7 Quick Tips to Surviving the First Month of School

7 Quick Tips To Surviving the First Month of School
By Christine Garner-Duane,
High School In Class Support Math Teacher in New Jersey

I remember my first day of teaching… both times. I started teaching High School Special Education Resource Room Language Arts and Math right out of college. I don’t remember it being anything I didn’t expect. I’d done a lot of student teaching and completed a practicum for each class I’d taken in college; the kids were like the ones I’d spent so much time working with in my college practicums.

Fast forward to 2003 when I re-entered the teaching workforce as a Middle School teacher after many years’ absence running my own financial consulting business. The students were the different but the strategies were still effective.

Tip #1: Get Psyched! It’s very normal to be nervous. We take our jobs very seriously and we understand that we are entrusted with a big responsibility. But that said, we need to come to class with the belief that we are going to rock this class, and these are some of best ways I’ve found to keep a positive attitude:

  • Listen to music: some days you may want to listen to soothing music and other days to want to listen to music that so you can sing your heart out!
  • Self Talks: Every one of us, whether we’ve been in the classroom for 2 or 20 years understands that a positive self talk goes a long way to helping us over our most challenging days. Give yourself permission to have a 5- minute pity party, but then brush yourself off and take the challenge to find out how you can learn from it. You’re in that class because the district believes you have the skill and the heart to get the job done. Failure is only failure when you throw in the towel.   Your students are counting on you— so turn up the music!
  • Eat breakfast and get sleep: It is VERY easy to skip breakfast and stay up late; your mind whirls with ideas and ‘what-if’s when you’re lesson planning. I promise you this… your brain works incredibly better when it is nourished and rested. If you need some proof of this, think back to the last time you saw a parent trying to reason with a tired and hungry child… that should be enough proof for you!
  • Use your learning community to find ideas and support. Help is out there. Don’t be afraid to use it. Consider it your lifeline!  I’ve found Twitter to be a great way to connect with people who will be non-judgmental and so supportive.  Whenever I’m feeling particularly challenged, whether I am overwhelmed or under-inspired, my Twitter communities never fail to pick me up and get me back on my feet again.  I am always grateful.

 Tip #2: Use your organizational skills to ensure that your classroom time is dedicated to student engagement. Sometimes this means over-planning; it’s the tip to making sure that you have lessons and activities in your hip pocket and ready to go. (Some teachers call this their Survival Kit!) One way I’ve accomplished this is by using a technique called the Anchor Activity.   Whether you’re a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher, having Anchor Activities ready and sitting on the sideline can be the difference between chaos and organized enrichment activities. It’s important that you weave the expectation of this activity into your opening year procedures. It prevents idle hands and can be a constructive activity for those students who complete an assignment early. Anchor Activities are part of a Differentiated Classroom. You can read more about Differentiated Instruction from KDP here:

Other Anchor Activities Links:

 

Tip #3: Think about Classroom Management. KDP offers many webinars on the ins and outs of classroom management. If you’ve missed these, they are available for review. Here’s the link:             http://www.kdp.org/events/webinars.php#classroom

Here’s an example of some of the webinars available on KDP.org.

  • Classroom management issues are best managed by developing classroom norms; what are the students expected to do every day when they arrive in your classroom? Elementary teachers may want coats and backpacks stowed before retrieving their morning folder of work. High school teachers may want students to follow a routine of completing a Do Now /Warm Up activity while you take attendance. Routines and procedures make for a smoothly running classroom. In fact, establishing routines and procedures are core evaluation points for teachers in each of the New Teacher Evaluation Models like Marzano and Danielson. I think it’s also important to note that a smoothly running classroom is not necessarily one where all students are quietly working at their desk. In fact, classroom procedures are the cornerstone of effective group activities and collaborative assignments. Each student, understanding your expectations, knows their job and what to do if they have a question, problem, or finish early. Here’s a link to an article that may also help you out. http://goo.gl/5T0cq0
  • Remember to act intentionally; your reaction to student behavior cannot be impulsive. I rarely send a student to the principal’s office unless the code of conduct specifically says to. I typically have a 1:1 conversation with the student, refer to the rules we devised at the beginning of the year and ask him/her to reflect on the consequences for his/her behavior. Typically, the behavior doesn’t reoccur.
  • Develop relationships with your students as well between your students. This goes a long way in preventing classroom bullying and cyber-bullying. I’ve found that people rarely hurt others when we know and understand who they are.

Tip #3: Engage your parents and identify your communication methods. What does that mean?

  • Bulletin Boards are used to communicate to the students and classroom visitors. Plan out how you intend to use this space to prevent clutter.
  • Draft a Letter To Parents. As a new teacher, I’d run it past your supervisor or administrator. There’s nothing worse that misstating information, regardless of your positive intention, and having to retract it. For example, you may want to give parents with a clear choice of their preferred method of communication: text, email, newsletter, website or phone. However, you may be working in a district that prohibits the use of Twitter or Facebook pages. This is something you want to know ahead of time. Your school may use a standard form, which could save you a lot of headaches.
  • Set up your classroom and do a run through of how you see your average day unfolding. This will give you an opportunity to determine if you have your resources (and the student resources) in the best locations.

 

Tip #4: Approach the teacher’s room with caution. I rarely have time to get the teacher’s room for lunch. Some of the lunch rooms were great places and others… well, not so much.  If you’re feeling a bit challenged during this first year,  Moir’s Phases of First Year of Teaching will tell you that disillusionment will set in in good time. No need to surround yourself with anyone who will speed it along. Use the strategies in Tip #1 to give your “get up and go” more “get up and go”!

 

Tip #5: Make sure you classroom supports various learning styles. Behavior problems stem from many sources, but the one I find that is the biggest instigator is when my students are not engaged in their activity. Students can be disengaged for many reasons: maybe they had a terrible morning, or they didn’t eat, or they don’t feel well… the possibilities are endless. If you’ve given them an activity they don’t enjoy doing, like writing a story, or speaking to the class, or word problems, they can become irritable and ungrounded. But if they know that an activity that is better suited to their learning style is coming up, they can find the way to muster through the first activity to get to the second. I have found that children are incredibly resilient and can sustain themselves through adversity, like a worksheet or other activity, as long as they know it won’t last forever and that it’s not the only kind of work they’ll be doing that day.

 

Tip #6: Take time to be reflective and make notes on what went well (or not). One of the most helpful practices I still use today is to make notes on what part of the lesson went well and what part of the lesson needed some work. When I teach I keep a copy of the lesson plan on my desk so I can refer to it during the class. This lets me make a quick note on it when I realize that I want to add/subtract something the next time I teach that topic or use a particular strategy. I think it helps me feel like I’m getting ready for the next time ; I can easily reflect on my notes and incorporate the changes for the very next class or next day.

 

Tip #7: Be kind to yourself. I’m not sure why we think that because we’re teachers we are going to get everything right, every single day. It’s not reality and it’s not fair to us. We plan hard. We research. We want our students to succeed. But we don’t work in a vacuum. We work with children who on any given day can bring challenges to us that we could never foresee.  My PLN encourages us to “Fail Forward”;  we cannot grow if we don’t try new things and if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not taking enough teaching risks!  Be brave!

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