First and formost--let us remember that special ed/special needs children are just that...CHILDREN! They need love, support, encouragement, and they need to be taught!
Having special ed kids in your class can be challenging, but for the most part--not because of the child. The challenging part is the paperwork, meetings, and modifications. All of these are entirely necessary...I am not saying they are a nusinance...they are a challenge though!
This year, our campus has decided to place all of the special ed kids in one class (in third grade) and have a co-teacher with the classroom teacher (ME)! :) I am beyond excited! I will have about 22 kids (9 of which are special ed). I will also have a co-teacher that will teach along side me! I believe this will be a great new experience for me! I also believe God placed this opportunity in my lap and said..."here--you asked to grow...so grow!" As a teacher, we are life long learners...so I plan to learn a lot this year! I plan on embracing my ignorance and soaking in everything I can about co-teaching and special education. (check out the "ignorance" link for a great post about "using ignorance" as your secret weapon!)
So...what can I do ahead of time? Well I have grown weary of the acronyms that go along with Special Ed (SPED) but I will use them because...well let's face it, it makes things easier! :)
This past year...I had 6 SPED students in my classroom. I was at an ARD almost every week. I actually look forward to ARDs because I can talk to everyone involved with that child and see what we can do to help him or her! However, I have learned that you must ALWAYS come prepared to an ARD. Bring work samples, reading levels, notes, parent contact info, etc! So this year...I have started a folder on every child in my room (all 22 of them!) But in the SPED kids folders...I have this neat little sheet!
I ran this sheet off on green colored card stock and will fill it out on each SPED child. This is great for the classroom but can also be taken to ARDs...they will ask about current testing modifications...and we all hate those numbers that correspond with the modifications; this is much easier!
I also found this great IEP Organization Kit I did not use all of the sheets from it, but I did run off a few of them for the kids folders! So if you think you might need something like this...go take a look! (It's especially great for ARDs and parents)
The important part is to have all of your information ready at a glance! I have spent a year or two trying to tweak my IEP and ARD organization. I would love just actually focus on the child for a change! So start early--if you know you will have a few of these kiddos. If you do not know...you will soon find out! The information I have given is simple to copy for the child and it will make a world of difference for you as the teacher!
Finally, PARENT COMMIUNICATION! You do not want to meet or talk to the parent for the first time in the ARD meeting. Call the parent often to ensure him or her that their child is doing okay (or what they need to work on if they are not doing okay.) Every parent is concerned about their child, but parents of a SPED child are concerned their child isn't progressing and/or being treated fairly. It is your job as the teacher to inform them otherwise! I make it a goal (at the very least) to contact the parents once every 2 weeks. (Sometimes weekly or daily!) May seem excessive, but it completely depends on the child. I've never had a complaint that I call too much! :)
Again, I will say, I plan on learning A LOT this year about co-teaching and SPED! I am sure I will do another post later in the year (hopefully full of things I have learned!) But for now--hopefully this will help you get started (or prepared) for those wonderful little babies that will come into your classroom this year!