Today is my first day back to school and my 12th year teaching. (No, I'm not actually typing this August 5th, I scheduled it out in advance. Because we all know the first day is EXHAUSTING and I'll be in bed by 8pm. Plus this is my first back-to-school ever being pregnant, so maybe I'll be in bed by 7...)
But as I look back on the past 12 years I know for a fact I wouldn't have made it through all those tough times without some amazing colleagues and mentors. There were days during my first year I would go home and cry and think "I just can't do this." And even when I switched schools and had 5 years of experience under my belt I felt all of those feelings again. If your significant other isn't a teacher, you can vent all you want and they can try and be empathetic but they just won't get it. You need to find a mentor to help you maintain your sanity. Someone asked me once on my instagram to do a blog post about finding a teacher mentor and I feel like back to school season is the perfect time to discuss. So here we go!
HOW TO FIND A TEACHER MENTOR:
1. If you are a new teacher, this could be (and should be) something you ask during the interview process. Does the school provide you with a mentor teacher? Will you have a structured grade-level support team? What resources will they provide you as a new teacher? I promise you won't sound needy, you will sound like you want to be prepared.
2. Many districts have a science content specialist. They get paid to help you teach science well, so utilize them! My district also has something called a "professional development specialist" who runs monthly PD sessions for new teachers and sits in on lessons once a quarter. Don't be afraid to send emails, ask them to come sit in on a lesson or two, or offer guidance on how to better introduce a new topic.
3. If your school doesn't have a specified person to help new teachers, go ask an administrator for some recommendations. Have something in mind you want to improve- maybe classroom management. Go ask your administrator which teachers on your campus have exceptional classroom management and then give up your prep one day (I know.... but it will be worth it, I promise) to go watch them teach. If you are afraid to approach them yourself, see if your administrator will send your colleague an email asking for permission for you to come observe, and have them cc you on the email. Even as a veteran teacher, I still have things I can improve and I benefit greatly from watching others teach.
4. Utilize your grade level or department team. Hopefully your school sets aside some time during the week for you to meet with your grade level team or department. Observe who has a personality similar to you that you know you would get along with and make an effort to get to know them. During your meetings, don't be afraid to ask questions on how they teach a concept, how they manage the student that ALWAYS needs to go to the bathroom, or how they stay on top of grading. Not every suggestion will work for you, but it's good to get different ideas and perspectives.
YOU'VE FOUND A MENTOR, BUT NOW WHAT?
I know the first year of teaching I had people always checking in on me asking "do you need help or have any questions?" My response was typically "I'm sure I'll have questions... but I don't even know what to ask yet." It's overwhelming. So here are some tips on things you should ask for help on in the first few weeks or months of school:
1. Ask about how to handle crisis situations. This includes fire drills, lock downs, or even a kid going crazy in your class. Who are you supposed to call?
2. Ask for classroom management tips. This could include: how to handle bathroom breaks, kids that constantly blurt out answers, the kid who can't sit still, or the student who can't stay awake no matter how engaging your lesson is. Veteran teachers have dealt with all of these situations and can likely give you some helpful tips.
3. Dress code. Does your school have a student dress code that you need to enforce? What should you do if students are breaking dress code? Is there a teacher dress code you should know about? At my first school I got hired mid-year so I missed all of the beginning of the year meetings. One Friday I wore flip flops to school (I know, not the most professional decision I ever made) but got in trouble for breaking the teacher dress code.... which I had no idea about. Ask!
4. Timing and pacing of lessons is hard. Ask what other colleagues do if class finishes a few minutes early. Do they allow free time? Do they have any fun activities or ideas to share? (Here is an idea of what I do if class finishes a few minutes early).
5. Ask them to help you set up your gradebook. How often do they put in grades? What categories do they use? Is there a standard school policy? Do you have to turn in progress reports?
6. The first time you need to call a parent for a behavior issue can be scary. Ask them to sit with you the first time you call home and give you some pointers. (Tip: don't just call home for your problem students, call home when kids do something stellar too! It will make their day).
