New Teacher Classroom Tips
Don’t get disillusioned if you’re not comfortable in your role as a teacher immediately after you get your first teaching job. Give yourself time to adjust, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice from others. Be persistent about finding a mentor who can provide support during your first year and beyond. Try to find one in your subject area and determine how much experience you would like that person to have. For the sake of convenience, it’s a good idea to find someone who has a similar class schedule or daily routine.
Teach Rules and Respect
With students, be friendly but firm. Establish clear routines and consistent disciplinary measures starting on Day One. This way, the students will have a firm understanding of what is expected of them and when certain behaviors are appropriate. If there is a school-wide behavior program such as PBiS, RtI, or Responsive Classroom, make sure to follow that through in your classroom for consistency. Be aware of how cliques and social hierarchies impact classroom dynamics, avoid power struggles, and don’t underestimate the power of your own advice.
Although disciplinary issues vary according to grade level, there are some general tips you may find helpful in setting rules in the classroom:
- Often, misbehavior is an attempt to get your attention or avoid uncomfortable situations. Reduce this negative behavior by paying the least amount of attention when a student is acting out and giving that child your full attention when he is behaving.
- When it comes to establishing classroom rules, allow your students to have some input. This will increase their sense of empowerment and respect for the rules.
- Convince all of your students that they are worthwhile and capable. It is easy to assume that struggling students are lazy or beyond help; do not allow yourself to fall into this trap.
- When disciplining students, absolutely avoid embarrassing them in any way, shape, or form, especially in front of their peers. Behaviors are bad, not students.
- Double standards and favoritism will lose you the respect of all your students; always be firm, fair, and consistent. Never talk down to your students.
- Avoid becoming too chummy with your students. Young teachers often feel that they must make “friends” with students, particularly in the older grades. However, it’s important to maintain some professional distance and to establish yourself as an authority figure.
- Admit your mistakes. If you wrongly accuse a student of doing something she did not do, make an inappropriate joke, or reprimand a student more harshly than necessary, be sure to apologize and explain. If a parent or administrator criticizes you for your mistake, calmly explain how you felt at that moment and why. Also, explain how you plan on handling that kind of situation in the future.
- Communicate with parents regularly. Help parents see that you are working with them and with the students to help the students succeed at the highest possible level. Parents are more likely to help address problems with students when the parents see that you are sincerely working for the students’ academic success.
Do Your Homework
Any veteran teacher will tell you that you will spend almost as many hours working outside the classroom as you do with your students. Preparing lessons and grading homework and tests can take an enormous amount of time, so it’s a good idea to be as organized as possible and thoughtful about the lessons and tests that you assign.
Also, consider what your expectations will be:
- Will you grade every homework assignment or just some of them?
- Will you give students an opportunity to earn extra credit?
- What kind of system will you use for grading tests?
Design Lesson Plans Early
Before you start planning, be aware of holidays off, assemblies, and similar interruptions. Design your lessons accordingly. Similarly, be sure you know your content, your state’s standards, your school’s expectations, and the ins and outs of child development. Be prepared with multiple learning styles and differentiated teaching strategies. Try to include some variety of activities in every lesson with valid alternate choices for completion.
Develop time-saving strategies. Saving your lesson plan outline as a template on the computer can be very helpful. Instead of rewriting the whole plan every day, you can just fill in the blanks.
Establish Rules for Grading Homework
Along with establishing a consistent disciplinary policy early on, it’s important to know your school’s grading policy or develop grading guidelines. Some teachers set the bar high at the beginning of the year by grading a little tougher than they normally would. Just as many students will underachieve if they think you are a soft grader, they will work hard to meet your expectations if your standards are high. However, it’s important to assess your students’ abilities and set realistic standards.
Use formative and summative assessment types. Grading every single assignment can get overwhelming; sometimes verbally assessing comprehension is enough. Rubrics are another useful tool for outlining expectations and scoring, as well as making sure you cater to the needs of all your students. Rubrics are also effective when students grade each other.
