Are you a new special education teacher? Congratulations! You just got the call back from one of the interviews you had for a position as an elementary special education teacher and you got the job! You get off the phone after accepting the position and then reality….and maybe even a bit of panic starts to set it….
What do you do next?! Here are 10 easy tips for getting started as a brand new teacher in the passionate field of special education:
1. Go Celebrate!
Okay-you just got your FIRST job in the field of special education! This is a huge accomplishment! Go celebrate with family and friends! Whether that means having some drinks and dinner out or inviting a small group to your house for a cookie cake and champagne toast. Don’t take the news lightly-you worked too HARD for this! It is only spring-you have plenty of time to start planning for your future classroom! When you get home from celebrating, you can check out 5 Must-Read Blog Posts for New Special Education Teachers.
2. Set up a time to Tour your New School
You may have already done this when you had your interview but we are also in a National pandemic (Hello Coronovirus) so your interview may have been a virtual call. If you are able to, set up a time with your new Principal or Special Education Director and see if you can get a tour of the building. (Typically right now- they will let people into the school building only after school hours). The big point of doing a tour is to be able to scope out your new classroom-check out the size of it, see how it’s already set up, check out how many windows it has, how many desks or tables are able to fit in it, how close it is to the bathroom, etc. Take a notebook with you to jot down any notes and try to take some pictures using your cellphone if you are able to to reference later. Something else to note would be if your new classroom is close to an indoor gross motor area. I always thought it was nice to be close to the gym, an empty room or the OT/PT room to utilize if needed.
3. Decide on a Behavior Management System
This is a big one. You may not stick with it forever but you should probably try to be consistent with your behavior management system for the entire school year, if possible. Picking a behavior management system can be overwhelming but my best advice would be to keep it simple. You want to use a plan that is easy for students and paraprofessionals to follow. You can look up some ideas online or talk to other teachers in your building or that you know for ideas. Make sure you inform parents, students and staff of clear expectations of your plan when it’s time. You may want to check out this blog-Types of Behavior Supports also!
4. Gain Access to Student IEPs
Even though you will not start with students until August, you will want to read the ins and outs of their IEP before the first day of school. You will need to make data sheets and plan for their IEP goals, plus understand their behavior support plan, if they have one. Typically a student’s IEP will let you know positive reinforcers and motivators that work for students also, so you can be very prepared for them when school begins!
5. Map out your Room Set-Up
Use the pictures and notes from the classroom tour to start deciding how you may want to set your room up. The current teacher may already have a good lay-out or you may be getting an empty room that no one is using currently. I always liked to set up different station areas for task boxes, reading groups and math groups. In addition, I liked to have a “Chillville area” where students could go if they needed a sensory break of some sort or time to themself. I always had a library corner in my room also to display books.
6. Pick your Color Scheme + Shop
Picking your color scheme can be so much fun as a teacher! It is so much fun to have your own classroom to decorate however you want! Some things to remember: Students in special education need a very calming and inviting environment. It is best not to have too many items on the walls and clutter or colors in the room because it can become too overstimulating for some students. Try to stick to 2 or 3 calming colors or a simple theme. See if you receive a budget from your school to buy things for your room. Amazon and the Target dollar section will be your new best friends!
7. Find out What Curriculum You will have Access to
Curriculum in special education is a very interesting topic. Depending what kind of students you will have on your caseload, you could have a very wide range of grade levels and needs in your room. You may have some readers and some non-readers. You may have some students that are non-verbal. Your district may provide you with certain curriculums that you have access to such as SPIRE or Touchmath. You may get a subscription to Reading A-Z to use. But some of the curriculum may be up to you and you may even have to get to know your students a bit first to figure out their needs. I used to buy a lot of things on Teachers Pay Teachers and then I started making my own materials for other special educators to use also! You will find that some curriculum works with students one year, while the next year you may have to use something different.
8. Meet Your Paras & New Team
You are now part of the Special Education team at your school! In some schools, there may only be one or two special education teachers, while other schools will have a larger team. In addition, you will be working with the Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), Occupational Therapist (OT) Physical Therapist (PT) and maybe even the school counselor, Social Worker and Psychologist, depending on your district. Find out if you are expected to push in or co-teach with any general education teachers or if your room will be more self-contained or resource.
Some of the most important people on your team will be your paraprofessionals. Some schools might also refer to them as teacher assistants or aides (TAs) or paraeducators. These are the support staff in your room that will help with your students. You may have 1:1 paraprofessionals for certain students and you may even have a classroom paraprofessional (or more). Managing the support staff in your room is actually one of the most difficult parts of being a special education teacher. I have learned many things over the years about working with support staff and give you all the details here- Tips and Tricks-Working with Support Staff.
9. Plan out your Daily Schedule
Planning your daily schedule can be a bit overwhelming as a first year special educator. Some things that you need to know:
- Do your students attend specials (art, music, p.e) with your room or their general education class?
- What time will related services for each student be?
- Do any of your students have time in inclusion (general education) that you will need to plan for?
- What time is lunch and recess?
- What time do you need to give your support staff breaks?
- How many reading groups do you need to fit in?
- What time can you take lunch? Do you plan your own lunch time or is that scheduled for you?
10. Reach out to Parents Introducing Yourself
Get permission from your Department chair or principal on when it is best to introduce yourself to parents (typically towards the end of summer). You can choose to either email, make a phone call or send actual snail mail with a fun letter to your future students. I would keep this short and sweet! Tell them who you are, why you are excited for the school year and maybe the dates for open house if you know this information already. Keeping clear and concise communication with families from the start is always best in my book! For the school year, you want to make sure you have daily or weekly communication with families about what their child is doing and how the school day is going. You can check out this post all about 4 Ways I Communicate with Parents for more ideas!
One more bonus tip! I have a Simply Free Resource Library that is a FABULOUS resource for new special education teachers. You can sign up here to start downloading over 70 resources for free- perfect for teachers with new classrooms.
I know you are going to rock your first year of teaching special education!