3 Keys to Surviving and Thriving in the Special Education Classroom

  • Key #1:  Don’t forget to add “Wait Time”
  • Key #2:  Love…What you do! …and Laugh OFTEN
  • Key #3:  Just Breathe

Key #1:  Don’t forget to add “Wait Time”

Are you searching for keys to surviving and thriving in Special Education?What drives you while working with young adults?  If you are like me, the pace of daily life in the classroom brings with it demands that can occasionally rise to levels that feel suffocating.  My personal drive in September is summed up in a nicely articulated answer to “What is your WHY?” Questions about my personal drive as a teacher in December are answered by a fast and FAR DRIVE in my car away from the classroom!  

Not enough time, too much paperwork, not enough hours, too little coffee.  I can’t catch my own breath, let alone be available to help another breathe and take in information and share out their own!  I thought I was rested from Winter Break, but I was jolted into high gear as soon as I stepped back in my classroom and looked at my calendar.

A view into my classroom:

There I was. I sat down…heart racing, needing to calm down and focus. Focus on students who have wide ranges of ability levels and varying degrees of interest in what I have to teach.  “Open up to page 5. We are going to write what we know about our own personal information.”  

I spent what I thought would be a half-hour of instruction and time-on-task to complete My Personal Information, but it turned into a 3-day adventure in explaining where to place the “ ( ) “ for an area code. Another 20 minutes spent explaining why we don’t give out our Social Security Number.  The time was well-spent…All four students got it. Each now knows who would be the best people to contact an emergency and what they would need most to stay calm. My favorite quote of the day was “Can I work on My Transition Portfolio again tomorrow?” Answer: YES!

My greatest take-away continues to be (after 25 years of teaching):

It’s not about MY performance…It’s about THEIR pacing and processing.” 

Grab “My Personal Information” on Teachers Pay Teachers here: My Transition Portfolio – “My Personal Information” fillable PDF

Key #2:  Love…What you do! …and Laugh OFTEN.

Thank you my amazing student for leag this for me before leaving for a speech session with your SLP!

Key Belief: I believe that love must drive everything we do in the classroom.  I will never be effective as a teacher if I don’t LOVE every day.

Questions I am asking myself:

How am I loving the moments with my students?  Am I loving them well in their deficit areas? What’s my loving response when I am exhausted?  Am I loving to work with families, and linking arms with IEP team members? How am I loving the staff who come into my room? When I walk by a coworker who is struggling, how can I be loving? Am I loving my moments of “wait time” to allow my students to process at THEIR speed and not mine?  Am I loving what I do daily?

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own planning, our own expected results, our hopes in our areas of lacking.  We walk into a new school year full of great hopes and desires for new connections, but by November, anticipation and expectancy are replaced by my own self-determination to simply get through. We grind through to the winter break… The much needed break! 

For many of us, our times away from the classroom provide great perspective and an opportunity to breathe again. But, quickly that refreshed state is replaced with all too familiar stresses that come from the daily life of a special education teacher.

Key #3:  Just Breathe!

And another opportunity…This last week:  My mind and my heart were consumed with a desire to eagerly get back in the classroom with greater energy and more intentionality than experienced in mid- December.  I was determined to walk quickly from task to task, to efficiently and thoroughly be about my own business… But, I saw her over there, my well-thought-of coworker. She had stacks of files…IEP paperwork scattered around her.  I opened the slider to the small workroom and asked “Hey, how was your break?” I had no idea that little question would lead to seeing a discouraged and overwhelmed heart. A choice was made.

The choice was made

Instead of quickly getting back to task, we were able to spend just a few minutes focusing on strengths and areas of support that might be needed for both of us.  We wanted to help each other be better and to solve our own problems of practice. We needed each other to do that: The intentional slowing down my day by changing expectations of student processing speed, and the stopping and slowing down to really see people…THAT brought increased breaths to my day, inspiration, re-focus…PLEASE, let that continue into tomorrow!

And, will you PLEASE slow down with me?  Let’s find laughter, joy and peace together.

Please leave a comment or story to share about how your plan to slow down the pace is working for you.  Also, please send feedback so I know how these tools and lesson plans are working for you!

Tutorial:  My Personal Information

Check out student and teacher edition eBooks in fillable PDF or sections to suit your needs on Teachers Pay Teachers