I've been working as a Special Education Itinerant Teacher in NYC for one month and these are the major points I've learned:
1) AN AGENCY IS A BUSINESS FIRST AND FOREMOST. If you are looking for that "school setting" type support, you won't find it at the agency. They are looking to maximize profit and if you are lucky, you're one among many providers on their list. You're seen as a commodity and asset to cover one of their many cases, which provide profit for them. I don't want to rail against agencies, they are providing an important service to special needs children. And there are small agencies out there that do their best for each, individual case. However, I've learned that the things I was promised during my initial interview rarely came true. Assurances of the amount of case work, full-time vs part-time, support from staff is very much dependent on how large the agency is. The bigger the agency, the more you'll be on your own. Beware, if the deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.
2) MAKE FRIENDS WITH OTHER SEITS. They are a source of support and you will learn a great deal from them. SEIT work is an isolating experience and you don't have the network of other teachers and administrators that you will find at another school. You can learn from other SEITS - contacts with their agencies, their experience in the field, suggestions on materials. Also, if your student has socialization objectives on their IEPs, you can work with another SEIT and their student. Two heads are better than one!
3) SCHEDULING, SCHEDULING, SCHEDULING. It was a hard lesson for me. September and October are dead months in the work of a new SEIT. Senior SEITs get their schedules filled up first and you will be panicked for work by October. I made the mistake of taking on whatever came in first and due to poor planning, I'm left commuting 4 hours a day on a 20hr caseload. I have trouble taking on more cases because I spend so much of my time traveling! Also, keep in mind the block of time most preschools have for lunch and nap. They usually range from 2-2.5 hours and during those times, you will not be able to provide services. The only thing you can do is take on a home case (which I decided not to during my first year) or take a really long break. You'll want to try to schedule your cases in the same neighborhood and if you're lucky you might get a few cases in the same school. You'll have a tighter schedule and opportunities to take on more cases. Also, don't be afraid to annoy your agency on the availability of more cases. They won't know unless you speak up.
4) SEIT WORK IS 60% PROVIDING SERVICES, 20% PAPERWORK, AND 20% NEGOTAITING. The majority of your time will be spent providing direct services and finding activities and lesson plans that will best support your student. The painful part is organizing all the paperwork you have to do, particularly around quarterlies and annual reviews. I found that at least one day of my weekend was devoted to next week's lesson plans, filling out session notes, reviewing timesheets, reports and other things I let slide during the week. One of the biggest parts of working as a SEIT is just like any other classroom teacher. I spend a large amount of time and energy serving as the link between the parents, classroom teachers, and administrators. Many parents in NYC are not aware of how to advocate for their children in regards to getting their child the correct services. Another set of parents may be in denial with their child and refuse services by not sending their children to school. It is up to you to advocate for your student as best as you can and educate parents on the world of special education.
5) DON'T DRIVE YOURSELF CRAZY IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO AT FIRST. I tend to worry incessantly when I first take on a case. It's overwhelming to step into an unfamiliar classroom or home. Spend the first week or two adjusting to the environment and learning about your students. His likes, dislikes, triggers, learning styles. The time you spend observing is valuable and will give you clues on what your next steps should be. You may feel like you're doing nothing, but you'll be suprised at what your prescence and support alone can accomplish during those first few weeks.
5b) IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO....REASEACH. The web can offer you many tips on how to address the specific areas of your case. I am a relatively new teacher and I will be the first to say that I don't have a wealth of experience behind me to automatically know what to do. I use other teachers, SEIT and Google to help me along. For instance, if your student has difficulty with reading comprehension, there is a wealth of articles out there that will help break down what comprehension entails and offer you tips on how to address it. Being a SEIT and teacher is all about survival. Survival to the next week, month, winter/ spring break. If something doesn't work out, don't beat yourself up about it. Try another tactic, your students will forgive you.