I absolutely love teaching Special Education. I have found the place where I am meant to be and have built a community in my classroom. I am currently thriving in SPED, but it hasn't always been that way. Early in my career I was struggling to keep my head above water and breathe.Entering the Special Education field has a steep learning curve. You're thrust into a classroom with some of our neediest learners with little to no supplies, you have all this legal paperwork to juggle, you have teams of therapists and services to communicate between and collaborate with. You're expected to do all these things with ease. I can tell you, it too me YEARS to get to a space where I felt I was comfortable juggling all of these tasks. I have put in long hours preparing tasks for my classroom and spent weekends in my classroom. We have all been there. I have to say, teaching SPED is a lot of work! It's not for wimps! But the rewards that we do get with our job are pretty awesome and I wouldn't trade them for the world!
I want to help each and every one of you reading this THRIVE in SPED. So I reached out to some amazing bloggers and Special Education teachers I know to bring you 25 Ways to Survive and Thrive in SPED. Check out these amazing tips, tricks, and ideas from some of my favorite SPED bloggers:
"Create a daily schedule that works for you and stick to it from day 1! Get your students comfortable with the routine of the day to reduce behaviors, anxiety and troubles with transitions. Set your students up for success with daily consistency and by creating a calm, caring and nurturing classroom enviornment."
-Melissa, Autism Adventures
"To survive and thrive in SPED you need to be able to laugh. Things will rarely go as planned and often something will end up glued to the wall. It is ok. Just laugh and try again another day."
-Caitlin, Learning Ahoy
"Don't feel like you have to do everything at once. It will overwhelm you. It's better to do a couple things right rather than everything just so-so."
"Stay organized! As SPED teachers, we have so much to keep track of. Keeping paperwork, materials, supplies, and resources organized will save you time and allow you to be a more efficient and effective teacher! "
"I study my student's IEP goals and objectives at the beginning the year and pull monthly tasks (performance, technology, or paper-based) ahead of time. This way I can always collect a monthly "snapshot" of progress towards our goals in a meaningful way."
-Jen, Positively Learning
"Don't compare your teaching to general education teachers. I used to try to implement every idea, craft, project and activity into my classroom, only to be frustrated that there was never enough time in the day. I realized I was striving to have a classroom like my gen. ed. counterparts, and that's not the classroom I had."-Sarah, The Eager Teacher
"Having open communication with para professionals in your room will make it more inviting. It also allows you to lay out your expectations and if a difficult conversation must occur it isn't as scary. At the same time make sure the communication comes from both sides. Para professionals should have a voice in your classroom too. Let them know you appreciate their suggestions.
-Natasha, The Resource Teacher"Have a solid and consistent classroom/behavior management plan in place! Classroom management is the foundation to running a smooth, engaging, and effective classroom! Behavior first, then academics!"-Traci, The Bender Bunch
"Create easy to use systems for your room to run well (lesson planning, organizing materials for upcoming lessons, students being pulled for therapy, etc.) Then, teach every adult that works in your class (including therapists) how to use the systems. This will keep you from being pulled from instruction to answer every question, reschedule therapies, etc. Don't be the only person with all the answers!"
-Pam, Mrs. P's Specialties"Get organized form the very beginning! Organize your paperwork, be aware of timelines, create schedules, print and put together visuals. It is important to be ready to go from the very beginning, because once the school year is in motion it is hard to stay on top of everything."-Kim, Mrs. H's Resource Room"I use many visuals and work closely with my classroom teachers. I try to make my efforts to improve communication support the classroom performance and help replace inappropriate behaviors. Teamwork saves us!"-Linda, Looks Like Language"Take care of yourself. As educators, we are always thinking of others first, but it's super important to remember that we can't take care of our students if we don't first take care of ourselves. Take a few minutes for yourself each night and do something just for you every week, even if it's something small like stopping for a donut on Friday morning. "-Stephanie, Mrs. D's Corner"It's important to have a clear divide between your work time and your home/family. Stay organized and keep track of deadlines so you can keep on top of your work load, and when it's time to leave, ideally within a 1/2 hour of your contracted time, leave without taking anything home."-Jannike, Special Ed Connection"Set up a positive reward system and stick to it! Take our job one day at a time, and just know you will always have a to list. Don’t forget to take time for yourself."-Kathleen, SPED Hub Studios"I make folders for each of my students with ONLY their goals in them. I then pre-fill the folders with data sheets and practice items for those goals. This helps me tremendously in writing IEP's and on progress reports. It's a bit of work up front but makes the rest of the year much easier!"-School Bells N' Whistles"Always remember that this is about the students. No matter how many times you are kicked, hit, or scratched it is all about helping them grow, learn, and become responsible members of our society. When you look at it that way you are making some pretty awesome people!"-Jenn, Teach Love Autism"If anything is certain teaching special education, it's that there is always SOMETHING to be made. Whether it be visuals, behavioral supports, or accommodation supports for a lesson. My tip is to always keep a running list and focus on 1 thing at a time. Start with the most important thing on your list and prioritize that first. BUT keep your list going so you never forget those great ideas! #isurviveofftodolists"-Erin, Creating and Teaching"Have fun with your students, while still providing them rigorous and meaningful instruction. Don't underestimate your students, they can do so much! Also - be as organized as humanly possible. You literally do not have a second of down time! Helps the day go by fast!"-Gabrielle, Teaching Special Thinkers"Find the humor in crazy situations (appropriately of course) and teach your students to have a sense of humor too! I always had silly little jokes with my students. Being able to laugh and communicate with each other in a fun way always made my day brighter!"-Brie, Breezy Special Ed"This is more survive than thrive, but ALWAYS have a full change of clothes and shoes in your desk or at minimum your car. You really never know what you might encounter in your SpEd classroom that you do not want to be covered in all day. The mystery goo on your pant leg? No thank you!"-Carrie, Adapting for Autism"Leave as soon as your scheduled day is over at least 2 days a week, and take nothing home with you on those days! You need time to be with your family and friends, and some much needed down time."-Sarah, Primarily AU-some"Warm ups! They get pencils in hand and kids into work mode."-Shana, Scaffolded Math"Find your people." SPED is a team, because "it takes a village." Connect with as many other special educators as you can and use their knowledge and expertise in conjunction with your own to best serve your students. "-Krystie, AdaptEd 4 Special Ed"Make sure to find time for yourself (kid free!) whether it be exercising, shopping or reading a book at least once a week."-Kate, Fun in ECSE"Keep a journal divided with tabs for each student. Write down observations as you see them, quick notes to yourself. This will come in handy when you conference or prepare for IEPs. You'll be so glad you have these notes later!"-Dania, The Teacher's ToolboxNow that I am thriving in SPED, each of these tips have hit home with me. It has been so much fun reading these tips from some of my favorite SPED people. Let's survive and thrive in SPED together!