Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Five Tips for First Year Teachers

I'm halfway through my first year of teaching, so I'm certainly not an expert.  As I delve into second semester, there are five things I'm doing differently:

1. Don't bring work home.   If I don't get work done at school, it's not getting done.  I can't count the number of times I've brought work home to be brought back to work the next day incomplete. When I get home, I have a different set of responsibilities as wife and mother and these take priorityI have a lot less stress and a lot more meaningful family time when I completely leave work at work.  Sometimes this means that I stay at work an extra hour or two do get it done before I head homeI work much more efficiently in that time than I do trying to multitask at home and when I get home, I don't have those nagging "to-dos" in the back of my mind. 

2. Grade work on the day it is turned in. It is so easy to get behind with grading.  Unless I have to leave work right away for some reason, I get all the day's grading done and in the gradebook before I leave.  Not only does this prevent me from getting backed up, but ensures that I can always talk to students and parents about achievement with the most up-to-date information.  If you wait a few days to grade something, you won't realize until it's too late that many students didn't grasp essential skillsIt's much harder to backtrack a week than it is to reinforce concepts the next day.  And remember, it's okay to have students grade their own papers in class and it's fine to spot check homework.  You're not a bad teacher if you only a give completion grades.  It's even ok to NOT GRADE small assignments at all.

3.  Ask for help.  Most of the teachers I work with have been at the school for 10+ years (some over 20).  I am by far the youngest and most inexperienced teacher on the staff.  So I came in thinking I needed to prove myself and not wanting to show weakness by admitting difficulties or asking for help.  BIG MISTAKEMy coworkers are very willing to help and I missed out on the opportunity to glean some much-needed wisdom from them.  Asking for help is not admitting weakness, it's seeking knowledge.  I've noticed that the best teachers in my school ask for advice and constantly brainstorm with others.  In fact, I'm often asked for ideas because they know I'm fresh out of college and have learned new educational theories and methods. 

4. Over-plan. Although this is time consuming (and new teachers are short on time), making a detailed plan makes a huge difference.  Having a class that flows well and moves quickly from one activity to another limits behavioral problems.  Have ideas for activities in case the lesson is shorter than you planned (I found it's difficult as a new teacher to determine just how long a lesson will take).  Script how you will explain difficult concepts.  Anticipate questions that may be asked and prepare the answers.  Think about a seating chart and desk placement.  Have partners or groups already selected.  Instead of planning to write something on the board as you go, think about having a PowerPoint ready with the information.  I promise you won't need to do this forever, but being overprepared will give you confidence and will nip minor issues at the bud.  As a new teacher, small hiccups can easily snowball. 

5. Be kind to yourself. You will have hard days.  You will plan lessons that you think are fantastic only to have them blow up on you.  That's ok.  You have an entire year with these children and I promise they will leave your class with knowledge they didn't have when they started.  No one expects a teacher to be perfect, so don't expect yourself to be.  Like anything else, becoming a master teacher takes experience.  Take time to care for yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Prevent teacher burn-out by having a life outside of school (and keeping school at school).  You may have to deal with difficult parents and coworkers, but don't let those interactions define you.  Do your best, forgive yourself for the rest.

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