Do you have students that shut down in your class and don't do any work? Most of the time there is always a reason for this. There could be issues going on in the home, issues with friends, or health problems. But did you ever consider you as the teacher might be contributing to the problem? This is especially something teachers who like to be sarcastic at times (like me!) need to be conscious of. If this is not your personality, this blog post isn't for you. But if you like to goof and be sarcastic with students, then time for a little self reflection. Here are my top 3 tips of things we often do as teachers that we need to stop doing in order to build a better classroom culture:
1. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Bringing up things kids did previously.
We are all human. We make mistakes. And guess what- nobody likes to have those mistakes brought up, especially in front of their friends or peers. Here are some examples:
Have you had a kid drop a beaker? Next time she comes to pick up lab supplies, don't say "let's not drop it again!" because I can promise you she didn't do it on purpose the first time, and now she won't want to participate in the lab because she is so worried about breaking something.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, try to not put the student on the spot, but give gentle reminders to the entire class. Using the broken beaker example, when ALL students come to pick up their supplies, keep repeating "Use two hands please" so she gets the reminder without being singled out.
2. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Punishing behaviors you want to see.
I know this sounds like something you would never do, but if you think about it, you've probably done it. Do you have a student that comes to class tardy almost every day? I have plenty.... and it is super frustrating. Lets say Jesse has a bad habit of coming to class 5 minutes late. You've talked to Jesse about it and even called home. Finally Jesse comes to class on time and when he enters you look at him and say "FINALLY!" or "Am I seeing things?" Even if you are joking, these comments will likely make Jesse feel uncomfortable when he should instead be getting positive reinforcement.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, reinforce the behavior with a positive comment like "Hi Jesse, I'm so glad to see you!" or "I really appreciate you making an effort to be here early today."
3. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Being inconsistent with with consequences.
This is the number one thing students will call you out on if you ever do it. For example, you walk by Vanessa who should be on task but is on her phone and you say "Vanessa, please put the phone away." Then 10 minutes later you see Ricardo on his phone and take it away until the end of the class period. I can promise you, Ricardo isn't going to give up that phone without an argument if you aren't being equitable.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Try and do your best to be consistent with your consequences at all times. While there are sometimes exceptions to this rule (IEP accommodations, doctors notes for extra bathroom breaks, etc) try and be conscious of being fair to all students, even the ones that are repeat offenders. And when you do make a mistake and a student yells "that's not fair!"... own it. They will respect you more when you admit you were in the wrong opposed you answering "life's not fair" (even if that is what is crossing your mind).
Overall, building positive relationships with your students is key to them learning. As Rita Pierson says, "kids can't learn from people they don't like." So even when you are having a bad day and you want to crawl under your desk and cry (I've been there), try your best to take a deep breath and build the kids up, not down.
When I switched from teaching middle school to high school, my new district required all new hires to participate in a new teacher program our first year. Even though I already had 5 years of teaching experience, I took monthly classes with a professional development specialist whose job it was to help navigate teachers through that first year of teaching (which we all know is the toughest year!) The PD specialist who ran the class and came to observe us was phenomenal. I will be forever grateful for some of the nuggets of wisdom she shared with me.
One topic I remember coming up was the issue of students coming to school without paper or pencils. She said she would often walk into a classroom, see a student sitting there not working, and ask them why. Often times they would respond "because I don't have a pencil and my teacher won't give me one." She taught us "If your biggest obstacle in the classroom is a pencil, you are in good shape. JUST GIVE THE KID A PENCIL."
I know you know that kid. The same kid who comes in every.single.day without a pencil. And it's especially frustrating when the day before you said, "just keep the pencil so you have one tomorrow." And they still lose it. As I sat there and listened to her words I self-reflected... had I ever denied a student a pencil? Luckily I don't think I had, but I know I had made comments in the past such as, "Again? You just asked for one yesterday!"
