Hey sweet first year resource teachers! First off, congratulations! You landed that first job. Whether it is a contract or a long term sub position, it is a big deal! Way to go!
You have been dreaming of this day for a while. Maybe you did internships in high school or worked at summer camps because you just loved working with kids. You took classes upon classes and studied all that important philosophy and pedagogy, but now you are actually here. You have your own classroom. No more assignments and graded lesson plans, it’s just the real thing. So, now what?
When I’m not teaching my precious second graders or creating resources for TPT, I am an adjunct professor at a private college. I get the pleasure of working with passionate men and women who are working towards their Master’s Degree in special education. The preservice teachers are always so happy to have a veteran in class because they can pick their brains about what the topics we are discussing look like in the actual classroom. One of the main reasons I took on this extra role was so that I could help newer teachers learn from my mistakes and experience.
As resource room teachers, we have very unique, challenging roles. We may not have a caseload the size of a typical general education class (but honestly, some of us have even more than that) but we do have an obscene amount of paperwork and a huge expectation to individualize all of our instruction. The job of a resource teacher is to not only create effective individualized education plans, but also to implement all of them with fidelity, at the same time. It is a big job, but it is amazingly rewarding.
Today, I am sharing my best advice for first year resource room teachers. My goal is to share my best advice so that more of us can stay in the field. A few years ago I was so close to the point of burnout that I could not see how I could stay in the classroom anymore. My greatest hope is that by sharing some of the things I have learned more rockstar teachers like you can keep going because our students need people like you in their classroom everyday. This job is hard but we can do hard things.
My Best Advice for First Year Resource Teachers includes
- Get to know your students
- Create a system for progress monitoring that works
- Make Lesson Plans weekly
- Find your crowd
Get to know your students
My first piece of advice for first year resource teachers is to get to know your students. Hopefully, before the first day of school you will have access to all of their IEPs. I know that not everyone has this luxury, but it is totally amazing if you do! Rake the time to read through each student’s IEP. Then, after you’ve literally read hundreds of pages, go back and reread. What I love to do is make an IEP at a glance for each student. This basically takes the most important parts of the IEP and pulls those out as a snapshot. I record the student’s name, classroom teacher, goal areas, accommodations, special strategies, related services, and an overview of any behavior plan. If you want to see what my IEP at a glance looks like, I can send you an example if you click the button below.
Once I have this form filled out, I make a copy for everyone. I put a copy in my progress monitoring binder. I give a copy to the classroom teacher, the specialists, and my paraeducators. You know that line in the IEP that says as the case manager we will make sure that everyone who needs to know about the contents of the IEP will know about it? Yeah, that’s why I created these IEP at a glance sheets. Although I know that all teachers should read through the IEP, I also know that they have 1 million things on their to do list so I try to use these sheets to make it a little easier for them. All of my teachers have commented that they love them. If you want to grab these sheets, tell me where to send it below.
Another main way that I try to get to know my students is by making a phone call home before the first day of school. Yes, this is very time-consuming especially if you have a large caseload, but it makes a huge difference. Take a few minutes and just talk to each parent. Tell them a little bit about yourself and then ask them to tell you about their child. Remember you are teaching someone’s whole world. It is a gift to have that opportunity. Even though we know working with parents is not always easy, this is a great way to start forming that relationship on a positive note. This is also a good way of knowing unique things about the child before they ever get into your classroom.
Write all your dates on your calendar NOW
My next piece of advice for first year resource teachers is for planning. At the beginning of the year when you get a copy of your whole caseload and have access to their IEPs, get out your calendar and mark down all of the due dates. What I like to do is make a master list of the due dates before adding them to my calendar. Then I actually make a note on my calendar six weeks before each due date. This gives me enough time to schedule the meeting before I start feeling crunched for time.
This is especially helpful when meetings fall near break times. For example if you have a meeting that is due the first week of January, it might be a better idea to hold the meeting at the end of December. Then, you will be grateful that you made notes six weeks before since we all know Thanksgiving and Christmas are insane in schools.
Before the school year starts, I also write down my whole school calendar. I love writing when days off are and any big events I need to remember. For example, I write when Back to School Night is and when parent-teacher conferences will be. This helps me when I am planning when to schedule appointments or days off. Nothing is better than scheduling a dentist appointment the week before conferences so that I have a day off to get my pearly whites cleaned but also have a coffee date and prep for those conferences.
