Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The First Day of School--Your Priorities

The first day of class is often one of the most stressful days that you and your students will experience all year. We're nervous. They're nervous. Every one is unsure of what to do and how to do it well.

It has always helped me to think in terms of what MUST get done that day. Once I have completed those tasks, then the rest is reasonably easy.

Here is an excerpt from The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide that is designed to help teachers think through what we have to do on the first day and get everyone off to a good start.

 As you begin thinking about the first day of class, you should give thought to how to convince your students that you are the best teacher they will ever have. Your new students will be concerned that they will not have a good teacher or a good year. Your first-year jitters may be bad, but theirs are probably worse.

            Because it is so important that the first day of school be an encouraging experience for your students, you must present yourself to your students in as positive a manner as possible. This will be easy for you if you focus your energies on the following six important priorities:

Priority 1: Take Charge of Your Class

  • Even if you are overcome with stage fright, you must conquer your personal feelings and pretend to be confident and self-assured. Sometimes, by pretending to be confident, you can begin to convince yourself that you are.
  • Have a seating chart ready so that you can show students to their seats and get them started on their opening exercise at once. Have an assignment on the board, or give students a handout as they enter the room.
  • Before the term begins, when you have made up your class rules and expectations, consider having a friend record you presenting them. You can really have fun with this if you film your presentation at the beach, on a boat, or even in your own backyard. When school starts, show the video and give your students a handout on the class expectations to fill in as they watch and listen.

Priority 2: Calm Your Students’ Fears

  • Stand at the door of your classroom and welcome students to your class. Wear a bright name tag. Make sure to prominently display your name and room number so that students and their parents can be sure that they are in the right place.
  • Look happy to see every student. Greet each one pleasantly, using his or her name if you can.
  • Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important lesson you will teach all year. In many ways, it is. Your students should feel not only that they learned something interesting but that they will continue to learn something in your class every day.

Priority 3: Introduce Yourself

  • Although it may seem obvious, it is important to introduce yourself to your students on the first day of class. Because you want the first day of class to go well and because you want to control the amount of wild speculation about you, the new teacher, you should introduce yourself. You should be comfortable telling your students

    • How to spell your last name
    • Your title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr.)
    • Where you went to college
    • Where you grew up
    • Why you are looking forward to working with them
    • The positive things you have heard about them
    • The positive things you have heard about the school
    • What your favorite subject was in school
    • Why you chose to be a teacher

Priority 4: Engage Your Students’ Minds

  • Design fast-paced, interesting instruction that will appeal to students with a variety of learning styles and engage their critical thinking skills.
  • Consider a lesson that will allow you to assess your students’ readiness levels as well as give them an overview of the skills they will learn or the material that they will cover during the term. Make sure that the lesson is one that encourages them to be active and not just one that requires them to listen passively.
  • Include a brief homework assignment to reinforce the day’s work and to get students into the habit of doing homework for your class.

Priority 5: Begin To Teach The Class Routines

  • Teaching acceptable school behavior is part of what teachers do and is certainly part of what students expect from their teachers. For example, when it is time for students to turn in the day’s written assignment, show them the procedure for passing in papers that you will expect them to follow.
  • If students lack supplies to do the assignment, lend them what they need for class and gently remind them that they will need to have paper and a pencil in the future.
  • Keep any reprimands very low-key. Stick to gentle reminders instead.

Priority 6: Begin To Build a Classroom Community

  • Even on the first day of class, your students will view themselves as members of a classroom group. You can enhance this natural tendency by using inclusive words such as our or us when referring to the class.
  • Ask for their help in routine tasks such as passing out materials, tidying the room at the end of an activity, or in helping each other.
  • Take time for at least one ice-breaker activity so that students can get to know their classmates. You will find more information about this later in this section.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summertime Thoughts about School

Like most other teachers, I find it impossible to completely be on vacation during the summer. I think about school. I think about what I could have done better last year, and I look ahead to the things that I know I can improve in the upcoming year. In doing some research, I found these three helpful documents stored away on my computer. They are from the DVD professional development kit that accompanies the First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide.  I found them helpful in guiding my thinking about school and the ways that I can be a better teacher. Feel free to use them to inform your summertime school thoughts as well.

