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How to be a Successful Special Education Contractor
Contract work is a great opportunity for Texas Special Education professionals who want a flexible career or want to make some extra money. Licensed Specialists in School Psychology, Educational Diagnosticians, Speech Language Pathologists, and Occupational Therapists can easily find contract opportunities throughout Texas, especially during busy times of year. Contractors can provide services to schools on a regular basis, one or more days per week, or they may help schools by completing evaluations on an as needed basis. Either way works well for all involved. Contractors get the flexibility and income they need, and schools with staff shortages get their needs met. Schools may find contractors via agencies, or they may contract directly with individuals.
Whether you decide to contract on your own or through an agency such as Specialized Assessment & Consulting, here are a few helpful suggestions regarding how to be a successful Special Education contractor in Texas.
Contract work is not for beginners! You should have at least 2 years of professional experience before attempting contract work. If you are an LSSP, you should be proficient at both psychological assessment and psycho-educational assessment. Expect that many of your assessment requests will involve AU/PDD spectrum disorders. All contractors are expected to be knowledgeable of current assessment trends and techniques, which can vary from school to school. Be aware that schools often hold contractors to very high standards and expect above average quality reports. Be honest with yourself and others about your areas of competence, and seek assistance from colleagues or additional continuing education to build your skills and knowledge.
Be an Excellent Communicator
Communication skills are essential. Each school, district and charter has their own culture, policies and procedures. Special Education contractors should be aware of these characteristics and comply with school, district and charter standards as well as best practices and legal mandates.
As you conduct assessments or other services, stay in close contact with district assessment staff, teachers, parents and administrators. Clear communication with key team members prevents misunderstandings and facilitates consensus for later IEP planning.
Before you get in your car to go to a campus, make sure you have made contact with campus staff to let them know you are coming and to verify they have place for you to test. Make sure campus administrators know that you are visiting their building as a guest to perform a service. Check with the assessment person to make sure all information you need is copied and ready for pickup. Call parents prior to the day of testing to schedule an interview and/or to assure that the student will be in attendance.
Confidentiality is always important and extends beyond just student information. Do not speak about one school, district or charter to another one. Always speak in positive terms when communicating with parents about their child’s district.
Use Current Technology
If your technology skills are weak, now is the time to brush up. Contractors should have a smart phone with email and text messaging capabilities and know how to use it. The days of catching people in their office or leaving messages with secretaries are just about gone. When going to a new campus, try to quickly understand the most effective methods of communication. Often, there will be a staff member willing to share their mobile number or a front office person that is easy to catch via phone. Other staff may be hard to catch via phone but will respond quickly via email or text messaging.
TIP: Be cautious when emailing confidential information to a school. Consider asking for an email you can reply to in order to assure it goes to the right person. Remember to use initials or an ID number when referring to students.
Current knowledge of word processors and computer operation are essential. Almost all assessment instruments have scoring software programs. If you are still scoring by hand, you are wasting time. If your word processing skills are below par, consider taking some basic courses. Knowledge of special education IEP and ARD software is a huge advantage. Contractors are often asked to interface with district IEP and ARD management software.
Practice Perfect Interpersonal Skills
Top notch interpersonal skills are a must for contract workers. Contractors enter schools as total strangers, so they must have the ability to quickly form working relationships with key school staff members. Once you understand which people are involved in your case, you should staff your case with them and work to build a consensus regarding your recommendations. The easiest way to fail as a contractor is to make a few people angry. Remember that word travels quickly in school systems. If it gets around that you are not a team player, then requests for your services will quickly dwindle.
Keep a calendar, show up when you are scheduled, and don’t take on too much work. Contractors sometimes think they are free to come and go as they please, which may be technically correct; however, school staff and parents have very specific schedules. It is essential that you keep appointments. Cancelling a meeting at the last minute or not showing up is a quick way to get a bad reputation. Also, keep in mind that schools need evaluations finished within certain timelines. Make sure that you leave some room in your schedule, so that any unexpected event does not throw all of your work out of timeline. Also, be aware that schools often contract out evaluations that are already overdue. It is perfectly acceptable to help with these, just make sure that you document that someone has approved going over the timeline.
Consider Contracting Through an Agency
Contracting through and agency such as Specialized Assessment & Consulting has several advantages. As an independent contractor without an agency, there are lots of tasks you may not want to deal with. Negotiating contracts, marketing, purchasing equipment and making sure you always have work are a few of the things that an agency can assist with. Our goal at Specialized Assessment & Consulting is to make it easy for people to do contract work. With Specialized staff working full time to bring in work, negotiating and maintaining contracts and often providing equipment, contractors can focus on doing the assessment. Working for an agency also makes it easy to stop and start contracting, since other contractors can step in when you are getting overwhelmed or simply need a break.