7. At my first school we had something called "think time" which is essentially "time out" time. This is for the student that didn't do anything bad enough to warrant calling the office or a referral, but is driving you crazy and knows exactly how to push your buttons. Sometimes having a 5 minute break from that student is enough for you to regain your composure and focus on the other students. Ask a neighboring teacher if they have a spare desk in their classroom you could use as a "think time" desk. If a kid was driving me nuts, I'd send them over with a form to fill out that had them answer a few questions reflecting on their behavior. Once they felt ready to come back and re-join the lesson, they would. (Tip: try and find a teacher of a different grade level to be your think time buddy. If the other class is the same grade level, your think time student will probably have friends in there and become a distraction).
8. Ask your mentor teacher to come watch you practice a lesson before your observation. They can give you feedback and tips to score well on the evaluation rubric.
9. Ask for lesson and lab ideas. If you are teaching a concept you aren't completely familiar with, ask someone in your content area how they approach it or what labs they use to supplement the lesson.
10. There will be a time when you wake up with a fever and think "OMG I don't have sub plans ready, I'll have to go in with this 104 degree fever!" Have an emergency sub plan ready and on your desk in case this happens. Ask about the process for calling a substitute teacher. How many sick days do you have? Do they roll over to the next school year if you don't use them? Are there rules about how many sick days you can take in a row without providing a doctors note?
While the first year is tough, I promise it gets easier- especially when you have supportive people beside you. If you have any questions or need some more specific tips, leave them in the comments!
(If you are a new teacher and want to see my top 10 tips for the first year, you can read them here!)
I'm currently two weeks into school, have 140ish students, and have already learned their names. I'm not here to brag... it took work. You might be thinking "Wow! She is so good with names!" but that can't be further from the truth. I am one of those people that if I meet you, shake your hand, and we introduce ourselves, I will likely have forgotten your name 2 minutes later. (Maybe because I'm not an active listener? We should ask my husband...) The point is learning names is not something that comes easy for me. It takes a lot of work. But it is important, so I make the extra effort.
Have any of the following excuses crossed your brain?
"I'm just not good with names."
"I'm just not good with faces."
"But I have 150 names to learn!"
"I'll learn them eventually... I just wait for it to happen organically."
"Many are too hard to pronounce."
If you are guilty of any of these, you aren't alone. But I promise you can learn them with a little extra effort and it makes a huge difference.
Why learning names is so important
It is important for you to learn your students names as quickly as possible for multiple reasons:
Tips to learn names quickly
I'm in my 11th year of teaching, and have found methods that help me learn student names relatively quick. I encourage you to skim the list and try a few that might work for you.
I promise you if you learn your students' names quickly the beginning of the school year will go much smoother. They will perform better in your class. Lets stop the "if the teacher knows my name the first week that's a bad sign" narrative. I know you can do it! Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!
Your first year teaching is going to be one of the hardest years of your career. I frequently went home near tears thinking "I just can't do this. It is too hard." But I promise you, it gets easier! I'm in my 10th year teaching and I spend a lot less time planning and preparing than I used to. I write a lot fewer referrals than I used to. Overall everything just gets easier. Looking back, here is a list of 10 things I wish I could have told my first-year-teacher self:
1. Find a mentor teacher
This is one thing I was superbly blessed with. My first job was at a middle school and there was only one other science teacher besides myself. He is nearing retirement, but I've been lucky to teach with him the past 10 years. He is incredibly knowledgeable about all things science and is always happy to explain things to me when I need some clarification before a lesson. Don't be afraid to admit you don't understand something! Because you can't teach it well unless you understand it well.
Mentor teachers can help with content knowledge, share ideas of what labs work and what labs don't work, give you classroom management tips, and be a shoulder to cry on when your spouse just doesn't get what you are going through (because if your spouse isn't a teacher, they won't get it). If you aren't sure where to find one, or what to ask, check out this blog post.
2. Don't re-create the wheel
There is a wealth of science lessons out on the internet for free. Take advantage! Scour the internet before a new unit and find everything you can. Look for facebook groups of middle school or high school science teachers. Read blog posts. Look for interactive websites that students can learn on. Check out Teachers pay Teachers. Don't spend your weekends making powerpoints and worksheets when someone else has already done the work for you.
3. Always do the lab first
There is nothing worse than spending hours prepping a lab, getting the kids excited, and by the end of the lab the data is awful and the lab was an utter failure. The easiest way to avoid this is by doing the lab yourself before you try it with students. As you do the lab, try and identify places students might get confused or make mistakes. Make sure to clarify those things and model the lab procedures to your students before beginning.
