I came back to school this year, and I had the usual anxiety. “There’s so much work to be done, my room is a disaster, I have so much planning to do,” were the thoughts pervading my mind. There were back to school meetings planned nearly every moment of my returning week to school, and I was feeling the crunch.
I got to my room, and I unpacked my filing cabinets, I rearranged my shelves, I put my do-dads on my desk, and I put the desks where they needed to go. It took all of an hour to do this. Anxiety gone. Returning to the same school sure made back-to-school easier.
I spent my one day I was allotted for time in my classroom making photocopies and putting new systems into place. It felt too easy. I was sure I was forgetting something.
The first day of school arrived, and my board was all sectioned off with electrical tape for my objectives and agendas for each class. I had created space for the systems I’d conjured up over the summer, and it still felt too easy. I hadn’t overslept. My copies were made. My PowerPoint was working. It was all good. I was waiting for the epic failure. The first day happened, and when it was over, I thought to myself, “Well, that was easy.” And truly, it was.
“What had changed?” I mused to myself. What made this year so much different than all of those other years where I was filled with anxiety and stress. Then it hit me, “This is your eighth year of teaching, Annika.” This is the “it gets easier, I promise” part of teaching that I’d been told about since my induction into the education program at Northern Michigan University.
I’m an amalgamation of all of the professors I’ve had, the professional developments I’ve attended, the principals and mentors that have guided me in my professional journey, and I’m better for it. So, I have some advice for new teachers:
1.)Absorb it all, and for every professional development you go to and take back at least one new thing to your classroom and improve. I still arrange my desks in a way that I learned at a professional development in my very first year of teaching put on by the Arizona Department of Education.
2.) Steal good ideas, from whomever they come from. I got the idea to give my students a bathroom pass with eight passes on it for the semester from a second year teacher, to prevent frequent flyers. It didn’t matter that she had less experience in a classroom; she had a better system than I did.
3.) Use procedures. Harry Wong got it right on this one. I’ve seen him speak twice, and I read his book “The First Days of School” every year before I go back, to make sure that I have procedures in place for even the most mundane of tasks in my classroom. This year I changed my procedure for handing in homework. I used to just have an inbox for each class period and students were responsible for handing in their work to the box. I’d get no name papers, and other students would try to claim them. Students would get zero’s and accuse me of losing their papers or of other students stealing their papers, and at parent meetings, I had little ground to stand on when I said that a missing paper just wasn’t in the inbox.
Last year I kept meeting with the same parent and his son about every three weeks. “She lost my paper, I put it in the box.”
“I never recieved it.”
“You lost it, I turned it in.” my student would blame.
“I don’t just lose assignments, otherwise everyone would have missing assignments. Why are your assignments the only ones that keep showing up missing?” I enquired.
“I don’t know, someone must be stealing them out of the basket.”
My procedure wasn’t working. So, I’m trying a new system. I have a milk crate with color coded hanging folders for each day of the week. I personally collect the work and file it in the correct folder. Now there is no question about late work, or the day it was handed in, or if a student handed it to me in the first place.
4.) Use formative assessments daily. Exit slips provide tons of information. This year I’m trying a stoplight system for exit slips. I have color-coded folders, green-yellow-red. I have the students reflect on the daily objective and provide evidence of their learning. They file their exit slip in the green folder if they “got it,” yellow folder if they “kind of understand,” and red folder if they’re “not there yet.” This way, at the end of my class I can grab the red folder, quickly assess which students did not understand the objective, learn what they didn’t understand, and plan my reteaching for tomorrow’s bellwork. The students understand the system, and it works well. I have a separate set up folders for each class period. I currently teach high school.
Formative assessments have really helped me to improve my teaching practices this year. I love to use student created rubrics, and it’s so helpful to have the feedback from my students to know that my instructional practices are actually being effective. Today (8/26/13) students presented a project based off of a rubric they created. They were asked to reflect on how well they thought their peers were meeting the standards as a way of assessing their own understanding of the rubric and their ability to assess others. Here are some of their comments:
“People are doing well on having multiple mediums and the length of time. People need to work on the visual aspect of the project.”
“I believe that some groups have presented well, they are strong in the creativity standard, but lack oral presentation skills.”
“People are doing exceptionally wlel on hitting high on the rubrics. People have very good vocabulary and good posture and attitude toward the crowd.”
“On the rubric people are doing really well on organization, visuals, and speaking. People’s postures weren’t really good and neither was the way they did their introductions.”
This information also tells me what my students are focusing on as meeting the standards and the gaps where I saw them missing some of the standards. It shows me where I need to reteach.
5.) Create a social contract. When the teacher delineates all of the rules, it doesn’t feel very democratic, and it can honestly make my job feel very “police-y.” When the students create their own set of social norms and expectations for their own classroom, they come up with more detailed expectations than you might on your own, and they hold themselves and each other to a higher standard. Be sure to have the students sign the contract and post it in the classroom. Yes this means I have “different” sets of rules in different classes, but honestly, not really. What you learn is the students value kindness, equality, participation, maturity, responsibility, and communication just as much as you do.
6.) Send a positive message to your students each day. I like to use a quote. In the past I’ve begun the class with a quote, this year I’m trying to end the class with a quote or a motivational story. I’m giving the students an opportunity to reflect on meaningful thoughts and apply them to their own lives. It takes five minutes and builds a climate of respect and community. Well worth the time spent.
7.) Post your objectives every day, and what’s more, actually refer to them throughout your lesson. Don’t let writing on your board be a task you do for administration. Make it meaningful to you and your students. I use electrical tape and divide my board into four sections for each subject that I’m teaching: Do, Know, Show, Agenda. I break my Objective into three parts because I’ve found that objectives posted starting with TSWBAT aren’t always in kid friendly language, aren’t always measureable, or don’t give the student a picture of what they will be doing. So tell them: What do you want them to “DO” in today’s lesson?; What do you want them to “KNOW” by the end of the lesson?; and finally what do you want them to “SHOW” you to prove that they’ve mastered the material? You can use this in conjunction with your exit slips to measure the success of your lessons for the day.
To some new teachers this may feel like more great ideas, but you don’t know how to implement them into your already overwhelming schedule of things you want to do. Learn to plan by units, instead of by the weeks, or days, and then you’ll have time to implement new systems into your classroom. If it’s too much information, steal the idea that sounds the most useful, and begin implementing it immediately to make your first day of school as easy as mine was. Have passion for your career choice, and foster strong relationships with your students. You’ll love your job every day.