Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Advice for New Teachers Link -Up

Teaching in your own classroom is a great profession--and as much as they try, your college courses aren't able to truly prepare you for it.  This Back to School Link-Up is a great idea because it gives new teachers some invaluable advice and reminds us that we are not alone.

I remember my first day of teaching like it was yesterday.  I was 21 years old, fresh out of college, and had been hired four days before first day of school.  I was in awe of the knowledge of my new teammates and too new to know the right questions to ask.  Luckily, I was armed with a book called "The Keys to the Classroom" that was developed by the New Teacher Project out of my alma mater UCSC.

And then, 20 minutes after school started, one my new 4th graders blurted out "That's jacked up" when I was going over my expectations.  At that point, I don't know who was more terrified--the student who said it or the teacher who had to deal with it or the 28 other students who were waiting to see what was going to happen.  With a deep breath and a prayer, I asked her to step outside and after I got the other kids busy, I was able to talk with her and found out that she was just scared because there were words up in the classroom that she didn't know and she was afraid that it was going to be a bad year.  It was easy to empathize with her.  I was experiencing many of the same emotions.

So my major piece of advice to new teachers is be empathetic.  There is that saying that goes something like "Be kind for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."  Too often we make assumptions about situations based on our own experiences. My first thought was that little girl was challenging my authority because she wanted to show off in front of her friends.  Turned out that she was just acting out because of her own fears--she actually was a really neat kid with a really horrible background.  By removing her from the spotlight, it allowed her dignity to remain intact, as well as my own.  And the conversation we had was the first step toward developing a relationship that made her school year more successful.

Two things that are indispensable to me are my Mr. Sketch markers and my planbook.  I make a lot of anchor charts for the kids (we used to call them VIP--visual instructional plans!)  Mr. Sketch markers are beautiful, bold colors that rarely run out as you are creating the charts.  Using different colors helps focus students--for example, you might be showing the steps of long division and can use different colors to match the different steps so that it easier for the kids to follow or refer back to at a later time.  Making sure that you start off each week with plans is essential.  It is so easy to lose instructional minutes throughout the day--especially when you are first starting out.  Planning helps to keep you on schedule and focused.   I doubt you will stick to the plans as written, but they will give you a great framework.  This year I am going to attempt to make the jump to an electronic planbook---I don't know if it will take or not, but I figure it might be worth a try.

Lastly three tricks of the trade--wow, there are so many tricks out there.  Before you know it, your bag of tricks will be overflowing and you won't believe there was a time when you didn't use them.

One of the most important things that I have learned throughout the years is that kids respond much better to positive directions instead of negative ones.  Tell them what you want and expect to see instead of what you don't.  Are there some students who are off-task?  Instead of calling them out, try to say "I see 20 students working really hard on learning right now--thank you so much."  I bet the off-task ones will get right to work.  I am not advocating the "Let's be more like Johnny" approach--refer to table groups, or areas of the room, or just say students.  It really is amazing how much most of them will respond to this method of classroom control--and it helps build a really positive classroom environment.

Another trick I have is clean-up at the end of the day.  My 6th graders love to use our clean-up time to stand around and talk--they aren't too keen about picking up after themselves.  However, if I say that I have a "mystery object" and will give a prize (always small) to the person who finds it and either puts it away or throws it away, you would be amazed by how many kids start scurrying around the room desperately trying to be the winner.  When most of the trash is picked up and things are put away, I pick my object--that is the trick part!  (Although most of them never figure that out!)

Finally, a handy trick that I have learned with creating my anchor charts in front of my students is the pencil trick.  Create a chart ahead of time lightly in pencil.  Then, when you are making it with the students as you are providing direct instruction, you just go over the pencil marks with your markers.  Your chart ends up looking pretty good, it helps keep you on track with your lesson, and your kids think you are a superstar as you create the chart with ease!

Hope you have a fabulous year and--when you get a chance to breathe--remember to enjoy it!

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