Saturday, December 20, 2014

Need Advice: Trying to Help Struggling New Teacher

I think this is heavy on my mind, I've spoken to everyone about it and still feel unsettled.  I have a new teacher on my team this year and she's struggling.  My teammate, who has MANY years under her belt, and I, who have 9 years under mine, are trying to help her and we've come to a wall.  I am going to try to list everything I've told her in terms of advice and tips and if you can think of anything more, please add on.  And I am sure I will forget to tell you everything I've told her.  I just really want to help her grow and learn, and get through her toughest year.

1.  Understand the objective: Determine what the indicator is really asking the students to know and focus on that skill.
2.  Work backwards: if you know what the end objective is, determine the steps you need to take to get there.
3. Understand your kids: what kind of learners are they? How fast or slow do you need to go? What skills/concepts do you think you will need to repeat? Who needs the most support? Who needs a challenge? etc...  Knowing this will help you plan your lessons.
4.  If a lesson doesn't go right, do it again, differently: if you kiddos don't understand a concept, don't just go on to the next lesson in the curriculum, do it again, differently.  Try a different approach, maybe more direct instruction, more guided practice, group work, small group, a discovery learning approach, something, but don't just move on because your curriculum and the district/county says you need so many indicators covered.  Work toward mastery and understand these skills build on each other.  Now I am not saying spend weeks on a single concept, interweave it into other lessons, reteaching time, homework, early finishers, etc.
5.  Be a Thoughtful Planner:  it is your first year, PLAN for everything to there is no way you have forgotten a minute.  Write down the questions you will ask, make sure you are using equitable strategies, make sure you are checking for understanding, and all of this is written down.  Don't just write in the plan book your objectives and call it a day, a veteran teacher can do this because all this has hopefully become second nature, but even veteran teachers still write/script out their plans.  I know I do sometimes especially when the lessons are particularly demanding and I want to make sure I teach the skill/concept well.
6.  Think outside the box: the new common core standards allow for wonderful integration even if the district's curriculum doesn't and puts you in that box.  You can do many projects/activities/assignments that span over subjects and they students really see how everything is connected and reading strategies are isolated to just the subject of reading, you can use it in socials studies, science, math, writing, and life.
7.  YOU are the teacher: Ultimately, you are the one making decisions about your classroom.  You are getting advice from teammates, staff developers, administration, consulting teachers, etc, but it is up to you to make the decisions and your responsibility.  I am not saying ignore the advice, especially administration, they are your bosses, but use what you can, think about the rest, try it, you never know, it might work.
8.  Be reflective and own your mistakes: You need to reflect on what went well and what needs improvement in your lessons and classroom.  If you made a mistake, own that mistake, and reflect about how you will do things differently next time.  New teachers don't know everything; even veteran teachers don't know everything.  Teaching is a learning profession, and not just for the students.
9.  If you don't know something, ask: I know that is easier said than done, and you probably don't know what you don't know, but once you figure out that you don't know, ask.  Your teammates and the rest of the staff are more than willing to help.
10.  Relax: this is a hard job, take some time for yourself.
11. Don't grade everything: don't check everything.
12.  I know there is more, and I've said more, but I am spent, add on please!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Recycling Envelops

My friend and colleague showed me how envelops can be recycled.  My students were researching animals on and just recording their findings on a sheet of paper (worksheet).  On the way up to class, one of my students suggested that we turn it into a writing activity and I said YES!!

I used my old report card envelops from last year and had them turn them inside out and into books.  They used text features and recorded their information on the "pages."  I was able to get science grades, writing grades, and reading grades from this one assignment and they had so much fun doing it!

Wife, Mother, then Teacher: Finding the Balance

As a teacher in a very high ranked county in Maryland and in the country, there is a lot of pressure to be on top, to provide rigorous instruction, meet with small groups daily, meet the needs of EVERY student EVERY day, and back up every decision with data.  I love my job, I try to do the best I can every day for each of my students, and often times, our family, or if we don't have a family, our personal lives go by the wayside.  I somehow have figured out a way that I don't bring anything home so I can be with my family and really enjoy my time with them.  By the way, to give you an idea, I have a 6 month old, a kindergartener, I've been teaching for 9 years, and this is my second year with this new curriculum.

Here's how I do my job, do it well, and not go insane:

1.  Assign a day to do a chore from school.

Mondays: We always have some sort of meeting after school.
Tuesdays: Grade papers
Wednesdays: Grade papers
Thursdays: Plan the next week
Friday: Collect and copy the materials I need for the next week

2.  Use parent volunteers! 

I am a fourth grade teacher and have every parent's email in a grouped email.  I just send out an email asking for help and they came running.  Well, only 2 parents came running, but I use one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday.  I have easy assignments for them and they get it done for me.

3.  Keep a file/binder for everything.

I keep an original of whatever I use and file it.  I used to file them based on topic (inferencing, summarizing, fractions etc) but with this new curriculum I file based on which quarter I use it in and by subject.  So next year, all I have to do is pull out what I did last year rather than search all my folders again for something that fits the curriculum. 

4.  Binders.

I have to keep anecdotal data and Fountas and Pinnell data on my students.  I have a binder for reading and math.  I have my indicators for the quarter listed and then record the data and the number that represents the indicator and take notes.

5. Cut down on my socializing! 

Talking to our friends at school is easy to do and eats up a lot of time.  I let myself have 10 minutes and then it is back to work.  That way I don't have to take anything home. 

6. My "To Copy" folder is in my mailbox near the copier. 

I am all the way at the other end of the school the furthest from the copier.  So I have a "to copy" folder in my room next to my area where I plan and then when I go to the copier I take all that stuff out and put it in the "to copy" folder in my mailbox.  It cuts down on forgetting things and having to go all the way back to get them, and if there is a line, I just put the stuff back in my box for later.  That way I am not wasting time. 

7.  I never bring anything from my mailbox that I don't need in my room. 

If it is flyers for retirement discussions, meeting my union rep, etc I just recycle it after getting the information.

8.  I have a place for all my copies for the next two weeks.

Then I take out the copies for the day out and put them in color coded folders that don't take up a lot of space.  I used to pile them on top of each other in the order that I would use them, but it got messy, or I didn't use all that I copied, and it would spread out and be really messy.  Now, everything has a place and there is no spreading or messiness. 

9.  Reusable and wipe-able (sp?) lesson plan book.

I started doing this last year and downloaded a lesson plan book from Clutter-free Classroom and put them in sheet protectors and use transparency markers.  But it has to be these specific transparency markers because the others wipe off easily, and these need a wipe to get it off.

10.  Stay neat.

I have a place for everything, and everything has a place.  If it doesn't have a place, I make a place.  I've walked into other teacher's rooms and their desks are covered in papers, or there are stacks every where.  They swear they know where everything is but it looks so disorganized and messy.  If I were a parent in their room, it would make me think...  Sorry if you are like that, but it does send a message, and not a positive one.
At the end of each day, I have my students clean up before they are dismissed, and do all the little jobs that are daily and annoying.  They I do my assigned work for the day, then neaten up my space.  I tell my kids that a organized desk allows you to think clearly, may not be exactly true, but it allows them to get to their work quicker to give them more time to think.