Be Proactive: Getting to know your students {before you actually meet them}

Tuesday, May 28, 2013 / 8 comments

When you are first hired as a special ed teacher at a school, whether it is at the beginning of the school year or the day before school starts, there are so many logistical things that are necessary to do to ensure you have a successful school year. Since I have my multi-categorical sped certification (LD, BD, ID) as well as my autism certification, I always feel like I should be able to answer a lot of the questions that come my way from the general ed teachers, administrators, and most importantly, parents. In order to make sure that I feel confident enough to be ready to answer questions about my students or their disabilities on the fly, I do a little prep work before the school year starts off (or at the very beginning of school). This prep work helps me stay organized and also helps me get to know the students I am about to have for the year.
Although reading IEP’s is not the most entertaining, it is a necessity in learning about the students I will be working with throughout the year. Before worrying about making my schedule or getting accommodation checklists off to the general ed. teachers, I look at what each student is qualified under for services. I definitely do not consider myself a know-it-all about the far range of disability categories, and if I have a student that has something I am not knowledgeable about, I go to google to find out all I can about that specific disability.
Here are a few of my favorite websites:
Learning Disability:
Intellectually Disabled:
I know that “IEP cheat sheets” have been floating around Pinterest for quite some time and I cannot stress how much this can help during the year. These can be as fancy as you want, but I prefer a simple notecard size with the basic info I need to start of the year. I keep the template saved and just fill in the info as I get it, print on cardstock, and I keep all of them on a metal ring and in my clipboard that goes with me everywhere I go. This way I can add to it as the school year progresses and students come and go. It’s also easy to distribute copies of these to specialists and general ed teachers along with a copy of the IEP. They are more likely to read over an index card sized document of info versus a 17 page document. I would also suggest laminating these for durability throughout the year.

I keep these in the clipboard I carry EVERYWHERE!
Here is a pic of the template I use:

 Here is an example of one completed {not a real student - of course!}
As sped teachers, we are legally bound to so many due dates and deadlines. It helps to make a calendar at the beginning of the year to write down all annual, reeval, and triannual eligibility due dates that will occur during the school year. Keep this calendar visible at all times so you are constantly reminded of these dates as they will catch up to you faster than you think. I even input the info on my phone calendar with reminders set for 2-3 weeks in advances so I know I have time to contact the parents and send the meeting notice out. Also, be sure to put in student birthday reminders – they love when you notice!
This can be a tricky one, because sometimes past teachers want to give you all the negatives about the students versus the positives. I would recommend creating a sheet for teachers to fill out about the student, but only have them identify the student’s academic strengths & weaknesses, strategies to help that student learn best, parent involvement, interests, etc. If you ask them face to face, they will most likely begin complaining or telling you a story about the student that might give you a negative preconceived opinion about the student before you have even met. Using a sheet to fill out or even a google doc form you can send via e-mail would be your best bet at getting only the information you need, without all the extra fluff you don’t need to know.
Here is a form you can download to use at the beginning of the year that will get you some basic info on your student:
Unless you are at a school that you have the same students year after year, it is always nice to send out a letter to your students and their parents introducing yourself. Include pictures and tell them about yourself, your interests, and a few fun things you have planned for the year. For some students, this can help alleviate some stress about starting the school year and get them excited to meet you in person. If you are able to, you can even include a pre-stamped envelope addressed to the school so they can tell you a little about themselves.


  1. Great ideas here! I also make the "cheat sheets" and contact parents before school starts. I will be at a new school this year and I am looking forward to getting to know about all of my new kiddos!
    I really like your teacher input sheets. I like how it gives the reg. ed. teacher accountability for the IEP, too. Sometimes I just take over the whole IEP process and don't always remember to ask the reg. ed. teacher their input (and I also like how you keep it positive, because it's always easy to point out the negative). I think I will borrow that idea! :)
    Mrs. H's Resource Room

  2. Great ideas, Gabrielle! I am going to start putting my cheat sheets on a ring too. I always give my gen ed teachers an overview of testing mods, etc. and now I want to put their overviews on rings! :)

    The Eager Teacher

  3. I love your cheat sheets! I am a resource specialist- Laura

  4. I just accepted my first teaching position as a 3rd grade special ed teacher and I couldn't be more excited. This was so helpful. I'm glad I have all summer to prepare before my students arrive on the first day! Thanks for your insight :)

  5. Thank you for these ideas. This will be my third year in ESE Resource and I am always trying to figure out the simplist way to give teachers the information they need to know about the IEP's and I am always trying to improve on my gen-ed teacher information page about the students. I will definitely be using your cheat sheet on the rings this year. Thanks again!

  6. Thanks for sharing the links and resources. I look forward to utilizing them. While I am not designated as a special education teacher, I have good track record for helping students needing special accommodations realize their potential in a classroom. As a result, each year I am assigned an increasing number of students with special needs. This year, one in four of the students in my general education classroom have IEPs and 504s.

    One of your comments about classroom teachers was really quite disheartening: "If you ask them face to face, they will most likely begin complaining..." I like to think of myself as partnering with ESE specialists to meet our students' needs, and I would hope that the countless hours I spend modifying lessons and developing resources to do so would at least merit me a face-to-face meeting. While I commend your desire to maximize your time and productivity, I would caution that reporting test data and charting classroom observations on an e-mailed form do not provide a well-rounded picture of any student. Further, a little "fluff" can go a long way toward building a culture of mutual respect and collaboration between all service providers that ultimately benefits everyone.

  7. What does MPW stand for on you cheat sheet?

  8. Minutes per week....service times


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