Create a system for progress monitoring that works
Okay, here is my biggest piece of advice for all resource teachers: find a progress monitoring system that works for you. Are you a Google girl? Do you just love digital organization? Then maybe these progress monitoring graphs are going to be your best friend. Is paper and pencil more your thing? Then maybe you need to stick with a binder system. You could also be like me and do a mix of both. Be sure to check out this post all about how I organize my progress monitoring system.
Ultimately, you just need to create a system that is going to work for you. You need a system that you will stick to so that you will have accurate data collection. Just for you, I have created a guide to simplify your progress monitoring. Click the button below to get it sent right to your inbox.
Make Lesson Plans weekly
My next piece of wisdom has to do with lesson planning. When I first started, I had another teacher who was also a brand new resource teacher. We would get together every now and then to commiserate and figure out what on Earth we were doing. I remember one day in October meeting her in her classroom. We were both complaining about how long lesson planning was taking us. We had similar caseloads both teaching five grades. But there was one main difference.
I had started a new system where I tried to plan a whole week at a time. First, I created one sheet for each group I would teach and then I would write out one week’s worth of lessons all on that sheet. I would stick that sheet on a clipboard and put it in a book bin along with any materials I would need to teach those lessons. It worked out really well for me because when I would go to plan, I could plan several cohesive lessons because my brain was only focused on that one group. It was also really great because I kept getting pulled out for training and it was so easy for my substitute to just go from bin to bin and have all the materials already there for her.
Now my friend had a different system. She had a notebook. At the end of each day, she would write out her lesson plans for the next day by hand. She said she felt like she could never plan ahead before she knew what she accomplished that day. But that meant that each night she was spending at least an hour lesson planning for the next day.
When she asked me what I did if I didn’t accomplish everything from one day, I told her about drawing an arrow. That’s literally all I did. If I have a part of a lesson that I did’t have enough time for something on Monday, I just drew an arrow for that part of the lesson down to Tuesday. It was nice to have a week’s worth of lessons printed because then I could just draw my arrows. I knew what I didn’t accomplish and I knew it rolled over to the next day.
When I sat down to write the next week’s worth of lesson plans, I already had somewhere to start because I knew what didn’t get accomplished this week. It took some convincing but I did get her to switch over to my system. By the next year she was so grateful to have made the switch because she realized how much time it would save her.
This is still the system I use today. I got a bunch of nice book bins from Lakeshore Learning. I label each book binn with a group like second grade phonics. Inside each book bin, there is a clipboard where I stick on the lesson plans and then behind the clipboard is where I put any materials needed to teach that lesson. Sometimes I get fancy and I’ll even plan a month’s worth of lesson plans when it makes sense. For example, when I started teaching a unit on informational writing, it made sense to map out all the lessons that I would teach in that unit. If we did not get to something, I just made an arrow over to the next day. It helped to have an idea of where we were going so that I knew how the lessons would progress.
Find your crowd as a resource teacher
This last piece of advice for first year resource teachers might be the most important. it’s important to find your crowd. Who will your people be? Coming into a new classroom and a new building is always tricky. There is a lot of history that you don’t know. I am sure someone has already told you but be extra kind to the secretary and the custodians. Don’t forget them during the holidays!
It is important to find at least one teacher or a group of teachers who will be your people. This job is hard. You need that person who will remind you when it’s jeans day or will listen to you when you just need to talk something out. Try to find someone who’s teaching philosophy matches yours. Pay attention to what the other teachers are saying and how they talk about students. As a first-year teacher do more listening than trying to talk. I remember my first year I felt like I just had so much to do that I would eat in my lunch in my room everyday. honestly that year I missed out because I could have been making friendships with the other teachers but instead I was in my room stressing.
Over the course of the next 6 years, I made so many close friendships with the people I worked with. They threw my baby showers and were the shoulders I needed to cry on when my best friend got cancer. Over time though I noticed that our teaching philosophies did not exactly match. As lunch talk started focusing more and more on the negative aspects of teaching, I could feel my burnout growing even stronger.
Now you have to understand, I’m one of those silver lining people. I will always try to find a silver lining in any situation. This is a super annoying trait for some people. It definitely got to the point where I was back to eating in my room sometimes because I could not take the negativity at lunch. I loved the people that I worked with. But I also knew that I was only a small push away from leaving the classroom forever. I had to find a way to get my passion back.
So I started finding resource teachers online who shared my passion. I got involved with Get Your Teach On and fell in love with Dr. Jody Carrington. I found several Facebook groups full of teachers who thought like I did. Even if you can’t find teachers in your school who share your passion, you need to find them somewhere. This job is hard, but we can do hard things if we do them together.
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