Teacher Worksheet 7.6: How to Create a Useful Teacher Binder
Although a teacher’s binder is a very personal set of documents, dependent on the needs of the teacher and the types of courses and student that teacher has to manage; there are some items that are almost indispensible in any teacher binder.
·        Your professional goals
·        A to-do list for your professional life
·        A list of positive labels about students
·        Lists of activities to refer to energize your instruction
·        Copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy
·        List of Gardner’s multiple intelligences
·        Tips for teaching study skills
·        Grading reminders such as due dates or grading scales
·        A school year calendar
·        An outline of the instructional plan for the year, semester, or grading period
·        Personally inspiring items such as uplifting quotations or notes from students
·        Seating charts
·        List of classroom chores for students to manage
·        Ideas for integrating technology
·        Class rosters
·        Techniques for managing various classroom problems
·        Lists of Internet resources to explore
·        Stress management techniques
Teacher Self-Assessment 7.7: My Professional Goals This Year
Semester 1 Progress
Semester 2 Progress
Teacher Worksheet 7.8: A Teacher’s To-Do List

Phone Calls Concerning Students


Parent or Guardian: Name and Number:_____________________________________________      

Date and Time:_________________________________________________________________


Outcome:_____________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________

Other Phone Calls

_____________________________________________________________________________________Emails to Send


Parent Conferences


Parent’s Name and Number:______________________________________________________________         

Date and Time:_________________________________________________________________________

Reason:______________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________

Outcome:_____________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________

Other Meetings


After-School/Extra Duty Responsibilities

Items to Duplicate


Lesson Plans or Projects to Complete


Great Websites or Other Resources to Explore




Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fifty Things I Wish I Had Known as a First-Year Teacher

  1. Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun learning with your students. It’s okay to fail sometimes.
  2. Realize that you will have to prove yourself all year long. To students, colleagues, parents, yourself…
  3. Being regarded as trustworthy is an invaluable goal.
  4. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn from mistakes.
  5. If you don’t spend time reflecting on your teaching each day, it will be very hard for you to improve.
  6. There will never be enough time to get all of the things you want to accomplish with your students done.
  7. It’s important to think about student activities in terms of small blocks of time so they stay on task.
  8. Leave your problems at school at the end of the day. Balance is key.
  9. It’s important to show students how to help themselves. Learned helplessness does not have to be permanent.
  10. Take good care of school resources and teach students to do the same.
  11. Use your personal strong points and teach your students to do the same.
  12. Be selective. Don’t fight battles you can’t win. Ignore the small stuff.
  13. Focus on what you can change and get then get busy doing it.
  14. Use a multifaceted approach when presenting material.
  15. Don’t just react to a problem. Solve it.
  16. It takes time to get to know your students and even longer to gain their fragile trust.
  17. Make it a point to build strong relationships with your colleagues. You need each other.
  18. Parents do indeed expect you to live up to their ideal of what a teacher should be.
  19. If you act like a professional, you will make it easier for others to defend you when you make a mistake.
  20. Paperwork must be dealt with accurately, quickly, and efficiently.
  21. Patience. Patience. Patience.
  22. You are a role model, ready or not.
  23. When you teach students to believe in themselves, you create lifelong learners.
  24. Don’t allow any student to be invisible. Draw them in. Build confidence and engagement.
  25. Establish routines for yourself and for your students. Everyone will benefit.
  26. Students need structure. They also need fun and creativity.
  27. Get them up and moving. Active students tend to misbehave less than those who are bored.
  28. Be prepared for class. This means having a solid Plan B.
  29. Spend more time telling your students what they do right than what they do wrong.
  30. When you make a mistake, admit it and move on. Teach your students this, too.
  31. Be unfailingly positive. After all, if you don’t believe in your students, who does?
  32. Students are far more concerned with the idea of “fairness” than you can imagine.
  33. Set goals for yourself and work with your students to set goals for them.
  34. Stay away from those negative colleagues. They will poison your day, your week, your career.
  35. Ask for help. We all need help at times. Speak up.
  36. Actively work to improve your skills and knowledge about teaching.
  37. Create your own PLN. Use social media to reach out.
  38. Volunteer for extra jobs at school with caution.
  39. Work hard to let your students know how special they are to you.
  40. The worst students deserve the best in you.
  41. No one comes to school determined to fail—despite evidence to the contrary.
  42. You will make a difference in the lives of your students…it takes time, however.
  43. Ask, “How can I help you with that?” and watch the magic happen.
  44. Say, “I know you’re better than that” when a student misbehaves.
  45. You will have some hard days as a teacher. Plan ahead how you will manage stress.
  46. You can’t ever predict how a lesson will go or what your students will do.
  47. Laughing with students is a great way to build a community in a hurry.
  48. Connections with students are vital if you want to have happy days at school.
  49. A well planned lesson is the best discipline plan you can have.
  50. Never, ever forget that you may be the only person who shows a student that you care.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Solving Classroom Problems Now and in the Future