Recently I came across this poem written by Joshua T. Dickerson that really spoke to me:
The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I shared it on my facebook page and it got quite a few shares and comments. A handful of teachers voiced their frustration with the pencil issue. Luckily enough, the author of the poem came across the post and chimed in on why he wrote it. His comments are shared here with permission:
"Around the beginning of each school year, my poem usually goes into heavy circulation and sparks numerous debates. People always ask me, why did I write the poem.
First I will start out by telling you, what this poem is not. This poem is not an attack towards educators. As a former classroom teacher, I know about the long hours, the challenges of teaching students, the frustrations, and difficulties. I have the utmost respect for teachers, administrators, and anyone else who serves in the education arena, who is striving to do their job in the correct way. This poem is not written for the children who do not make an effort to positively impact their own education. While reading the poem, you will see the tremendous amount of effort that the student is making. Educators are some of the most underpaid people in the world!
Now on to why I wrote the poem. I wrote the poem for those children in extreme poverty. Their are children around the world that do not have basic things that we take for granted. Lights, food, running water, heating, and air is not present in all homes.
I wrote this to give a voice to the students whose parents or guardians have not given them school supplies. In presentations the question always comes up, "what about the kids with iPhones and Jordan's"? My response is that younger children don't purchase those items for themselves. In reality we have children who are punished because their parents or guardians made the decision to buy those things. It's not the teacher's fault, but also not the child's fault. It is my wish that we would have a conversation with the child and parent before jumping to a conclusion that neither cares about education.
I wrote this for the child who may simply forget a pencil. As an adult, I've come to a meeting without a pen before. My own children have forgotten supplies. It happens.
When I present in high schools, people say that their children are older and should be held accountable. I agree. They should be held accountable. However, I always stress to not assume that the child has been taught the lesson of valuing school supplies. At least first have a conversation with the student and the parent. As a father, I realize that my teenager still needs parenting and coaching.
Finally, I wrote this to highlight poverty. Poverty exists and it has a tremendous impact. Those who are born and raised in poverty have a higher chance of dying at an early age, not finishing high school, or being incarcerated. Often times it is forgotten or conveniently looked over that years of research has shown that poverty is difficult to climb out of and nearly impossible to climb out of without an education. I pray that it inspires someone to continue the fight of working with students and parents that truly need us most."
I loved having the author's insight on the poem. So many things rang true for me as I read. Just because a student has an i-phone does not mean they can afford school supplies. Maybe the phone was a gift. Maybe they got it an unconventional way. Regardless of how they got the phone, why do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking "poor kids can't have nice stuff?"
Another common complaint I heard teachers voice was "I give out pencils but they just break them." I think when this happens our immediate thought is "they don't respect people's property." And maybe in some cases this is true. But it could also be because they are trying to get attention from you. Or maybe they have already mastered the material and are simply bored. Next time this happens, ask them why they broke it, and calmly explain to them your perspective and why you feel frustrated.
Reasoning aside of why the student doesn't have a pencil, I wanted to share some tips on how you can handle the situation to make it less of an issue. Try one way that works for you and your class.
1. Try a collateral system.
All students at my school are required to wear school IDs on a lanyard. If a student needs a pencil, they just leave their ID on my desk and grab a pencil. When they return the pencil, they get their ID back. If your students don't have school ID's, they could leave behind headphones or something else from their backpack.
2. Try a sign-out system.
I've seen some teachers buy magnetic clips, put them on the whiteboard, and clip a pencil to each one. When a student needs a pencil they sign their name on the whiteboard and erase their name when the pencil is returned. (Download a free cute sign from the Lone Star Classroom HERE)
3. Try golf pencils.
While these aren't ideal because they don't have erasers they will do the trick. You can buy a box of over 100 golf pencils for a few bucks so you won't break the bank.
4. Try a reward system.
If it's not the majority of the class but instead the same darn kid every day asking for a pencil, try a reward system. Maybe they are forgetful or maybe they truly don't see the value in not losing or breaking the pencil. Regardless, some sort of reward may help. Tell them if they keep the same pencil all week without losing it they get a reward on Friday. It doesn't have to be big- maybe a piece of candy or 5 minutes of free time at the end of class- but if there is an incentive to not lose the pencil they just might keep track of it.
