By Barbara Baditoi
Do you remember when you were a student heading back to school? Loaded with anticipation and wonder, students are often anxious to figure out who is who, what is what, and where everything is. First-year teachers are the same and, even if you are in your second or third year of teaching special education, you may still be going to a different building, meeting a new co-teacher or paraprofessional, and sorting through unknown faces and names on your team.
School faculty lists read like a “who’s who” for the building. Secretaries tell you where your mailbox is located and point you in the direction of the clinic room assistant, who discusses which of your students require an EpiPen or seizure training. Walking down the hall to your room, you are greeted by returning teachers and stopped by nervous new teachers. Before you put down your growing stack of papers, you are summoned to the “back to school breakfast” and first staff meeting, where you will find more new faces. If you are a first-year teacher, your mentor helps by introducing you to colleagues. You have met the building administrators, but what about the speech and language clinician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, psychologist, school counselor, custodian, and behavior resource specialist?
Do not expect to remember all these names and faces, but do scrutinize your list and
asterisk those colleagues who will be providing you with direct support: your administrators, grade-level team members, co-teachers, and your paraprofessional. This is a good opportunity to connect informally with other staff members, because these are the professionals you will rely on in times of need. A positive foundation for working relationships begins the first week of school: this is the time to establish mutual respect and courtesy for your coworkers.
If you will be working with paraprofessionals, set aside some time to meet with them on the day their contract begins; some may be neophytes and worried about their duties, while others may have intimate knowledge about your students. CEC provides good information in this recent CEC Today article, adapted from a classic CEC publication.
You will also want to find out where the supplies are kept, who answers the phone in the front office (or if you have a phone in your room), who occupies the classroom next door, where the books are, and who has the keys for the confidential files. The rule for figuring out what’s what in the building and where everything is the same: take advantage of these moments without the students to prepare for the coming year.
If this is your first time working with a co-teacher, you may find that using this checklist is an easy way to set the stage for the work you will do together.
Enjoy meeting your new colleagues: some will remain your friends for the rest of your life.