4. Predict the pacing of the lesson
One of the hardest things for me my first few years was pacing. I didn't want my lessons to end early, and I didn't want to run out of time. One piece of advice my mentor teacher gave me during student teaching was this: Complete the worksheet or activity on your own and time yourself. Take that time and multiply it by 3 to predict about how long it will take the students to complete. Obviously this will vary, especially depending on how much practice students have already had on the topic. But it was a good starting point and I could plan an extension activity just in case we finished early. (Check out this blog post on what you can do if you are left with 5 minutes at the end of the class).
5. Don't panic over SDS
Maybe it was just my college experience, but my professors put the fear of God in us about SDS (MSDS when I was in school) forms. They told us horror stories about how we would lose our jobs if the fire marshall showed up and we didn't have all our forms in a binder ready to go. Now don't get me wrong- these forms are important. But I was so paranoid about having an SDS form for every chemical in my classroom, including hand sanitizer and whiteboard cleaner.
Long story short: Keep the SDS forms for your chemical inventory, but don't panic over the little stuff like the vinegar you bought at the grocery store. When your chemical orders arrive, don't throw out the SDS forms. Put them in a binder and keep them in the chemical storage room. Many sites such as Flinn Scientific even have an online inventory resource where it will keep track of the chemicals you have on hand and the SDS forms for each chemical. Talk to your colleagues and find a method that works for everyone.
6. Don't grade everything
Oh how I wish someone had told me this sooner! Grading can take over your life if you let it. So stop grading everything (but don't tell this to your students). Different teachers have different methods of grading and saving their sanity, so talk to your colleagues and pick what works for you. Here are a few ideas:
7. As a new teacher without management experience, use labs as incentives.
Classroom management is something that can take years to master. And as soon as you think you have it down, you get a new group of students that rock your world (and not in a good way). One way I've found to keep students in line is to use lab experiments as incentives. If classes are well behaved for the week, they get to do a lab on Friday. If they have been off task, noisy, constantly tardy, or disrespectful then they do a book work assignment instead. Once they hear they will miss out on a fun lab experiment that other class periods got to complete, they will quickly toe the line.
8. Don't be afraid to admit when you mess up
We are human. We all mess up. Don't be afraid to admit it to your students. One year I was teaching surface area to volume ratio in my cells unit and totally screwed up the math. I knew I was teaching it wrong when I had a really bright student saying "Miss, I don't think this answer is making sense." So I went home, reviewed the lesson, figured out where I was going wrong, and came back the next day ready to re-teach. If you are too prideful to admit your mistakes it is only hurting the students. They will also respect you a lot more when you admit your mistakes and show that you are human too.
9. Prep for the following day before you go home
Sometimes this one is hard to follow, but it is something I feel is important. I make sure I don't leave for the day unless I am ready to go for the following day. Yes, this includes Fridays too! Have your objective written on the board, copies ready to go, powerpoint or activity reviewed, and answer key ready. Your day will go so much smoother when you come in to an organized classroom instead of waiting in the copy machine line 5 minutes before the bell behind the teacher making 1000 copies. Just don't risk it.
10. Take an occasional mental health day
Making sub plans sucks. Often times it feels easier to just come in to work sick than have to get a sub plan ready. But your mental health is super important. If you are tired, worn out, sick, or have other things going on in your life that is affecting your teaching- take a day off. Find a high interest article for the students to read and take a breather. (You can find free articles on newsela.com or check out my free close reading article on botox in my TpT store).
Sometimes I even make the sub assignments extra credit because many students think when there is a sub they have a free day. It is a small bonus for the students that really did work on the assignment. Anyway- you can't be there for your students when you haven't taken care of yourself. Plan one day a quarter that is a day you can rest and recoup.
Good luck in your new teaching career! Remember- it gets easier. Yes, you will work 70 hours per week that first year. But by year 3 you will have everything down and teach like a pro. And when students write you letters about the impact you made on their life all those hours will be worth it. If you have questions leave them in the comments!
Are you tired of hearing the following questions 10 times a day:
"What did we do yesterday?"
