Wednesday, August 26, 2020

3 Crucial Things New Special Ed Teachers Should Focus on (and 1 to avoid!)

Hello new special education teachers, welcome to the wild world of sped! If you are new to teaching children with disabilities, there are 3 crucial things you need to focus on in your first year of teaching.  And one to not worry about.
3 things new special education teachers should focus on

1. IEPs

This is a doozy. You have to follow them, write them, present them to parents, and progress monitor.  The first year can be overwhelming with how long it takes to write an IEP.  But don't panic.  It gets easier the more you do it and I can whip out high-quality IEPs in warp-speed these days.
Reach out to your mentor, other special ed teachers, and your principal for help on writing goals.  SLPs are a fantastic source of help as well!

2. Quality Instruction

Focus this year on delivering fabulous instruction.  Lessons don't have to be "cute" but they should be engaging and standards based.  If you don't get to visit other teacher's classrooms for support in the general education setting, or for observations, ASK to visit some.  It's great to see how other teachers manage the classroom and present information.
Find a professional development and ask your admin to send you.  Participate in Twitter chats.  Look for a free webinar.  Make your goal to deliver superb instruction.

3. Build Relationships

With staff: 
  • Don't gossip!  
  • Be friendly to everyone.  
  • Say 'thank you' every time the secretary or janitor does you a favor. These people are THE key to school.  We know teachers are underpaid.  School secretaries and janitors are paid even less! 
  • Participate in the staff events. Dinner night out, lunch time pitch-ins and secret pal swaps all let others get to know you and will help you form relationships.
  • Let others overhear you talking POSITIVELY about someone else "Did you see Mary's bulletin board? It's so clever!"  "I heard one of Mrs. Jones' students say the cutest thing..."

With parents: 
  • Send newsletters with updates on lessons you've taught, a resource (article from or local event happening). Always include your contact info. Never include photos of students due to privacy laws.

  • Send positive notes home with students frequently.  A ton. As much as you can.
    Sammy told a cute story.
    You're so glad to get to work with Tom. 
    Alice read 4 new sight words today! 
    Maria helped tidy the room. 
    Luis had a wonderful day!

  • Call all parents the first week of school.  "Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying getting to know Ayden.  He's got such a good sense of humor!"     "Tanya is just precious! I'm so glad to get to work with her this year."
With students:
  • Greet them by name.
  • Show an interest in them. Discuss the character on their t-shirt, ask about the Pokemon backpack when you see them in the hall.  Compliment their headband.  
  • Smile. A lot. 
  • Celebrate successes with them.  "Mr. Jones said you were so good at the recorder he had you helping other students! Man, that's awesome."     
    "You read more sight words today than ever before! A new high record!"
    "I saw you out there with the hoola hoop.  You go girl!"
  • Leave them positive notes on their desk. I like to leave one before I go home for the day so that they will discover it when they come in the morning "Hi Alice!  Hope you have a great day!"   

The one thing a new special ed teacher should not worry about:

A cute classroom.
Some of the best teachers have the ugliest classrooms.

Sure, there's nothing wrong with having an adorable classroom. However, cute classrooms don't make students learn more effectively.  A perfect double-border bulletin board with a punny saying has 0 effect on whether or not your students learn the difference between long  and short vowels.

And quite honestly, if you have students with emotional challenges, the cute decor you spent hours laminating can get ripped off the walls and destroyed in a matter of seconds.  

You can have a theme. You can hang cute stuff. But don't spend hours and hours on it right now.  Book bins can be labeled with hand-scrawled post it notes.  Even if your handwriting is meh.  

Sometimes the best teachers have the blandest rooms.  

Your hours are better spent on webinars, learning the curriculum, hanging out with the kids at recess if you have the chance, fine-tuning lesson plans, and observing other seasoned teachers.  Let's not forget, you're going to be busy writing IEPs too!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Dear Mom, (A Letter From Your Child's Special Education Teacher)

As we head into a new school year, in the midst of a pandemic no less,  I wanted to share some thoughts with moms of children with disabilities.  When your child is a different learner than most, school can be a new challenge.  This open letter to moms of children with disabilities is from me, a special education teacher.  I hope it gives you peace and comfort at this time of year!

