Tips and Tricks for New Teachers
As an educator, I will always remember my first year teaching. It was a terrifying and exciting year, as I learned what worked and didn’t work in my classroom. Reflecting back on that first year, I now understand the importance of organization, procedures, and high expectations for my students from day one.
Running an effective and organized classroom takes consistency and patience. Although I had help in my first year, there are still some aspects of my first classroom that I wish would have run more smoothly from the beginning.
Here are some things I wish I knew before starting my first year teaching:
Organization, Organization, and more Organization
In the classroom, it is very easy for ill-prepared lessons to get out of control. In order to help with organization, having classroom jobs is a great asset to any first year teacher. Students love to help out in the classroom, and love having a task that is unique to them. One of my favorite assignments this year was to hand out classroom job applications, and have my students apply and interview for the jobs that they wanted. This assignment had real world applications, and gave my students an opportunity to have responsibility in the classroom. It also gave me helping hands with organization, collecting supplies and classroom clean up. You can have classroom jobs rotate as the semesters go on, to give more students an opportunity to have a job. It is very easy to shape classroom jobs into what you need the most help with, to alleviate some of the stress of organizing during your first year teaching. A site that I found helpful when understanding and creating my own classroom jobs was Teaching as a Leadership. There are also tons of pre-made job applications out there, many of which can be found on Pinterest.
Keep both a hard copy, and a soft copy of all your files
Even if you are creating a quick letter to send home to parents, or a homework assignment, I cannot stress the importance of saving all of your files from year to year. I found it very helpful to save both a hard copy of each assignment I made, and an electronic copy. Having a hard copy can be beneficial, especially with general assignment templates. Time is limited in the mornings and after school when you are creating lessons and making copies. Having a hard copy of a in an easy to find place will make things much easier when you are in a bind and don’t have much time. Keeping electronic copies of everything, even the little things that you aren’t sure you’ll use again can be very helpful. It is much easier to open an already made file and tweak it year to year then to have to re-create everything day to day.
Inexpensive classroom rewards and incentives
When I first started teaching, many teachers gave me the advice that I needed to be extremely strict from the start. I kept hearing advice like, “Create a strong consequence hierarchy” and “Don’t smile until December”. While taking this advice would have made my job easier as the year went on, I wouldn’t have known how to create consistency in my classroom without realizing the types of consequences that worked for me as a teacher. Although consequences are a necessary part of classroom management, I found that positive rewards and incentives were a much greater motivation for my students.
For a first year teacher, this can be an overwhelming task to organize a reward system. An easy way to accomplish this was to create a classroom currency, and let students earn prizes of their choosing. For example, handing out raffle tickets for good behavior is an easy and cheap reward. At the end of each month, we would have a team-wide raffle. In my own classroom, I also used Class Dojo, which allowed me to keep track of individual student’s rewards and consequences. At the end of each week, I offered paper incentives to my students that had 85% good behavior or more. Some of the Paper Incentives I offered were homework passes, headphones passes, and sit at the teachers desk passes, all of which were very popular with my students.
Having strong procedures
Having strong classroom procedures is key to running an efficient classroom. As a first year teacher, it is hard to create procedures that will last throughout the year. It can be difficult to realize what classroom behaviors bother you, and what behaviors do not. For example, one procedure I wish I had in place at the beginning was how to hold students accountable for borrowing supplies. I never knew how much it would bother me when students forgot to return supplies until I eventually ran out and had to buy more out of pocket. Now, I ask students to trade me something that they do not want to leave the room without in order to borrow school supplies. For example, if a student forgets to bring a pencil, I ask them to trade me their cell phone, or headphones until I got my pencil back. When I had something that they cared about getting back, I always got my supplies back!
It’s all about trial and error
No matter what, your first year teaching is the hardest year of your career as a teacher. It takes time and energy to run an effective classroom. You never know what management strategies will work for you until you try them. Never be afraid to try something new with your students, and never be afraid to admit to your students that a procedure isn’t working. There is never harm in asking for help, especially when it can help create a strong classroom culture conducive to learning.
About the Author
Sari Goldstein is a graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in political science and a minor in psychology. She spent most of her 3.5 years in state college, PA, but also spent one semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. After graduating from college she began working for Teach for America in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. She teaches middle school language arts, and is hoping to continue making a difference in the lives of students nationwide. Her passion is creating educational equity and higher literacy rates within Title I schools.