Here is a helpful list of tips for new special education teachers.
Congratulations on your decision to become a special education teacher! I can only imagine what’s going through your mind right now:
What supplies do I need? Will the school give me curriculum? Did I make the right decision? What does this school expect of me? Why did the last person leave? What do I do on the first day?
I assure you, being a special education teacher is one of the most rewarding jobs a person could ever have!
After several years as a special education teacher, I learned some things they don’t teach you in school. It would have been nice to know some of these tips going into my first day. I think back and wonder if I knew then what I know now, would it have made me better prepared to be a special education teacher?
I share these tips for new special education teachers hoping you feel a bit more prepared on your first day. Again, congratulations on your career decision!
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Tip #1: Don’t worry about academics during the first 2 weeks.
I am a teacher, what do you mean don’t worry about academics for the first 2 weeks?! In a special education classroom, building routines and rapport are critical to the success of the rest of the school year.
Lots of students in special education struggle with transition and changes. Building routines not only demonstrate expectations but also show students that your classroom is a safe place.
Building rapport shows the students you are there because you’re trustworthy, you care, and you want to help them. A good rapport can go a long way. Students will do more for a teacher they bond with.
During my second year of teaching I used many strategies from the book The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. Some strategies in the book relate more to a general education class but many strategies can work in any classroom!
Tip #2: Be proactive, not reactive.
Be proactive with your IEPs. Your first IEPs can be terrifying but as long as you have prepared all data, results, and student information, it will be smooth! (Use this: Guide to IEPs)
Be proactive in your classroom. As you get to know the students, you learn what can trigger them. Set your students up for success by doing your best to reduce the potential triggers in your classroom.
Be proactive with parents. Contact them before they contact you. Reach out to them to introduce yourself as their child’s new case manager. You never know the relationship the parent had with the case manager before you (good or bad). Being proactive helps start things on the right foot.
Tip #3 : Without data, you have nothing at all!
In special education, progress is measured through data. Start your year by tracking your students baseline to see where they are at. Baseline data gives you a starting point as you continue to monitor progress throughout the year. Academic, behavior, and life skills are some of the areas that need to be tracked with data. Your data not only helps determine how your student is doing but also helps to keep you legally defensible.
Tip #4: Set your classroom up for success.
Consider all factors when designing your classroom. What do I need? Will your students use independent desks or group tables? Will you have a safe space or sensory corner? Are you choosing to use flexible seating? However you set it up, be sure to include visual expectations around the room so your students remember how to be successful in your classroom.
Read more about SPED classroom ideas: What does your SPED classroom look like?
Read more about Flexible Seating by clicking on one of the following links: Flexible Seating Options for your Classroom!, Get Creative with Flexible Seating in your Classroom!, or Flexible Seating in the Classroom!
Tip #5: Decide your classroom management style before you start.
Every group of students will be different but give yourself some classroom management tools to start your year. You can always adjust to the kids as the year goes on but it is important to have something to start with. For example you may use positive behavior supports. Classroom or individual incentives can excite the students. What about when a student finishes their work early (listening and following directions classwork)? Do you have work or a system ready so they stay focused?
Tip #6: Prepare your paras and aides too!
Managing adults in your classroom may not always be easy. As the head of your classroom, be sure to provide them with guidance and communication. Successful classrooms have successful staff. For tips and strategies on how to work with your para, please read How to prepare your Para.
Tip #7: Time management is KEY!
Data, notes, monitoring progress, IEP reports and meetings, team meetings, parent meetings, teaching, managing staff, and more! Yes, there is a lot to do as a special education teacher. I encourage you to find a time management system that works for you, as soon as possible! Time is most important to the special education teacher.
Utilize your staff appropriately, take advantage of any downtime, and do everything you can to make sure you are not bringing your work home with you. Teachers need to take care of themselves in order to be 100% for their students (Read: Teacher Self-Care Ideas).
Tip #8: You learn something new every day!
What works for one student may not work for another. No matter how long you’ve been in the field, understand that there will always be another law to learn, strategy to try, or acronym to know. How many special education acronyms are there?! You do not have to memorize or know all of these. You learn them as you go. Here is a FREE cheat sheet to get you started.