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Preparing for Success: Tips for Back-to-School for Special Education Teachers

back-to-school new school year

Are you a special education teacher gearing up for the new school year 2023? Don't start too early! But also don't wait too long. How about a few tips for back-to-school for special education to get you thinking? As a special education teacher, you play a crucial role in shaping the lives of your students, and being prepared is key to providing them with the best education possible. Let's ensure a smooth start to the school year. From organizing your classroom and setting up individualized education plans (IEPs) to stocking up on essential supplies and resources, let's gear up! Get ready to kickstart the new school year with confidence with these tips for back-to-school for special education teachers and make a positive difference in the lives of your students. Let's dive in!

Back-to-school for the special education CLASSROOM

When you’re ready, go back to your classroom, all alone, with no disruptions or interruptions, put on some good music, and walk around! Just spend some time visualizing what went well last year, what you’d like to change, what students will be coming back, anyone new? How did the environment set up work last year? What do you want to change? Consider the “flow” of the classroom, access to materials, safety.

And with that, fiddle around! Move things here and there and see how they feel. Put yourself in your students’ shoes and wander the room. Does it work?

Put in your maintenance requests early! If you need new desks or table or repairs done, if you want stuff moved OUT (yes!) to keep a calm and orderly environment, get those work orders in as soon as possible!

back-to-school special education

Preparing IEPs for the new school year

In a quiet moment, sit down and review the IEPs of your students for the new year. How do they look? Do any students need an extra review due to great growth or slow growth? How about the first three months’ schedule. Do you have any annuals coming up you want to prepare for right at the start of the year?

Then prepare your quick-check documents. Your teachers and paras aren’t going to be able to read each of the IEPs in depth like you do, so providing them a 1-2 page “snapshot” for any students they will be working with is key! Go through the IEPs and pull out the essential information like current goals, accommodations, service minutes. Share that information in an easy-to-reference format. Remember to preserve confidentiality!

Click to see this IEP-at-a-Glance resource!

Back-to-school special education transitions

If you have students who struggle with transitions, plan ahead! I’ve been known to send home social stories and visuals to families at the end of the year or even send them out a couple weeks before school starts. If they can start some of this preparation at home before the first day arrives, it helps so much!

Prepare transitions items, visuals, social stories (e.g., back-to-school, riding the bus, walking the halls), and anything else that will help create a smooth ride the first few days!

Prepare your visuals for a new year

We all know the power of visuals! I’ve always said I should have purchased stock in laminators and Velcro long ago.

Preparing your back-to-school visuals is a great job for your paras! If you can pull together the materials that need to be made early enough, you can use any of the paras prep time (if they get any!) before or early in the year to get them made for you. Don’t tell, but I’ve been known to invite them to my house before the school year starts and have a prep day! Obviously voluntary, but I provide pizza and root beer, and we really have a great time bonding over the Velcro dots.

Remember visuals for daily schedules, classroom signs, circle time visuals, learning names, and so forth as well as all the communication visuals that are so vital to our special education students!

classroom visuals
Click here to see this editable Classroom Jobs resource!

Prepare for communication with parents

I like to use a Getting to Know You form at the beginning of the year that asks for information about their student to help me get ready. Even if I had the student the previous year, we all know how much can change over the summer months! So I want to know their current favorite activities and treats, any new skills they have, any challenges they’re experiences, and so forth. I also check with parents about their preferred mode of communication. Some parents only want to be emails, some prefer a phone call, some have parent agreements I need to be aware of. So this information is important to gather right at the start of the year! And if you have littles or those with support needs, check in on toilet training! Summer is a time when many parents give it a whirl, and if not, maybe it’s time now!

Daily Report for Home Communication

Want a quick and easy Parent Communication Log for back-to-school for special education? Many students in special education can't tell them how their day went, and parent love to know! These forms can be sent in paper or digital forms and take minimal effort but yield great information for the teacher as well as parents! Parents will thank you!

Get ready! You know how back-to-school for special education is and how the first few days and weeks are! Do you have a plan to help students regulate? Maybe it’s a quiet corner in your room or a separate classroom, maybe it’s a plan for requesting a break and planning how to honor those requests. Do you need some fresh visuals or fidgets or books or soft sitting materials? Does the area need to have reduced lighting or a barrier to separate it from the large classroom? Just a reminder to think ahead so that you’re putting out fewer fires when the year actually begins.

Plan for back-to-school fun!

Remember to spend the first few days of school just acclimating. Spend the time helping students learn the routine, learn the rules of the school, and most importantly, to see school as a positive environment! Plan some get-to-know-you activities and goofy things to do. Consider running your regular schedule but making activities simply fun and less academic. Then, as time goes on, you can increase your expectations, but in the beginning, we just want to create a positive and supportive environment for our special education students!

And don’t forget yourself! Remember how important self-care is! Please please please, take care of yourself. If you need a mental health day, take it! Your students need your best you, and you need to do something to make yourself available to them, do it. If you need help or support, reach out, and keep reaching out until you get what you need. Find other teachers who can commiserate with you, can share in your burden and your loves.

I’m hoping this year will be a year of calm. Last year, we all know, was NUTS as it was the first year back after all the shutdowns. Let’s pray we worked out all the wrinkles last year, and this year will be a party! Ammi right?

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