Today is Part 1 in a series of survival tips for the first year special education teacher. It is so hard to navigate the first few weeks of a school year, and multiple that by ten when teaching special education. There is not much learned in undergrad or graduate school that can adequately prepare you for that first year. But there are lots of fabulous seasoned special education teachers that can offer guidance and survival tips. You need to find those special education teachers and ask for help. There is no reason to go it alone or try and reinvent the wheel. I wish I had asked for more help my first year teaching special education, I think I would have avoided ALOT of tears. But I survived and thrived, and you will as well if you implement some of these tips!
1). Always come to school with a plan for the day… and then have a backup plan.
Now of course you should be creating lesson plans or at least a general overview about a week out. But sticking to that exact plan in special education is impossible. Just accept that fact and go with it. Your students will have days where they work hard and understand everything you give them. But there will be many days in between where they do not retain information, your lesson doesn’t go as planned, or maybe behavior gets in the way. It’s okay to go off of your lesson plan. Just have some backup activities. These could even be some learning games and manipulatives that you pull for the duration of the unit, and have sitting in a basket. Maybe a basket of related stories. Just have something you can grab and implement quickly if need be.
2) Save all of your lesson plans.
Now some schools require you keep lesson plans neatly in a binder to be turned in. Some teachers have moved to online lesson planning. I personally loved planbook.com my last few years of teaching. Even if you can’t get it together quite enough to be super organized, at least punch holes and stick them in a binder. This will allow you to have a starting place next year for planning, and know what direction you should be heading in.
3) Figure out an IEP Data collection system that works for you.
And stick with it! Here’s the thing, with all of your student’s and their goals, data has to be collected and reported. This used to be very overwhelming for me until I found a system that worked and was easy for me to use. I figured out how to construct my lesson plans with a built in space for data collection next to their goals. I would mark right on the lesson plan page during the instruction. Then I would take time at the end of the week to transfer this data onto more formal looking collection sheets that were kept in separate binders for each student. Look online, look on Pinterest, ask your fellow teachers how they collect data. Then create one that you think you can stick with. You will appreciate this come data reporting time.
4) Create a cool down/calm down zone in your classroom.
This is such a useful area of your classroom, and you will be surprised how often it is used. Our special kids often have bigger reactions to activites, assignments, or other students than might be appropriate. They need a place to chill before you can try some social stories with them, or even begin to figure out what happened. I would keep an area that had a rug, some beanbag chairs, posters with feelings and calm down routines, maybe some magazines like Lego and American Girl for them to flip through. In the zone was a timer and I taught a calm down routine at the beginning of the year. It went go to the zone, you don’t have to talk about anything, set the timer for 5 minutes, when it goes off we talk about the problem and then get back to work. This way it avoided the area becoming a fun zone.
5) Don’t go crazy buying materials.
It’s easy to want to buy everything you think you made need for the year up front. However with your plans constantly evolving, and students on your caseload changing, materials can very easily go to waste. You will find that something you thought was going to work great, really doesn’t. So make and buy things that are in your short range plans.
6) And on that note, save all your materials that you make.
Laminate them if possible for future use. At the very least come up with a system where you can store materials for separate units. You may find plastic containers are good for holding all the materials for a particular unit, such as 2 digit addition. Put your manipulatives, file folder games, card games, activities all the bin and then pull it out when you need it again.
7) Find other special education teachers that will help support you this first year.
Special education is hard, and also very rewarding. Ask veteran teachers for tips and ideas that have worked for them. Odds are they have had a student like the one you are struggling with. They will be able to offer help or at least a sympathetic ear.
8) If you are fortunate enough to have a paraprofessional, remember to delegate tasks so that your class can run as smooth as possible.
Getting assistance when you’re making materials will help the process go a lot more quickly. Talk to them to see what their strengths are, and then come up with a plan.
9) Make sure to have down time when you come home from work.
Yes you will most likely have to bring work home. However it is important to not let school work consume all of your time at home. You will need time to relax and recharge. It is very easy to burn out as a special education teacher, and one way to avoid that is to continue stress reducing activities in your home life.
10) Plan certain days to stay late at work and stick to that schedule.
There are tasks such as organizing data and filing that is usually only possible after school. The best bet is to come up with a routine, let team mates know, and have a focused plan about what you need to accomplish is the allotted time. This will ensure you can get to your much needed home life.
Which ones will you try this year? Check some of my other links for tips on students with ADHD.