Saturday, January 2, 2016

25 Must Haves for Any SPED Teacher

special education must haves
Hey there, and welcome to Mrs. D's Corner! For those of you who are new to my blog, I am a 6th year Special Education Teacher, and a 2nd year Life Skills Teacher. I absolutely love what I do, but if you're anything like me, you know there are certain times throughout the school year where you need to re-stock on your most used items. I call them my "must haves."

Your must haves can be anything from a classroom supply for your students to something you personally need to get you through that 2 hour IEP meeting (and we all know those happen). So today I am going to share my 25 must haves for any SPED teacher, whether you're a veteran or a newbie, a self-contained teacher or co-teacher,  a pre-K or high school teacher.

#1-20 are things you can buy. You know, with money. #21-25 are things that have no value. You know, they're priceless. Especially #25. 

OH YEAH... and if this post makes you want to go shopping, scroll to the bottom to access links to the items listed in this post.
1. Personal laminator
I've had a Scotch Thermal Laminator for a little over 2 years now, and it has been life changing. You know those times when you need something right away Monday morning, but you don't have time to wait 20 minutes for the school's laminator to heat up? Then you have to cut it out, add the Velcro, and get it ready before the kids come? Yeah... get yourself a personal laminator so you can get it all done on Sunday night. It will change your life.
2. Velcro
You will use this stuff for everything and anything. And I suggest buying Velcro coins so you don't have to cut Velcro strips for tiny pieces like visual schedules and such.

Feiner Supply has the best price. I bought a 1,500 pack of Velcro hook coins and a 1,500 pack of Velcro loop coins in September... and it lasted me through the middle of December. That's a lot of Velcro coins, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Invest in good Velcro!
3. Planner
I love my Erin Condren Life Planner (link)! The interchangeable covers are my new favorite thing too. I promise you that my life would be complete chaos and I wouldn't be able to tell up from down without my planner. Definitely a must have! I like to choose covers with inspirational sayings on the front. Last year it was "Work Hard, Play Harder" and this year says "and so the adventure begins."
4. Plastic Containers
I could just stare at that picture for days... it is just pure teacher Heaven. Color coded bins and any type of plastic containers are just what any SPED teacher wants and needs. Set up work task bins, organize all of your manipulatives, or use them to house snacks and other goodies. The possibilities are endless!

5. Snacks and Candy
This can be anything that you and your students like. Yes, YOU need to have that secret candy stash for when that IEP meeting lasts just a little too long... or your room got trashed from a meltdown. Just eat the candy, you'll feel better. One Two Three Reesey cup won't hurt!

I know that lots of other teachers will tell you no candy or treats for kids, but guess what... our kids thrive off of rewards. And, honestly, some of them are only rewardable with food. You know what's best for your students, so if the only way a student will finish a writing activity is if you reward him with fruit snacks, well then you'd better make sure you're stocked up.
6. Hole Punch
The Swingline low force single hole punch is my absolute favorite hole punch of all time. I bought it a few months ago when I was literally going home with muscle bruises on my palms from the old, really tough single hole punch. This baby doesn't hurt your palms, is super easy to punch, and will save you lots of time. 
7. Scissors (Nonstick and Spring Loaded)
It's always a good idea to have multiple pairs of adult scissors in your classroom and at home. I recommend getting a pair of nonstick scissors and a pair of spring loaded scissors. Don't forget, you'll need to keep a *special* pair of scissors laying around for Velcro cutting. ;)
8. Clear Page Protectors / Sleeves
You can use sheet protectors for SO many things in the classroom... and anywhere to keep you organized. Did you know they even make them with little lips on the top so your papers don't fall out. They have been amazinggg for center work! My kids can drop them and fling them around, and the paper stays put inside :) Genius!

9. Paper Trimmer
I didn't purchase one of these until a few months ago... and I have no idea why I didn't buy one sooner. Having a paper trimmer at home and at school has made cutting out centers and adapted books so much quicker and easier. You definitely need one of these.
10. Magnetic White Board Hooks
I keep two sets of these white board hooks on the front whiteboard. It's nice to hang special schedules up there for assemblies, adapted books, or anything really! You can hole punch the top corner of a baggie, store things in the baggies (like PECs or visual schedule pieces), and then hang them on the hooks.
11. BoardMaker / SmartySymbols
If your district doesn't provide you with a BoardMaker CD, then they need to get on the ball and you need to tell them about it. You can use this program, or SmartySymbols (an online based program that is as equally awesome, if not awesomer... and cheaper!) to create visuals, schedules, Core Boards... everything and anything your students will need.
12. Fidgets
Fidgets are one of those things that you'll thank me for later... and it goes into #13, so read on.
13. Sensory Reinforcers (silly putty, slinkys, and squishy toys OH MY!)
This includes a wide range of things. We all know that, quite frequently, our students go in to sensory overload... and at many points throughout the day, it is smart to give a sensory break. Our kids just need it, and you'll thank me later. You can check out my Pinterest Board for more ideas on DIY Fidgets and Sensory play.
14. 3 Ring Binders
Again with the organization. I use binders for so many things... Core board storage, IEP information and data collection, binder work tasks. Always keep a few different sizes laying around too. You never know when you'll need that 3" binder.
15. Binder Rings
I would be lying if I said I haven't already used 100+ binder rings this school year. On what? EVERYTHING! Everything and anything to keep things organized. Man on man, I should probably just buy stock in 1" binder rings. Is that possible?
16. Manipulatives
These can be anything... and the kids absolutely love them. One thing I've found to help my lessons be successful when using manipulatives for a lesson is letting the students play (yes PLAY) with whatever manipulative we are going to be using. I'll set a timer for a minute or two, let the kids know that after the timer goes off it's time to work and no more play. Works like a charm.