5. Sell them at cost.
During August back to school sales, I stock up on pencils while they are cheap. During those sales I can get a 10 pack of mechanical pencils for $1.99 (and wooden pencils even cheaper). If a student needs a pencil and wants to keep it instead of returning it at the end of class, I charge them a quarter and its all theirs. Note: Yes, there are often school rules about not being able to sell things on campus. However, as long as you aren't making a profit but just selling them at cost, you shouldn't have a problem with administration. If you are worried about this, check with admin first.
6. Get some donations.
If money for pencils is the issue, there are ways to not spend your own. First, I'd ask your administrator or department head if there are pencils you can have (there probably are). You can also reach out to parents or even do a Donors Choose request to get school supplies.
I hope one of these methods works for you! Because truly there are a lot of issues our kiddos are dealing with as teens, and fighting for a pencil should not be one of them. Have another method that works for you? Leave it in the comments!
Guest speakers can be such a powerful tool to your classroom and are hugely underutilized. I don't think I truly understood their value until I started teaching project based learning. Part of PBL includes having a public audience (you can check out a blog post on this topic here). As I developed projects and started bringing in people from the community it made a huge impact on my students.
Why are they so powerful? First, students are used to hearing us teach every day, and don't always give us 100% of their attention (who am I kidding, they RARELY give us 100% of their attention). But whenever I've had a guest speaker come in, the students seem to hang on to their every word. Another reason they are invaluable is because they can bring in a level of specialized content knowledge that you don't have.
For example, I recently had my students complete a project where they had to design a food truck. We had been learning about sustainable agriculture, macromolecules, and nutrition. Students were asking questions I didn't have specific answers for, like how much local ingredients would cost and how they could decrease their company's carbon footprint. I could have done some internet research to help them find the answers, but why not go straight to the source? I sent a quick email to the owner of a farm not too far from our school asking if students could ask her some questions over the phone about her business. She was more than happy to speak to them and talk about her organic farm and the struggles of starting a small business. They were able to record the phone conversation and refer back to it later as they prepared for their presentations.
Where to find guest speakers
I promise when you begin to reach out to people in the community, you will be surprised how willing they are to come in and speak to your students. You won't always get a yes, and you won't always find people that can stay all day and speak to multiple class periods. (One way to solve the multiple class periods issue is to record the presentation and show it to your other classes). I've had luck tracking down people willing to speak to my students from almost all of the places listed below:
The Beauty of Modern Technology
While it is always ideal to have someone come in and meet with your students personally, this isn't always possible. But there are other options! Websites such as www.skypeascientist.com allow you to do a skype or google hangout session with a scientist. You choose which type of scientist you would like to skype with based on what you are teaching and they will match you up accordingly.
I've also had students do phone interviews with multiple people ranging from professors at our local university to food truck owners. If you email people and ask if they have 10 minutes to spare for a quick phone conversation they will almost always say yes. As a bonus, it is good practice for students to learn how to speak professionally on the phone.
A closing tip....
Most guest speakers that come in aren't used to speaking to teens. They do a great job, but don't have the same practice you do. One thing I've noticed is that they aren't used to what us teachers call "wait time." They tend to ask a question to students, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it if they don't see hands go up.
When the guest speaker comes, pull them aside quickly and give them a gentle tip to wait a while after asking students a question. Explain to them that students need much longer processing time than adults. I've never had anyone be offended by me giving them this tip, and it's made the classroom discussions much better.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
Getting out the microscopes is one of the best parts of teaching biology. I love hearing the ooh's and aah's when they finally get the specimen into focus. But if you've taught biology before you know it can also be one of the most exhausting units- constantly running around the room because "Mrs, I just don't see anything!" or they end up drawing dust, air bubbles, or their eyelashes. After a decade of tweaking my microscope unit, I've come up with some tips to help save your sanity.
