Around this time of year, I often set many lofty goals that aren’t achievable for me. This is why I typically take the stance of “I don’t believe in New Years resolutions.” However, the truth is that if there is anything we can do to shake up our thinking and push ourselves to be better, it’s worthwhile isn’t it? I am a major believer in reflecting and seeking new ways to improve my teaching, classroom environment, relationships with students, and so on. There is always room for improvement. I hope you’ll join me after our too short and extremely necessary
sleep coma winter break to contemplate how we can be better special educators in 2018.
ONE: First, Teacher. Then, Students.
Love yourself so you can give your students the love they need and deserve. On a personal level, this one is extremely difficult for me. However, I am at a point in my career where it is worthy of being at the top of the list. I have met many selfless special education teachers in my district and through the Instagram world that I know this resolution is relevant to. If you’re anything like me and struggle with perfectionism, it helps me to remember that the most important thing is always the kids. The truth is that they want to see your loving and smiling face when they get to school infinitely more than a perfectly prepared classroom.
- Pick 1 day to stay late on a weekly/bi-weekly basis.
- It does not pay off being the first teacher to arrive and the last teacher to leave school everyday.
- Pack a lunch &/or snacks
- Most days I pack snacks for my students and forget about myself! Not cool. You don’t need to be an amazing meal prepping chef to nourish your body while you’re at work.
- Go to the adult bathroom.
- It’s the very least we can do for ourselves, isn’t it? I often take the kid I am working with for a walk and drop them off in someone’s office (principal school psych, secretary, receptionist, guidance counselor, you name it…I’ve left a kid there) so I can go to the adult bathroom quickly.
TWO: Plan things to look forward to!
- Field Trips
- Who doesn’t love a field trip? Don’t forget about IN-SCHOOL field trips too though! I have my students work for trips to the library, office, art room, etc. ALL the time. It is highly motivating and it gets us out of the classroom for a bit. It is also extremely beneficial for your school as a whole to see your students out and about regularly.
- Class Parties
- It’s a running joke at my school that my class knows how to party better than any other. Yes, I do throw a fantastic party but I don’t just throw them for the decorations at the Target dollar spot….I do it because we (my students, my staff, and myself) ALL need things to work towards. Even if you start the day knowing that you JUST CAN’T that day and plan on putting on a movie at a certain point for your own personal sanity, fake it ’til you make it and call it a special movie party that the whole class can work for (ALWAYS keep a box of microwave popcorn in your room too). I do this more than I should…
- General Education Opportunities
- BE NOSEY and ask around about the fun stuff that general education teachers are planning for their kids. Hop in for the fun stuff as often as you can! It’s good for your kids, it’s good for their kids. You’d be surprised how supportive and inclusive they will be! Also, don’t forget to hop on their field trips when you can too…less planning/fundraising for you and all you’ll have to sort out is their transportation and supervision.
- Class Visitors
- Community helpers, high school or college students, other cool teachers from your school, librarians, family members, etc. It’s amazing to facilitate opportunities for your Littles to meet new people and hear their stories.
- Reading Buddies
- General education teachers would love to send some of their kids out of their room for 10-15 minutes to read to your kiddos. They would LOVE IT. Other teachers will try and get in on it too and before you know it, you will have weekly social skills lesson that you don’t even need to plan for.
THREE: Speak less & Show more.
This one is a year long practice for me and is more difficult for some than others. Often times in special education classrooms that have multiple adults working in them, WE are the loudest ones. We are setting the classroom environment up to be louder than we prefer because we just. can’t. stop. talking. It’s also important to note that the kiddos are ALL EARS when adults are talking.
We do a lot of explaining to staff and students via words but try these methods too:
- For your students: use visuals, gestures, physical prompts, and sign language.
- For your staff: write on whiteboards, Post It notes, or send text message if it’s appropriate, etc. when you need to communicate
- Have staff do the same for you. They have lots of questions but we need to remind them to write it down and ask later because their questions are very important to us but can’t always be addressed immediately.
FOUR: Love THAT kid.
The squeaky wheel needs the most grease, doesn’t it? After a long winter break with few demands placed on our students, I like to be intentional about taking time to pair again (need a refresher on pairing? Read here). I take THAT kid, you know him/her and during their most difficult time of the day, I’ll surprise them by doing something fun instead of whatever the typical fight is. Try this! Do a fun activity together and love on them like crazy! Do this a few times and watch your relationship with that student change. The power struggle immediately weakens when they know that you love and respect them. It’s stressful to miss teaching time but you will gain a lot more academic time overall when you set aside meaningful pairing time upfront.
FIVE: Ask for forgiveness, Not permission.
Read this carefully because it’s the most important lesson you can learn as a special education teacher. You need to do what’s best for your kids. You know that or you wouldn’t be in this field. Don’t get weighed down by school or district red tape. Close the door and do what’s best for your babies. They will grow best that way and their families will love you and thank you for it. As a result, your school and district will thank you too…well, maybe I shouldn’t go as far as to say that, but they will certainly appreciate the fact that they don’t have to worry about your classroom and they will give you more freedom to do what you think is best. Believe it or not, this actually has worked for me.
Have a blessed new year full of sweet, silly, & groundbreaking moments with your Littles. They are so lucky to have you.