By nature, we teachers are incurable optimists. One of the very best aspects of this very busy time of year for busy educators is that we tend to look back on our year to see what we did right and what we could have improved while at the same time we are able to look ahead to a new, fresh year that is just a few months in the future. Even if you are one of those teachers whose school year has already drawn to a close, the chances are good that you have slips of paper or electronic notes filled with ideas that you want to try out next year.

 In addition to the more creative and positive things that you want to change about how you run your classroom and how you will connect with your students next year, you may want to take a fresh look at how you solve classroom problems. Although we may have the best of intentions and plans at the start of a school day, it’s highly likely that within an hour of arriving at school we will have to solve both big and small problems. Often we will have to solve these problems in front of about thirty or more curious students, too.  Often the entire balance of the success or failure of a school day can depend on how well you manage to solve the classroom problems that confront you.

 It’s important to think about the approaches that you want to take when dealing with a classroom problem. To make this easier, think about it in terms of these questions. They can serve as a guide when you are facing a conundrum.

• Who is involved in the problem?

• Who is being harmed by the problem? How?

• What appears to be the underlying cause of the problem?

• What rules, procedures, or policies affect this problem?

• What will happen if I ignore the problem?

• What is the simplest solution to the problem? How workable is this solution?

• How can I treat the students involved in the problem with dignity and respect?

• Where can I find help with this problem?

• How can I enlist my students’ support in such a way that they move toward self-discipline?

• What am I doing that may be having a negative impact on the problem?

 In addition, here are some other basic principles of problem solving that could make the entire process a bit easier for you in the future.

• Begin with small interventions. Save the office referrals for serious problems.

• Solve the problem instead of punishing the child.

• Follow school rules and policies.

• Make sure that the punishment fits the crime.

• Maintain a positive relationship with each student.

• If your first attempt is not successful, try another one. Then another one … as many as it takes.

• Ignore as much as you can.

• Minimize disruptions by maximizing students’ time on task.

• When things are not going well, try to see the problem through your students’ eyes.

• Think before you act.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Are Your Students Too Busy Talking to Learn?

One of the most frustrating feelings that any teacher can experience is the hopelessness that comes when our students are so busy talking that they don't listen to us or work productively. Unfortunately, having a class that is excessively talkative is one of the most frequent complaints that many teachers--experienced and novice alike-- share. It is disheartening at best to plan a wonderful lesson that no student is interested in.

The problem of the talkative class is also one that is amazingly uniform across all grade levels and subjects. Large classes, small classes, very young students and sophisticated seniors can all be so talkative that little learning can occur. After all, they outnumber us by thirty or so noisy people to one teacher!

Luckily, there are a few easy approaches that can help your students take charge of their own talking patterns and learn to work well with each other and with you. Try some of these to help control the talking in your classroom.


You have a class that talks and talks and talks. They talk indiscriminately to you and to each other. While you certainly don’t want a class that is silent and dull, the excessive talking in this class prevents students from accomplishing everything you have planned for the day’s lesson. You are not just tired of trying to cope with the noise, but even more tired of trying to teach over their constant din.

Your Goals

• To raise student awareness about the harmful effects of excessive talking

• To encourage appropriate talking and discourage inappropriate talking

• To empower students so that they can cope with this issue themselves instead of being nagged by a teacher

Approaches to Take

Spend time observing your students to find the cause of the problem. Are they excited because of the time of day? Bored and restless? Unaware of the effect of their talking? Unsure of how to do their work well? Once you have determined some of the causes for their talking, work to figure out how to turn this into an advantage instead of a class failing.

