By Barbara Baditoi
Although you are desperate to set up your room, the first week of school is often filled with meetings (staff and team meetings, IEP meetings, state- and division-mandated professional development, curriculum development). Other than required meetings and professional development, what do you need to focus on this week?
Reading the IEPs of your caseload students should be a priority; these snapshots help you plan the curriculum to meet IEP goals and objectives for the year. What is the percent of services your students receive? When are the IEPs due and do you need computer access to the IEP program or training on IEP forms? What about assistive technology? Do you have what you need, or should you visit with the AT or PT specialist? The IEPs will also help you determine the initial layout of your room or, if you are co-teaching, provide you with a task to complete with your co-teacher.
Writing a letter to parents is also a must during this first week of school. You can send it via e-mail or you can hand it to them when they bring their children to the open house activity at the end of the week. What do you want parents to know about you, and what do you want them to tell you about their child? If you will have a self-contained class or resource room, you might want to contact the parents by phone to allay some of their tension about the new year. High school teachers can create a document that highlights academic and social goals for the year; save room for the students to provide personal information.
Make folders for your students and fill them with division-required paperwork, items to share with the parents, communication logs, contact information, progress reports, and due dates. Remember that IEP and eligibility data must be kept in a separate, locked, confidential file. If you don’t have one, check with your team leader for advice on where to keep this information. Make IEP copies for your co-teachers and make sure to share them as part of the first week “paper” duties, stressing the confidential nature of the information. Remind them that laws are very strict about their responsibilities regarding IEPs and confidential material, and that they are responsible for accommodations for special education students.
Paperwork is not why you became a special education teacher. It requires a great amount of time and legal attempts to the contrary, and the quantity grows exponentially each year. However, organizing your paperwork will ultimately give you back precious time to spend with our greatest resource in education, the students. Use the opening days of the school year to organize, retrieve, and store individual and curriculum materials you will use the rest of the year.
For more strategies on managing paperwork, I highly recommend that you read this article from CEC: Five Strategies to Limit the Burdens of Paperwork by Lynne Cook and K. Sarah Hall.