Year one sucks! You have a bunch of book knowledge and very little practical experience. To be honest, I almost didn’t make it through my first year. Well, to be completely honest, I almost didn’t make it through my first month! By the end of the first week my students were walking all over me and I was lost in the curriculum. Did that make me a bad teacher? NO! It made me a bad classroom manager. Every problem that had boggled me my first year lead back to that first week and how unprepared I was. My student teaching taught me how to make an effective lesson plan, but it did not show me everything I needed to know about being an effective classroom manager.
Here’s how I changed that!
1. Steal from the best and forget the rest!
You are going to come up with brilliant ideas…eventually. Before your school year starts, go to your coworkers and ask to see what they do on the first day of school. Take a lot of notes and ask them to share their presentation or whatever with you. I did this before this school year started and I am so thankful. I got a plethora of incredible ideas. Make sure you continue stealing from the best during the school year too because they really are the best example you are going to get. Thank you L. Macey, P. Moylan, B. Boyd, and B. Mainord for letting me steal off your best ideas and using them as my own.
2. Read up!
I did not do enough research on classroom management before my first year. I thought that I no longer needed to buy bulky teacher resource books and I could find everything I needed online. Oh boy was I Wong! Oops! I meant to say wrong, but thank you Harry and Rosemary Wong for your book “The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher.” Without this book I would not have had thought of some of the most minuscule but necessary classroom procedures. This book contains countless pieces of advice and even gives practical examples form real teachers. This is not the only book I have used to help craft my first week of lessons, but it is the book that changed my perspective on reading those boring, bulky, wordy teacher resource books.
3. Prepare 3x the amount of content you think you need
Any “free time” will be taken as a sign of weakness and your head will be eaten. That might be an exaggeration, but only by a little. Students decide the first day of school whether they will take you seriously or not. You want you and your students to be busy from bell to bell that first day. When you are prepared, they know that you mean business. If you have three minutes left and decide to play silent ball or some other game, they will think that the last three minutes of every class should be playtime. Unfortunately, their concept of time is a little off, so by three minutes they really think 30. Maybe 40. Instead, with your three extra minutes ask them to write down the easiest expectation for them to follow, the most surprising classroom expectation you have, and one thing that they are looking forward to this year. This way you are reviewing your expectations and getting to know your students a little bit.
Make sure you are fully aware of what your students should be learning everyday and what they should learn by the end of each unit. In other words, plan backwards then go forwards. Start with your final asessment which would somehow prove that your students learned what they were supposed to learn. Then, plan benchmarks. Make sure you have at least two benchmarks on the way, pre and mid. Next, fill in the blanks starting from the beginning. What should they know by the end of week one, week two, week three… After that, go back to each day and write learning targets and success criteria. This is the best way I have found to make sure I am focused everyday. That way when an administrator comes into my class, they can tell exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s also helpful for the students. Students want to know what they are supposed to learn and how to tell if they were successful that day.
5. Don’t forget about yourself
By the end of my first year I had gained an obscene amount of weight and I was missing my friends. I had been so focused on keeping my head above water at school that I had completely ignored my physical and emotional needs. This year, I started dancing again. Every Sunday I practiced for three to five hours in order to prepare for a show I was in called “Traditions of Christmas.” Since that is over, I have decided to plan at least one girl’s night a month and get my nails done. If nails and girl’s nights aren’t your thing, figure out what your thing is! Do something once a week that makes you selfishly happy. In other words, you do something that is just for you. When you are unhappy or stressed, you take it out on your students. They don’t need that and you don’t need to be stressed!
This is not the complete list of things to do to survive your first year, but it is what I consider my life-saving tips. Without learning these things, I would not have become the successful, happy, and thriving teacher I am today.