Welcome to the beginning of a new year! If you’ve been doing this for years, you know to expect the unexpected. You may have an ample amount of activities in your stash, ready to pull out and differentiate for any level. You also know that one student can turn your plans upside down. If you are a new teacher, you may have a mix of feelings, simultaneously excited, scared, feeling like you’re ready and not ready at the same time. Be assured that you’re in for a massive learning experience. To reassure you, you can never be completely ready for your first year. Whether you are new or have been teaching for years, these instructional guides should help you to prepare for the smoothest year yet!
Review all students' education and health records:
- Create a checklist for each student to review all student paperwork. This will include the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs), evaluation information, and student work portfolio.
- Look to see what related services the student receives.
- Look for strengths and weaknesses, present levels of performance, etc.
- What are the student’s goals?
You will use this information as you begin to plan for instruction and develop your daily schedule.
Look Over the Curriculum
- Does your school have a scope and sequence for special needs classrooms?
- Do you have specialized curriculum in your classroom?
- Will you need to create a scope and sequence-based off the general education scope and sequence?
- If your district uses the TEKS Resource, review the Year at a Glance (YAG) and the Vertical Alignment Document (VAD).
Apply this information to what you learned in the folder review to develop beginning instructional
activities. You will be looking for ways these resources overlap to guide instruction.
You may note that the student has a need based on the folder review, you see that in the year at a glance, there is an activity that relates to that need. Of course, the activity is probably above your student’s academic functioning level. You know you will need to use pre-requisite skills to teach. Refer to the TEKS Curriculum Framework. You also look at the essence statements; there may be a related essence statement. If not, that’s okay. We don’t just teach for the assessment. However, the tools provided by the Texas Education Agency help you to see how to build instruction prior to assessment. If you have any questions related to the documents noted, contact your local ESC CAN education specialist.
Begin to Develop a Classroom Schedule
- What will your day look like, how will you divide up the time?
- Remember to build in time for students who will see related service providers (occupational therapy, physical therapy, adaptive physical education, speech).
- Contact the related service providers to coordinate your schedules. Related service providers may take varying amounts of time to get you their schedules, you will likely need to create a tentative schedule until you get their information, as you will need a classroom schedule as soon as possible.
The Classroom Schedule Template linked below is for you and your staff. Students will need their own individual schedules.
Remember to consider:
- How many students are in each room, each period/subject of the day?
- If you have students who go to other classes on campus, make sure that those teachers have copies of your students’ accommodations and modifications so that they can best support the student. Make sure that, when you provide this paperwork, each teacher signs a Receipt of Special Education Records. Check with your school administration, they may have developed their own form. If not, see the Receipt of Special Education Records Example below. The school year can get very busy, so it’s important to keep track of what you have provided for who.
- How diverse are these students’ learning needs? This helps you to determine when you will teach a small group, whole group, etc. If you’re teaching a small group, what are the other students doing and where?
- How many paraprofessionals are in your room each period? Do you have time allotted to communicate with them efficiently and not during class time? Remember to account for when they’ll be away for personal lunches and/or duty.
- How many students have personal care needs? What is the nature and frequency of their needs? You may need to plan times for checks and changes.
- Will you be planning for snack time? Make sure that you know about any special dietary needs/allergies.
- How many students have communication needs? How will you effectively facilitate communication needs, all day, every day? This takes time that you may need to build into your schedule.
- What kind of tolerance do your students have for work? Can you plan for 30 minutes of instruction, or do you need to plan for 5 minutes of instruction with breaks?
- Do your students need small reinforcement breaks in the classroom or do they need sensory breaks in the motor lab? How long do your students need their breaks to be, and if their breaks need to be in a different location than the classroom, who will help them to transition and supervise them while they’re away? What will the other students be doing while some take their breaks in the classroom?
- Is there more than one teacher? Will you have the same schedule, different schedule, or a schedule that merges for parts of the day?
- What kind of specific programs will you be using? Different districts purchase different reading, math, and other programs for their campuses.
- How many total IEP goals will you be teaching each week? How many are similar and can be consolidated into a small group? You will need to plan time in your schedule to work on each goal each week. Where do the goals naturally fit into the flow of the day?
