Monday, July 20, 2020

For New Teachers Who Are Teaching In-Person Classes: Some Commonsense Suggestions for the Start of the School Year

As a new teacher, the start of your first year of teaching is often an exciting and anxious time for many reasons. This year is no exception. Already the start of the 2020-2021 school year is fraught with enough stressful decisions to daunt even the most steadfast of educators. Whether you are teaching online or in a hybrid situation or in a classroom, this school year requires a great deal of planning and commitment.  When you factor out divisive politics and all the other strife associated with starting this school year, there is room for what teachers do so well: make sound decisions based on common sense and the need to support all students. This is particularly true for teachers who are teaching in-person classes. As a first-year teacher, while this may not be the start of the career that you have dreamed of, there are several things that you can do to make sure that you and your students start the school year in a positive and effective way. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it can serve as a start to help you think through how to manage some of the challenges ahead.

Take time to completely familiarize yourself with the reopening guidelines of your school, your district, and your state. Search their websites carefully. Pay careful attention to what is expected of you this year as well as what is expected of students and their parents and guardians. In particular, spend time educating yourself about classroom safety procedures. Knowing what to do will make it easier for you to feel more confident about how you will handle the new school year as well as how to keep your students and yourself safe.

It’s important to plan for student misbehavior and noncompliance related to the health and safety of all students. Talk with other educators about the best practices in your school concerning students who test the boundaries of social distancing or mask wearing or other safety issues related to the pandemic. A united approach will make it much easier to enforce the guidelines established by your district and school.

Although you may have learned many innovative learning strategies while you were training to become an educator, be careful to only implement those that meet the health and safety guidelines of your district and school.

As you learn more about your daily schedule, plan how you will make it as easy as possible for your students to follow classroom rules and procedures. What can you do to streamline routines and procedures? What can you do to ensure students understand both the positive and negative consequences of their behavior?  And how can you build a relationship with each student so that your classroom environment is safe and productive?

Plan, too, how you will present yourself to your students. The best teachers adopt a deliberate attitude of warmth and caring paired with a no-nonsense expectation of effort and mutual respect. Spend time brainstorming different ways to project this attitude so that your students will know that you care about them, but that you expect positive behavior from them.

Streamline and simplify your classroom and your professional life. For example, even though you may have dreamed for years of the perfect classroom, it’s more important this year to keep the focus on learning and safety. Being organized and purposeful will help you accomplish all that you need to do. Keep things as simple as possible.

Maintain a transparent classroom by reaching out to the parents and guardians of your students frequently. While it may take extra time to do this, the rewards will make your effort worth the trouble as you create an effective partnership to keep everyone safe.

Allow more time than usual for students to adjust to being in a classroom again. It will take a while to get your students acclimated to being in a classroom and working productively. It is reasonable to expect that many students will be anxious and will act out. It is also reasonable to expect that there will be deficits in previous learning. Be patient with them and reteach as often as necessary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Things I Wish I Had Known as a New Teacher

Some things never change. Even though I have posted this list before and shared about a zillion times when people email me requesting a copy, the advice in it still could make a difference for a new teacher. It never hurts to know that you are not alone with your worries when you are just starting out in a new career.

  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 connect with other educators.
  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 from you.
  41. No student comes to school determined to fail (and to make your life unpleasant)—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. Have a plan ready to help 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.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

So, You Have a Talkative Class?

One of the most frustrating feelings that any teacher can experience is the hopelessness that comes when students are so busy talking that they don't pay attention to directions 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 can stop talking long enough to become 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.

Luckily, there are a few easy approaches that can help 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.

·       Be emphatic with your students when you speak with them about this problem. You should make it very clear when it is okay for them to talk and when you want them to work silently. If you are clear in communicating your expectations to your students, they will not repeatedly test your tolerance.

