As summer comes to a close, it is time again to prepare for the exciting opportunity to teach a new class of students, or welcome back the students you worked with last year. The end of summer is an opportune time to begin gearing up for the new school year to make the most meaningful impact on your students with special needs.

The following six tips will help you start the year prepared, organized and focused.
  1. Start getting organized now! Prepare your organizational system before the paperwork starts to pile up and deadlines approach. Come up with a realistic system that works for you to keep academic work, assessment data and other special education documentation for each child organized and accessible. The students will keep you busy once they return, so make sure your digital and hard-copy filing systems are ready before the school year begins. Special education software like Unique Learning System® will help keep your assessment data organized and quickly accessible.
  2. Review each IEP, especially the Present Levels of Performance and timelines (next IEP meeting, etc.). Schedule upcoming IEP and meeting dates as well as reminders ahead of time so you are not rushed at the last minute to be a meaningful contributor in those meetings. If you are a Unique Learning System subscriber, now is the time to compare your student’s IEP goals with the suggested skills to be tracked in their completed profile.
  3. Network with new teachers, especially if you share students. Get to know them and their styles and help them feel welcomed and supported at your school. If you work with any new general education teachers, ask them if they have any questions or concerns about students in their classrooms. Your expertise in working with students with disabilities can be a great resource for teachers who need support to provide effective and inclusive classrooms.
  4. Review your materials and your instruction from last year to determine what did and did not work. Identify what you did well and what you could have done better and make changes accordingly. Part of being a professional is reflecting on our practice and understanding that we are always growing and learning. What new materials will you need, based on the IEPs for the kids in your class or on your caseload, and how you will access them?
  5. Take care of the small details to make learning fun for your students. If you have your own classroom, create a class calendar to have on the wall with holidays and student birthdays listed if appropriate. Check out SymbolStix PRIME® to create symbol-supported activities and boards. If you are an itinerant teacher or push-in specialist, think about making welcome packets with stickers or a new pencil for your new students.
  6. Remind yourself why you do this important job. Teaching students with diverse learning needs can be challenging, but all your hard work will ultimately make meaningful differences in the lives of each of your students.
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About the Author
Oran Tkatchov is a former secondary school teacher, charter school director, and state-level director of professional development in the areas of special education and school improvement. He currently supports professional learning at the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. He earned a Master’s of Education from Northern Arizona University.