Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tips For New Special Education Teachers

Hello Everyone! We had a request from another one of our lovely readers, I love getting these by the way! Well, I had already planned on our authors doing a Back to School themed post in August, but this one is sneaking in right now! Be sure to look for more later this summer!
1) Always come to class with a plan... and a backup plan! I can't even count the number of times I had a plan for the day and within 5 minutes of school starting a kid had a meltdown that takes my whole plan and throws it out the window! Keep a stash of educational things the kids can do without you in case one kid is having a particularly rough day and you can't teach the lesson you planned.

The same goes for educational plans. Think of more than one way to teach a topic. Sometimes what works for one kid won't work for the other kid in the same group. For example, use a game and a work page or a visual activity. Think about different learning styles.

2) Have a place for kids to calm down
Kids in special ed. have big reactions to small problems. They are used to failure and it often have low self-confidence. This means when something gets hard, they get frustrated and may have big blowups. Have a "calm corner" or whatever you want to name it, where the kids have a teddy bear, a fidget, and a poster of ways to calm down for them to stare at while they sit there.

3) Keep your cool! They have no idea you're steaming inside!
As a special education teacher, there are so many things to get you riled up! Endless meetings, kids who still don't understand a concept after you've taught it 6 different (thoughtful) ways, the kid who enters your room screaming and doesn't stop for 30 minutes thanks to something completely out of your control...the list goes on. The wonders of kids, JUST SMILE! Fake it until you make it!! If you lose it, the kids do too! They feed off your energy, so make it happy energy! If a kid screams, smile as you take the deepest breath ever and give a complement to the other kid who is being good. Always look for the kid who will make you smile! Every group has at least one!

4) Keep a routine!
Students in special education like to know what's happening. They feel lost enough in the curriculum, they need to feel in control of something and know what's going on during the day. Keep a schedule that is always posted so the kids always know what is happening next. I suggest including pictures in case the students don't read well. If your student's are too obsessed with clocks and become upset if you are a minute late, then post the topics (including recess and lunch), but leave off the time. If the routine is going to change, bring it up in the beginning of the day. I can't even tell you the number of times a kid got upset when I switched math and writing because of an assembly or other school event.

5) Fidgets! You know those rules of don't play in class? Break 'Em!
There is an endless number of reasons for these! Anxiety, ADD, sensory seeking, etc. I LOVE gum in the classroom, but I have clear rules or they lose the privilege. Same goes for fidget toys. Have them in an easily accessible place where the kids don't have to ask for them. Set guidelines for when it is appropriate and when it isn't. I had a rule that they could have them as long as it didn't interrupt my teaching or stall them from doing work.  

6) Laminate EVERYTHING!
So you know how kids destroy stuff?? SPED kids do it 10 times faster! They fiddle and bend things. They put it in their mouth when they are orally sensory seeking (hence the gum suggestion in #5). Generally things get ruined faster. They sell crazy cheap laminators now. I have one at home and I can't even count the number of times I've used it! I have the version that is about $10 more than this, but this is the same brand if you are on a 1st year teacher budget. Amazon is the cheapest for the refill packs!

7) Have a behavior management system and stick to it!
 Everyone has their own system. Do what works best for you, but whatever you do stick to it! Don't let them get away with things or say "next time... will happen if you do that." Kids need to know when something is never okay. If you give them an inch, they'll take mile. As in, next time they'll try it again because nothing happened the last time. I have a behavior chart and they instantly drop a level so they know they did something wrong, but there is actually no consequence for the first level drop. You can read about my full system here on my blog. 
This year's behavior chart. Kids have Velcro name tags.

8) Track behaviors and their causes (antecedents)
Kids do things for a reason! It may not seem logical at first, but there is always a reason! One kid had fits every day during writing. For the longest time I thought it was because he hated writing. NOPE! Turns out writing is right before lunch and he was hungry! His fast metabolism made him need to eat sooner. I made the rule "A bite and a write" which meant he had to take a bite and write while he chews. The problem was solved all thanks to behavior tracking by time period in the day!

I hope this was helpful! Best of luck this school year!

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