1. The Teacher –A special-ed teacher has a tough job. She needs to act as a bridge between the school and the parents, while trying to balance everyone’s needs. Some parents look for background and experience. Others look for personality. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with her style. For example, how does she typically handle behaviors? (No right answer – are you in agreement with her behavior management techniques?) Is she open to new ideas? Does she adapt to the different needs of the children?
2. Aides – Do they look like they are part of the team? Are they curious about the children? Do they know the children? (their preferences and dislikes, their unique traits)
3. Look and Feel – Does the classroom look neat and organized, without being drab? Is there some children’s art work on the walls? Does it look inviting and fun, without being overwhelming? (Having too many stimulating visuals and activities on display is not ideal). Is there sufficient lighting in the room? Do the table and chair groupings encourage more social interaction/team work or more individual work?
4. Adult to child ratio – some children need a high adult to child ratio. Other children do better in larger groups.
5. Support Team – Do the SLP and OT communicate with the teacher often enough to be on the same page? Do they work as a team in supporting the child’s development?
6. Assistive Technology – From PECS and TEACCH to iPads and computers, which supports are being used in the classroom? Which ones does your child need and are they open to using them?
7. Tracking and Communication – How are goals tracked? Is a binder maintained and updated daily on each child? How are problems communicated – by email or phone? Is there an open door policy or classroom visitations need to be scheduled? Is parent volunteering encouraged or discouraged?
8. Other Parents – talk to the other parents to get their opinions about the classroom – you will get a mix of opinions – bear in mind that their children are different from yours – take their input only to get some additional perspective but don’t let it influence you excessively.
9. You may not get the “ideal” classroom with all of the above, but it is good to start with an idea of what to look for.
10. Prioritize – make a list of absolute must-haves, and a list of nice-to-have elements. That way you know ahead of time what you don’t want to compromise on, and which elements are negotiable.
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