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SIMPLE Special Education Tips for NEW Teachers!

I absolutely love being a special education teacher, and I've learned so much throughout my time teaching students with disabilities (...and I know I have so much more to learn!). 

If you are new to special education, I want you to know that there are many days when you'll feel like you're drowning, but I want to share with you a few tips to help set you up for success. When those stressful, crazy days come, I want you to be prepared and have an organizational system in place to help keep you sane...as much as it can be anyway! 

Tip 1: Create a "To Be Filed" Area

We all know that the role of a special education teacher is known for an enormous amount of paperwork. And while I like to pride myself on being on top of the paperwork and being organized, we all know that there are times when things just get a bit crazy. Because of that fact, I like to have ONE spot where I can "shove stuff" until I have time to sit down and file it. Sometimes, my stack is small. Other times, my bottom tray is overflowing. Either way, I know where I can quickly and easily find paperwork rather than shuffling through my desk.

Tip 2: Create Folders for Commonly Used Forms

I have a few forms that I ALWAYS have copies of in my drawer that are ready to go. My most commonly used forms are packets for initials and Functional Behavior Assessments. If I have a meeting with a parent about possibly identifying a student, I don't have to remember to make copies or wait on the printer. I can have them ready as soon as I need them. For you, you may discover that you are repeatedly printing something for parents or staff members to complete. Make a folder and shove five to ten additional copies into it! It will save you time and hassle later. It also makes you look super prepared and organized! 

Tip 3: Parent/Teacher Envelopes

While I wish every parent could attend every meeting, we all know that there are times when we have to send an IEP home with a student for a parent to sign and return the next day. I like to have these envelopes ready and waiting in my drawer. I can easily put the IEP and signature page into the envelope and send it home with the student. When the parent or their classroom teacher sees that note on the outside, they immediately know what to do. I've also had parents sign it and bring it into the office the following day. The lovely secretaries are able to put it in my mailbox right away. 

Tip 4: The Originals Folder

I've done this for years, in both general education and special education. I keep a folder with all of my commonly copied pages. I can quickly grab the folder and run to the copier. I keep assessments, flashcards, forms, spelling test papers, graphic organizers, and other things that I need regularly. At my previous school, our mailboxes were in the copy room, so I just kept the folder in my mailbox. It definitely saved me a few steps! 

Tip 5: Clipboards with a Purpose

I have two clipboards that I almost always have on or near my desk. The first one has blank paper and is used for classroom observations. When I have a student that is being evaluated, I have to complete a classroom observation as part of the evaluation process. I like having a stack of paper to make notes, draw pictures or digraphs, and record the events of the classroom. I try to do my evaluations when I have random times when I can't see my regular groups. For example, this spring, our third graders were on a field trip. During my regularly scheduled times with third grade, I grabbed my clipboard and went to complete observations that were noted on my clipboard. 

The second clipboard is used for paperwork that is *almost* ready to be submitted to the special education office. For example, I will often give a classroom teacher and a parent their packets of information to be complete for an evaluation. Usually, either the parent or the teacher completes it quickly and we are waiting for the other to finish. I like to put it on my clipboard so that I have it as soon as the other party finishes their portion. I always know right where to find it. 

Tip 6: IEP Binder

I use this binder all. the. time. my friends! I bought these alphabetical tabs at Walmart for a couple of dollars and recycled a 1 1/2" binder. Inside are all of the most recent IEPs for all of my students. I use it a lot during high stakes testing season to ensure that all students get the accommodations that are outlined. It is also nice to have while making schedules at the beginning of the year to ensure that I am providing all of the services that are required. I also use this to stick post-it notes in as I have phone conversations with parents. I can make notes about their concerns or things to be aware of at a later date. 

Tip 7: The Blank IEP

When I first started teaching special education, writing IEPs by myself gave me nightmares. I was afraid that I would leave something out or make a mistake. It scared me that my director would find major errors in my IEPs and fire me immediately. <----He wouldn't have, but I was nervous! I remembered that my supervising teacher during student teaching had an IEP that she used as a model for other IEPs. She had taken Wite-Out to a well written IEP and hid the name and information of the student. I called her up and asked if I could make a copy of that IEP to use as a model as well. 

If you are new and uncomfortable writing IEPs on your own, this may be something that you might ask your director, supervising teacher, or fellow special education teacher in your building for. If you aren't comfortable asking, then browse the IEPs of your new caseload and see what you think is a good example and create your own model. If someone is helping you write your first IEPs, create a model from those! 

 Tip 8: Understand Progress Monitoring & Get Organized

Progress Monitoring is something that I am very passionate about. It's also something that I think can make or break a school year for both you and your students. Find or create a system for monitoring your goals that is easy and effective. If your students aren't progressing, you can't wait until Spring Break to realize it. You have to have a proactive approach to ensure that your students are making adequate progress. The picture above shows my system and is listed on TeachersPayTeachers. Check it out and ask questions if you have them! 

Tip 9: Create Groups

At the beginning of the year, I had to attend a Google Training. I had been using and familiar with Google Services and really thought that it was a waste of my time. Boy, was I ever wrong! I learned so many helpful tips and time-saving tricks. Creating groups was one of them! I have groups for each of my grade levels and RTI teams. When I have to make a schedule change or get an opinion on something, I simply type in the first couple of letters in the grade level and up pops the four teachers on that team! It's perfect for quick emails and not leaving anyone out. 

Tip 10: Copy and Paste Statements

Maybe there is a better name for this, but I use Copy and Paste Statements OFTEN. For a long time, I typed each and every one of these things over and over and over again. I was literally writing nearly the same thing every time. WHY?! Stop the madness and copy and paste that $#*+! It saves me time, ensures that I don't have typos in redundant text, and allows me to include everything that's needed without getting sloppy. I also do this with my reports for Functional Behavior Assessments. Why find new ways to describe an assessment? Copy and paste it and add the information for the student you are currently describing. 

Tip 11: Contact Your Team

When you first begin teaching, whether it be in a new school, a new role, or a brand new job, always take a few minutes to contact your team. At the beginning of the year, I sent an email introducing myself and welcoming them to catch me in the hallway or come visit my room for a chat. I even told them I had a basket of chocolate! I hate being the new girl, so I wanted to get to know them quickly. I wanted to start seeing them as my friends and colleges and not strangers.

It also allowed me to tell them a little about my vision for the program and that I was open to suggestions, comments, concerns, or questions. It also gave me the opportunity to show them how much I love teaching and helping the special education population. 

Tip 12: Call Parents Before the First Day

If you're a little introverted, like me, this might be hard for you. Do it anyway. Call parents to start the year off on a positive note. Tell them who you are, that you are new to the building, and that you are calling to introduce yourself. Set aside a decent chunk of time, because these parents will fill you in on their child if you let them. It really helps me get off on the right foot with my parents. It gives them someone to reach out to and allows you to make a game plan for future conversations.

Tip 13: Join My FaceBook Group!

I love having a group a people who understand what I do and are available for questions, ideas, and inspiration! If you are interested, join my Primary Special Education Teachers Facebook Group! :)

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