Are you a first-year teacher in special education?
I remember my first year so vividly. The principal walked me down to my classroom and it was completely empty. No tables, no curriculum, no decorations, just an empty classroom.
I was so nervous as a first-year teacher, I didn't know what I was about to teach the next few weeks, let alone what furniture I was going to use in the classroom. Yes, I made soo many mistakes my first-year teaching, that I wanted to share my top five mistakes that I made when I was first starting out.
These are also five mistakes that I commonly see teachers make in their first year.
If you would like to read 12 tips that I give first-year teachers, you can read that here!
1. Not Setting Boundaries!
Somehow, the teaching culture has ingrained in us that we should say yes to everything, leave school late, come in early and spend hours at home working on our lesson plans. Many of my previous administrators have told me that staying late for that one kid is just being a team player. DON'T do it. You need to learn to set boundaries for yourself. Don't take work home, don't work outside your contract hours, and for Pete's sake, please do not volunteer to take on more work than you can handle.
I get it, we are teachers, especially first-year teachers. We are people-pleasers, but if you want to make it through your first year in special education, you are going to want to make sure that you take care of yourself first. Your administration will admire the fact that you know when to say no.
2. Training My Staff!
Walking into my first-year as a special education teacher, I had no freaking idea that I was also responsible for training all the paraprofessionals that I had in my room. I feel like my graduate program certainly didn't train me to manage the number of adults that I had.
In my very first year, I had 8 paraprofessionals and 12 students. My primary focus was trying to figure out how to teach these little kids. Not once did it cross my mind that these adults will need to be trained and managed!
Yup, I sure made a lot of mistakes in my first year. I had no idea why there was so much drama in my classroom. I didn't get along with half of the adults and I often went home crying.
I finally couldn't take it anymore and go to my principal for help and honestly felt like a failure asking for help, but it was already mid-year and I felt like I was drowning.
What I learned was that the adults that I was given needed expectations and training for what I wanted them to do. So from then on, I knew that I would start the year with crystal clear expectations, weekly meetings, and check-ins and dedicated time to train them on how I needed them to be while in my classroom. Being a first-year teacher can be hard.
Two things that I like to start the school year with are my paraprofessional handbook and a paraprofessional brochure that I make every year!! Each paraprofessional gets a folder with this information in it every year!
3. Not Asking For Help!
When I first started as a first-year special education teacher, I wanted to seem like a pro! I didn't want to let anyone know that I had no idea what the heck I was doing!
If I didn't know the time for an assembly, I would feel like a failure. And if I didn't know where to look for a book I wanted for a guided reading lesson, I would go to my local library instead! If I wasn't sure how to write an IEP, I would google it. Ughhhh, this was such a time-consuming practice that was totally unnecessary. Teachers and administration know that you are first-year teachers and often will praise you if you reach out to ask for help.
Another thing that I wish I did more during the first year is taking advantage of all the training and conferences!! Your first year is the best time to leave the classroom to get more training. That might sound counter-intuitive, but you will bring back so much knowledge that you can use!
I didn't have enough people to help me through my first year, I should've observed more classrooms, and I didn't want it to look like I didn't know what I was doing. ASK for help! or go to training and conferences. You want to be a great teacher
4. Trying to Do it ALL!
Being a new teacher in the school you want to make yourself look good. When I started, I was doing it all by myself. If I needed activities prepped for the next day, I would take them home and do it myself instead of having my paraprofessionals help with the prep work. If I had IEPs to write and had no idea how to do them, I would spend all night googling answers to my questions. I would be part of all the committees so that my principal would think that I am that perfect teacher!!
Well, guess what? I couldn't juggle all the things. Trying to do everything all the time, I was burning from both ends of the stick and I was running on fumes.
Trying to do everything all of the time takes a serious toll on your personal and professional life. Please do not make this mistake. Reach out, ask for help, take mental health days, leave work at school (don't worry it will be there tomorrow) and above all, take care of yourself first so that you are able to be there for your students.
In your first year, take baby steps. I know you want to accomplish everything, but one step at a time!
5. Not Making Friends!
I am a big introvert. I do not do well in social situations. In my first year as a special education teacher, I was consumed with my own classroom. I shut the door. I ate lunch in my classroom and I never really left my part of the building.
I didn't even really know the teachers in the rooms next door. But this was a big mistake. I had no idea the support that was in the building I was in.
The teachers that I eventually got to know, would stop by and say hi, and we would have lunch dates and conversations that did amazing for my mental health.
I got to know the custodians who finally understood why my classroom was a disaster at the end of the day.
I finally got to know the office staff that would let me know how to turn in my sub plans.
People in the building can be so incredibly helpful during your first year if you would just let them!
If this is your very first year in special education, don't make the same mistakes that I made.