of routine, even if it’s not going to stay the exact way.  Don’t worry about the schedule being perfect, your paras and students will not get mad at you.  Plus, if you have never set up a really detailed schedule, this can also be a good opportunity to get your students and staff in the swing of working this way.

Work- I die a little inside when I see other teachers who think they need to drive in to heavy academics the first week of school.  Don’t do it!  The IEP goal work and assessments can wait.  You, your staff, and especially your students have enough going on without the demands of challenging work.  Throw a few file folders, work tasks and easy worksheet (heck, even coloring and word searches are okay in my book).

Pairing- You didn’t all the sudden become close with your bff’s when your first met, did you?  Relationship take time to build, and the relationships between your students and staff are no different.  It’s fine to just play with your guys the first week of school in order for them to pair you with reinforcement.  Have some reinforcing items at yours station- toys, sensory items, even food.  Don’t be afraid to give out freebies.  You want your students to understand that good stuff happens when you’re around.  I have heard countless stories of students and staff that just didn’t get along, and a little pairing is what made the difference between really struggling with a student.  Do it now before there can be any issues!

Reinforcement systems- Whether it’s a class token economy or something invidualized a student’s behavior intervention plan, set up those systems.  Coming from experience, it’s way easier to implement something right away for the class than try to do so.  Worse comes to worse, you can always tweak it if necessary.

Thank your staff- Make sure you thank your staff at the end of the day.  The beginning of the year is crazy for anything involved, and I am always so impressed with how flexible and understanding paras tend to be.  It’s a good habit to get in to, because just like our kiddos, they need reinforcement too.

My first post

Welcome to The Autism Vault blog.  My name is Liz and I teach middle school students with autism in New York City.  I live in Brooklyn with my husband Rob and our three cats- Spooky, Trudee, and Scrambles.  I am currently working on completing the necessary requirements to sit for the BCBA exam in early 2016.