What advice would you give to a 1st year teacher or 1st year special
Teacher is to be ready for all the ARD (Assessment, Review, Dismissal) meetings
you will be involved in with parents and administrators. Be confident in what
you are doing in your classroom or therapy with the children.
????, Special Education 3rd Grade Teacher, Round Rock School District. From
Always ask questions. I recommend that a teacher get to know the child on their
own terms without preconceived notions first then go back and review all
relevant information. A teacher who spends time with his/her students is able
to observe and reflect so that an assessment can be made using the latest
information. A teacher should also ask questions or seek assistance from another
teacher who might have had a similar experience (someone with at least 5 years
experience). There are also many resources and support available (the principal,
facilitator, or coordinator, and others). Finally, a teacher should be an advocate
for each child. You are that child’s lifeline. Go to bat for them, even put your life
on the line for them!!
Ms. Sherry Summers-Anderson, 30+ year, with 10 years in Lockhart ISD and
currently an ESL teacher. From Lydia Nava.
My advice to first year teachers it to NEVER TAKE IT PERSONAL! When a
teacher has a student with behavioral issues it can get very frustrating when they
act out against you, but the best thing to do is not take it personal.
Ms. Lindsey Hintz, Hays ISD, 4 years SPED teacher and 2 years as a behavioral
specialist. From Michelle Broussard.
Make sure you make time for yourself. Don’t think you are going to solve
everyone’s reading or math problems. Do what you can and don’t try to do
every strategy you have learned in class. Pick a few and do those well.
Ms. Amy Scott, special education teacher, Lehman HS, Hays ISD. From Logan
The advice I would give to a new special education teacher: get to know all the
teachers you will be working with. It is very important that you, special
education teacher, and the classroom teacher are on the same page. I would also
advise that you become very familiar with the state law and Admission,
Renewal, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings.
Ms. Stacy Tarry, special education teacher, Berkman Elementary, Round Rock,
TX. From Olga Negrete.
In working with students, try to determine what the needs of the students are
and be sure you are working to meet the students' needs and not your own.
Mr. John W. Tiffee, special education teacher for 9 years, Kyle Elementary. From
Honestly, It’s the paperwork. At my school we have additional students to the
ones we have in classes. We have to make sure they are doing okay and make
sure they are doing good in their classes. This is a lot of additional work and
paperwork to keep up with. So, have enough time in the day to get everything
done. Also, having all the necessary materials that are needed.
Ms. Amy Scott, special education teacher, Lehman HS, Hays ISD. From Logan
Don’t give up! Your first year is suppose to be crazy and it gets easier with time.
The best thing you can do is to use your support system, such as team members,
mentors, and counselors. Do not hesitate to go to them with your questions.
You should use the advice and guidance they give you.
Ms. Mendiola, special education teacher, 2 years experience, Pecan Springs
Elementary, Austin ISD, Region 13 certified. From Laila Nabi.
The first year is the roughest. Don’t give up and quit the profession. It is an
extremely rewarding career. Find someone you respect and want to emulate. Go
to them for advice. Observe quality teachers and try their techniques.
Carol Wilson, special education teacher for 8 years, speech therapist for several
years prior to special education status, Grisham Middle School. From
Plan to work at home on weekends and over “breaks,” as there is way too much
to do in our 7.25 hour school day (6.5 hours teaching and 0.75 hour break/lunch).
Plan on working through your lunch or break. Then there are the many required
meetings. We have 30 meetings in a 10-month school year. These meetings take
time out of your schedule as well as before and after school time. There are also
IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings, which add another 40 more meetings
1 to 2 hours each before/after school. Almost forgot to include about 25 hours of
“adjunct” duty (time we are required to do for PTA, ice cream socials, open
house days, committee duty etc.) by year’s end.
There is a saying that when people hear the word “teacher” they think vacation,
vacation, vacation. Well, you will need those “vacations” to finish up your work,
prepare for another school year, and then relax. In addition, we do not get paid
for any of those “vacations.” Our work year has 187 days. I have been worked
summer school since I started teaching 14 years ago. It is hard to spread out a 10
month paycheck over 12 months.
