The work of a special educator or therapist is demanding. It’s not particularly glamorous, or especially lucrative. It takes special qualities like compassion, creativity, patience and intelligence. Because they give so much of themselves to others, it’s critical that special educators and therapists have time to recharge. If you’re a therapist or special educator, we hope you’ve had a restful, enjoyable and restorative summer. That way, you can be fully present—mentally and emotionally—to meet the needs of the children and families with whom you’ll be working throughout the school year.
Ideally, you’ve had time, in the weeks prior to the start of the new school term, to prepare yourself for your incoming students. Here are some tips for teachers and therapists to make the early days of the new school year as smooth and stress-free as possible.
1. Know your students
If possible, get to know students and families before the first day of school. A phone-call or even an introductory letter or email to say “hello” several weeks before the first day of school can do wonders for easing back-to-school jitters. Talking with your students’ parents or other faculty members who have worked with your student before, can help you to be prepared with strategies that will work best. If for some reason, it wasn’t possible to make contact or to obtain information prior to the first day of school, do so as soon as possible.
The National Association of Special Education Teachers, (NASET) recommends teachers obtain and review the following information on incoming students:
- Previous schools students have attended
- Students’ medical records
- Students’ permanent records
- Past teachers’ reports
- Past report cards
- Standardized test scores
- IEPs including all recommendations and accommodations including health alerts, assistive technologies, disability classification
2. Create a data-collection system
How can you tell if teaching and therapeutic methods are working? Recent advancements in technology have made it increasingly simple to keep track of how students are responding to educational and behavioral interventions.
Special Education teacher, Tara Hillegas “collects biweekly or weekly data on academic goals for students with learning disabilities. This data is then graphed on a chart so that parents or students are able to see progress whenever they would like. Kids like to know what their goals are and how they can beat them. Charts and graphs are visual representations that are easy for students and their parents to understand,” she says.
3. Get organized
Special educators and therapists are responsible for a tremendous amount of documentation. If you don’t have a tried and true system of keeping track of students’ grades, progress reports, homework and classwork, come up with a plan that works for you. LD Online recommends that teachers “set up two separate folders or binders for each child on your case load: one for keeping track of student work and assessment data and the other for keeping track of all other special education documentation.”
LD Online also suggests creating a “communications log” in which you can note any phone calls, emails, letters and meeting notes concerning your students.
4. Collaborate with general education teachers
Depending on your school and the nature of your students’ disabilities, they may be mainstreamed for some subjects. It is crucial that you stay in touch with your students’ general education teacher so that you have a complete picture of how the student is functioning and how you can work together for the most successful outcome.
According to Special Education Guide’s Rachel Crawford, “Collaboration between special education and general education must happen beyond the obligatory IEP meeting in order to make an impact on students’ learning. When teachers collaborate, the stigma of special education disappears and the student becomes OUR student. Not mine, not yours. Goals become more meaningful because there is no longer an “IEP” goal on top of general education demands. Education becomes a fluid and more effective process.”
5. Reach out to community providers
Likewise, it may be necessary to collaborate with outside therapists and medical and mental health professionals. Keeping in touch with outside providers will ensure that no one is working at cross-purposes. Make sure you have written permission to speak with these providers as needed.
Have a wonderful school year!