Are you just starting a brand new teaching job? I remember my first year as a teacher- I had so many plans and dreams! I thought that my teacher prep Masters program had prepared me for everything that would come my way….and boy was I wrong!
I’m going to share the BIGGEST mistakes that I made as a new self-contained special education teacher (and tips for what to do instead!) Let me help you be over-prepared when you step into your classroom next year!
Mistake #1- Stressing Over Having a Pinterest Perfect Classroom
If you are a new teacher or even if you have been teaching for quite a few years now, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype that is PINTEREST. When you start scrolling Pinterest, thousands of pictures of beautiful, perfectly organized classrooms appear, staring wide-eyed at you. It’s easy to start pinning away and get caught up in the beautiful instead of the functional. Don’t make the same mistake I did! Just because you have a beautiful and organized classroom does NOT necessarily mean that your classroom will run smoothly and have great procedures in place. Tip-make your classroom functional and practical.
In special education, less is more. Too many decorations and things on the walls can become distracting to students. Try putting up a word wall that uses real life pictures and essential life skills words. Have a place to host visual schedules. You don’t necessarily need beautiful posters and perfect artwork on the walls.
Mistake #2- Not Focusing on Student Needs First
It’s easy to get caught up in buying pretty materials off of Teachers Pay Teachers or only using the Touch Math Curriculum that was left by the previous teacher. We are all guilty of it. Just remember, in special education, student needs are the BIGGEST priority. Don’t copy the entire first grade math curriculum that you think you will be using before the first day of school and print out a copy for each student’s binder. Guess what? It might be way too difficult or way too easy for some of your students. You need to read through their IEP goals, meet your students and assess them during the first few days of school.
You definitely want to have some materials ready for students for the beginning of the school year, don’t misunderstand me here. But I would not go and print all the worksheets to last you through the first semester without understanding your students better first.
Mistake #3- Not Asking for Help
Sometimes special education can feel like an island. That may not be what you want to hear as a new special education teacher, but it’s the truth. It’s unfortunately the truth for our students and for us.
Special Education teachers don’t have a “typical” classroom in which all students learn their curriculum at the same pacing calendar and are in the same grade. You won’t necessarily have other teachers to plan content with or borrow copies from if you are sick. You do, however, have a team and you need to use them to the best of your ability and ASK FOR HELP!
Repeat this with me right now-”I cannot do this all by myself every single day.” Depending on what type of school you are at, you could have only a couple of people on your team or you may have quite a few. Those team members could consist of paraprofessionals/ teacher assistants, SLPs, occupational therapists, physical therapists, counselors, social workers and even some grade level teachers.
ASK for help! Need ideas for fine motor practice? Ask the school occupational therapist if she can prep some for you. Have a student that is having some issues at home? Don’t take that on by yourself- talk to the social worker and school counselor. Are you planning to take home lamination to cut in front of the tv every night?! DON’T DO IT! Put it on a table in your room and make sure your paraprofessionals know that is what they are to do if there is any “downtime” throughout the day. It will somehow get done, trust me!
Mistake #4- Bringing Work Home Every Night
Bringing work home is extremely easy to do and once you start, it’s hard to stop it! I’m not saying don’t EVER do it. I’m just saying- don’t do it every night. As a new teacher, it won’t take long before you realize that your “to-do list” never gets fully completed. There is always something to add. My tip for you would be to get the “must do activities” completed for the next day or the week ASAP and leave “extra things” for another time. Limit yourself to bringing work home 1 or 2 nights maximum. Make sure to spend time with your family and friends after school and to leave school at a decent time each night. Trust me-if you decide to be the teacher who stays until 6pm every night to be back at 8am the next morning, you will burn out of this profession very quickly.
Mistake #5- Not Managing Paraprofessionals Very Well
Paraprofessionals can make your teaching life a breeze… or a disaster depending how well you are prepared for them. For some reason in college they don’t teach us how to manage other people. This can be one of the most stressful parts to being a new special education teacher.
Try having some guidelines and procedures in place for your team of paraprofessionals by using a Paraprofessional Binder. This binder is the perfect tool to support your staff and assist you by formally sharing duties and expectations.
Make sure you use them to run centers if you are comfortable doing that and show them the way that you would like things done. In the same regards, make sure they know that the classroom is their classroom too and make sure they are made to feel comfortable and like their voice is heard. Some staff working with you may have behavior management ideas worth listening to. Sometimes they spend more time with certain students than the special education teacher so they understand the student better.
Learn from them and listen, still remembering that you are the leader of the classroom and the professional. Use them to run centers, help clean-up, lead a group if you need to use the restroom. They are there to help your classroom run smoothly!
Did you Know?
It is entirely possible to enter into the new school year:
- Confident in your plans
- Effectively managing your paraprofessional team
- Kicking off with an already stream-lined classroom setup
- With the ability to make changes and implement them systematically
Yes-you can absolutely be confident heading into your first year teaching special education! You can skip the overwhelm, the chaos and the sleepless nights.
With my new course, Simple Self-Contained Setup 101, you can say goodbye to that uneasy and apprehensive self-contained teacher who dreads the daunting classroom setup and back-to-school prep process! You’re not even going to know her anymore. You will instead be CONFIDENT and EAGER to take on anything that comes your way with rock-solid plans and systems in place from Day 1.