- When will you work in content areas and activities to prepare your students for the spring assessment?
Receipt of Special Education Records Sample
This sample records receipt can be used to collect signatures of those receiving relevant sections of a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).Download Resource - Receipt of Special Education Records Sample
Organize Your Classroom
Based on your schedule and student needs, begin setting up your classroom. Arrange the classroom so that the structure communicates what happens in each area. The organization will be based on your classroom schedule.
- What areas will you need for learning? Centers, individual work areas, a place for small groups, large group, computers, etc. are all environments to consider. Remember that many students benefit from an environment that is structured, non-cluttered, and incorporates visual supports.
- What areas will you need to support positive behavior? You may need a calming area if you have students who experience sensory overload. You may need to create something as simple as a quiet break area for students who need a little quiet time.
- Once you have organized your classroom, use an evaluation form to assess the components of your classroom (see the Rubric of Effective Practices below). What areas are strong, and what areas need improvement?
Create Individual Student Schedules
Once you have a class schedule, and you understand the level your child is functioning at, it is time to create individual student schedules. If you are not using schedules, you are missing out on a great behavioral strategy.
Schedules are used to help students anticipate what is coming and see how they are progressing through their day. Schedules help decrease stress and anxiety. Also, the skill of following a schedule can go with the student from class to class, grade to grade, and continue with them after they leave school. A student can generalize the skill to follow a schedule for making his bed, doing the laundry, creating a snack…any task that can be analyzed and broken down into steps can become a schedule. You can also use a schedule to help a student accept surprises or changes. Remember that teaching a skill like following a schedule is as important as teaching an academic skill.
Create a Schedule for Paraprofessionals
The day goes by smoothly when everyone understands what is expected of them. Students and
paraprofessionals will both benefit from knowing exactly what is expected.
Once you have completed a staff assignment chart like this, you might also consider rotating staff and students every so often so that students become comfortable with working with all adults in the classroom.
Create a Classroom Manual
Consider creating a classroom manual for classroom staff to further establish expectations.
- Sharing of food. Each student’s individual food can only be eaten by that student. Food that is not eaten must be thrown away or sent home. Per parent permission, drinks can be labeled and kept in the refrigerator to be consumed by that student at a later time, but the refrigerator will be emptied at the end of each week and excess will either be discarded or sent home. Staff will never eat any item purchased by a student or sent for class snack, unless staff purchased the class snack. Parents have been notified that staff often provide snack, which follows the class theme or lesson, and parents have given their consent for their child to partake of this provided snack. (Parents have approved a list of snack items at the beginning of the year or were notified in advance of the snack for approval.)
- Feeding of students. Staff should wash their hands before the preparation of student’s food and avoid touching food as much as possible. Knives, forks and the food processor can be employed to dice and chop as necessary. Each student’s food is prepared according to parent’s instructions, which are recorded as protocol for that individual student in the back of this manual.
- Changing of students – see each students individual protocol in the back of this manual. Our students are each changed 2 – 3 times a day. The number of changes is determined by need, and need is determined by documentation which we keep on an ongoing daily basis. Gloves must be worn and hands washed after each change.
- Confidentiality - All personal information regarding students and their families is to be closely safeguarded. This includes IEPs, BIPs, medical records and protocols, behavioral records, grades, changing charts, etc. There should be no open discussion of any personal information, such as diagnosis, medical records, behavior, family information, or even classroom happenings. If anyone should ask a question regarding our students, the response should be, “Because of confidentiality laws, I cannot answer that question.” Substitutes in the classroom should only be advised of their responsibility in regards to that student. All records must be kept under lock and key at school. No seizure plans or IEPs which identify students can be posted or in clear view of anyone entering class. These items can be kept in an accessible place, as long as they are not accessible to anyone other than staff. Such accessible plans can use arbitrary symbols, easily distinguishable by staff, in place of students’ names.
