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

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. Kim @ Mrs. Hs Resource Room on May 28, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    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. Sarah Eager on May 29, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    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. Laura on June 9, 2013 at 4:42 am

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

  4. Jaimie Ariss on June 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    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. Mrs. V on July 4, 2013 at 1:56 am

    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. Kay Bee on September 1, 2014 at 2:21 am

    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. Natalie Kling on January 7, 2016 at 4:13 am

    What does MPW stand for on you cheat sheet?

  8. Anonymous on April 23, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Minutes per week….service times

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