Yes, teaching can be rewarding, but very exhausting and not many people
outside of education know this. So remember that when you put in all that extra
time and effort you are helping to shape the future of America! A very noble job!
Lara Husting (aunt), special education teacher 14+ years experience, San Jose,
CA. From Carrie Lewis.
Be flexible. My first day I showed up with a schema of what school teaching was
all about (teacher in front of the class going through the lesson). I quickly
realized that it was not anything like I had thought. New special education
teachers will most likely not use my original schema. You get into teaching
because you love kids. What you don’t realize at first is that you’re always with
adults, especially in special education. You plan meetings, do parent
involvement, interact with instructional assistants, diagnosticians, and
specialists. All this can be overwhelming at first. It is important to work in
teams and foster a relationship with a mentor. Finding someone who will help
you with all the paperwork and other ins and outs can allow a young teacher to
really focus on the major things like developing a teaching style and getting to
know your kids. Keep your sense of humor. The job is too much fun not to
Cathy Hill, Life Skills teacher, 28 years experience, several years at the Travis
State School and a hospital school. Rosedale School. From Matthew
Organization is critical. You will need a spot for everything. You will need
access to your student’s information at a moment’s notice. You will need access
to your students’ information at a moment’s notice. For instance, I keep track of
testing requirements and special needs for my students on a spreadsheet so that
on the day of testing, I am ready to go and the students don’t have to wait for me
to figure out what to do.
Ms. Bard Looney, special education teacher, Jollyville Elementary. From
I would advise a new teacher to be organized–to find a method of organization
that best suits you. Doing so will help you stay ahead of the paper work. It is
also important, especially for a SPED (special education) teacher to be accepting
of the differences in learning among children. SPED kids often have low self-
esteem, which affects their work. It is ESSENTIAL to encourage and motivate
them and to help them feel successful.
Pam Tome, special education teacher, 29 years experience total in both regular
education and special education classrooms. Pond Springs Elementary. From
I would strong advise to the first year teacher to have a lot of patience with the
children. It is not the children’s fault they sometimes misbehave. We have so
many different special education kids: autism, bipolar, ADHD (Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder), and others. All of them are precious and talented kids
and special in their own way. We have to have a great understanding towards
them because their minds do not function properly like normal kids. I would
give them lots of love and caring and the comfort that they need.
Mrs. Roya Tabrizi, former special education teacher, Roseville Elementary
School in Sacramento, CA.
I know I made a difference in my students when they demonstrated growth and
academic gains, showed willingness and readiness to come to class, and had
fewer absences. Once the year was done they would come back and visit. I also
know I made a difference when I would receive positive feedback from parents.
Diana Rodriguez, Retired 3rd and 5th grade teacher (10 years) and administrator
(8 years as vice principal and 7 years as Human Resources Superintendent.
From Veronica Rodriguez.
Always, always teach to their strengths NOT their weaknesses. You must really
know your students in order to accomplish this and so must observe closely.
Teaching to their strengths is a sure way to open them up and have them trust
you and at the same time, allow them to take small steps to believe in themselves
as well, because SE (special education) students need to experience small
successes more than regular kids. So if you really know your student, he/she
will feel that you care about them. And once they know this they will work very
hard for you. They don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of you. You
must have stuff for them to do, use props and anything you can to help the child
learn. Don’t give up and eventually they’ll get it.
Remember: know your objective, create the tasks toward your objective, and
keep breaking down the tasks to smaller steps as needed. It is very rewarding.
Ellen Kallman, special education teacher, retired. From Mercedes Newman.
Be on p’s and q’s. Keep up with the paperwork and lesson planning. Don’t be
too ambitious and fall behind. Focus on the minimum and do more later.
Tina Waddy, special education teacher, Pecan Springs Elementary, Austin ISD,
4 years at Elgin HS and 1 year at Pecan Springs Elementary. From Erica Poole.
Take it one day at a time! The paperwork will get done. Being a positive
influence on the students’ lives is more important, but knowing the curriculum
you are teaching is a close second.
