By Barbara Baditoi
It’s the second week of school. The first week was a dream and hopefully the students will continue to be motivated to learn, while you do the job you were hired to do – teach. You have assessed all your students and know their strengths and weaknesses. The IEPs have been carefully scrutinized, and a plan established for monitoring goals and objectives. You are friends with everyone in the building and you know where to go for assistance.
Although building- and division-mandated meetings are over for the moment, you still need to learn how to write a computer-generated IEP, the alternative assessment training is scheduled for two days at the end of September, and the mentoring class is once a month. You also need to take two courses this year for additional certification.
Our close and happy friend, STRESS, starts creeping into your carefully planned schedule shortly after school starts. It can’t be avoided. The first year of teaching is always challenging.
How does stress creep up on us at work? Here are some possibilities:
- A new student is added to your room.
- The first IEP did not go as expected and the parents are not happy with their child’s new teacher — you.
- The division has developed a new curriculum that needs to be implemented.
- To be considered a team player, you agreed to be on the faculty hospitality committee, which is already planning a holiday party.
- You are not communicating quite the way you expected to with your paraeducator.
- Collaboration with the third grade teacher is complicated.
- A close family member is sick.
- And your dog needs obedience training.
The stress is building, and it is only the beginning of the school year!
What should you do? First, understand that stress is a part of our lives and a facet of our chosen careers. Do not think that your dream job as a teacher will be easier because it is what you have worked for and desired. Stress won’t go away, but here are some hints for managing the stress of being a first-year special education teacher.
- Eat well and don’t give in to late nights and excessive fast food. Keep your body healthy and active (I know, easier said than done…).
- Broaden your support base. All experienced teachers were “first year” teachers at some point, and you can count on them to listen and give advice.
- Use your mentor to learn new areas of curriculum and instruction. Talk about your concerns and strategize ways to keep all your responsibilities juggled. If you don’t have a mentor, talk to your school’s social worker or psychologist.
- Rely on your administrators and department chairs or team leaders as backup to help you through particularly difficult issues, such as a disgruntled parent. They also want you to have a good first year.
- Plan ahead for instruction, knowing that the key word for all special education teachers is “flexibility” and that plans may change.
- Plan your paperwork; be cognizant of IEP dates and that you must start immediately assessing and monitoring progress. Hopefully you have set up a clear method for managing paperwork (see my August 13 entry). Don’t go beyond timelines for eligibilities or IEPs; special education loves timelines and if you miss one, your stress will increase.
- Make time for yourself with whatever activity gives you the most relief. Be vigilant and don’t ignore it because you are too busy at school.
- Understand the slump that occurs during the first semester of teaching and realize that you may feel you are sliding behind until early February, when it finally gets better.
- Spend time with your friends, family, and network system. This support group will help guide you through the next few months.
CEC also has good resources to help you through your first year. The first online article, from CEC Today, provides more strategies to reduce the stress of the first year of teaching, and the second is a handy book about achieving balance as an educator.
You can take steps to relieve and manage stress, although you will not totally erase it. Once again, welcome to special education. It is good to have you in the field. And remember, you are only a first-year teacher once in your career.