Lakeshore Learning is a great place to get manipulatives (but they can be expensive, so always check Amazon).
17. Color Printer
If your school doesn't give you access to a color printer, or you don't have unlimited access to a color printer at school, I highly suggest purchasing a color printer. I've heard great things about the HP Ink program too, but I've not personally given it a try.
18. Cardstock
In December, I had already gone through 9 reams of white card stock. Yep, you read that correctly. NINE. You'll use it for everything... especially with that personal laminator. So at the beginning of the year when parents ask if you need anything, you answer should always be, "Yes, white card stock please!"

19. Work Tasks
Invest the time and money into creating and making valuable, workable, independent work tasks for your students. Here is a great Pinterest board to give you an idea of what work tasks are and how to build them yourself.
20. Magnetic Tape
This stuff is genius! Now it isn't strong enough to hold weight onto your board, but it works great for cookie tray tasks and hanging papers on the front board.

Now these are the things that cost you nothing. You may find humor in me writing about them, but in all seriousness... you need them. :)

21. Strong Stomach
You will see everything... and I mean e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. in your special needs classroom. Vomit. Boogers. Spit and drool. Poop. Yes, I said poop. Poop in the urinals, maybe on the walls. Diapers and pull ups. G-Tubes. More vomit. And more poop. Just wait. It's all coming your way.

22. Sense of Humor
Some days you will go home so frustrated, defeated, or overwhelmed that you just want to break down and cry... and sometimes you'll be able to do nothing but laugh about it. For example, the day one of my students pooped in the urinal (see, I was speaking from experience!) I was mortified... but now it's absolutely hilarious.

23. Supportive Administration
This is a big one because if you don't have supportive administration, you're going to have a rough time. And I don't just mean from your assistant principal and principal... you need it all the way up. It's rare and hard to come by being a special education teacher, so if you happen to be at a school where you feel and are supported, know that you are one of the lucky ones.

24. A Good Mentor
Whether you're a veteran or a newbie, or somewhere in-between the two, you need a mentor. Your mentor doesn't have to be someone at your school or in your district. It can be someone in a different state or country. But you need someone to go to when you feel overwhelmed or someone you can share the successes with! Don't keep it all inside, there are people out there who support you!

I have found so much solace, in good times and rough times, in a special ed group on FB. When I feel like I've tried everything, I know I can always turn to this group of special people and ask their opinions. We all teach something different and we're all in different stages of teaching, but we're there for one another... and it really has made a world of difference.

25. Paraprofessionals
I. have. no. idea. what. I. would. do. without. my. paraprofessionals. Especially the one who has been with me over the last year when we lost the 2nd para in February until November when we got a new one. I probably would have gone absolutely crazy without him... and I'm sure there are times when I did go crazy. Thankfully we have been gifted with a new para and boy, do I ever feel lucky. So please, please, please, don't EVER take your paraprofessionals for granted.

For your ease of shopping, I have created an Amazon "store" with many of my must haves. Simply click the picture below to go shopping.

Do you agree with this list? What is something you couldn't survive being a SpEd teacher without?

*This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. Any purchases you make using our links helps to support the blog so we can continue to share our ideas with you.*


  1. Replies
    1. Great question...I was wondering the same thing!!

  2. Fabulous post Stephanie!!! You thought of EVERYTHING! I am heading over to Amazon right now!

  3. This is a great post! I pinned several things to my Sped Remind group board! We would love to have you come hop in a seat share during our next Blab chat! We're meeting up Wed. Jan 20th at 8:30 EST if you can join. We are always looking for more SPED elementary teachers to share their knowledge!

  4. I love your post and had almost everything on your supply list EXCEPT the colored containers. Where did you find those??

    1. You can purchase them online from Lakeshore Learning or Really Good Stuff (RGS has a lot more colors!). Also, I know that Target has some bins in their Dollar Spot right now (or at least they did a few weeks ago!)

  5. Loved this post. I also recommend emergency clothes for those "accidents or mishaps" that may happen to land on you. If you haven't already heard of it a Donors Choose account is also helpful for donations or class needs.

  6. This is a great list! A sense of humor is my top priority or I would be crying a lot. Most definitely para professionals are invaluable, although sometimes too many adults cause new problems. I really should use card stock. thank you for this great list. Paula

  7. These are so great!!!! :D I love these must haves.. Just ordered me some color-coded bins... go figure. Haha

  8. I am making a donors choose and want to get the best laminator. I like mine, but it doesn't laminate thick enough for my ECSE kiddos'. Can you let me know what scotch laminator you use, AND/OR the thickness of laminate that you use?

    1. I use this scotch laminator:

      I've used both the 3mm and 5mm pouches :)