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Looking through the classroom window

Two teachers talk candidly about the joys and concerns of getting ready to teach their new students.

By Adrianna Cortes-Proctor , April Evans

The first day of a new school year can be upsetting for kids with learning difficulties. And often parents dread sending their children off to meet their new teachers. But how do teachers feel about this big day? How do they prepare? What are their challenges? Two teachers — one in special education and one in general education — give us a peek into their classrooms at the start of the new school year.

April, a middle school special education teacher

Preparing for the new school year

Starting a new school year is an emotional process for a teacher. From the summer time until the first day of school, teachers plan, organize, and sometimes worry.

Before school starts, I read through all of my students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and try to sort out their individual needs. This is very difficult because I've found that most of my students' strengths do not show up on standardized tests. From a file, I can't see that a child is a marvelous artist or a great saxophone player. I can't see that she is extremely punctual or organized. From the IEP, all I have to go on are numbers and narratives by those who have assessed her.

Getting ready for the school year is also a physical process. This year, I finally got my own classroom. Previously, I had to share with other teachers or conduct my class in a conference room. Although a new room is thrilling, it also requires a lot of work. After the summer, the classroom was thick with dust, the furniture was all shoved in one corner, and the whiteboards were filthy. I spent over a week moving desks and shelves. I also had to climb tables and ladders in order to hang artwork and posters on the wall.

Dealing with students' diverse needs

Every caseload (the 28 kids who receive special education services from me) is unique and requires specialized planning. After reviewing my files for this year, I discovered most of my sixth-grade students need a great deal of help in written language. So I search through books and files for lessons and projects that are aimed to meet my students' needs.

Staff support

It's important, and required, to let the general education teachers know when a student in their class has special needs or accommodations. For each of my students, I fill out a profile sheet highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and accommodations specified in the IEP. The profile sheets will be distributed after the first two weeks of school. Parents sometimes worry if their child is in a new class and the teacher doesn't know their child receives special education services on the first day. Yet, I want the student with identified learning disabilities to walk into her class on the first day of school and build a relationship with that teacher before any labels are attached or judgments can be made.

The first day of school

Like my students, I'm nervous about the first day of school. The night before, I can't sleep. I keep envisioning all the horrible scenarios that could go wrong the next day. I wake up feeling like I've forgotten something or haven't planned enough. I dream that the students won't listen to a thing I say.

The morning arrives, and there is excitement in the air. The other teachers are excited and well rested. The students are happy to see friends they have missed all summer. The first day jitters leave as soon as first period begins, and I realize that after months of too much freedom, I am finally back to where I belong — in front of a classroom.

After attendance and the initial "getting-to-know-you" games, my nerves slowly calm as I reveal a secret to my students — a secret that when I was their age, I would never tell anyone. I tell [my students] I have dyslexia, and that I was in special classes just like them. As soon as I share this information, I can feel respect and hope fill the room. The students realize that I am a teacher who is on their team. I am a teacher who understands. We can now start off a great school year.

Comments from readers

"This article is beautiful and touched my heart because I have a kid in EIP"