1. Don't get them out until it makes sense.
While it may be tempting to get microscopes out the first week of school, it just doesn't make sense. If you aren't going to use them regularly until later in the year, why are you teaching them the names of the microscope parts in week 1? They will forget the information and you will find yourself reteaching. Hold off until you get to cells (or whichever unit you need them regularly).
2. Make sure they know the names of all the microscope parts.
It can be really frustrating when you are trying to help a student, tell them to adjust the fine focus, and they look at you like you are speaking another language. Because of this I don't let students start using the microscope until they can tell me the names of all the parts. We take notes on it and I give them a short quiz at the beginning of the unit. If you want to check out the worksheets I use for teaching parts of the microscope, click here.
3. Try a virtual lab first
Virtual labs are a way to provide students extra practice on the methods of using a microscope before getting out the real deal. Extra practice never hurts, especially for your SPED or ELL students who would really benefit from some visual practice.
For practice going through the process of using a microscope, check out this activity from Brainpop. (This site is great for middle school). For some higher level practice, check out this site from University of Delaware.
4. If your scopes have a single ocular, teach them which eye to use.
The microscopes in my room have a single ocular lens, so students often ask me which eye to use. This video shows an easy and quick way to teach them which of their eyes is dominant.
5. Start with prepared slides.
I always begin with prepared slides. I put 4 different prepared slides at each lab group, and have students practice focusing and drawing. The first day of prepared slides you will hear a lot of "I don't see anything!" but eventually they get the hang of it. Not all of your students are going to be great artists, but I make sure they know when they turn in their drawings they must a) be drawn to scale, and b) be neat. No scribbles allowed. I should be able to look at the drawing and easily tell what slide it is. I use these lab templates for prepared slides. Don't have access to prepared slides? You can make your own! Check out this blog post on how to easily make a classroom set.
6. Encourage peer help
There is only 1 of you and 30 students. It is physically impossible for you to be running around helping every single student. One day when I was about to rip my hair out I made this poster and hung it up on the whiteboard. Students were not able to call me over for help unless they had checked all of these items off the list. Most of the time their neighbor can help them resolve the issue before you need to be called over. If they still needed help after going down the checklist, then they could call me over. It has helped greatly! You can download this for free in my TpT store here.
7. After they have mastered prepared slides, then move on to wet mounts
Wet mounts can be much more exciting than prepared slides because you can have students look at their own cells (if your school allows you to do a cheek cell swab) or watch microorganisms swimming around. Protists are an absolute blast to watch, but students need to have mastered focusing the microscope and scanning relatively quickly in order to see the protozoa zooming around. You don't have to spend money ordering protists from a supply company, you can easily get your own culture going. Check out this blog post on how to set up a hay infusion. During this lab, I allow students to take pictures or videos with their phones. It takes a steady hand, but they can line up their smart phones with the ocular and get a decent video.
It can be really frustrating when the bell is about to ring and students try to walk out of the classroom without cleaning up. General microscope clean up procedures should include:
a) Removing your slide and returning it to where the teacher directs
b) Turn the objective to low power
c) Turning off the light
d) Putting the dust cover back on
e) If you are putting microscopes away for the day, unplugging and winding the cord around the arm.
I have this poster hanging on my microscope cabinet- it is a freebie from my friend Bethany Lau. You can find it in her TpT store.
I hope these tips help your microscope unit run more smoothly! Have fun!
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!
I just finished my 10th year of teaching and to say it wasn't my best is an understatement. I had a rough group of students this year, was feeling teacher burn-out, and was just getting negative. Throw in all the school shootings and changing political climate and it was hard to go to work some days. Now that school has been out for a week, I've had time to sit and reflect on what I can do to make year 11 better and get excited about teaching again.
I reflected on the teacher I was year 1 compared to the teacher I am now. There are a LOT of things that have evolved and improved- my classroom management, inquiry based teaching, getting students to write well... but there are some things that I need to work on. Year one I was SO EXCITED to teach science. (Photo is of my first year teaching in 2008). I cared less about the test scores and more about getting students to enjoy science. I put in a lot of work that year, but it felt really rewarding. Somehow along the way that excitement has waned. Don't get me wrong- I still love science and love seeing students' face light up during experiments... but I feel myself worrying more about test scores, getting bogged down by the work load, and frustrated with education related issues that are out of my control.
