The Ballad of the New Student


Last week, I was sitting in my classroom thinking about everything I had to do. I had to prepare paperwork for a student growth pilot I am participating in, make minor adjustments to student schedules, choose a health insurance plan, prepare for an observation, and get extra-organized to prepare for the start of basketball season in November.

As I sat, wallowing in my mind-pool of undone work, the special education instructional coordinator (read: my boss) walked in. She smiled at me uncomfortably and then told me that I was getting a new student.

As she described the situation and the new student, half of my brain listened to her explanation. The other half was racing to make a comprehensive list of everything I needed to do before the new student began.

My previous pool of undone work now seemed shallow and manageable. The student would start the following week. It was mid-day Wednesday. I had three days.

Bum bum bummmmmmmm…

Day One

As soon as my boss left, I began creating materials to create a schedule book. Students’ schedule books included a homeroom mini-schedule, daily schedule, daily desk work (targeting daily skills and IEP goals), and other materials that students need access to on a daily basis. The schedule book is truly the student’s “home base”.

Luckily, much of those materials were already created on my hard drive and were easily printed. I customized worksheets relating to personal information and called it a day on that. I could continue to individualize the binder in the weeks to come as I got to know him a little better. After I printed the materials, I sent them to lamination (our school only laminates on certain days). The materials would be laminated and returned the following day.

After this prep work, I had to attend training on our new alternate assessment for students with significant disabilities. In lieu of doing any more real work for the new student, I stressed about vague concerns and entertained various ‘what if?’ scenarios.

That night I had a glass of wine with dinner.

Day Two

Next, I created the necessary visuals for the new student to be successful in the classroom. I made a ‘reinforcement circle’ (a colored round reinforcement menu). I added his name to the job chart and gave him morning and afternoon jobs. I assigned him a locker and a cubby. I added his name to our computer schedule, password lists, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I also spent substantial time reading and re-reading the student’s IEP. Paperwork on students with disabilities can be confusing, since some behaviors and concerns can find their way in and remain even when they are no longer a problem. I believe the thought process for that is we need to be prepared for these behaviors in case they are to resurface, and I agree with this manner of thinking. However, it can make students seem like much ‘bigger adventures’ than they actually are in practice.

After reading the paperwork, it was obvious that the student would need his own space in the classroom with opportunities for movement and spending time away from staff and classmates. I cleared out our break-out room except for a bookshelf of leisure activities and a comfortable chair, and requested an exercise bike from the PE department. I got the ‘ok’ and custodial staff agreed to deliver it that night.

In addition to all of this preliminary work for the new student, I also managed to teach my other classes and meet with other staff members about a behavior plan for current student. I gave myself a high-five for efficiency, and headed home feeling pretty good until I remembered that

Day Three

was HOMECOMING ASSEMBLY DAY. If you teach in a large public high school, you know that Homecoming Assembly Day is also known as the day during which nothing can be done. There is an energy in the air that causes all students and staff to behave as if they are constantly snacking on espresso beans and Lucky Charms.

I erased my goals for the day and set a mental target to simply keep everyone safe. That’s it. And that was enough for Homecoming Assembly Day.

The Weekend

I spent the weekend making necessary adjustments to the master schedule. I readjusted who each student was paired with to better meet the needs of the current students as well as the new student. When the master schedule was in place for Monday and Tuesday, I used Boardmaker Studio software to create picture schedule templates for each student.

I also planned out my reading group lessons, large group lessons, and community lessons for the week. I wanted to be able to focus on scheduling and student behavior for the rest of the week.


Today was the day! The new student’s parents dropped him off and attempted to linger. After several ‘hints’ gently given by having the student repeatedly say ‘good bye,’ he was on his own.

He responded well to his schedules and the visuals we used. He manipulated his schedule and various mini-schedules and checklists fairly well with minimal prompting. The movement breaks integrated in to his schedule seemed to work to regulate his body and his sensory state. He used his reinforcement menu and verbal language to communicate his wants and needs. His behavior was generally appropriate and gentle.

Overall, he had an excellent first day! Neither he nor we had any trouble at all—he seemed to fit right in.

No sweat.


2 thoughts on “The Ballad of the New Student

  1. I really appreciate all that you completed in order to ensure your student’s success. I was just thinking about my self-contained class vs. my resource lab. I think I’ll write a post on it. Thanks for the inspiration.


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