TAH Teacher Spotlight: Tara’s Structured Classroom

Meet Tara's structured classroom!

I have set up my classroom in a structured/TEACCH setup with clear areas for each activity/task throughout the day. Here is the independent work area/table time area.

Here are the individual desks where students do daily work.

There is also separate play area where we also do PRT data, another table for one of my paradors to run DT and small group lessons, and I have a teacher table (not a teacher desk-Thank you for the awesome idea Sasha) where I run small groups too. Here is my fluency setup.


Throughout my 10 years of teaching, I have used a variety of schedules depending on the level of my students.  Last year was the first year I used a binder picture schedule instead of a folder picture schedule, because my students were middle school age and I believed the binders were more age appropriate.  They worked so well last year that I replicated them this year with easier pictures with less writing because I have younger kids this year. The schedules are individualized each day to each student depending on therapies or specials.  Once they have finished the schedule activity in their schedule, they take off the icon and place it in the finished pocket on the left side/backside of the front cover of the binder.  I have grid with each specific icon name for my TA’s when they set up the schedules at the end of each day, so the same pictures are being used for the students to become familiar with.

Behavior Management

The behaviors in my class feed off each other-kind of like a domino effect.  We have a MAT team and a behavioral support team that helps us write FBAs for ½ of students.  With this knowledge, and the knowledge that structure and routine and follow through with expectations are essential, we try to contain the first behaviors before it effects the rest of the students.  Because of their cognitive levels, we either ignore because most of my behaviors are attention seeking, if the behaviors are too disruptive we take them outside the classroom into the ‘breezeway’ and give them time to calm down. We also make sure they tell us, in whatever mode of communication they use, that they are calm and ready to return to the classroom.  My students know that even if their behavior is an escape/avoidance behavior, they may ask/take a break but they must return and complete the original task. We also use TAH Behavior flow charts for avoidance and tantrum because these are our main behaviors.  I have these posted on the board behind my desk in plain sight for   everyone to be on the same page.

Teaching Assistants are partners.

My TA’s are my partners in my classroom.  They help lead DT, PRT and binders so that all kids are busy all the time so that we minimize the behaviors.  I rely on them to keep me on schedule and we all communicate any new behaviors or progress that we see in the kids since I cannot see everyone at all times..  They help me keep up with the binder schedules, and one of my TA’s loves taking data, so I give her my data notes and she inputs them into the computer.

Binders, Binders, Binders

I try to have a main binder, however for my groups there is a separate ones for their curriculum maps and worksheets, I have a separate assessment binder, and of course a separate fluency binder that stays with my fluency boxes.  I am also a big fan of The Container Store, so that everything is uniform, which is important for kids with autism.

The more you know…

“The more you know about the specific disabilities of your students, the better teacher you can be.”  The more information and research I gained through the years I believe has helped me become a more knowledgeable teacher.  The more I know the better I can teach my students.  Also, remember that the child has a home life as well that has a great impact on their behaviors.  Teach the WHOLE child, get to know the family and family members.  This helps when practicing personal information with your students.  Also become followers of other teachers either on TPT or Bloglovin or Instagram even.  Sharing knowledge and experience is always helpful.  Someone has been where you are and is always willing to help.

My name is Tara-Jayne Summers, NBCT.  I have been teaching for 11 years, all in special education.  I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a dual bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education.  2 years ago I finally became Nationally Board Certified in Serve and Profound disabilities.  I work at a private school for kids with ASD that serves kinder-12.  My current classroom is the ‘low functioning” grade 3-5 class.  I have 8 students-all boys of course and two amazing teaching assistants.

15 years ago I had the honor and privilege of being a one on one paraprofessional for a young boy with autism.  I was his one on one for 3 years.  During these years I became very close with the family, and becoming very close to the mom who was also a teacher and soon became my mentor.  While working with this young man and learning from his mom, I learned the wonderful world of autism and became obsesses with learning everything I could so that I help my student to the best of my abilities.  After the three years, I returned to university and, knowing without a doubt that I wanted to become a teacher for students with autism and/or a special education teacher.  Thankfully Northern Arizona University is the only college in Arizona where you can get a dual bachelor’s in special education and elementary education in four years.


  1. What kind of container do you have your fluency flashcards in (as seen in the photo above)?

  2. Thanks, Tara!


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