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Back to School Tips Veteran Teachers Wish They Knew Back Then

Going back to school is a process that veteran teachers now know very well. But for first year teachers, it can be daunting. There is so much that a college classroom and books can’t and don’t teach you.

Most veteran teachers have a step-by-step process for what we need to do to get ready for the new school year. Thinking back to 10 years ago, when I was a first year teacher (that year I was a 7th grade Middle School Math Co-Teacher in Virginia), I remember being so excited for the school year, to meet my students and decorate my classroom. 

And every classroom setting is different. Every year is different. For real though, every single day is different… and there’s nothing like experience that can teach you the ropes of teaching.

If I could go back in time, there are definitely a lot of things that I wish I would have known then that I know now, and things have learned from many veteran teachers along the way.

So I’ve curated this list of tips and tricks from teachers all over the world to help make back to school less stressful and more fun!

So let’s look at some back to school tips veteran teachers may have wish they knew back then, whether your first year was last year, 5 years ago, or longer.


You don’t need to have everything ready to go for day 1, or week 1… or even week 5!

First and foremost, stop and breathe. It’s okay, you don’t need to have everything figured out, set up and in its place right now. You are doing a great job!

“As long as the kids eat lunch and make it home safely, it’s a successful day!” And that is completely okay, because some days… that’s about all you will accomplish. Celebrate the little successes! (That is the best piece of advice I was ever given.)

And when knowing that isn’t enough, know this: every day is a new day. You get to start over, every morning! That’s 187 chances…

Spend time making your classroom “cute”, but don’t spend ALL your time doing that.

This was absolutely my first mistake during my first year of teaching. I had a beautiful brand new classroom with a blank canvas to fill with furniture, cute decorations and color-coded bins. I spent weeks up at school during the month of July my first year making sure my classroom looked “perfect” (and surprisingly enough-this was before Pinterest!)

But then suddenly it dawned on me as we inched closer to the first day of school – I needed to actually sit down and figure out what I will be teaching on those first few days!

Make a visual schedule for your students and stick to it.

It is no joke that students with special needs love structure and love to know what is happening in every part of their day. I like to keep a visual schedule posted in a specific space in our classroom that is easy for all students to see and I refer to it often as we were transitioning between activities.

Now it's time to use your visual schedules!

My students also loved to be able to check things off as we got closer to preferred activities in our day such as recess, lunch, snack and dismissal.

If you need a Digital Visual Schedule for School + Home for Distance Learning you can check that out here. The flip template is free in the Resource Library.

Ask for supplies so you don’t have to purchase yourself.

I had no idea that being a special education teacher meant that you generally are not going to need the same supplies as the student’s general education teacher.

When I was not in a self-contained room, inclusion was a big part of the district that I was in. I distinctly remember that on one of my first Open House nights, my parents took all of the main supplies to their child’s general education teacher: the kleenexes, paper towels, markers, scissors, glue. I was left with empty supply boxes.

What I quickly realized was that the general ed teachers get SO MUCH STUFF that they are always happy to share with you because they have nowhere to put it all!

Building relationships at the beginning of the year is extremely important.

Are assessments important for students in special education? Absolutely!

But will you always get your students to do what you need them to do if they don’t like and trust you? Probably not.

Building rapport is HUGE as a teacher. Once you have it, it is priceless. It makes for an easier, smoother school year. So take some time to get to know your student’s favorite movie and who their brothers and sisters are.

Tell them about yourself too. They love to see pictures of your pets and family, which is why I always put a small bulletin board up behind my teacher desk with pictures of my life outside of teaching. I promise you it will be worth it!

Plan ahead, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

Special education can be different from day to day, even though you generally keep the same schedule. You never know what could happen in a typical day and it is best to have a scheduled plan (even if you have to make some adjustments throughout the school year).

I typically would not plan for more than 1-2 weeks at a time in my special education classroom. I felt much less anxious when I had a plan laid out and typed out but surprises arose often such as student meltdowns, fire drills, intruder drills, SLP visits, etc.

If you don’t get to everything you had planned for that specific day, it’s okay! You can always get to it tomorrow… or next week! My first week of school lessons actually used to stretch out farther than I originally anticipated.

Put snacks on YOUR teacher supply list.

Nope, I am not joking! We always had a drawer that was filled with chocolate especially for the paraprofessionals and trust me, you will want it too after a long hard day!

It’s also great if you are able to have a small refrigerator in your room for student snacks and also drinks for yourself because you probably won’t find much time to run to the vending machine during the busy day.

Invest in good shoes!

If you are new to the profession, you may be giggling but after your first full day of teaching in a special education room, you will quickly realize that comfort is key! I love dressing up and still did when I was in the classroom but you would not find me wearing high heels or even flip- flops at school. Find yourself some shoes with great support that are comfortable for standing and walking around the building (a lot.) 

Have a morning routine ready to go and start implementing it the FIRST day/week of school.

 I very quickly learned how important a morning routine was for my students… and for me. I needed them to know exactly what to do when they entered the room so that we could have a successful start to our day, eliminate some of the chaos and be on time with our schedule.

The Morning Adapted Work Binder will change your morning routine! It provides students with practice on many different functional skills and is easy to differentiate. Here is a preview of what it looks like and all your questions about it can be answered here. This is what my students worked on as soon as we completed our morning calendar routine.

I never had to run to the copier before the bell rang to print morning work. Once it was ready, it was ready for the ENTIRE year. It makes our mornings so easy and so reliable for students who need that routine. 

You don’t need to grade every single piece of paper. Or collect data on every single activity.

Do not grade or collect data on every single thing you give to your students. Not only is there not enough time in the day, but it will make you crazy. Two grades per subject per week seems to be the norm.

When it comes to collecting data, first and foremost you need to know what IEP goals your students are working on – and you need to know them like the back of your hand. That’s the key to knowing what to collect data on and when to collect data. (Read: you should be collecting data as frequently as possible, and some IEP goals will need data collected daily.)

Give yourself grace.

Don’t ever forget to be nice to yourself. You matter and you are important. Your presence in your classroom is making a difference whether you realize it or not. Because of you, a child can read, a child can write his name, a child can count to 10… because of you. Now that’s empowering!

Whether you are a brand new teacher or 10+ years in, I hope that you found some helpful information to help you start your school year off right!

Are you a veteran teacher? What tips do you have for new teachers to start the school year? Share with us in the comments below or in our free VIP Facebook Group!

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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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