So now that it is summer and I have time to decompress, reflect, and set goals, I realized I need to make teaching fun again. I need to focus my efforts on things that I have control over and worry less about things I have no control over (ie: our Secretary of Education or fixing the home lives of my students). Here is the list I came up with to help make year 11 stellar. I plan to post this list at my desk and check in quarterly. If you are reading this... feel free to check in on me and hold me accountable!
Becca's Goal List Of Teaching Goodness:
1. Go outside. Why do I feel the need to be stuck in my classroom all day? There are so many labs that can be done outside where students can enjoy the weather. Isn't exploring the world around us one of the ways to get students excited about science? Let's do it.
2. Be creative with labs. There were times this year that I felt too tired to set up a lab. It is THE WORST when you spend a lot of time and money on a lab and you hear students whining. Next year I want to focus on fun labs and activities that get students up, moving, and engaged.
3. Try a project or two. Managing group projects is a lot of work. But when we allow students to apply what they are learning to a real world context through a project, learning goes so much deeper. My goal is to not assign the type of project students ask their parents to do, but a project that gets them excited to show what they have learned. For example, following my ecology unit I plan to have students design a "zoo of the future." They can not only explain the content stuff (like biomes and symbiotic relationships) but also dive into the ethics of zoos and conservation. Wish me luck!
4. Bring in guest speakers. This is one that I'm already decent at but want to continue doing, so it is on my goal list. Students hear from me every day and the novelty of my voice quickly wears off. Bringing in content experts to the classroom is exciting for the students, brings in a wealth of knowledge you might not have, and also gives you a small break from teaching. There are so many people that are willing to come if you would just reach out and ask. Don't forget to check out sites like skypeascientist.com to have virtual guest speakers! Also- get your students to ask as well! If they have a family member that works in a cool career field, have them come in! Sometimes guest speakers will say no to me, but have a harder time saying no to the student.
5. Give up a class period to let students have a voice. Do we allow time to pause our curriculum and let our student's voices be heard? Or are you too worried about getting through all the standards before the final exam? This is my personal reminder to pause and let my students speak up. There are so many current events that apply to the classroom and affect our students. There is trauma going on in their lives. There are issues they are worried about, but don't have the forum to voice their feelings. As a high school teacher my students will be able to vote soon, and I want them to be able to talk about what is going on, be educated about real world topics, and form educated opinions. This can be much more meaningful and powerful to them than learning about mitosis.
6. Last but certainly not least, FOCUS ON THE GOOD. It can be easy to get bogged down by the work load, the mouthy student in 5th period, and the amount of meetings to sit through. But if you focus on the good things your students are doing and the impact you are making on their lives, it makes it all worthwhile. My goal is to make more parent phone calls for the GOOD things my students are doing instead of the bad. Attend a sporting event for a kid that needs a boost. Send a nice remind message to a class period that had an awesome day. When kids know you care and are noticing their efforts, they will move mountains for you.
If you are still reading this... thanks! This blog post was more for me and a little self-healing, but if it helped you in any way I'm glad. My ultimate goal is to not be that 30 year veteran teacher that is super grouchy and everyone is thinking "why doesn't she just retire already?" If you have any more tips to beat the burnout, please share them in the comments!
One of the hardest parts of being a teacher is making sure you are providing instruction at the level of all your students in the classroom. In classes of 30+ students, it can seem daunting to modify for kids that still need help, while also increasing the rigor for kids that have already mastered the content. I think many teachers tend to be good at one end of the spectrum, but it is hard to be good at both. I’ve reached out and gotten tips from some fellow secondary teachers, and I hope you find them useful!
How to help the students that "just don't get it"
These are your kids that tend to give up easily. They struggle, don't believe in themselves, and get frustrated easily. How can you keep these kids from quitting and start believing in themselves?