·       Avoid the sound-wave effect of a loud class time followed by a quiet one followed by a loud one again. Be consistent in the way you enforce the rules in your class about excessive talking. Teachers who aren’t consistent spend their time getting a class quiet, allowing the noise level to build to an intolerable level, and then getting the class quiet again in an endless and ineffective cycle.

·       Sometimes you are the problem. When your students are working quietly and productively on an assignment, don’t keep talking to the class in general. When you repeatedly interrupt their work by distracting them with your own conversation, you make it harder for your students to work quietly.

·       Begin every class with an activity that will focus your students’ attention on the work they will be doing. This focusing activity will help them make a transition from the casual chatting they may have done on the way to your class to the purposeful work that you want them to begin.

·       Teach your students that they must be responsible for their talking if you do not want to spend all class period “shushing” them. Use positive peer pressure to help them monitor each other’s behavior so that your own monitoring efforts will be more effective.

·       Direct their conversation if you have a group that likes to talk. Get them talking productively about the lesson. If you are successful at doing this, their need to interact with each other and your need to have them master the material will both be satisfied.

·       Try to figure out why they are talking excessively so that you can turn this problem into an advantage. They may be talkative because they are excited, friendly, in need of more challenging work, unsure of the limits that you’ve set, or many other reasons.

·       If your students tend to talk when they have finished an assignment and are waiting for others to finish, sequence your instruction so that there is always an overlapping activity for your students to begin right away.

·       Sometimes when students are very excited, allow them to spend a minute or two talking about it to clear the air so that they can focus on their work. Be clear in setting time limits when you do this.

·       Stay on your feet when your class has a problem with talking. Eye contact, proximity, and other nonverbal cues will help. Persistent and careful monitoring will encourage students to stay focused on their work rather than on conversation.

·       During a movie or oral presentation when students may talk instead of listen, prevent this by giving them an activity to do. Students who are taking notes or filling out a worksheet will not have time for chatter.

·       If the noise level is too loud, give students quiet activities that require they write or read independently. These assignments should be designed to interest them, not just keep the class busy.

·       Shifting gears from one activity to another is difficult for many students. Make transition times as efficient as possible in your class to avoid this problem.

·       If the entire class persists in having a problem with excessive talking, chart their behavior for them to see tangible evidence of it. Create a bar graph each day where you rank their success at managing their problem with talking on a scale of 1 to 10. Sometimes students are not aware of the severity of a problem until they can see it in a format such as this.

·       Move students who talk too much away from each other. Placing one of them near where you spend most of your time will help your monitoring efforts.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In a Slump? Thirty Ways to Energize Your Teaching

Even the most dedicated teacher can fall into a slump from time to time. Certain times of the year—a long winter, the days before an extended holiday, or even the last few weeks before the end of the year—seem to be easy times for anyone to find the daily grind of teaching stresses tedious. When you are aware that this is happening to you, it’s time to take action to make sure that your students learn the material that they need to learn and that you can have the productive classroom environment that you want for your students and for yourself. In the following list, you will find thirty simple ways to replace the negative feelings induced by a teaching slump with the positive energy that can help your students enjoy school as they learn to be successful students.

1.     Spend your energy on large problems first and allot less of your energy for the small ones. Choose to deal with the problems that will give you the greatest benefit right away. 

2.     Make it your goal that every student will leave your class with a positive attitude every day.

3.     Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if the problems you have today will be important next year.

4.     Change the pace. Try three new activities this week.

5.     Increase the ways that you ask students to respond nonverbally. Instead of shouting from their seats, they can hold up cards or give a thumbs up sign.

6.     Plan to ignore the small stuff.

7.     When a task seems impossible, remind yourself of the teachers who made a difference in your life. You can do the same for your students.

8.     Empower your students by designing assignments that allow for limited student options. Give them innocuous choices such as the even or odd problems, essay topics, group tasks, or the best day to take a test. 

9.     You probably need to model more for your students. Most teachers do. And don’t forget to show them what you don’t want them to do, also.

