As summer is coming to a close, I thought it would be fun to write some advice for new sped teachers or anyone looking for some inspiration for the new school year. These are the things I think about as I walk in the mornings. Below are six tips for any new sped teacher.
- Get organized! There’s a lot of paperwork in sped and it’s easy to let it consume you. I recommend getting ahead of it by reading the previous IEPs and psych evals of kids on your caseload. Get a calendar and mark all your IEPs for the year; this will save you time and help you plan ahead. Give info about students on your caseload to their gen ed teachers; they will feel better prepared and be able to support your students, ask questions, and generally be more prepared to start the year off right alongside you.
2. Don’t compare your classroom to anyone else’s. I know that this is much harder to do with so many Pinterest and Instagram accounts out there, but don’t get comparisonitis. You are starting fresh and you don’t need all the bells and whistles in order for your students to feel loved and safe in your classroom. When I first started teaching, I wanted so badly for my classroom to feel like a general ed ELA room (I was teaching 9th-grade RSP ELA) and it felt like that; it had all the grammar posters, figurative language, etc. But it lacked something big: ME. I didn’t make the room my own because I felt pressured to make it look like other classrooms I had seen. It’s just silly to sacrifice your own personality and style to try and imitate what someone else is doing.
Because I put pressure on myself and wanted my students to feel like they were in any other room, I lost sight of the main purpose of a classroom, which is to make students feel at home, safe, and loved from the minute they walk in the door, and conveying that in your own unique way. So BE YOU!!! Put up the pictures you love of works of art, friends, travel, or whatever your hobbies and interests are. Make your room a place where you and your students feel at home. For some students, it might be one of the only safe places they have.
3. Don’t go crazy spending money on small stuff. I love a good Target dollar spot as much as anyone else, but realistically you won’t know what you need until you see your room and figure out the dynamics of your classes and students. For example, I love beautiful cursive signs but a lot of my students have difficulty reading cursive lettering, so while it’s pretty to me, it’s not helpful for them. Also, the likes and preferences of each student population will be different; one population might love donuts and soccer, while others prefer baseball and croissants (seriously). So just know those cute $1 pencils with basketballs could be completely uninteresting to them. If you can’t help yourself, set a limit of $20 and don’t let yourself get too carried away. Last year was the first time in four years that I had my own room, and I went crazy with the bargain shopping. A lot of the things I bought in those dollar sections ended up staying in bags in my garage all year when I realized they weren’t going to be effective for my students. What a waste of money! Don’t let the shiny cute stuff blind you from overspending.
4. Make friends with co-workers. Find your people! Get to know other newbie teachers and check in with each other over coffee, lunch, or happy hour. I did this in my first year and we helped support each on the bad days and celebrate together on the good ones. Do potlucks or happy hour with your school or just your department; you’ll get to know people and it will help you not only build community but also help build your relationships with gen ed teachers when advocating for students.
5. Pick your veteran teachers’ brains! Don’t be shy about asking questions or asking for help. Most teachers love helping other teachers and will help you grow. Observe their IEPS and classes; you’ll learn so much about expectations and how to partner with both parents and students. Find a mentor on campus, someone you feel safe with who you’re comfortable asking questions of and telling silly stories with. Having a go-to person saved me time and helped me learn how to do things the right way the first time around
6. SELF CARE. You can’t pour from an empty cup. This is one is the hardest for many of us, but you need to take care of yourself. You need to get sleep and remember to eat. I used to go nonstop all week long and crash hard on Friday at 6PM.
My weekends used to be all about recovering from the previous week and preparing for the next. I rarely took time for myself and that meant struggling to get through the school year before I burned out, then having to spend most of my summer recovering. Take time for yourself on a regular basis; enjoy a bubble bath, get a pedicure, put on a face mask, and above all get enough sleep. Do what you need to do to recharge.
One last bonus tip: don’t bring work home every night. Have a day or two during the week where you leave it all at school. It will give your brain rest and you’ll feel so refreshed the next day if you create some non-work space in your life every now and then.
Above all, remember that you got the job, and you are capable and worthy of so much. Don’t ever forget that.