Carol Baber, special education teacher, 26 years experience (22 in special
education and 4 in regular education). Bethel Middle School, Bryant ISD.
From Lara Huff.
I would advise a first year teacher to take every opportunity they can to learn
from a few well-respected teachers. Try not to sign up for too much (coaching,
cheerleading, club sponsoring, etc.). You might burn out too fast. Plus, your first
year is your biggest learning curve. Take your time to perfect your technique.
Be careful who you trust because teachers gossip just as much as students do.
Create your class management ASAP!! Although its repetitive, go over it every
day for the first 6 weeks and every day after a holiday or long break.
Rebecca Garza, Richardson North Jr. High School, first year special education
teacher. From Lara Huff.
Patience. Also it is important to expect mistakes and don’t think that everything
will work according to what is planned. It’s a learning experience. Our mission
statement is “Make new mistakes everyday.”
Tracy Word, special education teacher, Hays ISD. From Yolanda Argueta.
Documentation and modification are two key components of Special Education.
There are many legal requirements in the public school system, especially
regarding life skills and special education. It is clearly important to document a
student’s progress (list what works, what doesn’t, and methods that have been
Merit Phillips, high school special education teacher, 10 years experience,
Westlake High School, Eanes ISD. From Katherine Irvine.
I would recommend keeping up with codes and laws for special education.
Know specifics of each individual students and record everything.
Norma Schendel, special education teacher, 10 years experience, Yorktown
Elementary School. From Danielle Lassmann.
Be PATIENT and don’t try and implement every new thing that comes along.
Start slow and do what you do well. Build a relationship with the kids. It is
crucial for them and believe in them. Half of the battle is getting them to think
they can do things. Love them and hold them to high standards also. Don’t
dumb down the curriculum.
Millie Canty, Interventionist. Callison Elementary and Yolanda Crawford, 5th
grade, Callison Elementary, Round Rock ISD. From Braulio Gonzalez-
The best advice I could possibly give a first year special education teacher is to
realize that it will be a year with a huge learning curve. Just as a medical intern
learns more during their residency period via hands-on procedures and
attending lectures, a teacher will learn by doing hands-on teaching in their own
classroom. Be patient and realize that it will take at least one full school year to
learn how to approach each and every student in one’s class because each
student will not respond to one universal approach (academically and
behaviorally). One example is the autistic student who gets upset often. If the
teacher uses a stern voice with the student to fix his behavior, the student reacts
in a negative way, making behavior even worse. Then there is another student
with a severe case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Using a
stern voice to correct this student’s bad behavior is very effective. In other
words, I advise every teacher to realized that their first year will be difficult and
take a lot of patience in order to see what works with each student.
Eric Jenne, 4 years experience, Blanton Elementary, Austin ISD.
Advice 1: Anxiety and worry are a common and perfectly healthy occurrence among
new teachers. After all, you are doing something for the first time and while you are
doing it, many people are going to be watching. One of the best methods of managing
nerves is to do adequate preparation. Ensuring you are fully prepared gives you a sense
of confidence and “back up” that is likely to absent should you try to “wing it” with your
new classroom. If you know the material and have thought about how you will share it
with students, you are much less likely to feel nervous before or during your class. “Even
very experienced teachers and presenters ensure they are prepared thoroughly before they
start and instruction!”New teacher might want to visit the room where you will conduct
your class. Have a good look around, stand at the front and imagine the students in front
of you. Pace around and sit down. Of course, even though it is likely to help do so,
adequate or even thorough preparation may not put you completely at ease. You may
have to consciously manage your anxiety as the time for the first class approaches.
Advice 2: Go over the assessment. Inform explicitly and go over clearly with students
to make sure what they will be graded through the semesters. Students will be very
interested in how they are going to be assessed in each subject. Do allow opportunities
for students to ask questions about the assessment. Aspects which are usually useful to
discuss: the overall assessment schedule and due dates for assignments, departmental
policy and process for getting extensions and/or special consideration, weighing of
assessment tasks, and how students can access past exam papers.
