Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Real World Tips For Rookie Teachers

Twenty-one years ago I was in your position, energy bouncing off the walls, ideas swirling like gases from the beginning of the universe. But underneath it all was a mild case of panic, I got the contract now what? How do I not stick out as a rookie any more than I already do? Most important how do I not let the little things overwhelm all the good I'm actually doing?

From the fog of those anxious days came little tidbits of info spat out casually by a number of people during my training and two decades since. Each one was simple, yet so obvious. None of them are grand educational theories that are totally impractical for surviving and success during your rookie year. Instead, these are simple things, casual bits that will help you to keep your energy and enthusiasm up over the next ten months.

1- Get to know the school office staff. School secretaries/administrative assistants are the backbone of the school. They know everything that is going on in the building, especially how the principal likes things to be done. Take good care of them, find out their Starbucks drink, what type of afternoon candy they like, the names of their children.  Show them you appreciate the myriad of hats they must wear every day. In return, when you forget to turn in certain paperwork, AND YOU WILL, they will quietly remind you before the principal visits your door.

2- Introduce yourself to the custodial staff and ask them point blank what you can do to make their lives easier. In my experience they are no-nonsense types and will tell you the do's and don'ts. Staying on their good side usually means getting things fixed, moved, etc. much sooner.

3- Organize your computer filing system. Create folder for school year. Inside have folders for each subject, lesson plans, parent letters, field trips, continuing education, time sheet, etc.. Doing this now will make for quick file searching later on.  Do the same for saving various types of emails.

4- Keep in your desk several large zip-lock storage bags. In them put found pens, pencils, colored pencils, markers, crayons, paper clips, and dry erase markers in each bag. This will keep your desk drawers much neater.

5- Find a spot in your room well AWAY from your desk for the student tissue box and sanitizing soap. Limiting exposure to germs especially in your first year is critical to staying healthy.

6- Every week wipe down desks, chairs, door knobs and jams with anti-bacterial cleaner or wipes. Also, anytime a student falls ill during class and is sent home wipe down their desk. You'll be surprised at how much healthier the class and you will stay.

7- If you teach multiple subjects pick your favorite and make it the one you devote to placing your creative stamp on. In my case it was 8th grade American History. The other classes I stuck closer to the text with typical teacher modifications.

9- Chances are the previous teacher left all sorts of teaching material. Look all of it over and know where it is in case you use some of it later. At the end of the year toss out what you didn't use as chances are you'll never use it.

10- Do what you can to personalize your room within school policy. A sterile room that doesn't reflect your personality will drain you of energy especially during the second half of the year.  Don't feel bad if other teachers don't. Remember it's all about what works for you and your students.

11- Get to know the backgrounds of the veteran teachers around you. There is no greater knowledge source than that of your coworkers.  One of them you will find a strong professional connection and will likely become your unofficial mentor.

12- Stop by the local dollar store and pick up a set of micro screwdrivers for a buck. Next, visit a nearby optometrist and purchase a multi-pack of eyeglass screws (if you tell them you're stocking up for classroom emergency repairs they may just give them to you), as you will be repairing glasses and clear tape does NOT work.

13- If budget cuts have left maintenance staff shorthanded, spend the $10-$20 for an emergency tool kit.  I use mine (even with a great maintenance staff) several times a year.

Once The Year Begins
Thirteen- Stand at the doorway and greet each student. Try to be unique in your phrasing based upon something about them, be it a team jersey, type of shoes, anything.  Make sure to have on the board information on seating and any supplies they will need to have out.

14- Classroom rules. Unlike a few education "experts" who claim that rules aren't needed, you need to have a framework. In my case I have just one "respect everyone and everything". The positive message makes it very easy for students to follow and admit when they didn't live up to it.

15- Have a rotating classroom cleanup list posted. Assignments should change weekly. Giving the students responsibility for the physical appearance of the room does much to cut down on messy appearance, as well as wear and tear.

16- Laminate a student list to use as a lunch count sheet. I put mine on the podium with a marker each morning. Make one announcement to sign up, otherwise they have to mooch off another student. Remember, you'll be too busy handling all sorts of questions that matter.

17- Let the students get to know you as a person. Tell them from time to time a funny experience/story from your youth or something you saw over the weekend. I use them as rewards for working hard on an assignment. In doing so I'm teaching them what I consider to be one of the most important keys of life, laughing at one's own foibles.

18- Let parents know when their child has done something good. Whether it be in drop off or pickup line, or by phone or email.  You'll be surprised how quickly the parents will be offering assistance or support.

19- SMILE, SMILE, SMILE.  The old adage that teachers aren't suppose to smile until Christmas is pure baloney.  You can't expect your students to be in a good mood and positive if you don't show it yourself. I'm a self admitted grinning fool, and because of it I can get students to do difficult assignments with far less negativeness.

20- Don't try to grade everything! During my first year my wife only half joked that the only time she saw me was in a recliner grading papers. Near the end of the year as I was running on fumes the principal came to and all but ordered me to pick one concept to check for on each assignment. For math teachers that means grading only certain questions in different orders each day.

21- Condense your lesson plans. Find out what your principal wants to see and in how much detail. Chances are it's about 10% of the insanity you had to write during student teaching. Remember, you are going to be spending approximately 80 hours a week this year working, learn how to save time.

22- Get in regular exercise. I walk every morning with a fellow teacher for thirty minutes. Other teachers workout at a nearby gym. Besides the obvious general healthiness, exercise is a great stress release, and you will feel the pressure quite often during your rookie year.

23- Arriving and departing school each day must be balanced. Don't think that it is ok to arrive just before the students and leave right after the last bus each day is ok.  That is a recipe for chaos. If you stay late to prep after school for the next day you should come in at least 30 minutes before the students. If you're an early bird, stay after for 30-45 minutes, give your colleagues a chance to meet with you. Nothing is worse as a teacher then being harried. 

24- Each Monday morning right after pledge and announcements the class takes five minutes for the "Activities/Sports Report". This gives the students an opportunity to tell about their successes. For myself, I get precious info that I can use to engage them on an individual or group level.

25- Keep two journals, in the first record how each lesson went. What to add and remove for the next time the lesson is taught.  Keep it brief, no story-telling needed. The second is for at home, and it is a memory book for reflecting on the wonderful insanity of your first year. I didn't do this and it still haunts me.

26- Rest, relax, eat healthy, and have fun. Give one day on the weekend to yourself. Spend time with family and friends. Sleep in, and or take a nap. You'll be surprised at how much better an extra hour of rest each weekend does for the mind, body and soul. Spend the day doing anything but school work, go see a concert, play a sport, visit with the neighbors. Anything that doesn't have to do with classroom. Eat well balanced meals each day, and remember that coffee and soda pop are not food groups. Every evening give yourself a timeout. If you're a parent, enjoy your children. Listen to music, watch a television show. Taking a break will renew your focus.

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