Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rock your first year

This week I am thrilled to link up with Chandra at Teaching With Crayons and Curls for a super important cause --> how to rock your first year teaching. 

I actually did not go to school to become a teacher, but rather changed my mind about two years out after completing my undergraduate degrees in journalism and sociology. I found an alternate route liscensure program within the The New Teacher Project umbrella. They have teaching fellows programs all over the country. In any event, I never student taught and my first day of teaching was basically my first time in an elementary school classroom since I  was in elementary school. WHAT?!

Needless to say, my first year teaching was intense. I was thrown into a fourth grade classroom... alone.... at a Title 1 school and at night I attended graduate school. Luckily, I had a great mentor, amazing colleagues, and a really top notch masters program helping me survive that first year.
Be consistent with classroom management: My advice is to read tons of books on the subject, ask other teachers what they do, and then dive in and make a plan for the first year. Find what fits your personality and you'll come to learn what you value as a teacher over time. For me, I found a home in Whole Brain Teaching. I am not a card puller or a clothespin mover. I actually tried the stick and clothespin moving my first year and I quickly learned that only about 20% of my class really NEEDED to see that daily movement and have that constant monitoring. Of course, they were always moving down and it didn't seem to even phase them. A whole class method of management was more ideal to me (and less work) and I put those students that really NEEDED that close monitoring on individualized behavior plans. These plans were positive and specifically tailored toward the students that needed them. And the best part was, when the students didn't need them anymore they went away. This year I discovered Class Dojo and I used that in addition to Whole Brain Teaching's Scoreboard Game.  If you have a few minutes and you don't know what Class Dojo is go check it out! My firsties loved it!

Observe great teachers: Most schools allow you to take some professional leave to go observe another teacher at your school (perhaps on your team) or even go see another great teacher in your district. My first year I really wanted to try reading workshop but was unsure of how to do it. My literacy coach hooked me up with another school where there was a great teacher leader who rocked at reading workshop. I spent the morning there one day watching her class and it was a light bulb moment. Another thing I have done an embarrassingly lot of is watch teacher videos. Both districts that I have worked for have had excelled curriculum and instruction departments with professional books and videos for you to check out. You can also watch the Teaching Channel which has amazing exemplar lessons at every grade level and for every subject.

Make friends with the school secretary and custodian: You will thank me for this later! At my school we have the attendance secretary and the admin secretary and you would think they ran the school. That's because they basically did. As a new teacher you will have so many questions about receipts, field trips, sub days, etc and these ladies will be your life savers. Find out what they like (sweets?) and provide it with a smile at the beginning of the year. The same goes for your custodian. Make friends with the day time one and also the one who will be cleaning your classroom in the afternoon. I can't tell you how many times both of those people saved my booty and came to my aid, going above and beyond.

Don't think you can do it all: Let's be real. It's your first year....  your goal is to survive. I would really focus on making management a priority. After that, each year pick one or two things to really master. For example, this year I am going to become an expert on writing workshop or math rotations. Your first year is a time to ask a million questions, make a million mistakes, and hold on tight. 

Don't glaze over procedures and routines with your class: Procedures need to be planned in advance and that's your job! Trust me, procedures matter. For example, ask yourself -- how will my students let me know they need to go to the bathroom and how will I keep track of when they go? Do I even care how many times a day they go? Some of you won't care and that's fine. Different teachers care about different things, but the bottom line is that every teacher needs to sit down and make a plan for common classroom occurrences like how students enter the classroom, leave the classroom, move in the hallway, sharpen their pencils, etc. Sometimes procedures change and that is OKAY! Just teach the new procedure. For example, maybe at the beginning of the year you have your students in rows and the person on the left passes down the papers and when it's time to collect papers everyone passes to the right. Perhaps two months into school you decide to put your students in groups of four and you give each student at the group a number 1-4. Now, you have a new procedure and the number 1s pass out the papers and the number 2s collect the papers. Don't panic when a procedure changes because this will happen and it's natural. In fact, it's a good sign. It means you're getting smarter and you've found a better way to handle something. Teach the procedure, model the procedure, and then practice it 100 times. No really.... 100 times. 

Be kind to yourself: Last but not least, be kind to yourself. Being a teacher is a really hard job. You'll soon find that out if you don't already agree with that statement. Take time for yourself. You'll make lots of mistakes, but you'll learn from them. You'll be a second year teacher in no time. 


  1. I love each one of your points! Especially "observe great teachers". This helped me tremendously. I went to school for communication, made the switch to teaching, and also teach title 1.

  2. Loved the blog over all, you have noted things correctly and pointed out accurately. Good post, keep posting such posts

  3. These kind of presentations are very common on the day of orientation. Your life looks beautiful at the first day of your school but with time you realise its not as intresting as you were thinking of. But student life is fun.


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