It’s Not Too Late! Seven Tips Special Education Teachers Can (Still) Do for a Great Start to the School Year

The start of a new school year always seems to bring the promise of a new beginning, a chance to have a clean slate, and a chance at not returning to old habits.  We all want success in school: teachers, students, parents, administrators.  We all also want a smooth beginning with no bumps in the road.  A key to a smooth start to the school year is advanced preparation.  But if you could not get to these things over the summer, START NOW or put these in your tickler file for next year. Begin thinking now about what needs to be done differently. Then make your plan and IMPLEMENT!

As a special education teacher who teaches in a pull-out resource model, a more self-contained model, a co-teaching model or some other combination, consider these seven tips to promote a positive and successful start to the new school year even if it’s a few weeks after school has begun.  It’s still early to get a great start and make it a GREAT YEAR!!

Seven Tips to Success

  1.  Know your core content!  Continually review the standards of Common Core or your standardized curriculum in each subject area that you will teach your students this year.  Be very familiar with the content to be taught and your understanding of it. This gives you deeper understanding of grade level expectations and additional credibility with general education teachers.
  2. It is certainly not too late to prepare a Student Profile Sheet © or similar document for each student with disabilities on your caseload.  You will find this to be a quick summary of the IEP and key psychological learning components.  This profile sheet can be used by any teacher who teaches the student with disabilities as a quick reference for instructional planning.  Keeping your copy nearby can also be your resource to underscore needed accommodations to others, reevaluation due dates, and more.  Use the summary as a key guide for paraeducators or paraprofessionals who support certain students.
  3. Refine your teaching focus.  The year has begun and you have an idea of co-teaching and/or general education pacing of content, areas of emphasis for assessment and learning, your strength in a core content area, accommodating for students’ strengths and weaknesses, learning strategies to teach, test taking strategies to encorporate, etc.  Few teachers are all things to all learners.  Be sure to give students the very best of your specialty focus area and know where that fits in the curriculum.
  4. Continue gathering possible materials for use during the year based on your knowledge of student needs, the core academic area(s), and your specialty focus area.  Make multiple copies of things regularly used and keep a file box ready to go. Your box may include frequently used reference materials, student data sheets or even extra office supplies that always seem to disappear.
  5. Whether you are co-teaching or in a classroom by yourself or with a paraprofessional, by now you may of experimented with several teaching arrangements that you are comfortable with, grouping arrangements in your classroom, and/or key classroom procedures you are confident encourage success. While more than two options should be used, get comfortable with a couple of arrangements, and then expand.
  6. Refine the methods of communication you devised the first week or two for communication with other teachers and the parents of your students.  Using regular and informative two way communication can avert problems, help with solving challenges, encourage partnerships and so much more.  Colleagues and parents who trust that you are willing to share information on a regular basis see your collaborative nature and, many times, are encouraged to follow suit.
  7. This last tip is a two parter. If you have not sent a “Welcome Letter” to your parents and students, consider sending a letter now. Reinforce your continued excitement and provide updates on changes, revised schedules, etc. Depending on their age and maturity levels, continue using language easy for your students to understand.  Reassure parents and students that you are their partner in learning and the journey this year will be yours together as a team.  Use words that reinforce your just right message.  You will be amazed how much this follow up will mean to your students and their parents, especially as a reinforcement of your original message if you sent one. Multiple messages help the disorganized student and the disorganized home.

Part 2 of this last tip involves taking a picture of your classroom, student schedule, some details of a typical day and sending this home to reinforce your routines and schedules.  For students who have a hard time learning new routines and transitions, these follow-up communications send the message that you are flexible.  For students and families, your letter, pictures of the classroom, routine reminders, etc. at home can do wonders to help your students get off to a great start, along with their soon to be favorite teacher: YOU!