10.  Ask students to justify their answers on a test to encourage deeper thinking. 

11.  Let your students know what activities lie ahead of them so that they have something to look forward to. Try a little countdown to an exciting event to focus them on the positive.

12.  Encourage independence! Tell your students that they must “See three before me” to find answers to questions.

13.  At the end of a lesson, encourage reflection (and positive attitudes) by asking students to tell you what went well during class. 

14.  Build in wiggle breaks. Even older students need a break now and then. 

15.  When students are engaged in learning new material, periodically ask them to stop and write about these three topics: what they think about the subject so far, what they understand about the subject, and any questions they still may have.

16.  Don’t work against the nature of your students. Make the material compelling by incorporating their interests and goals.

17.  Put some color in your classroom world. Break out the crayons or highlighters to help students pay attention to what’s important in their notes.

18.  Paraphrasing is a helpful gateway to other skills. Put students in pairs and ask them to paraphrase material. Then that pair can share their paraphrase with another pair. 

19.  Avoid problems when students finish work early by having other activities for them to complete. Students with nothing to do will amuse themselves by annoying nearby adults.

20.  Increase the frequency of the positive recognition you give students. 

21.  Display student work. Rewarding students in this way is worth the time it takes to arrange it.

22.  Pose a question of the week that is related to the material you are studying but that students need to research independently. Reward the student with the best answer with a little tangible reward.

23.  Set a concrete goal with your students: 100% on every quiz, everyone on time for a week, all homework complete... Use a bar graph to illustrate their progress.

24.  Graphic organizers are wonderful ways to engage students. Busy students are happy students and happy students make happy teachers.

25.  Use a variety of media to capture your audience--movies, art, wikis, songs, podcasts, television, interactive game sites, magazines, advertisements, cartoons, and slogans are just a few of the ways that you can capture attention.

26.  When they ask, “Why do we have to do this?” be sure to have an excellent answer ready.

27.  Use your student’s competitive instincts to your advantage. Create teams to compete against other teams. Best of all, challenge your students to compete against themselves by working to improve their own best performance.

28.  Work with your students to set personal long- and short-term goals for themselves. They will work harder with a clear focus for their work.

29.  Take photographs of your students. Be thrifty and print them out on paper. Your students just want to see themselves on the classroom wall.

30.  Schedule in some fun every day--for you and for your students. Smile together and misbehavior will decrease.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Help Your Students Learn to Work Well Together

It is necessary for teachers to make it possible for students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as consistent effort on your part. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort can often result in beneficial dividends for everyone in the classroom.

One of the most important ways to make sure all students feel that they are valued members of a class is to work to remove the barriers to social acceptance that may exist among them. For example, students could feel excluded because they do not know their classmates. It is a mistake to assume that students know each other well. Even students who have attended school together for several years may not know much about their classmates.

Another barrier may occur because students may live in different neighborhoods. If you teach in a school where students may live at a distance or come from very diverse neighborhoods, it is likely that they have not had many opportunities to interact with each other outside of school.

In addition, students who have not been taught how to behave courteously or who have not learned socially acceptable ways to resolve conflict often struggle to form appropriate relationships with their peers. Helping everyone learn how to interact in an acceptable, courteous manner will take time and consistent effort on your part.

Perhaps the greatest barrier that you will have to help your students overcome is the perception that they may not have much in common with a classmate whom they do not know well. With effort and persistence, you can assist students in learning to recognize their commonalities so that they can learn to accept and support each other. Use the tips in the list that follows to guide you as you work to help students remove the barriers to peer acceptance.

·       Make sure that each student’s strengths are well known to the rest of the class.

·       If a student has an unpleasant history of failure or misbehavior, make it clear that it is time for a fresh start and that you are providing that opportunity.

·       Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. Teach courtesy. It will not take long before students become aware of the expectations that you have for acceptable behavior. They need plenty of models and monitoring until they have learned to cooperate productively.

·       Let each student shine. Every student should believe that he or she is really your favorite.