"Was there homework?"
"I lost my paper. Can I have a new one?"
"What are we doing today? Anything FUN?"
"Where do I turn this in?
I know I was. Want to save your sanity? I cannot express to you how important it is to establish routines in your classroom. If you train students the first couple of weeks you will be so grateful later. I've established routines so my students know exactly what to do when they enter the classroom, know where to get missing work, and see what we are doing that day. After a couple of weeks if a student comes up to me and says "where is the worksheet from yesterday?" other students almost instantaneously respond so I don't have to deal with it. Here are a couple of the things I have done in my classroom to save my sanity:
1. As soon as students walk into my classroom, they automatically grab whatever worksheet is in the basket by the door. The first week or two I have to stand by the door and remind them, but after that it is just habit for them to reach over and grab the worksheet. It saves me time later so I don't have to pass out the notes, bellwork form, or worksheet for that day. It is also really nice when you have a sub, because it is one less paper they have to worry about.
2. I was so crazy tired of hearing "What are we doing today? Are we going to do anything FUN?" (Really? Science is always fun). Anyway, I had my sister who has a cricut machine cut out these vinyl letters for my whiteboard. As soon as students come into the classroom they know to get out their bellwork form, write down the daily objective and homework, and have 5 minutes to complete the bellwork on the board. Those 5 minutes are time for me to take attendance, check any urgent emails, and often get lab supplies ready for the next period. In my class students pick up a bellwork form (by the door!) every Monday and turn it in every Friday. So if a student ever says "what are we doing today?" all you have to do is point to the board.
3. If you had students that were absent the day before, do they know where to get their missing assignment? (Hint: The answer should NOT be they have to come bother you to get it). I have a crate in the back of the room for all extra worksheets. There are 5 file folders in the crate, labeled Monday - Friday. If a student was absent on a Tuesday, they know to go to the Tuesday folder and grab whatever papers are in there. Also, if a student wasn't absent but lost an assignment in the depths of their backpack, they know they can find extras in the orange crate.
4. Do your students know where to turn in papers? Whether you use small trays or file folders like I do, it is nice if students know exactly where to turn in papers. I have another milk crate at the front of the room that has file folders labeled with each period of the day. I also have a folder in the very back for no-names, so if students have a missing assignment they know they turned in, they can check the no-name folder. (FYI: Walmart carries these milk crates for very cheap during back to school season!)
5. I don't personally use this last tip, but I know teachers that do and really like it. When students ask "what did we do yesterday?" I usually have them check their neighbor's bellwork form and copy down the objective. But another option is to have a calendar posted in the front of your room and jot down what you taught that day. If you laminate the calendar you can write directly on it with expo markers, but if it's not laminated you can use sticky notes instead.
Overall having set routines will get your classroom running smoother. Ever notice that in many IEP's it has routines listed as an accommodation? It is so much easier to start class when students know exactly what to do. Any other tips you want to share? Leave them in the comments!
As much as we would love to have our lessons end 30 seconds before the bell rings, it rarely happens. Even if it does work out perfectly in 1st hour, 2nd hour is a completely different group of students and the lesson might require more or less time. It sometimes happens that the lesson is over and I still have 5 minutes left of class. It drives me crazy when students try and wait by the door! If you are a science teacher, here is a great idea to fill those last 5 minutes.
There is a show on science channel called Outrageous Acts of Science. During the show they show video clips and have scientists explain the science behind the video. The videos are all about 2 minutes long and fun for students to watch. Go to youtube.com and type in "Outrageous Acts of Science" in the search bar. You will get a ton of results. Pick out a few that are interesting. Then, head over to keepvid.com and copy the youtube URL into the keepvid site. I like this website because it allows you to download youtube videos and save them to your computer. That way you don't have to worry about commercials or streaming/buffering issues.
Another fun youtube channel is from Steve Spangler and is called "Sick Science." Click here to view the youtube channel. It shows simple science experiments and allows the students to brainstorm why they happened. It is great to have students discuss why they think something is happening and not just have it explained to them.
If you have some of these videos already picked out and ready to go, it will save you time later. I think you will find these clips are way more valuable than the students trying to sit on their phones or wait by the door. Any other ideas you use for those last 5 minutes? Drop them in the comments!
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