Managing Prep Work as a SPED Teacher

Being a Special Education teacher is far from easy.  Juggling behaviors, communication needs, data, IEP goals, communication with parents, curriculum organization (WHAT CURRICULUM?), adapting materials and the most time consuming of it all....

No teacher should spend 100's of hours prepping materials on their own time at home.  My first few years of teaching I did all of the prep.  I stored my laminator and materials at home and did it on the weekends or on the couch while watching my favorite reality TV shows!  It took time for me to realize that I needed to balance work and my personal time a little better.  Now I am able to leave all of my materials at school and still have all of my monthly goodies ready to go by the first of the month.  Here are some tips for you to follow:

1.  Design a prep station in your classroom.  You need to have a place where everything is stored so that you are not running all around your room to find what you need.  I know space is limited, for me it is just on top of a file cabinet.  Everything is stored in the file drawers and I keep a basket on top of work that needs to be done.  What do I store in my prep area?  Laminator, lamination pouches, binding machine, binding spines, paper cutter, velcro, and scissors.

2.  Train your staff in how to work all of the equipment.  Teach your aides how to prep materials, set expectations and praise your staff for helping out.  It is imperative to rely on people around you and most importantly TRUST them to prep things you need.  SO many times I hear from followers that "nobody preps the materials the way I want it to be prepped."  If you do it all, you will get burnt out!

3.  ALWAYS HAVE STUFF PRINTED READY TO PREP.  You should always have stuff ready to go.  It requires a lot of work and planning ahead to have stuff ready to prep.  There is nothing worst than wasted time.  You never know when you will have a few students absent or a 1:1 student out.  These are the days you need to take advantage of your staff to prep things for you!

4.  Have a "mobile prep bag" ready to go.  Obviously you can't bring the laminator somewhere, but there is no reason why you cant have already cut pieces and velcro in a bag to assemble.  Laminated pages and a pair of scissors can fit in a small bag too.  Have this bag ready to go for when you have a chance to have an aide prep outside of the classroom.

5.  Prep smart.  I like to create large products one step at a time.  My room does not have enough space to sprawl out all of our materials and create an assembly line.  Also- I don't want my kiddo's getting into our organized system!  Break larger tasks into smaller ones.  For example, I like to get all of my pages in laminating pouches first.  Then work on laminating during down time in the classroom.  Cutting needs to be done when no kids are around!  I love my paper cutter, it cuts prep time in half.  HOWEVER, it can be a hazard having it out when the kids are in the room.  I like to have the "cutting" stage done when no kids are present, or behind my teachers desk which is completely blocked off so that the kids cannot get to it.  Velcro assembly and binding is one that can be done on a tiny desk, it does not need much space!  I see some people prep one adapted book at a time because they think, OH, If I get this done right now I can use it tomorrow.  While that may be true, its not an effective use of your time to print 8 pages, laminate, cut, velcro and bind.  You should be laminating at least 30 pages at a time so that each step of the way is cut down on time!

6.  Build in prep time into your day.  I have my play time (earned break after work centers) lead straight into snack.  With the 15 min play time combined with the 15 min snack time, I am able to designate 30 minutes daily for prep for my staff.  While 30 minutes is not a whole lot of time, 30 minutes times 5 days is 2.5 hours of built in prep.  You can get a LOT done in this amount of time if you are planning in advance.  I also have my 1:1's take our prep bag with them to services.  When my aide goes to speech with her health girl, there is no reason why she can't monitor her student while velcroing schedule icons.  Of course, this may not be an opportunity for you if you class/staff ratio is not appropriate, but it can be an option for some.  I have not had this luxury every year.  Consider having parent volunteers have a built in schedule.  I have a parent come on Tues/Thurs during our PE time.  This gives them the opportunity to come to school, contribute to the classroom yet not distract our students during work time.  GET CREATIVE!  There should never be a time where your aides are sitting and "chit chatting" while supervising the kids.  If you have down time, have your aides multi task!  Breaks and leisure is imperative for our students, however that does not mean your staff needs a break too.  Have them help :)  I also guarantee that they will enjoy the responsibly.  My staff takes pride in their work.  They all have their "go to" products.  One of my aides has "claimed" my monthly binder sets while another is the go to "binding" gal.  It is great to build a sense of community between yo and your staff.  Trusting them with tasks like this can help to make them feel important, needed and appreciated while benefiting the class at the same time!

7. RECRUIT!  Do you have those parents that want to be invovled?  Maybe it might be too much to ave that parent in the classroom during the school day because it can be distracting for their child.  Consider sending work home to parents to help cut out.  Have parents work before/after school in your room.  Parents love to feel needed and it is a great way to have them participate in their child's education.  What about older students helping out?  Are there any kids on campus needing "community service" done?  A sixth grader is able to put laminating pouches into the laminator for you or cut out basic shapes!  LEAN ON PEOPLE.  Think outside of the box and find a support system that can help you.

Do you have any prep tips to help out other SPED teachers? If so, comment below so I can update my list of tips down the road!

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  1. Melissa, these are great ideas! My aides were fabulous at prepping materials for me! Whenever a students (or a couple) were out and I had extra aides, it was time to prep! #3 was essential - always have something ready to be prepped otherwise you waste precious time!! :)

  2. I love you and this post. If only I could make it work- I am going to plan for next year- I need a big team. : ) Thanks so much for such a great post. I spend 70+ hours a week- and new school, students, subjects this year = no blog posts on new blog, no new products, it has been a challenge, but I can do this! Change is not good for a special ed teacher!!!! LOL!!!

  3. I LOVE this post! This is an area that I definitely need to work on and this post is a perfect solution; so THANK YOU!! :) I especially love your idea on how to involve parents without having them disrupt the students in the room (which is a nice way to include them without them being intrusive)!