Starting a new school year

Tips for starting the school year smoothly

            Starting a school year, with new teachers and new students, can be very stressful for your child, and you. Let’s make a plan to start this school year smoothly and with a positive beginning.  From having worked in schools for years I know that a classroom teacher may receive a stack of IEP summaries from a well prepared special education teacher to inform them of your child’s, and the many other children’s needs. This paperwork, even for great teachers, does often get overlooked until the school year has started. Having said that, relax. The truth is, a list of accommodations, service hours, etc. doesn’t mean much until a teacher can meet and get to know your child. Put off meeting with the teacher until the second week of school at least. Then, when you discuss your child’s needs, it means something, because your child is now a person the teacher knows. When you say that Toby needs extra time to process information, the teacher has a picture and a relationship with Toby. That teacher now connects and is concerned about what is best for him. The exception to this is if your child has health issues or demonstrates behaviors which may put your child in danger in the first week of school.
Are there any safety issues you would like the classroom teacher to know?
            If your child has health or behavioral issues that may impact your child’s safety, even on the first day of school, meet with the teacher before school starts if possible. Send an email to the principal, and the teacher (if you know who that will be) and ask for a quick 20-minute meeting before school starts. If you do not get a response, stop in and ask to speak to the principal. During this meeting, highlight a few wonderful characteristics of your child, and emphasize the importance of the plan to prevent any health or behavioral issues. Make sure that they know how you will support them, especially in the first week or so.
What if there are no safety issues or health concerns, but I still want to meet with the teacher?
            Wait. Yes, really, wait.  The benefit of the teacher knowing your child even a little bit will help a great deal. As you meet, the teacher will have a visual of your child and may even start to cognitively plan as you are meeting. Teachers are thrown all sorts of new information before the school year starts. Without a chance to get to know your child, a meeting will only be another to do on an already packed list. You will make a bigger impact once your child’s teacher has had a chance to connect with your child. And yes, there will be some assessments in the first few weeks of school. These are most likely going to be assessments that are gathering information about where your child is performing in certain academic areas. Your teacher should already have a copy of IEP accommodations and will look this over for any accommodations that need to be implemented during these tests. Your child is not the only one in class who has accommodations. Do teachers sometimes forget this? Yes! But let’s start the year assuming best intentions, and that the teacher will be amazing. If they prove otherwise, have that meeting later.
What things should I talk about in my first meeting with the teacher?
            First impressions are important, and that means you as well as your child. This is your chance to build a cooperative relationship with your child’s teachers. This is your chance to show that you support and advocate for your child, through supporting the teacher. Avoid statements that sound like you are telling them how to do their job. Avoid talking about how other teachers did horrible, or even amazing things. Just state the helpful strategies without attaching a person to them. Assume that they have your child’s best interests at heart.

Here are the few things you can highlight in your first, short meeting;
            1. The two biggest challenges for my child are ---- and ---- because of----. For example, the two biggest struggles for my child are memory and following directions. I think this is because she has such trouble focusing she doesn’t put the information together like other people. Or, the two biggest struggles for my child are comprehension and writing because he has severe dyslexia. All of his efforts are put into figuring out what the words are, that the meaning gets lost. And with writing, he struggles so much with spelling each word that getting a paragraph where all the sentences are related, is very difficult.
            2. The two most important accommodations are ---. For example, writing down the directions on the board helps her so much, as well as the repetition of basic information. Or, Having audiobook versions of the text and the computer program that predicts what he is going to type has been such an amazing gift in the past.
            3. Show your support. For example, At home I have been working on strategies to help focus, I also use flashcards daily with her. If there are sight words or math facts that you would like me to focus on let me know. Or, I will help as much as I can. Although I have him do all of the work, I do often scribe for him at home. Please let me know how I can help, especially if there is a long research type project coming up. My priority is to help my child in school as much as possible.
            4. Create a connection by letting the teacher know something your child is really good at or interested in. For example, Even though she has a really tough time with the memory of new information, she loves animal science and has great knowledge of marine and jungle animal life. Or, Reading has always been so difficult for him, but he has an amazing understanding of history. He can tell you facts about every president.
            5. Ask if they would like a copy of the IEP or parts of it. Yes, they should already have this, but just in case they don’t, offer it.
            6. Ask what you can do to support the teacher and the school.
            7. Have this information on a one-page sheet with your child’s picture to give to the teacher.
Remember, this is just the first meeting. You will keep in contact with the teacher over the year. There is no need to review the entire IEP or rehash past experiences. This is a new year and can be the best for your child.
If you would like me to attend a meeting with you, I would be more than happy to do that. Please call 720-560-8843 or email me at