Monday, February 24, 2014

Some Advice for New SPED Teachers - Part I

As I finish up my masters degree this semester and look forward to (hopefully) becoming a master teacher in my district, I've been thinking back to my first year as a full-time teacher and wish that I had been given some sort of manual before being thrown into my own classroom!

For all of those future teachers out there (both general and special education teachers alike), here are some points to remember as you begin your first year of teaching in a special education classroom.

  • Your first week will be hard. No matter how much experience you have under your belt. No matter if you worked for the district before. No matter if you read dozens of “new teacher how-to” books. No matter if you graduated at the top of your class with honors and think you know everything there is to know about teaching prior to stepping foot into your own classroom. Your first week – possibly even the first entire month of school – will be difficult. It might even make you want to cry and quit. (Trust me…I cried and had those thoughts my first week of teaching!) But as a new teacher, and during that first month of school, you will learn so many things about yourself and about your students that when you look back at the end of the school year, you will wonder how you could have ever thought about leaving these kiddos.
  • Do your homework. This is not just a mantra for the students to remember, but one to remember yourself as their teacher. Know exactly who’s coming into your class prior to the first day of school. Read their cumulative folders…extensively. Note any of their quirks, things that may set them off, and any problematic behaviors. I found out too late that I had a “runner” in my class…that was not a very good day.
  • Seek out a mentor. As intimidating as it may be for newer teachers to approach and even consult with veteran teachers – specifically veteran teachers who have worked at your school site a lot longer than you – find at least one teacher in your specific grade level that you can collaborate with and who – if you’re lucky – will take you under his or her wing. Reflecting upon my first year of teaching, I can tell you that it would have been a lot harder had I not had another teacher to lean on for support. I found a general education teacher who was not only generous with her time to me, but also made my students feel as if they were fully included in all of our grade level activities and programs.
  • Make friends with your front office staff. A little known secret among the professional teaching community is that while the administrator may be the big boss of the campus, the front office staff helps to ensure that the school – and ultimately your classroom – runs effectively and efficiently. These ladies (or men) handle those parents who like to call…constantly, while also taking your sick students in when the nurse isn’t there or is unavailable. They make sure that all your “t’s” are crossed, all your “i’s” are dotted and that no IEP document goes unfiled. They are also very generous with school supplies…especially if you bring them Jamba Juice or Starbucks on a regular basis.
  • Find balance. While teaching is a full-time job, it is ten times more stressful when you’re also working on a master’s degree, which – in today’s economy – many teachers have opted to do in order to secure their financial future. (As if teaching wasn’t already a 60+ hour work week, let’s add some graduate textbooks, a thesis paper, and additional case studies to that workload!) As a first year teacher and college graduate student, I had to remind myself to put aside grading papers, reading dozens of educational journals and articles, and take a few minutes (or hours) to focus on me. It’s extremely important to maintain a balance between work, school and maintaining some semblance of a social life. A happy teacher moves mountains with her student. 
I am sure that there are a dozen other things I should include…maybe this post calls for a sequel? Part II? After all, sharing is caring...
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