Tuesday, August 27, 2013

5 Things Every Teacher Should do the First Few Weeks of School

The first few weeks month of school can be daunting and stressful! I want to share a few things with you that I have found to be helpful to do the first few weeks of school.

1. Start a "Smile Drawer"- I know, you're probably thinking, "What the heck is a 'smile drawer' and what does it have to do with teaching!?" Well, you know those days when a kid bites you, one of your paraprofessionals is out sick, your computer breaks, and then there's a fire-drill that sets a few kiddos into sensory overload? To put it simply, a smile drawer is a drawer (or folder) in your desk filled with things that will make you smile on days like that. It can have notes from previous students, pictures of your honey or children, awards you have received, cards from friends or family, ANYTHING that can make you smile when you're having a rough day. I can't count how many times I dug into my smile drawer the during my first year of teaching. It was the perfect thing to calm me down, put a smile on my face, and remind me that although every day is not good, that there is good in every day.

2. Communicate with paraprofessionals and therapists- Creating a positive relationship with paraprofessionals is one of the most important things to make a school year go smoothly. As special education teachers, we spend more time with our paras than we do with our friends and family, so it makes for a tough year if you don't have good relationships inside the classroom. Don't get me wrong, you won't love all of your paras, and you will definitely have issues with some, but communicating from the beginning can help. On the first few workdays, I like to sit down with my paras and discuss our expectations of each for the school year. I like to talk with them about what we enjoy doing in the classroom and what we can't stand. Communicate with therapists who serve students about expectations and your class schedule. It's distracting to the whole class if a kid is getting pulled out for PT in the middle of reading every Tuesday, so I like to set a pull-out and therapy schedule that works with the schedule at the beginning of the year and try to stick to it for the most part.

3. Get your dates organized- No, I don't mean dates with your man or girlfriends, or spring break dates. I mean important student dates. It's a good idea to make a spread sheet of the following student information: eligibility, IEP end date, re-evaluation date, birthday, grade, and frequency of therapy. Nothing is worse than trying to get a kiddo evaluated in 3 days and writing and IEP in 1 day because you overlooked an upcoming date. I keep the spread sheet on the bulletin board next to my desk for a quick reference of important information and dates. I also mark the dates on my calendar to ensure I don't miss an upcoming meeting. 
Here's a peak at the spread sheet I use:
Note: This spreadsheet is part of an editable teacher binder on my TeacherspayTeachers account. You can download it for free here

4. Build relationships with parents- Parents know their kid better than teachers do. Use parents to your advantage, especially the first few weeks of school when you're trying to get to know the kids!
A few tips for building and maintaining parent relationships: 
  • Call every student's parents the week before school starts to introduce yourself and let the parents know how excited you are about the upcoming school year.
  • Send home a questionnaire for parents to fill out about their child. Through a questionnaire, you can learn about students' strengths, weaknesses, special interests, or what parents may want their child to work on during the year. You can download a free questionnaire here
  • Set expectations for communicating and stick to it. You may write a note daily in students' agendas, send home a weekly newsletter, or email parents monthly, but however you agree to communicate with parents, keep it consistent! 
5. Show your secretary and custodian some love- The facility workers and secretary are probably some of the most important people to have on your side! You will need your fabulous custodian when the leg of a desk falls off, when flu season hits (hello, body fluids!), and when you need to move heavy boxes; you will need your secretary when you forget to turn in your time-sheet, when you need to sign up for a training, and when you have a question about paperwork, so show them some love! Get acquainted with your secretary and custodian before school starts by baking them cookies or bringing them a sweet treat. Also, remember them on holidays because they are often over looked and nothing makes them happier than a sweet valentine from students!

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