Dear Mom-of-a-child-with-a-disability,

Welcome to the new school year!  I know that this time of year is exciting and scary for you as your child heads back to school.  We're in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic still, your child has a disability, and the world can be a beautiful, frustrating, place.  Even though I don't know you personally, there are some things I know about you.

  1. I know that this is scary territory for you.

  2. I know you wonder where they will end up in 5 or 10 years. 

  3. I know you are exhausted.  No matter whether your child has a learning disability, ADHD, emotional disability, Autism, etc... you. are. tired!

  4. I know you may have doctor and therapist appointments to keep up with, meltdowns at home (the child's.  Also, maybe your own), and of course, the homework battles.

  5. I know you may be grieving this diagnosis.  You grieve the life you thought you wanted and the life you have.  You grieve the hardship your child may experience.  You grieve that others don't really understand. Anger, denial, bargaining.  It's all part of grief and I've seen parents in all of those stages.

There are some things you should know about me and the staff at school:
  1. All of the staff at school are on Team YourKid.  Team Joey. Team Allie.  Team Rosa.  My colleagues and I want your child to be safe, healthy, and learning.  Everything we do revolves around that goal.

  2. When we have an IEP meeting with you, everyone sitting around that table is focused on YOUR child.  Yes, it can be daunting to walk into the office and have 6 professionals sitting there (I think my record is 10 staff members in one conference).  The entire world has stopped and we are JUST there for your child. 

  3. We know you are doing the best you possibly can!  

  4. We know you love your kid. 

  5. When your child starts to get frustrated in the classroom, I go and help.  If he needs a break, we go get a drink of water or play with play-doh.

  6. If your child has a full on meltdown? I'm not judging them. Or you.  Whatever your child did today---they weren't the first and they won't be the last!  I'm unfazed and will gently help them re-regulate themselves.

  7. I'm always trying to do better.  There are countless webinars, twitter chats, conferences, and articles about teaching students with disabilities.  I spend as much time as I can attending and reading so that I can do the very best job for your child. 

Mom, that's all I have for you today.  I hope you walk into this new year knowing we are on your side. Whatever this next wild school year brings, we're in it together!  

With Love,
Your Child's Special Education Teacher

An open letter from your child's special education teacher

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The 3 Books I Couldn't Stop Reading This Summer

I've read a lot this summer but 3 books really stand out as the best summer reads. These were the 3 that I devoured within 48 hours each.  These are the books that I just couldn't put down! 

**Amazon links are affiliate links. Full disclosure here.
3 books I couldn't put down

1. The Silent Patient

The Silent Patient
The Silent Patient has topped many best-seller lists and been the topic of book bloggers.  Indeed, The Silent Patient did not disappoint!  I was lucky enough to get it from my local library via the Libby app.  

I can't always read on my phone, preferring a physical book most times, but sometimes a book is SO good that I don't mind it being digital and can devour it nonetheless.

The Silent Patient had a few twists that knocked my socks of!  If you're looking for a suspense that will keep you guessing--this is the book for you!

2. Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over
I read Evvie Drake Starts Over earlier in the summer and it's just so lovely and refreshing!  A charming story of a widowed woman and a washed out baseball star.  It's the rom-com of books. 

If you're needing a book to take your mind off the heaviness of the world, this will do it.  

3. The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings
My first time to read Abbi Waxman, I read this one while I waited for Other People's Houses to arrive in the mail. Like with The Silent Patient, I was able to get The Garden of Small Beginnings as a library loan on the Libby app. Yay for free!

Abbi Waxman has a delightful way of wording things and working humor into her novel.  Like Evvie Drake Starts Over, this book is a lighter take on the world that will give you an enjoyable break from whatever has you consumed at the moment.  

Some authors I reread and some I don't go back to but after having read The Garden of Small Beginnings, I know Abbi Waxman is an author I will follow and read everything she puts out!

My favorite books of the summer

Did you do much reading over the summer?  What's the best book you've read lately?