Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What I Wish I Knew at 22

Congratulations new special needs teachers!  Here are somethings I would tell myself, the young teacher, at 22, if I could (and if I thought I would listen - because I doubt I would have).

  • All you can do is your best, and you need to do it every day.
  • What you have now is passion, what you will have in 15 years is experience, if you want to make it through the journey from one to the other then you need to take care of yourself, keep learning and make it about the kids.
  • Do the next right thing.  That is how you will be able to sleep at night when push comes to shove.
  • It is doubtful you will ever really write another lesson plan, task analysis or paper but you will write evaluations, IEPs and progress notes.  If you can't learn to love them at least learn how to get through them and do them well.  A moment of great pride will be when someone tells you that you "really captured the child" in an evaluation, strive for that, see these items as ways to celebrate the gifts of each child.  (Remember there is a chance people will be cutting and pasting from your work until this child is 21 - make it something worth cutting and pasting!)
  • Don't cut and paste the narrative parts of any evaluation or IEP.  The child deserves your full attention for that part.  If you are going to cut and paste anything else be sure you don't forget to change the gender, name, etc.  You may know that the statement about, say, the reason the child requires a special vehicle, is the same from IEP to IEP but the parents don't.
  • It absolutely is possible to frame everything you need to put in a report or IEP in a positive manner.  "Jane is a wheelchair user who depends on others for propulsion" is a better choice than "Jane is unable to walk or push her own wheelchair".  Take the time to find the positive.
  • When it comes to Velcro designate a pair of scissors, "Velcro only" and remember "Soft Stays, Rough Rides" or "Hard on the Card" (the fuzzy/loop part goes on the wall/board/book and the hook part goes on the thing you will be removing and replacing). Trust me this is good advice and will save many headaches! Also "Soft Stays" means you can use felt or Veltex or your sweater or a cubicle wall to stick your cards/items/misc too. 
  • You are paid in stories, you are the one who gets to decide what kind of stories they will be.
  • Teachers' rooms can be pits of despair (yes, like in the Princess Bride) avoid them if the crowd who is there when you are is negative or complains a lot.  Try to surround yourself with people who love being a teacher.
  • School picture day might be a bit of a hassle for you, but for parents it is a view of who their child is at school.  Take time to ask if parents want glasses or a bandana on or off, wheelchairs under a drape or not or a clean shirt put on.  It matters.  Then do whatever it takes to coax a smile and charm the photographer into taking a few more shots if needed.
  • Don't terrify parents about whatever the next transition is (be it from EI to pre-school or to adult services), that doesn't help anyone, instead help them know what to look for to know things are going well.
  • Parents need to have the information you have about learning, communication, socialization and more.  Try to find a way to share it with them.  Your 30 hours a week for 44 weeks of a school year pales in comparison to their time to teach their child.  Help them be their child's best teacher.
    Image result for flies with honey
  • As my grandfather would have said, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar -- but if you really want to catch those flies consider a little BS."  (I'm still terrible at it but learning to "play the game" is a valuable skill.  It might feel like you are being manipulative but it is really being strategic.  It's a fine line.)
  • You will have bad days, you will go home crying, you will find yourself worrying about work.  That means you care.  Find ways to get through those days that reinforce your passion. 
  • Enjoy teaching, seriously, have fun.


  1. I love this list, Kate. Yes, please, DO remember to wipe mouths and remove bandannas before the photographer captures this year in our child's life.

    I would add that if you are working with non-verbal children, or those who might have trouble remembering to tell their families, that a super-quick checklist of daily events covering topics like toileting, seizures, whatever-issues-a-family-might-need to know is a great way to communicate information parents really (!!!) need to know. It can be a check-the-box or circle-the-options list that takes under 60 seconds to fill out at the end of the day, but it saves parents countless hours of wondering about basic bodily functions. If you include parents in creating this checklist, you will both know that the essentials get covered every day and parents might be more understanding of the fact that you don't have 30 minutes (x 20 kids) to fill out a loving narrative at the end of the school day.

  2. Excuse my ignorance, but could you tell me what is IEP

    1. Individualized Education Plan. It's a US thing - a plan for what to teach a particular child.

  3. Great List! Even after 5 years I learned something new :-)

  4. I wholeheartedly disagree with your velcro methods! ;)


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