- Parents will only be contacted when necessary and then only by the teacher, nurse, or other principal designated staff. If a classroom staff member, other than the teacher has contact with a parent (such as in the morning when the parents are dropping off the student), such contact should be brief and general. Any question the parent might have should be referred to the teacher. Likewise, if a parent is seen outside of school, conversation should be of a brief, social nature. If a parent begins a more in-depth discourse, the parent should be prompted to set up a teacher conference to more thoroughly and confidentially discuss their concerns.
- Pictures – Parents must sign a consent for pictures or video to be taken in class, and pictures/video can only be taken in those incidents as outlined in the signed consent, i.e. documentation of progress or a classroom yearbook. Even though we love our students, we must maintain a professional attitude. This means no pictures on cell phones, etc.
- Classroom activities should include the students to the maximum degree possible and be centered around the students. We will accomplish this using assistive technology when needed and building in choices and opportunities for the student. Don’t underestimate the student’s abilities. Work toward independence. The class environment should be calm, quiet, and relaxed. It should be age-appropriate. Staff must encourage student participation in activities and work displayed should be more a result of student work rather than of staff creativity. For each activity, time must be allotted so that the student can become engaged in that activity.
- The washer and dryer in our classroom serve a dual purpose. First, they are used to keep our classroom sanitary. We wash bibs, blankets, pillow covers, and soiled clothes when necessary. Second, they are used for practical instruction of daily living skills. Soiled linens are washed during 6th period (Vocational/Domestic activities).
Individual Student Instructions - Student B
(Information of Importance to the Paraprofessional)
- Functional Skills – Breakfast – present choices of food and drink, announce, “Student B are you hungry? Which would you like?” – Let Student B choose by reaching. Occasionally ask, “Student B, where’s your cup?” and watch for any type of response. When Student B has indicated she is done, announce, “It’s time to clean your face. Lay wet towel in front of Student B and when she reaches for it, assist her (as needed) at wiping her face. Announce, “Now we have to clean up. First let’s put our dirty dishes in the sink, assist (as needed.) Now let’s throw our trash away, assist (as needed.) Finally, we need to put the dirty rags in the basket to wash.” Try to follow the same routine each day, using the same phrasing and steps. Repeat this protocol for lunch and snack. Document progress on her skill sheet on file. When this is done, pull her skill sheet folder and work on a skill, documenting progress.
- Toileting/Change – Student is changed using a two-person transfer to the mat. This is necessary because student is very fragile. The student is unable to assist in the diaper change in any way. Treat student with care and kindness. Announce to student at each step what is about to happen. After change, a two-person transfer is required to move student back to wheelchair.
- PE/Communication/Social – The first half of the class is either PE or a Communication/Social Activity. Adaptive PE teacher will lead PE on Monday and Wednesdays and occasional Fridays. On the other days, pull Comm./Social skill sheet and carry out that group activity for the first half of class. For the second half of the class, Student B will work with Teacher on Communication lesson on the mat.
- Teacher 1 on 1 – Students rotate through centers and 1 on 1 time with the teacher. Para monitor the rotations.
- Small-Group & Lunch – Teacher leads small group activity while Paras gather necessary items to take to the cafeteria for lunch and then transition children to lunch. We all eat in the cafeteria each day for lunch.
- Technology – Student B works in a small group (2:1) on the computer. The lesson reinforces other skills taught throughout the day. The teacher will have an activity set up at the computer station.
- Snack and Home Prep – Student B has a snack. Often we will use switches so that Student B can participate in the preparation of snack (for example, fruit smoothies). Afterward, Student B is changed following the same protocol as during the morning and after lunch.
One of the few things considered by new teachers is transportation. Key points here are to know who rides which bus and make sure the bus staff understands student needs. As with all related service personnel, it is crucial that you come together to form a strong collaborative team. This is what is necessary to support our students.
You have now built the framework to begin the year. No matter how much time you have put into this plan, remember that it is going to change many, many times. Nothing is concrete in special education. By mid-September, you may feel like you have spent a massive amount of time writing schedules, both for students and staff. That is because you have! A lot of writing schedules is trial and error. Be persistent. It will get easier.
Remember that the students’ needs determine your classroom setup. Always keep safety in mind. Evaluate your room frequently to identify what changes need to be made. If something is not working, change it. Eventually this process will slow down, and everything will start to flow.