Must Know, Good to Know, Tips, and Ideas for New Special Education Teachers
It’s mid-August and many of you are probably getting ready for the new school year. If you’re a new teacher, it may seem overwhelming. I know that’s how it felt to me! I remember spending the summer creating visuals and activities and buying lots of cool stuff for my classroom. And of course, reading and re-reading all my IEP’s and kinda freaking out.
When I walked into my classroom for the first time I realized how unprepared I was, especially after peeking into veteran classroom teacher’s rooms that were already set up and looking incredible. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to hang background paper on my bulletin boards, and ended up spending the good part of a whole, valuable morning on this task. So, if you are anywhere near overwhelmed as I was, this blog is for you! Here are all the tips that I wish I had had…except for papering the boards. I never really got the knack for that one!
Click here to download a free checklist, (without the details) of all suggestions from this post.
I. First and foremost: Get to know your students! *
- Read and re-read the IEP’s.
- Review testing data and progress notes
- Mark calendar for IEP and Re-evaluation dates
- Make a list of accommodations (see https://www.pinterest.com/pin/84935142958500201/ This pin actually is for a binder that has just about any form you could want)
- Make a list of services (speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy) and note who the teacher is for each (see https://www.pinterest.com/pin/49680402119440085/ )
- Meet the general education teacher, discuss the student’s needs, your expectations and the expectations of the general education teacher. (stay tuned for my blog post on this topic)
- Make sure each service provider (and the general education teacher, PE, Music and Librarian) has the student’s IEP. Make sure they are aware of all accommodations for that student.
- Talk with your IT person, or whoever it is that provides assistive technology for your students. (If you don’t know, ask one of you special ed colleagues.) It’s best to have all devices ready to go on the first day of school. If you don’t know how to use them, be sure to ask for help before the students arrive!
* You can either make one chart that lists each student’s information (IEP dates, Services, Accommodations, Gen Ed teacher) or you can make a chart for each student. Either way, I recommend consolidating the information in one place rather than always having to refer back to the IEP.
II. Layout the room, considering the following criteria:
- Large group instruction
- Small group instruction
- 1:1 instruction
- Assigned seats vs. unassigned seats
- Quiet area and/or reading/book area
- Safety (think about runners, throwers, students who put things in their mouth, students who need the opportunity to move around etc.)
- Computers (these are often best left covered with a sheet when not in use, just fyi)
- Parking” area for wheelchairs, walkers, etc.
- Cubbies (though these are usually fixed in place)
- Desks, if you are using them, should face the SmartBoard or whiteboard. To minimize distractions, it’s good to have high interest items (computers, toys etc.) positioned behind the desks.
- Supplies. This is a big one for the self-contained classroom as we seem to have more supplies than other classrooms. Clear plastic containers with contents written, on the outside, stacked on shelves, is one favorite method. Rolling carts are great, just make sure that you invest a little money in one, because cheap ones fall apart quickly and can be very frustrating. (Does it sound like I had one of these?) Cupboards are great if you have them, but remember to leave a space for your assistants and yourself to store your personal items. You might want a lock for this cupboard.
III. Wall and hall space
- Visuals, visuals, visuals! Identify areas and objects with visuals and name tags as appropriate
- Have an inviting calendar area that could include a weather chart, job chart, interesting things about a unit you are doing, daily schedule, and behavior chart
- Rules of the classroom should be prominently displayed in an area where you can review daily or as necessary
- Instructional visuals (number line, shapes, word wall, alphabet, depending on your student’s level). Please be sure that the visuals are age appropriate!
- Other visuals (see https://enable2learn.com/serenity-now/ )
- Thematic bulletin boards. I always had a “Superstar Board” where I would hang the best work of students. They loved it!
- Don’t make the walls too busy, but do hang instructional information in such a way that you and the students can touch/point to items on them.
- Emergency information. You will probably have them hanging near the door of your classroom. It is your responsibility to review these (know where your class goes in a fire drill) and to have an up to date class list. I always also included the class schedule so that I would know where the “missing” students were. Add this to the file once you have one.
- In many elementary schools the door leading into the classroom is often decorated with a slogan and the name of each student. Go online and be inspired as there are so many great ideas out there.
IV. Building a community
- Have a formal meeting with your assistants. A strong relationship and understanding of expectations on both sides is extremely important. If they have worked with these students in previous years they can give you invaluable insights and information about strategies that work, likes and dislikes, friendships and other dynamics within the group and more. Be clear about what your expectations are and ask for feedback from them. Find out what they think their strengths and weaknesses are, and take this into consideration when you start giving assignments. Stress the point that you will be working as a team.
- Get to know the other special education teachers. You will almost definitely have at least one group meeting prior to the beginning of the school year. Ask them what resources they use, what tips they can give you for scheduling IEP’s, what the strengths and challenges might be with the administration…whatever you can think of to ask. Suggest you make a monthly informal meeting to discuss new ideas, strategies, programs or problems. (see https://enable2learn.com/serenity-now/ )
- Start thinking about how you will group your students for instruction based on their educational and behavioral needs.
- As mentioned in I. 5, 6, and 7, know all the teachers you will be working with. Try to spend 10-15 minutes with each and ask how you can support them and what kind of support you will be looking for. For example, I had it set up that I would bring students to their destination (speech, general education classroom etc.) and they would bring them back to me. That way I never had to remember to pick up a student, and if a buddy system is used it’s an opportunity for you student to socialize.
- Write a friendly letter introducing yourself to the parents, giving them your e-mail and school phone number. Many schools require this type of letter be approved by the principal before you send it out. See next section for what you might want to include with the letter.
V. For the parents
- Make a list of required school supplies. Often students in self-contained classrooms do not bring any school supplies or they bring items that are not appropriate. It’s okay to request tissues, hand sanitizer, jumbo glue sticks, pencil grips and so forth. If they will need it, ask for it! If you’ve ever seen the list that comes from the general education classrooms you will know what I’m talking about.
- Decide how you will be communicating with parents, note in journal, daily note home (see https://enable2learn.com/tools/behavior/ ), weekly note, or whatever method you plan to use. You can mention this in your letter of introduction.
- Decide if you will be having snack time (highly recommended-so many skills can be targeted around social eating), and if so, request that parents send along a healthy snack each day. Be prepared for those students who do not bring anything. If you can afford it, keep some graham crackers and/or pretzels on hand.
So, that’s all I’ve got! I hope you find it helpful and check out my next blog post with suggestions for the first day and week(s) of school. Good luck!