"Algebra 2 can be intimidating for my students so I have a word wall for them that shows math terms and concepts in context with lots of examples. I also give my students “cheat sheets” for the multi-step work we do, like graphing exponential functions or factoring quadratics. When one of my kids gets overwhelmed, I will also cut back on their amount of work. This is a special education accommodation that we use for kids with slower processing speeds and it also works well for kids who are having a tough time for any reason. My central goal is to have kids leave my class with the confidence they need to take on more math classes after high school so everything I do to support my students is done with this in mind."
-Shana from Scaffolded Science and Math
"The short answer - scaffold! That can look very different depending on the assignment and the students. Some examples would be providing a model, sentence starters, a template, or some labelled diagrams to help get started on an assignment or break down a difficult concept."
-Tara from Science In The City
How to challenge the students who already get it
These students pick up new concepts easily. Because of this, they tend to get bored and can often act up in class. Giving them more work or asking them to tutor their peers is typically not the solution. So how do you keep them engaged and busy without assigning extra work?
"Try out project based learning! With project based learning, you pose students with a question or problem to solve. There should be many methods to complete the project, so it is a great way for your high kids to dig deeper into the content. For example: suppose you are doing a unit on evolution. Instead of just teaching the students about Darwin and his voyage, have the students create a podcast interview. Students will need to do background research about his journey and his life, write an engaging script, and record it. The higher level students will be thrilled that they get to be creative and problem solve instead of just showing their learning on a test."
-Becca from Science Lessons That Rock
"I find that many high level learners are pretty motivated IF they are interested in something, and I find it's my job to really get them interested in it. I feel that high level learners respond well to a lot of thought-type scenario questions like "what if this happened, what do you think would happen next?" I feel that high level learners really have a thirst, a need for their brains to have something to work on. For example, if we are talking about karyotypes and independent assortment, I would pose the question "Are you related equally to all of your grandparents?" (The answer is actually no, you aren't.) Lower level learners may not be able to grasp this, but higher level learners will be intrigued, and many of them will google it or read more about it and ponder about it in and after class. Higher level learners often want to connect with you on an intellectual level. (I find that sometimes lower level learners are more motivated by connection on the emotional/you-as-a-person level, but that is a big generalization). With higher level learners, you could give them the question and the end result/answer, and ask them to scaffold! Ask them to show you or prove the why on how to reach a particular answer."
-Bethany from Science with Mrs. Lau
Have any additional tips to share? Leave them in the comments!
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Have you been this teacher before? You think you had a great lesson, students understood the material, and then you go to grade the assignment and it's clear they didn't get it?
Part of the problem may be you... (sorry, it's true). I have come to realize over the years that many students need help and simply won't ask for it. They are either too embarrassed to draw any attention to themselves or sometimes too lazy to get up and talk to you. I have made two changes and it greatly increased the number of kids who asked for help. If you are a veteran teacher these two things are likely second nature for you, but for newer teachers these are conscious decisions you need to make:
1. Make yourself more accessible to the students.
If you finish a lesson and hang out near the front of the classroom or your desk, very few students are going to come up and ask you for help. You need to walk around the classroom frequently. Once you get close students are more likely to call you over.
One way you can check in on how you are doing is by measuring your steps each day. I wear a fitbit so I can see how many steps I'm taking. Don't have a fitbit? If you are an I-phone user your phone is automatically measuring your steps in your health app (this only works if your phone is in your pocket, not locked up in your desk). If I'm only hitting around 4000 - 5000 steps for the day, I know I didn't walk around my classroom enough. My goal is to reach around 8000 steps by the end of the school day. (This can vary depending on the size of your classroom and if you have lunch duty, etc.)
2. Change the way you ask students if they need help.
Try to not make asking for help optional. You can do this by changing the way you ask your students who needs help. If you stand at the front of the room and say "does anyone have questions?" then most likely you will hear crickets.