Be very clear with your students when you discuss this issue. They should know when it is acceptable for them to talk and when they should be working silently or listening carefully. Setting clear limits and communicating those limits reduce your students’ tendencies to test the boundaries of your tolerance.

Be aware that sometimes you may be the cause of the problem. Once your students are settled and working, be careful not to keep talking to the whole class. Work with individuals at that point instead of distracting the entire group.

Take care to pace instruction so that once students finish an assignment they have plenty of other work to do with a minimum of transition time. Students without enough to do will find time to chatter.

Establish signals with your class so that they know when to stop talking. Many teachers find it helpful to enlist students in this process because it promotes student ownership.

If students are excited about an upcoming event, allow them to spend a timed minute or two talking before settling down to work. Clearing the air this way shows students that you are willing to be fair.

Teach students that they must be responsible for their own talking. Use positive peer pressure to your advantage. Chart their successful attempts at managing their excessive talking with a large bar or pie graph and then provide a small tangible reward for those students who are successful. Once students see that they can be successful at managing their own noise levels, they will be likely to continue in a positive trend.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid the sound-wave cycle of a loud class time followed by a quiet time followed by a loud time again by being very consistent in how you enforce the rules you establish about when it is acceptable for students to talk. Set clear limits and stick to them instead of appearing the least bit fuzzy on this issue.

Don’t allow students to have a great deal of down time where they don’t have anything to do but chitchat loudly with their classmates.

Don’t forget that it is important to help students focus on an assignment at the start of a lesson and then periodically throughout the class period. Reasonable timed wiggle breaks make it easier for students to not only stay on task but to talk appropriately with their classmates.

Don’t expect students to be quiet all class long. Build in a variety of activities so that their interactions can be positive ones.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Julia Thompson to Partner with Share My Lesson as a Presenter

Natalie Dean, Share My Lesson



Julia Thompson to Partner with Share My Lesson as a Presenter

at the First-Ever Ideas and Innovations Virtual Conference for Teachers and Parents

Julia Thompson has been named a presenter during the Teaching & Learning: Ideas and Innovations virtual conference, taking place on the afternoons and evenings of March 11-13. The three-day series of workshops is being sponsored by Share My Lesson, the nation's fastest-growing online site for free teaching resources.
Thompson's presentation, Creating Self-Disciplined Students, will run from 9-10 pm on the evening of Thursday, March 13. Join in the conversation!

Ideas and Innovations is an online symposium of professional learning featuring over two dozen free workshops by Share My Lesson’s content partners, educational leaders, and expert teachers. Attendees can expect engaging webinars on topics ranging from arts education and civics to the Common Core. With two-dozen webinars to choose from, there's something for every educator and parent.

“‘A self-disciplined learner is one who is willing to do the right thing at the right time.’ Join me as I present ideas designed to help you encourage your students to become the self-disciplined learners they are capable of becoming.” ~Julia Thompson, author of First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide

“Share My Lesson is committed to reclaiming the promise of public education by supporting educators and parents, giving them the resources and professional learning they need to be successful,” said Scott Noon, general manager of Share My Lesson. “The free conference is a way to support effective practice, help teachers to be aware of our content partners, and provide teachers with opportunities to network and collaborate.”

Participation in the conference is exclusive to registered Share My Lesson users. Registration for the site and conference workshops is entirely free, however. For those seeking professional learning credits, registration for each workshop should be done individually to track attendance. For more information, visit www.sharemylesson.com/conference.



Share My Lesson was developed by the American Federation of Teachers, a union of over 1.5 million professionals, and TSL Education, creators of TES Connect, the largest network of teachers in the world. Share My Lesson is an award-winning online professional development community where educators can come together to share their greatest teaching resources and collaborate on best practices at no cost. Share My Lesson features a significant resource bank aligned to the Common Core State Standards, including advice and guidance to aid in their successful implementation. Share My Lesson is the 2014 Codie Award winner for Best Crowd Sourced Solution. For more, visit www.sharemylesson.com.