·       Be sensitive to the differences that divide your students and to the potential for conflict that those differences can cause. It may take a while until you get to know your students well enough to be aware of the social differences that exist among them, but vigilance on your part will make it easier to help students learn to work together well.

·       Make it a point to recognize students who work well with others. Whenever possible, praise the entire class for its cooperative attitude.

·       Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other. These do not have to take up a great deal of time, but can be done in brief activities scattered throughout the year.

·       Plan enough work for your students to do so that they are focused on instruction and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.

·       Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters, bulletin board displays, and encouraging mottoes.

·       Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working with each other.

·       Make it very easy for students to understand class routines and procedures and to follow directions well. Students who know what to do are less likely to make embarrassing mistakes for which they can be teased or excluded later.

·       Be careful that you model appropriate behavior frequently, thereby encouraging your students to do the same.

·       Don’t give in to the temptation of rolling your eyes or losing your patience when a student blunders in front of classmates. Your actions could set that student up for social exclusion later.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

If Students Planned the Lesson...

If you were to plug “Great Lesson Plans,” into just about any search engine, all sorts of useful information for teachers immediately pops up. Instead of going online, though, how about thinking about a great lesson from a student’s viewpoint? One good way to find out what students really want is to simply ask them how they would like to learn the day’s material. Or, administer a quick survey ( Solicit advice via exit tickets or suggestions dropped into a suggestion box. All of these are good ways to find out what your students would like to do in class. Even without that useful feedback, however, it is possible to anticipate the elements of a lesson that students would include. Here are some of the essentials that many students would probably like to see included in a student-created lesson plan.
·       An opening exercise that allows them to chatter away while making the transition to the day’s lesson. The exercise should also be interesting while reminding them of what they already know. Something like a Round Robin or brief discussion, for example.
·       Silly videos related to the topic are always a plus. Even better are student-made videos.
·       Games of just about any sort—low or high tech. Board games are always good no matter what. Student made board games are the most engaging.  
·       Any game that requires players to roll dice is immediately a huge (and noisy) success.
·       The perfect student lesson plan will certainly include sharing, collaboration, or teamwork in every possible permutation.
·       Students like questions that they can answer with relative ease. This sets the stage for activities where they quiz each other. They would also choose to hold competitions where they can answer as a team and not be put on the spot individually.
·       Beating the clock is always fun. So is setting a personal best goal and working towards it.
·       One predictable student preference is being able to shift partners during an activity or switching teams in the course of a lesson. Movement instead of remaining seated all class keeps everyone alert.
·       Music of all kinds. Student performances. Background music. Headphones. Music adds a layer of enjoyment to almost any type of instruction.
·       A countdown to something is always fun. Not a frantic, frenzied race, but a countdown that focuses an activity—such as an online countdown clock to an activity.
·       Students like learning something interesting or peculiar so that they have a good answer to, “What did you learn in school today?” They also like learning interesting and peculiar information just because it’s fun to think about. Weird facts are always fun to know.
·       Students enjoy an opportunity to write on something besides notebook paper. The more outrageous the surface the better.
·       If students were to design a lesson, there would be lots of gaudy coloring. Students would be writing on the board more, too.
·       If there is a lesson with a reading component, students would probably design it in such a way that classmates read it together—and not in that embarrassing popcorn style either, but with friends or friendly teammates to share the reading load.
·       There would also be a component where students do something to help someone else. Whether it be playing an altruistic game such as Free Rice (, or just helping out classmates, students like to feel that their contributions to the world matter.
·       Having several choices of meaningful and interesting activities to do in a reasonable amount of time would also be part of a student-designed lesson plan. Having a free choice among the choices is even more interesting for some students.
·       Manipulatives, three-D graphic organizers, paper airplanes, and squishy toys are almost mandatory in student-designed lessons. Rubber bands and paper clips would also find a way to be included as well.
·       Finally, in the ideal lesson designed by students, any homework would be something that fits in with their out-of-school lives and interests and can be done simply—without fuss—and in just the right amount of time.