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10 Questions to Answer about Special Education Classroom Set-Up

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It’s very close, if it hasn’t bitten you yet, it is coming for you… the first day of school. I go back in about a week and then students come the following week after.

It is going to be my 10th year of teaching and my 5th teaching special education. I am very excited and feel confident in what I am doing. To be honest, I am not stressed about delivering curriculum or figuring out schedules because I know the first week or so of school it’s not about that.

I know you think I’m crazy, no schedules, no curriculum?? Well, not exactly. The curriculum is not one that you are going to find created by Houghton Mifflin. It is a curriculum that you have to come up with on your own. You have to ask yourself some valuable questions. I had to do this every year that I went into a new position and since I am going into my 5th year in the same position I know the answers to those questions and know I can rock the beginning of the school year. Let’s see where you stand with these questions…

First Two Weeks of School

1.  Do you know the rules and policies of the school? 

If you have worked in the same school for a while these should come easily to mind, but if you are a first year teacher this information is crucial to knowing how you are going to run your classroom. What if the school already has rules that the whole school uses and you are the odd ball out that made up your own? Does your school use passes to go to different places in the school like the office, nurse, or principal? Is there a behavior system in place that you have to follow or speak to your principal about if your students need a modified plan?

2. Do you know the important individuals in your school and/or district?
Again, if you have taught at your school for a few years you know this but, maybe you have a new secretary or administrator? Here’s the thing there are just essential people that work in your building that I was taught in my very first class of my college career was that you always know and treat well the secretaries, custodians, guidance counselor, nurses, and administrators. They can be vital to helping you when things move beyond what you can control in your classroom. Make sure you know them, they know you, and you have discussed (even briefly) a few key items in each of the areas they work in, and show them appreciation for it.

First Two Weeks of School

3. What rules are you going to have? What happens when students follow or don’t follow them?
Classroom management is so important and when it comes to it I feel like you can never be over prepared on knowing how you are going to handle behaviors in your classroom. Make sure that rules is something that you go over and over and OVER with your class. I do this probably everyday day for the first two weeks of school. We read them, we role play, we read books about them and we watch videos that explain them. You cannot expect your students to understand if you don’t teach it to them like you would teach them how to do a math problem. Break them down, discuss the scenarios and discuss the consequences if they aren’t followed.

4. What should the classroom look like when students are transitioning, working alone, working with you, working with paras, in the hallway, in lunch, at recess, and other scenarios?
We just discussed behaviors but procedures are just as important. We cannot expect students to follow our rules if they don’t know what the procedures for EVERYTHING are. Don’t feel stupid even explaining how to raise their hand. They need to know what is expected and they need to hear it from you. Tell them how to walk places, how to work, and where to do it. Think about things that may be specific to your classroom and non-specific that can be respected in the whole school.

5. Do you know where you want things to be located and stored in the classroom? Do your students and staff know?

First Two Weeks of School

This is important. At the end of the day my first few years of teaching I killed myself. Everyday I had to spend at least 30 minutes cleaning up from everything that happened that day. I also then had to prep for the next day and make sure everything was ready to go. That took FOREVER. It was a matter of realizing if I taught my students and staff to put their pencil away when they were done and to put the writing materials in the right bins and the sensory toys back when they were done that it would save me a lot of time at the end of the day. Which left me more time to work on what I needed which was planning my next lesson and not cleaning up from the previous one.

6. How do you want to teach procedures of the classroom? 

This can be very similar to just figuring out your teaching style. Some teachers are very soft spoken because they feel that makes the students have to “listen in” and other teachers are loud and dramatic trying to captivate the students interest. Finding you style and then addressing the procedures of the classroom is important. If you want my opinion the best way to teacher procedures is MODEL, MODEL, MODEL. Then once you have done that practice them OVER and OVER. This could be something you do every day. Just teaching procedures the first day of school is not going to cut it. And don’t feel bad about it, I know if seems redundant but it is what our students need.

7. How do you want your staff (if you have it) to work in your room?
If you want to be sure that everyone is on the same page you have to talk with the other adults that are working in your room. I really suggest if you have the time to do it BEFORE school starts and BEFORE the students get into the classroom. I create a paraprofessional binder that I give to my staff. It includes information about our students such as characteristics and their needs but it also has schedules, procedures, and information about how things need to work in the classroom. Just like the students you need to be explicit on how you want things done by your staff. In my experience, the course of the school year is dependent upon how well you prepare your staff. They can literally be a life saver if you work with them well.

8. What areas of the classroom are students going to work in? What areas are break areas? 

Obviously, this all comes with classroom set up but try to think of all the dynamics of the classroom such as the before and after movement of how students will work and get from one place to another. I set up my classroom and then try to think about a day and how every student will transition from my work task area to the life skills station and so forth. I try to think about what things are needed such as trashcans near the area where my students will eat breakfast in the morning.

Also, knowing where the students can calm down is important. I have been lucky enough to have a separate sensory room but, not every classroom has. Just use some physical aspects of your classroom to create a corner and define it, label it well, and share with the students where they can take breaks and where they can work.

9. When is lunch? Recess? Specials? When do they get to go home?


This is a big one!! This is even big for me. I want to know when my lunch and my planning period is and so do your staff and students. They need to see these on a schedule because for almost every single one of them it is reinforcing and is going to provide nutrition and a much needed break for them. It is a pet peeve of mine when a student asks over and over when is lunch. And I fix that by having student schedules close by, and if need be a giant classroom schedule too. That way there are no questions.

10. Where are the schedules and visuals going to be located??

I am going to piggy back off of the last question and discuss schedules. Where are you going to keep them in the classroom. My suggestion is keeping it so students can manipulate and access it but also in a centrally located place. This also will effect your classroom set up. It will most likely end up be a central hub where students have to go multiple times a day to find out what they need to do next. Schedules seem to provide a sense of security not just for us but for our staff as well so if you don’t feel it’s necessary that each staff member have their own schedule then at least have a large schedule with everything on it that can be seen from almost anywhere in the classroom.

I hope that these questions are going to help answer some of the major questions that I feel any teacher needs to answer before starting on that first day of school. If you felt confident with these questions then you will definitely be on the right track to the start of the school year! Good luck!! You’ve got this!

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