Instead, try walking around the room and asking "Who can I help next?" and don't stop until you get some takers. When you make it sound like you are ready and expecting someone to speak up, they usually will. Changing a few words might sound like no big deal, but I promise it works. If nobody is still speaking up, hover around the students you know are probably struggling based on your previous formative assessments and give them some help even if they don't ask. It may seem annoying to them at first, but I'm more annoying when they have a failing grade and nag them to come get tutoring after the fact.
These two tips may seem overly simple but I promise they work. Try it! Any other tips of the trade? 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).
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!
This blog post was co-written by Becca from Science Rocks and Tara from Science In The City. They have 22 combined years of teaching experience in the inner city. To read about their backgrounds, hop down to the bottom of the blog post.
10 TIPS FOR TEACHING IN THE INNER-CITY
I started teaching 10 years ago and honestly didn’t give much thought to what type of school I wanted to end up at. After graduating (with student loan debt looming) all I cared about was getting a job. I completed my student teaching in the fall semester and wasn’t hopeful I would find a job mid-way through the school year. I started googling schools in my area and found out a middle school not too far from my apartment had a science position open.
It turns out the particular school that hired me had the highest poverty rates in the entire county. Many of the families were living in shelters or staying in cheap motels. We would send food home with the students on Fridays or many wouldn’t have anything to eat over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and also the most fulfilling job I could have asked for. I fell in love with the students and quickly learned teaching strategies that worked for me and my classroom. I remember my first month teaching I had colleagues mention to me “You need to be mean or they will walk all over you.” It turns out that what those students really needed was quite the opposite. They needed a mentor. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be understood. They needed to feel like my classroom was a safe place for them.
I’ve since moved from middle school to high school but am still teaching in a title 1 district and don’t see that ever changing. Each school and demographic has their own battles and struggles to overcome, and I choose to put my efforts towards helping kids in low income areas. Am I going to get Starbucks gift cards for Christmas or teacher appreciation week? Nope. But I’m getting something far better. I’m building relationships with kids whom many had given up on. I get to help kids be first generation college students. I get to learn and teach humility and empathy on a daily basis. I get to truly make an impact on their lives.
I started teaching 12 years ago, and ended up in an urban district. My education program had a big focus on urban education and social justice, but it wasn’t a particular goal of mine to teach in an urban district. However, I student taught in the city (as well as a neighboring suburban district) and it just happened that my urban cooperating teacher was retiring and negotiated with her principal for me to get hired into her position. I was pregnant (not very marketable), but she worked it out so that I was able to co-teach summer school with her, and she would be the sub for my maternity leave in the fall. I had a good experience student teaching with her, and it was too good of an offer to turn down!
Thus started my urban teaching career! I have now taught for 12 years in one of the poorest, lowest achieving districts in the state. I stayed at that particular school for 5 years, teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science. Then I transferred to a different school and taught middle school science for 2 years. Then as that school was closed down by the state, I moved schools yet again in the same district and taught 2 years of 9th grade Biology. During my last 3 years I have been working in a program throughout the district for students who are behind on credits and are taking classes online that they have previously failed for “credit recovery.” Students are scheduled into a computer lab with other students who are taking virtual courses (but maybe not the same ones). Different subject teachers rotate between the different schools to meet with their particular students, but also to monitor the computer lab and help students (of any subject area). Each of these settings has been a new learning experience for me, as a teacher.
I grew up in the same area where I live, but in the suburbs, rather than the city. The urban environment was foreign, despite being only a few miles away. I struggled at first with what it would take to be successful in that environment, but learned quickly. I am fairly small, and can be soft-spoken. I often experienced disbelief from people that I could teach, or would want to teach, in that environment. However, I don’t believe successful urban teaching is about intimidation or being ‘mean.’ For me it has been about building relationships, and seeing success for students who don’t have a lot of other sources of support, or models in their lives. For many students, knowing that someone cares, believes in them, doesn’t give up on them, and someone pushes them to do their best goes a long way. Many students come from families where no one has graduated from high school before, parents don’t speak English, and they may not have a stable place to sleep at night. Yet they generally want to be successfully at school, and to graduate, despite having so many strikes against them. I am proud to be able to be a small piece of that!