In a couple of days I will be going to the Google Apps for Education Summit. It marks the end of the time that I have allowed myself for ‘holidays’ and marks the beginning of my preparation for the coming year. This got me thinking that at this time last year I was attempting to prepare as much as possible for my first year teaching, but really I had no idea how to prepare for it at all. As excited as I was, I also looked something like this:
Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known before I walked into my classroom on the very first day, and here they are:
1. Be organised.
I had never really taken into consideration how much paper I would see in a day, even in a 1-1 MacBook school. Permission notes, absence notes, cash book sheets, photocopies given to me by other teachers, notes handed out at meetings, to-do lists…the list goes on.
Finding a way to effectively organise all of these things let me spend more time planning and talking with my students than tidying up the piles of paper I had on my desk. No one way will work for everyone, but Pinterest is amazing for classroom organisation ideas.
2. Establish your classroom culture.
Classroom culture at the beginning of the year is what will guide the class environment for the rest of the year. Decide what kind of classroom you want for your students, and spend the first few weeks working towards developing it.
I wanted a classroom where students knew they could be themselves, felt confident to have a go and knew they could come to me for help, whenever they needed. I then took action that would make this happen – I admitted when I made a mistake and how I could learn from it, I always listened when my students spoke and made sure I made time to be available for them. Action definitely speaks louder than words.
3. Build relationships with teachers.
It is easy as a new teacher to hide in your classroom with the previously mentioned piles of paper cleaning, organising and preparing. While sometimes a little extra time is needed to prepare for a particular lesson, don’t forget that a successful teacher is one who collaborates with others.
Spending a little time in the staff room not only gives you the break you need (see tip number 8), but also allows you to be open to new ideas. I learnt things about my students, teaching strategies and great books to recommend to my struggling readers all by spending fifteen minutes having a coffee in the staff room.
4. Build your Professional Learning Network.
As good as a staff room may be, there’s still only a certain number of teachers that will be present at any one time. Building your PLN on Twitter is important, particularly if you want to be involved in innovation in education. It is only on Twitter that you can send out a question to be read by hundreds of other teachers. The earlier you get involved, the more likely it is you will have new ideas to try and create global connections for your class.
5. Ask for help
Don’t think you have to know everything, because you don’t. I could have saved a lot of time in my first couple of weeks by asking for help instead of trying to do everything on my own. Need ideas for the first week back? How behaviour management works in the school? Where the maths resources are? Just ask. That way you can spend time on your teaching rather than on trying to re-invent the wheel, and no one will think any differently of you.
6. Build relationships with parents.
From the very first day of school, leave the classroom door open and make sure parents know that they are welcome inside and can come and talk to you whenever they need to. I learnt some valuable things about my students from having two minute chats with parents before the bell rang. It was also from the parents that I learnt what my students thought I was doing well, which let me know I should keep doing them.
7. Be brave.
Sometimes things will not go according to plan. Sometimes you will disagree with a fellow teacher or a parent. Sometimes you will have a new idea and need to raise it. As long as you are calm and respectful, there’s no reason why a graduate teacher can not contribute to the school community. We have new ideas and new strategies that might be the perfect solution to a class or school problem, but you have to be brave and bring it up if it is ever to be implemented. Even if your idea is rejected for that particular circumstance, or you do make a mistake, just reflect on why it was and keep going. Discussion and new strategies makes sure that your students’ are getting the best education possible.
At the beginning of the year I was so busy trying to be the perfect teacher that I forgot to spend time on myself. Spending the occasional Saturday sleeping in, going out for lunch with friends and going for a run was what I needed to be the best teacher I could be. It sounds contradictory, but my students would not gain anything from having an exhausted, worn out teacher. By spending some time on yourself, and relaxing, even if it is only for a little while, your teaching will be better simply because you are happier, awake and revived.