The start of a new school year can be an exciting and yet uneasy time for special education teachers. While the feeling of enthusiasm for a new school year evokes creativity and excitement, it can also seem overwhelming and at times, a daunting task to prepare for the year ahead. However with a little preparation, starting the year off right is entirely possible.
Get to know the students
Each new year brings in some familiar faces and some new students into the special ed program. Depending on how the special ed program is structured, teachers may work with some of the same students for multiple years in a row, or they may encounter an entirely new group of students. In both situations, it is important to take the time to learn about the students prior to the first day of school. Here are a few ways to get to know the students and learn about their needs:
- Read all IEPs carefully, taking notes of any updates for previous students.
- Create a cheat sheet for all students with important information including accommodations and interests, to make it easy to refer back to or to show classroom aides or substitutes down the road.
- Consider hosting a “Meet & Greet” night for students and families to meet the teacher, explore the classroom setting, and address anxieties prior to the first day of school.
- Spend time the first week of school getting to know the students - relationships are key to a successful special ed classroom or program.
IEPs, quarterlies, assessments, and student work certainly pile up. Tackle the issue before the school year starts by creating a system of electronic folders, binders, files, or other organizational system to avoid the dreaded pile up a few weeks into the semester. Maintaining a calendar of meeting and due dates for reports will also help with scheduling and time management.
Get the Classroom Ready
The classroom atmosphere is one of the most important aspects in special education. Whether in a separate classroom or working alongside a general ed teacher, it is important to create and maintain classroom structure and management tools. Introducing classroom rules, procedures and sensory areas or items at the start of the year helps students know what is expected of them from the beginning, making the transition into the school year easier. If working with other school personnel, be sure to have a good understanding of roles and expectations of each other ahead of time, as students rely on teachers to provide the much needed structure and order, which also helps decrease anxiety.
The new school year is an exciting time, and with a little preparation, a successful school year is not only possible, but something to look forward to.
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