Advice 3: Set the ground rules. A group or an institution function better when there are
clear understanding of “the rules,” especially in school. This is because school consists
of diverse perspectives, beliefs, and cultures in and out of the classroom. If this shared
understanding is not established in a classroom, students can become very confused about
boundaries and can affect their decision to participate. Establishing clear ground rules or
expectations for student behavior is therefore very important, and may prevent classroom
problems later. It might even be possible to negotiate some or most ground rules with the
group. Discuss expectations about what will go on in the class. It is a good idea to
record the agreed upon ground rules for later reference.
Advice 4: Be skillful when dealing with offensive students. This is best avoided by
including something in your ground rules or expectations that proactively discourages
such contributions. However, if a student does say something offensive, the best thing to
do is to immediately make a statement that indicates you will not tolerate such comments.
You must ensure that you do not engage in a debate with the offending student or in any
way further inflame the situation. Be polite but firm.
For example, while you are entitled to your opinion and we live in a country that allows
free speech, I cannot allow comments like that in this class. Some students find your
comments very offensive. Please respect the views of all students when you make a
Move on quickly. If the student protests, tell him/her that you are happy to discuss the
situation further after class but that you don’t want to take class time away from other
students. Seek help from a senior staff member when necessary.
Anney Kao. Working on her master’s degree in special education, University
of Texas-Austin. Will intern in Pflugerville ISD in February 2009. From Wan
My advice to any first year teacher is patience! Lots of patience! No matter how
much you have prepared it is going to be overwhelming at first. Just keep
forging ahead and remind yourself that it will only get easier over time. Have
the patience to remember that this is your first time. You will learn and grow as
the days go by.
Brenda Gillen, special education teacher, Arlington, TX. From Lauren Field.
To meet the individual needs of the students with the current staffing and
Ginger Turner, special education teacher with 15 years experience, Murchison
Middle School, Austin ISD. From Raini Lott.
I would recommend a book entitled “How to Talk so Children Will Listen and
How to Listen so Children Will Talk.” This book is an excellent teaching tool on
how to interact with children which is one of the key components in teaching. I
would also let them know that it does get easier the next year because you are
familiar with what is expected from you from the school. However, teaching is
never easy because every year you get new students who will challenge you
differently than the year before. But there is nothing more rewarding than when
a student who struggles does well on a test.
Ms. Ana Garcia, 7th grade math teacher, Dripping Springs Middle School.
From Miriam Lee.
My advice for first year special education teachers is to keep the lesson plans
simple. Think about what the objectives are and pick one to focus on. Use few
words and communicate very simply. Find an easy way to model/demonstrate
a lesson that won’t go over their heads. Don’t expect the students to achieve all
objectives everyday. Any measurable progress is still progress. Also, try not to
get overwhelmed and do not be afraide to ask for help. Locate your on-campus
mentor, be sure to make contact with them early on, and use them as a daily or
Mrs. Sandy Anderson, special education teacher, 5 years experience. From
Be firm with your students so that you will not lose them from the beginning.
You can’t be their buddy alone or things will not run smoothly. You must stick
to your rules and don’t sway from them. This will keep your classroom more in
Mr. Meckley. From Brad Meckley.
It is very important to be flexible and to shift gears quickly. You have to know
what each of your students are capable of doing and be ready to move on when
they have reached their limit (this will help avoid meltdowns). Each day can
bring different attitudes and willingness to work. Be ready with different ideas
to get the students engaged.
Ms. Farra Copley, Menchaca Elementary School. From Rolando Negrete.
“Hang in there!” All first year teachers will experience some rough times but it
is the ones who are able to work through these difficult situations who will go on
to be successful. “Be flexible!” Every student and situation will be a little
different. Learn to be somewhat flexible and try to do what is best for the
student in each particular situation.
????, special education teacher, private, state funded and non-profit elementary
school. From Kevin Brown.
