Ten Must-Have Items for Back-to-School: A Special Education Teacher’s Guide

As a special education teacher, preparing for the back-to-school season requires careful consideration of the unique needs of your students. To help you start the year off strong, I have compiled a list of ten must-have items that I think are essential and that will support you in creating an inclusive and successful learning environment. From organization tools and instructional resources to technology and sensory materials, these essential items will enhance your teaching, make your life easier and empower your students. Let’s dive in and explore the must-have items that will make a significant impact on your back-to-school experience as a special education teacher.

Material Creation Tools

As a special educator, you know that you will be creating resources this year to meet the exact needs of your students.  Which means you need the number one essential item for special ed teachers: a laminator.  Now get a good one, I recommend this one because the amount of time you spend laminating- you are going to be thankful for a durable one that does not jam.

And while you’re filling your cart, get the Velcro dots– I know they cost a little more, but they are worth their weight in gold from time back to not having to use your favorite pair of scissors to cut the Velcro (ultimately ruining them)

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Toolkit

As a special education teacher, having a well-organized IEP toolkit is essential. Include IEP binders or digital folders to store and track student-specific documents, such as present levels of performance, goals, and progress reports. Have a collection of assessment tools, data tracking sheets, and progress monitoring resources readily available to support the IEP process.

If you really want to get organized this year, here is an entire special education organizational toolkit that will do it all for you. 

Differentiated Instructional Materials

Differentiated instruction is at the core of special education. Gather a variety of instructional resources, including leveled books, manipulatives, and multisensory materials that cater to diverse learning styles and abilities. Stock up on graphic organizers, visual aids, and task cards that facilitate comprehension and engagement.

My favorite is task boxes.  They make life SO easy.  Say for example you are teaching time. You know you will have students that are reading time to the hour and some kids reading time to the minute or even doing elapsed time word problems! This can make differentiating hard and time consuming… unless you have these task boxes.  Just pull them out, give each student the exact level they are on and BOOM differentiated with minimal planning time. Grab your set here.

Assistive Technology and Devices

Integrate assistive technology tools to support students with disabilities. Consider augmentative and alternative communication devices, text-to-speech software, speech recognition programs, and adaptive devices that promote independence and academic success. Stay updated on the latest apps and educational software that align with students’ needs and curriculum goals.

Collaboration and Communication Tools

Establish effective communication channels with parents, colleagues, and related service providers. Utilize digital platforms, email, and communication apps to foster open dialogue and streamline information sharing. Consider implementing a student information system or online portfolio platform to track student progress and share updates with parents.

Many schools have their own version of this- and if they do use that! Don’t make your life harder.  But if they don’t definitely consider something that is easy, but also allows you to build boundaries. Do not feel like you have to give out your personal cell phone number- it is okay to have boundaries and then stick to them!

Sensory Materials and Supports

Create a sensory-friendly environment by stocking up on sensory materials and supports. Include items such as fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, and visual supports to accommodate sensory sensitivities. Provide a designated calm-down corner or sensory break area where students can regulate their emotions and refocus.

Social Emotional Learning Resources

Promote social-emotional development by incorporating resources that nurture students’ emotional well-being. Include books, visual prompts, and social stories that teach empathy, self-regulation, and conflict resolution skills. Implement mindfulness activities and relaxation techniques to support emotional resilience.

If you want to get your hands on some right now- these SEL task boxes are a hit with teachers! They are easy to use and engaging for the students.

Visual Supports and Reinforcement Tools

Visual supports play a crucial role in special education classrooms. Use visual schedules, behavior charts, and token systems to provide structure and facilitate understanding. Visual timers, countdown clocks, and visual cues can help with transitions and time management. Additionally, consider using a visual reward system to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors.

If you want to try out some token economies, grab some here totally free!

Flexible Seating Options

Provide flexible seating choices to accommodate the diverse physical needs of your students. Consider alternative seating options such as wobble stools, balance balls, or floor cushions that promote engagement and sensory input.

Professional Development Resources

Invest in your professional growth by acquiring resources that enhance your knowledge and expertise in special education. Books, online courses, webinars, and conferences focused on inclusive practices, behavior management, and instructional strategies will empower you to better support your students.

As you prepare for the back-to-school season, these ten must-have items will help you create a supportive and enriching learning environment for your special education students. From organization tools to instructional resources, technology, and sensory materials, each item plays a vital role in meeting the unique needs of exceptional learners. Remember, the right tools and resources, combined with your passion and expertise, will set the stage for a successful school year. Embrace the opportunities to foster growth and make a positive impact on the lives of your students. Here’s to a remarkable and rewarding back-to-school experience as a special education teacher!

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