I recently guest blogged over at Meredith's blog at Diary of a First Year Teacher. I shared with her readers 10 tips for special education teachers. If you are a new teacher, I hope you learn something to take with you for that first year. I'm not going to lie, it is tough. If you a seasoned teacher, maybe these are a reminder for you. Either way, enjoy! Let me know if you learn something or if you have advice to add, leave me a comment!
1. Read those IEPs and psychological reports
Do you want to know who you kids are? Read their reports and IEP! These two very important documents give you (almost) all of the information you will need about your students. I say 'almost' because you can get so much great information from the paperwork, but some of the best information you will get on the students will come from the student's previous teachers and their parents! (More on this in a minute) As far as getting all of the pertinent information you will need the child's due process folder is the place to go. Oh, and don't just read...take notes! That's what 'good readers' do, right?! :) I suggest writing down the student's category of disability, due dates, minutes and location of services, related services, goals, and any information that is of extra special importance (behavior, programming, special transportation, etc).
2. Meet the Parents
Take the time to send a note, postcard, make a phone call, use a carrier pigeon ;) Just make contact with the parents. I have to admit that I used to be kind of nervous about calling parents, until I became one. I know that I want to know my children's teachers, so I figure other parents must feel the same way. Your students are going to know their child's classroom teacher, but are they going to know you? Make sure they do. Introduce yourself! You are taking care of their precious child's most unique needs. They deserve to know that someone qualified is watching out for and creating materials that will make their child be successful.
3. Prepare Materials
After you have gathered information from paperwork and people, now is the time to prepare the materials you will need to make successful programming for your students. Some of your students may have sensory needs, need a visual schedule, or a behavior plan. Have something prepared for the first day, so the students know your expectations and are started off on the right foot. Remain flexible though, what you prepared may need some tweaking after you meet the child in person.
This leads me to #4...
4. Be Flexible
This should probably be numero uno! Special education teachers should take a class in flexibilty. Schedules, students, due dates, are constantly changing. You have to hang in there and roll with the punches. Find a way to get organized so when the times get tough, you are able to bend with change! I can not tell you how many times I changed my schedule last year to accomodate different needs, gaining students, losing students, etc. I have learned the best laid plans can come to an end quickly when someone starts having a meltdown at 8am or forgets to take their medication and you find out about it at lunchtime! Just keep a level head and go with the flow!
5. Work WITH Your Co-Teachers
One thing that is difficult for some teachers is to go into a classroom of another teacher. Some people welcome you with open arms and others feel like you are cramping their space. My advice is to feel the person out, find out their teaching strategy, study their classroom management and then figure out where your personality and strengths will fit in. I do not want to go in and take over another teacher's classroom, I want to feel like I belong there and feel wanted and needed. Saying that, you do have to be upfront with your co-teachers and ask what they are comfortable with. See if your coteacher wants you to have huge, medium, or small part in the classroom. Just remember to keep the kids in mind first of all.
6. It's All About the Kids
Seriously! It is! Don't get caught up in the 'adult' junk! If what you are doing is not for the kids then is it worth doing. Do everything with the students in mind, not yourself!
7. Is This Eternally Significant?
Some "seasoned" teacher friends of mind always would say, "Is this (event, test, project) eternally signficant?" If it is isn't, then is in worth getting worked up over? Probably not. Keep things in perspective. Remember not to take things to personally, especially with "our" students. There will be days of meltdowns and tantrums, but so many times the meltdown isn't about you or even school at all. Keep a level head, take a deep breath, stay calm and deal with situation. This to shall pass.
8. Get Organized
Purchase a big desk calendar, and at the beginning of the year, write down all of your annual review due dates, re-evaluation due dates, and any other important dates. Make sure you look at this calendar daily and know what is coming up. Don't get behind, because there is no catching up!
9. Get Organized #2
Find a monitoring system that works for you. Everyone is different and monitoring of IEP goals can be accomplished 5000 different ways. I like to use an excel document to plot my probe percentages that I gather from curriculum based measures, rubrics, and other assessments. Find your way!
10. Document, document, document & Save
In special ed, "they" say, "If it isn't written down, it didn't happen." Document everything! Parent phone calls, meeting notes, co-teacher conversations, work samples...everything! Save that documentation and also save work samples. You will need these at some point in your career. I like to keep my documentation in a binder that is tabbed for each student. I keep work samples in a file folder box with a lid. Each student has a labeled hanging file folder that stores weekly work samples for each IEP goal.
*And a BONUS*
Become One with the Paperwork
Since I first mentioned becoming a special education teacher, people have groaned and told me that it is so much paperwork. They weren't kidding! There is a lot of paperwork. You have to find a way to stay on top of it (maybe that's why I have 2 tips for being organized)! I like to make one afternoon about logging in my monitoring probes and filing paperwork. If you don't do it, then you will be spending so much time at the end of the year filing and worrying. Don't do that to yourself. Get a system! :)
I hope you have a wonderful new school year!