10 Important Tips for the New Teacher

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You're a new teacher.  It's overwhelming.  What to do?  As a veteran teacher of over 30 years teaching in the public education system in California, I offer these tips to help you survive those first few years.  If you had to narrow down all the advice you'll be given in your first year, here are the 10 most important things to do or implement in your first few years.


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TIP #1 BUILD YOUR CLASSROOM LIBRARY


As a new teacher, you may walk into an empty classroom with just desks and chairs.  You'll need to build up your resources, especially your classroom library.  It is said a good classroom library is essential and should have between 500 - 1000 books of all kinds both fiction and non-fiction.  As a new teacher, do you have the funds to go and purchase 500 books? And don't forget you'll need to put them into baskets for storage and easy use.  So where do I get 500 books?

Over the 30 years of teaching, I have amassed a huge classroom library by doing the following:
  • Ask your principal for books (it never hurts to ask!).  He/she may have discretionary funds to spend on classroom books.
  • Ask the librarian for discards.  Yes, they may be old books but they're books!  
  • Ask the PTA/PTO.  Sometimes PTAs and PTOs give teacher grants during the year.
  • Join Scholastic Book Clubs and send home monthly book order forms for students to order books.  Use the reward points to get free books!
  • Find out if your local public library has used book sales.  Believe it or not, it is an amazing place to find great children's books at bargain basement prices. Recently, I purchased 30 books for $9 at my local library during the most recent used book sale!
  • Goodwill stores.  Yep, you can find lots of good books there are reasonable prices.
  • Garage and yard sales are great for finding old magazines and books.  Tell them you're a teacher and they'll probably just give them to you! 
  • Find out who's retiring at your school.  Become friends with this person.  They're going to give it all away, so you'll want to be there.
  • If you live near a Scholastic Warehouse, they have yearly Warehouse Sales and you can pick up lots of books at clearance prices.
  • Tell your friends and family that you need books.  When nieces and nephews are done with the books or outgrow them, make sure you get them!
  • Let the parents of your classroom know that you're trying to build up the classroom library.  You'll be surprised by gift cards and donations!
  • Look out for local grants for books.
These are just some of the ways you can build that all-important classroom library.  


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TIP #2 HAVE A FILING SYSTEM


You're about to be inundated with paperwork, handouts, worksheets, lists, data, surveys, notes, and emails.  Start a filing system right away.  Whatever works for you.  Even if you have to just start with a box that says:  TO FILE.  That's a start.  

Here's how I file.
  • A separate file for each common core standard.  In that file, you can put in lesson plans, ideas, worksheets, etc.
  • A separate folder for each unit.  Each curriculum unit should have its own folder in which you can place the resources for that unit.  Baggies work well, too.  
  • A separate file or folder for Parent Communication.  It is important to keep ALL notes that parents send you. Keep a log of when you contact a parent.
  • A separate file or folder for school or district information.  This can include bulletins, district paperwork, memos, etc.
  • A separate file or folder for staff meetings and staff development.  You're going to get a lot of handouts at these meetings.  Start filing.
Also, remember that if you make centers you'll have to find a way to organize and store the centers.  Folders with pockets work great for this. 

If you don't have a file cabinet in your classroom, ask for one!  A file cabinet will keep files from becoming dusty.  Classrooms are dust magnets.  Keep files covered or put things in baggies.

Now the one thing to remember about filing is that it's all going digital!  Yes, as more and more schools go 1:1 in the classroom for students, teaching is now going digital.  Teachers and administrators now share links through emails, social media, and texts.  You may even have to work with an online plan book or complete report cards online.  I use on online plan book with my entire grade level team.  I use planbookedu.com.  It's $25 per year and it's easy to use and customize to your schedule and calendar.  The plan book can be shared among your team.

I keep all my digital files in the cloud using Dropbox.  You can also use Google Drive for this as well.  Obviously, you'll need to come up with a digital filing system as well.  Make folders for everything.  Keep digital files organized by units, standards, and folders for Parents, Bulletins, Handouts, etc.  You'll want to have a digital filing system in the cloud that can be synched between all our devices.  Yes, you're going to have devices: laptops, desktops, phones, and tablets.  They're all used in the classroom.

The final word on filing.  File it away RIGHT AWAY.  Try to file things at the end of the day.  Don't put it off or you'll be spending hours trying to file away a huge pile of papers.

TIP #3 FIND A MENTOR


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Yes, you have to be nice to the custodian and the secretary.  They practically run the school.  But do they know about classroom management and how to teach the standards?  Do they want to hear your vents and frustrations?  There will be many days you'll want to give up. So find someone on the staff or another teacher you know and ask for them to be your mentor.  Trust me, veteran teachers LOVE helping out the new teachers.  We have a lot of experience and have heard and seen it all...twice..no many, many times.