As a first year teacher, having a mentor or supervisor to speak with and answer
questions was not only helpful but also a saving grace. I was able to ask
questions and learn different organizational techniques. During the beginning of
the school year, I was literally a mess. I walked in with a degree thinking I was
ready to conquer the world or at least the students in my class and I fell flat on
my face. It was not until the last three months of the school year did I finally get
the hang of things. I kept my head above water but was still discouraged and
decided to not come back as a special education teacher. My first year was not
ideal, but I learned a lot during my seven year teaching career. I enjoy teaching,
but I do not think I will ever return to teaching special education students.
Ms. Sylvia Carmona, 6 years as a 5th grade teacher and 1 year as a special
education teacher. From Giselda Camarena.
I would tell a first time teacher to enjoy teaching the kids, embrace the
accomplishments of your students, and most importantly have fun. Being a
teacher is without a doubt one of the most rewarding jobs, and you will feel that
every single day when you see those kids learning and having fun at the same
Lauren Kentor, former special education teacher. From Megan Walton.
I would advise a 1st year teacher to view each student and situation on an
individual basis and to treat each scenario in its own special way. I believe that
an educator must be aware of the diverse needs of learners in a classroom and be
able to identify students with disabilities or special needs. In order to identify
each student’s disabilities a teacher must be knowledgeable about special
education. Consequently, the teacher needs to develop skills and strategies that
benefit disabled and special needs students individually.
Albert Chapa, Barbara Jordan Elementary, Austin ISD. From Emilce J.P. Perez.
Be organized and have info prepared and ready for progress reports for parents.
Understand that these parents are often trying to do their best. So keep in touch
and have things ready when you have parent-teacher conferences.
Ms. Martha Hernandez, special education teacher, retired. San Antonio ISD.
From Daniela Hernandez-Mena.
Stay calm. You can’t expect to be completely organized the entire time. You
can’t do everything and be everywhere at once and no matter how much you try,
things will happen beyond your control and you just have to learn to take it as it
is and don’t let it get to you.
Ms. Suzanne Wallis, Andrews Elementary School. From Alexandra Becker.
Be really clear and explicit and be really, really consistent. If you can do these
two things, then you will do well.
Ms. Heather Hatten, Martin Middle School, 3 years resource language arts and
8th grade inclusion, and 2 years general education in Washington state. From
I always found if I spoke in a somewhat lower voice, it kept the entire
(classroom) atmosphere calmer and they (students) kept quiet (enough) to be
able to hear. Just never loose your cool. They may enjoy that, especially in the
beginning. The advice someone gave me once: be an actor, it will make your
lectures fun and they will pay attention. Don't be afraid to act out to make it
more understandable for them or compare things to every day things in their life.
Have fun with the kids and you won't have problems.
????. From Zoe Howard.
I would tell you to keep an open mind and don’t go “by the books” with
everything. I promise that not everything you learn in college today will be right
tomorrow; that’s how fast things are changing. Figure out your own way to do
things that are best for YOUR students and not what somebody else thinks is the
best practice. ALWAYS, ALWAYS put your students and their needs before all
else. Remember that they are human and most of them deal with a lot outside
school walls. Be compassionate, first as a person and then as a student. Thins
will aways fall into place a lot better for them and you. Make sure your kids
know that you believe in them, and you want to get them to believe in
Michelle Holler, special education teacher, 2 years experience. Pflugerville
Middle School, Pflugerville ISD. From Vernonica Rodriguez.
You really must keep your sense of humor!! Know that change is coming. You
just don’t know when. Just love your kids. There’s really nothing more…
Mrs. Tiner, special education teacher with 20 years experience. Kelly Lane
Middle School. From Pam Brown.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for a first year teacher is having confidence.
You work with everyone from other teachers to parents to principals. You have
to be able to believe that you know what you are doing and when you don’t
know. Its okay to ask. It is always okay to ask! Better to do that than really mess
Jacob Thomas, 3rd year special education teacher, grades 10-12th. Round Rock
High School. From Kate Moorhead.
Take time to set up the environment that you want at the beginning of the year.
Even if it takes a month to get class rules and procedures done. It makes learning
later on easier and more manageable.
Lauren White, 4th year special education teacher, Williams Elementary, Austin
ISD. From Amrit Ramos.