First Year Advice for Any Special Education Teacher

I wanted a post to start out the year for some of you and hopefully perk some people up after the first week or two of school.  Let’s face it, teaching is not for wimps!  It’s hard work and when you teach special education and often in a self-contained classroom, it’s really hard work physically and mentally.  You may have seen the little picture in the title picture above when I posted it on Instagram when TPT was collecting suggestions.  I ran across it this evening and realized it was the beginning of a post for just this time of year–because you know I have more to suggest for the first year than just one thing!  🙂

[Tweet “Let’s face it….teaching is not for wimps!”]

And let’s face it, some advice we give to first year teachers is good for all of us.  So, you can file this post under “Do what Chris says….not necessarily what she does” category or the “it’s easier to say that do” column.  Nonetheless they are things that are important for all of us to remember (parents too!).  So, what would I tell a first year teacher in an autism or other special education teacher?  Here’s the short version:


All of us need to be reminded of this occasionally.  It’s OK not to know everything.  None of us do.  If you are a new teacher, don’t let others make you think you are naive.  There is plenty we all don’t know.  The key is when you aren’t sure of something–ask.  Get to know the people who can and will help you.  Find out who the positive people are and surround yourself with them–they are the ones you can go to for questions.  For more ideas about how to identify these people at your school, check out this awesome post about Finding Your Marigold.

[Tweet “It’s OK not to know everything…”]


I can’t overemphasis this one.  When you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and tired…..stop and breathe!  Just taking 3 deep breaths can physically calm you down and release tension so you can think more clearly.  Often times the problem is not as big an issue as it seems when you first encounter it.  Just take moment and breathe.

Advice for new teachersPlan

In fact, over plan.  Plan too much to do during the day–especially the first days.  It’s ok that you don’t get to everything–in fact it’s great.  That’s a whole lot better than finding yourself with 30 minutes left of school and nothing up your sleeve.  Keep a box of things you can pull out extra lessons or activities.  Find out if you have someone on the classroom team who can create lessons or activities out of thin air (and bless that person if you find him or her).  That’s your go-to person to fill out time. I was fortunate to work with a staff member who could create a 15 minute lesson out of a bean bag.  Bless him!   If you don’t have this person in your class, over plan.  If you plan more things than can possibly be done during the day and put the extra lessons in a box, if you don’t use them today, you can use them another day when everything went faster than you expected or something got cancelled.

Take it / Make It Easy

No, don’t sit at your desk and put your feet up.  Plan lots of easy activities for your students in the first days of school.  Let them experience a feeling of accomplishment and give yourself some time to learn about them and what they can and can’t do.   Because they will get through the activities quickly if they are easy, that’s another reason to over plan.  However, giving easy stuff to do let’s you do assessments, minimizes some challenging behaviors that might occur if you ask a student to do something too hard, and let’s everyone acclimate to being back at school.  It also allows students to be successful and get lots of reinforcement-that’s the other piece.  Use lots of reinforcement and you will become reinforcing and over time you can reduce the tangible reinforcement as the year moves forward.


I realize that while you are over planning and setting up your class, sleeping a good amount each night is difficult.  As someone whose alarm that wakes me up is the song “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead,” trust me, I get it.  However, after the first week, go home, put your feet up and get some rest.  If you continue to try to go 110 with your hair on fire, you won’t be any good to anyone.  So try to get to bed at a reasonable time and get back into that routine.   It’s easier to breathe if you have had sleep.

Oh, and one final note…your classroom does NOT need to look like Pinterest or even other people’s classrooms.  Your classroom has to be right for you and for your students.  It will likely change every year and possibly every week in the beginning of the year if you get new students or get to know your students better.  Focus your effort on function of the classroom more than what it looks like.  It needs to be organized and manageable but it doesn’t have to be beautiful–and beautiful is easier to add later.

For more ideas on stress management, check out my post from a couple years ago on A Special Sparkle here.

So,it’s going to be an awesome year.  You can do this–whether you are in your first year or your 30th.  You got this and remember to

[Tweet “Just keep moving forward….”]

Until next time,

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