Returning graded assignments as soon as possible sets a good example, keeps your workload manageable, and prevents students’ interest from waning. However, you should never use a student’s work as an example of what not to do.
Consider sending grades home on a regular basis and getting them signed by parents in order to keep everyone aware of students’ progress. This prevents students and parents from being blindsided by poor grades.
Don’t confuse quietness for comprehension. Check in with all students because some may be afraid to admit that they don’t understand what’s going on. If you feel there is a problem, don’t wait to address a student’s needs. If you believe that a student may have an undiagnosed disability, let your principal know and follow your school’s procedure.
Some teachers find that recognizing students’ achievements with tangible rewards can increase students’ motivation and positively influence their academic performance. These types of incentive systems work particularly well in the elementary grades.
Deal with Parents Early on
Establish a relationship with parents from the beginning. Frequent, positive communication is essential to helping the children attain the best education possible, and makes conversations smoother if/when issues arrise. Here are a few tips for keeping in touch with parents:
- Make phone calls, even if you’re just going to leave a message. Doing so will allow you to share good news and help guardians become more familiar with you.
- Give students homework folders that frequently travel between school and home, and send personal notes.
- Be ready to deal with breakdowns in communication: it may be necessary to send multiple messages home.
- Send home a short newsletter of things to come.
- Create an email mailing list or a blog, private class social media page or other webpage for families to follow. Be sure to check your school’s acceptable online presence standards.
Set up Parent-Teacher Conferences
Meeting with parents can often be intimidating for new teachers, particularly if a student is not performing well; just remember that families are your greatest resource and ally for supporting your students outside of the classroom. It’s a good idea to seek guidance from experienced teachers, and communicate with administrators if you encounter problems. In addition, try to follow these general guidelines when talking with parents:
- Remain professional. Don’t take heated words personally, have good things to say about the student, choose your words carefully, keep examples of the student’s work on hand, and document what is said during the meeting.
- Allow parents to ask the first question. This will help you understand their tone and their concerns.
- Be as thick skinned as possible when dealing with problems: some parents want to vent a little before getting to the crux of the issue. Let them vent, try to put them at ease, and then look for a solution or compromise.
- If a parent becomes excessively confrontational, inform an administrator.
- Have documents available to support your statements. For example, if the student has not completed assignments, have gradebook evidence to support your contention.
- Be confident. Listen to what the parents suggest, but also stand up for what you believe is the best course of action.
Build Relationships with Colleagues
Meet as many teachers in the building as you can; not only will you gain valuable insights about the inner workings of the school, but you’ll also make new friends. Don’t be afraid to step up and ask questions when information isn’t offered. Veteran teachers are a tremendous resource for all kinds of information, ranging from labor contracts to strategies for staying sane under pressure. Also, get to know the other new teachers. These people will be valuable sounding boards and will help you feel less alone.
Earn the respect of your colleagues by stepping up to committee work, and by proving yourself to be a reliable, competent teacher. You should also be polite and friendly with secretaries, custodians, and other school staff; you’ll need their help for all sorts of reasons.
Finally, be professional, timely, and unafraid to calmly share your opinions or disagree with administrators. Your professionalism and enthusiasm will earn you their respect and ensure that your needs are met.
Dealing with Paperwork
Be aware of what kinds of paperwork you need to fill out and file, including the School Improvement Plan, special education forms relating to Individualized Education Plans, budget requests, reading and math benchmarks, and permanent record cards. Consider sitting with fellow teachers when filling out forms. Their companionship will make these tedious tasks more fun.
Depending on your school district, you may be part of a teacher’s union. It is important to gain a clear understanding of union requirements. You’ll want to know:
- How much money will be deducted from your paycheck for union dues
- How you can obtain a copy of the most recent union contract
Allow Yourself “Down Time”
Finally, always give yourself time to wind down and distance yourself from the classroom. This is essential to prevent burnout or resentment over a lack of free time, and will allow you to pursue other interests and personal relationships.
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