Whether you are starting at a new school or returning to the same one, getting to know a few special people in your building will make your job as a special education teacher a bit easier. Of course you should be in close collaboration with your special education team and related service providers, but these “non-teacher” school personnel are the unsung heroes of the school day.
In the first school I ever worked in, we did not have a custodian on staff. While I didn’t think anything of it at the time, my first year teacher self spent a lot more time than I anticipated cleaning my classroom. The other teachers told me that it shouldn’t be a problem, which it generally wasn’t for them. But being the only special ed class in the building, I knew I was going to have a unique challenge on my hands. Now I make a point to get to know the custodial staff in each building I am in and express the unique needs my classroom may have.
At the start of each school year, I meet with the head custodian to review protocols for the different types of messes we may encounter. If you have to page over the PA system or walkie-talkies, I suggest a code system so that it isn’t distracting to other classrooms. We also discuss what my paras and I can do to help them with their afternoon rounds. Ask their preferences for where seating should be (usually they prefer chairs on desks so they can sweep/vacuum) and if your students eat in the classroom, find out where they should be throwing our their trash.
Depending on your students ages and abilities, you could even ask if there are any student-safe routines you could have students participate in. One year, I had a student who benefited from heavy work. I was able to coordinate with the custodian for my student to help with the end of day trash rounds. My student would push the big garbage can down the hall, while the custodian went in and out of the classrooms to empty the trash cans.
Getting to know your school nurse and having them become familiar with your students is critical. The nurse’s office can be tricky. For some students, it reminds them of the doctors office, immediately causing them anxiety and distress. For others, it may be a learned break (or escape). Be sure that students are sent/brought to the nurse with whatever supports are necessary for them to communicate what hurts or is bothering them. If you have a student who require body checks, be sure to coordinate a time with the nurse where the office will be closed to the other students to ensure student dignity. Same thing goes with medication delivery and toileting support.
Because I work in a Title 1 school, we have breakfast and lunch programs for all of the students. This means, each day two meals are provided to the students at school. The cafeteria staff works hard to create individuals baggies of cereal, yogurts and/or cereal bars as well as hot and cold lunch choices for the students daily. Working in a classroom with many students who have limited diets, a collaborative relationship with the cafeteria staff allows me to ensure that my students are being provided with balanced meals. This past school year, we were still eating in the classroom due to Covid-19 protocols so we had to order lunch ahead of time so it could be delivered to the classroom. Next year, we will have our students practice asking for their lunch in the lunch line in addition.
Thank you school staff for a fabulous year! Get ready for the fall!
Who do you want to get to know in your building next year?