SPED Secrets: What You Don’t Learn in College

Let’s be honest here for a minute and start this off by agreeing that a good percentage of the college courses you take are a big waste of time.
There are those really good courses that prepare you for the “textbook stuff”, but nothing in the world prepares you for teaching quite like actually teaching does. Especially in special education.

The other week, something happened in my classroom that made me think “well I definitely didn’t learn how to handle this in college!” I don’t quite remember what happened, but it was either the day a child threw up or the day a child wanted me to look at his Thursday underwear. He was so excited to show me.

Either way, it gave me the idea to team up with some of my very good special ed blogging friends to bring you this blog post… things you could only learn from teaching in real life.

1. Not every day is a walk in paradise. It’s not always the dream you’d imagine and that’s normal. And don’t feel bad for feeling like you just want to scream. Sebrina from Burke’s Special Kids says, “You have to laugh so you don’t cry! Things get worse before they get better. Change is hard for our kids.” I’m pretty sure this holds more truth right now than any other time of the year. Just remember you aren’t alone!

2. When you think of the teacher-parent relationship you’d like to have, please know that this is a learned and highly practiced skill that you may not get down the first year, or even your fifth. Jennipher of Teach Love Autism wants to you realize that… “You’ll have to swallow your pride and do extra work just to please the parent [sometimes]. Learning the balance of maintaining positive relationships with parents and doing what you know is best for the student now and for their future is a daily struggle.

In addition to that piece of advice, Michelle of Miss Hey Miss wants you to know that… “Parents can make you or break you. Together we are a team. Create a positive communication rapport within the first few weeks of school so when there are rough patches… which there will, but it will be easier to talk with them because of your previous positive communication interactions.

If you need some suggestions on how to handle to “aggressive parent,” check out this blog post.

3. Before Ms. Britney Spears makes you think you’ll be swimming in budget money, let me prepare you for the phrase you’ll hear more often then not, “It’s not in the budget.” I know it’s hard not to get upset when you hear that every. single. time. you need something for your students, but in our world today, there are so many more ways to get the supplies and sensory items for your kids. You may or may not receive a budget from your school or from the special ed department in your district, but it never hurts to ask! Traci from The Bender’s Bunch also advises fellow sped teachers to apply for grants and utilize Donor’s Choose. (Don’t forget about Pledgecents too! If you want to know more about them, read my previous post here.)

4. This is one I struggle with, and am always working on… but you need to know you can’t possibly do it all yourself. Pamela from Mrs. P’s Specialties says, “Special ed programs often have more adults than students (paras, therapists, teacher, etc.). There needs to be a system for communicating and updating the staff regularly. When everyone is on the same page, students grow and progress quicker.” Utilize the help that is given to you and dictate “jobs” to the other adults in your classroom, even if it is bathroom duty, especially when it comes to the students IEP. You’ll thank yourself later.

5. Kim from Mrs. H’s Resource Room has some killer advice on co-teaching and co-planning: “Make common planning with your co-teachers a priority. This is the key to making co-teaching successful. Common planning will ensure that you know what is coming up, gives you buy in to the class and teacher you are working with, allows you to differentiate instruction for all learners, and gives you time to share ideas and come up with plans to reach all students.” Get on and stay on the same page.

6. Does the thought of scheduling leave you in tears? There really should be a course in college on how to schedule your school day. Better yet, how to schedule your classroom schedule and then 10 other individual schedules for students in resource, inclusion, and for outside services like OT, PT and Speech. Especially when you have 6 kids across 4 grade levels and only one paraprofessional… it gets tricky! But never be afraid to ask for help and never let scheduling get the best of you.

7. My philosophy on lesson planning has been to always over plan. I mean, like, an extra 30-45 minutes of a lesson over planning. Yeah, I’m that crazy… but for a great reason. Angela from Extra Special Teaching agrees, “Be flexible. Always have some kind of back up, independent work that you can quickly pull out or your aides can quickly pull out. Many times things do not go as planned.” When you have a student having a meltdown, and there are other students in the classroom… you need to attend to the behavior, but keep the other students academically occupied. It never hurts to over plan.


8. Let me let you in on a little secret that hit me in the late Spring of my first year teaching in the self-contained setting. April 23rd to be exact. It was THAT exact day that I finally felt like I had a 100% handle on my classroom as a whole. You’d think I would have felt that way in, mmm, maybe September or October. I’m sure I did somewhat, but if I’m being truthful, I was just surviving. The academics, the organization, the schedule… everything that goes in to teaching my special friends, and I finally feel like I have my ish together now. Sure, there were only 30-some days left in this school year, but it was that refreshing feeling I needed in the chaos of Spring and testing. And you know what? It’s OKAY! I tried many different things in my first year as a Life Skills teacher and I finally got it.

It’s better late than never so don’t give up! Keep going and know that you’ll make it. It’s normal to feel like you’re just surviving and I promise you that it’s okay. Your kids love you, they respect you, and they look forward to seeing your smiling face every morning. Remember that when the days get tough and you feel like you’re sinking. You ARE making a difference and you ARE doing what you are meant to be doing… TEACHING!

9. Just when you thought you were alone in hating your job for a split second, know that you aren’t alone. Alicia from Delightfully Dedicated in SPED says, “It’s “normal” to hate your job for a season. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will not always feel that way.” Amen!

What is one teaching secret you learned from real life teaching and not in college?

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