Why do you need a mentor your first years?  Read on.
  • you're going to have difficult days and you'll need someone sympathetic to hear you
  • you're going to need to ask very basic questions and a mentor will be patient to answer even the most basic of questions
  • you're going to need help with classroom management and a mentor can give you advice
  • you're going to be dealing with difficult parents and a mentor can help you communicate with difficult parents
  • you're going to have to turn in paperwork with deadlines and a mentor can help you navigate those forms and due dates
  • you're going to have to find out where all the resources are located at your school and a mentor knows where to find the best ones...even the secret ones.
  • you're going to have to deal with difficult staff members and a mentor can help shield you from the worst ones
  • you're going to need ideas for lessons and a mentor has a treasure trove of lesson plans and ideas
  • you're going to wonder why your fabulously planned lesson failed miserably and a mentor can help you fine-tune and improve it for the next time
  • you're going to have to learn all the procedures, steps, processes and systems of how your school functions and your mentor will be invaluable to help you learn how to do it the school way
Finally, you're going to need a friend.  Some staffs work and treat each other as family.  Others barely communicate between each other.  In either case, a good friend will help you fit in one way or another.

TIP #4 LEARN CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT


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Everything....EVERYTHING your students do throughout the day can be thought out as a procedure.  Procedures are different than rules.  Rules are expectations for behavior.  Think of a procedure as a recipe you follow to accomplish something.  When you don't have procedures in place, students have to guess what to do and they usually guess badly.  This leads to perceived behavior issues and frustration on your part.  So, have a system or procedure or plan for the following actions students must do during the day:
  • sharpening pencils - do they sharpen anytime? at their desks? bring their own sharpener?
  • pencils - should they have extra pencils or do they get new ones every so often?
  • pencil boxes or pouches - how will they store their school supplies?
  • getting school supplies - individually or passed out by a monitor?
  • asking for help - raise your hand, come up to you? 
  • bathroom use - they will have to go..but when? how many times?
  • nurse procedure - what qualifies being sent to the nurse's office?
  • lunch count - who is going to do it? 
  • attendance - follow your school's procedure
  • announcements - classroom only or school wide?
  • turning in work - where are they going to turn it in?
  • passing out papers - by row? individually? they must learn to take one and pass the rest on!
  • collecting papers - pass them to a collector? in a box? basket? how?
  • selecting monitors - rotating jobs? random students? volunteers?
A classroom runs well when there are established procedures.  These procedures need to be explained, modeled and practiced.  If a procedure is not working, change it or replace it!  Don't wait for more problems to occur.  

When students don't follow the procedure, explain and model it again.  Give them time to learn the procedure, especially if it's new.  But once the procedure has been firmly established, provide consequences for those students who do not follow the procedures.


TIP #5 COMMUNICATE WITH PARENTS REGULARLY


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You'll find out very quickly that most parents are clueless about what is happening in your classroom or school.  How can that be?  Everyone is busy.  Parents forget to check backpacks.  Papers get lost.  Students forget to take home important papers or flyers.  We're inundated with messages all day long.  I've discovered that it takes about 5 or more notices before a parent is informed!  So how do you keep parents in the loop and informed? Here are some ways I do it:


  • Parent Communication Folders:  Most schools send home a Parent Communication Folder on a specific day of the week so parents expect it.  I send home this folder on Thursdays and I let parents know through ClassDojo.
  • Use ClassDojo:  With ClassDojo not only can you let parents see how their child is behaving in class, but you can also send messages about important events.  You can send all the parents the same message or one in particular.  Parents can also message you back.  It's immediate and can be accessed from any internet connected device.  I have parents sign up on Back to School Night (you can read about that HERE).
  • Use the Remind App:  Here's another great App that sends parents text messages.  Use your phone to send the parents reminders, messages or announcements from your phone or another device.  All this is done without the parents seeing your real number.  You can read more about it HERE.
  • Phone blasts:  If your school or grade level has a special event coming up, most schools can send out phone blast announcements.  Ask your principal about this.
  • Email:  Yep, some parents prefer emails.  You can also send out a newsletter this way.
  • Assessment Folders:  Make an Assessment Folder for each student that is sent home every so often with assessments for parents to look at and sign that they've seen them.
  • Notes:  good, old-fashioned handwritten notes are still a great way to communicate with parents, especially if behavior issues arise.
  • Phone call:  almost all classrooms today are equipped with phones to call out.  With some parents, a phone call is the only way to reach them with important information.


You can also send home a weekly or monthly newsletter.  Make sure you send it consistently so parents know when to expect it.  Just remember, you'll have to communicate the same message at least 5 times before you are certain that all the parents are aware of an important announcement or event.

Come back next week for PART 2 for the rest of the New Teacher Tips!


Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.  Even veteran teachers can and always learn something new!


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