Ten Tips for the First Year Teacher

I am finishing up my official first year of teaching with Ten Lessons for the First Year Teacher. I have been jotting down quick notes throughout the year reflecting on my experience and most of them still struck me re-reading them now. For the ones that didn't, that led to Lesson 10. 

For me, one way was making my lunch on Sunday night for the whole week ahead. It took me 25 minutes tops, rather than 15 minutes x 5 (a savings of fifty minutes ... What! Can you say ignore your first alarm? I mean get to work earlier...). 
Another way was to organize my outfits for the week Sunday night. I would spend about a half hour Sunday night planning my outfits in my notes app. Then I would find all the clothes for each outfit, put each outfit in a small bag, and then put all five bags into one large bag. I have a lot of clothes and organizing them well is not a strength of mine. Which meant before I started to do this, I was spending about 30 minutes each morning throwing my clothes around. Super stressful and it literally left me in tears some mornings. That was when (about mid March - I wish I had started earlier!) I made the change to planning my outfits out ahead of time. Super easy to do, and I started to actually wear more than my same five bottoms and ten tops.

My lessons were kind of free form in the sense that I had a curriculum and standards the students had to master by the end of the year, but there was no prescribed program. Which I loved but it also meant I was writing a lot of lessons from scratch. What I found handy was creating a calendar for the year and having at least three weeks ahead written in - even if I didn't have the actual lessons written yet! It helped me with my focus for my current lesson because I knew where I was headed and when it came time to actually write the lesson, it was so much easier because the ideas had already been mulling around in my head for a while.

Best tip on this list I can give you. If you are struggling with a specific behavior problem or confusion over the curriculum, don't be afraid to ask - in your school and district, there are a plethora of teachers who have worked with similar behavior problems, with specific students, with teaching the curriculum. Rather than raging in frustration over a problem you don't see a solution to, ask these experts - they will be more than willing to help! People I found especially helpful this year are the school psychologist (I now know how to react when a student says something I think is shocking!), the librarian who had been teaching the subject for many years, the teacher who used to have my position, the classroom teachers and my mentor. 

There comes a time when you just need to stop writing lessons and sleep or else you won't be any good at teaching the lessons you're working so hard at!

 Find a passion that has NOTHING to do with school and make time for it.
That passion will offer a break and a chance to mentally recharge your battery. For me it's running - and I highly recommend some sort of physical exercise - it's the best stress buster!

I know it's hard to fit in meetings on top of teaching but a committee in an area you are interested in can increase your knowledge in the area, allow you to see behind the scenes, and give you a chance to work with colleagues in a way that isn't necessarily totally teaching focused. I joined the PBIS Committee and the Tech Committee - both which I find invaluable in my own learning and being able to contribute to the school. 

There will be comments you wish you hadn't said, instructions you wish you had tweaked, things on your to do list you still need to do - that's okay. That's what tomorrow is for. Tonight is for sleeping.

Whether that means you make sure to eat your lunch with other teachers (and don't work through it) or whether it's setting a time each day for when you're going to leave (being part-time this was something I had to do) make sure you set boundaries for where teaching ends and your life begins. This has helped me create time for other things I love including running, reading a good book and spending time with family and friends. 

Know that you won't be perfect in all areas immediately. I know we all WANT to be but as long you are being reflective and making a plan then following that plan using baby steps - you will get to where you want to go! I promise! This realization came to me about mid way through the year when I felt overwhelmed by certain parts of my job. I thought 'I'll never get to the level I want to be at!' Then I thought about how I was approaching my classroom management - I didn't expect my students to immediately behave. I knew it was a process and with some students and some classes it was a slower process than with others. Realizing this helped put into perspective the area I was feeling insecure about. Yes, I wasn't where I wanted to be. But importantly I knew where I wanted to go. I had a destination. As long as I kept my destination in mind and took the steps I could each day and each week gradually I would get there. 

Those things you're so upset about that keep you up at night? You'll forget them. Wait a month or three months and you won't even remember what you were upset about. For example, that vague "certain parts of my job" in Tip 9? I have no clue what I'm talking about. I would guess classroom management but then in the next sentence I talk about classroom management so that must not be it! Seriously, you'll remember big things and importantly the skills you gained by how you react to situations but all those little worries? De nada. 

And I'm going to end with a secret: You get to a point in the year where things start to click together and flow. You have your routines, you know your students, and you start to feel more confident. Yes, there are still days when you'll be really stressed or days where you feel emotionally drained at the end of the them. But they start to be farther apart and you get better at handling them when they happen. A big key is Tip #2, prevention. What can I do ahead of time to make sure everything in my control is ready to go? What can I do to make sure I am ready for a certain student? What can I do to tweak each lesson to really meet each classes needs?

As a specials teacher, my biggest sense of excitement by the end of the year was realizing that the class I struggled SO MUCH with each time they came to specials in the beginning of the year, I enjoyed teaching by years end: I knew their abilities, their interests, their behaviors, and I was able to meet them where they were. Then they in turn met me where I was.

What advice would you give a first year teacher?


Five for Friday: First Week of Summer

 It's summer and so far I have been doing a lot of ... cleaning.
Which is not like me AT ALL! I am a horribly messy person. But I realized about half way through the week as I was being super productive this is the first summer I haven't been stressing about finding a teaching job. That alone is a job in itself. 
So now I feel like I have all this mental energy which I apparently am putting towards cleaning and organizing!
Today during my cleaning I found some old pickle jars (aka mason jars) that I had cleaned out with the intention of turning them into pencil cups for my desk.

Put together with the tubes of paint I had found earlier in the week I was ready to go! (I also needed a break from cleaning). I took the paint and splashed it inside of the cans. They definitely didn't come out as cool as I thought but I was impatient and hey! It was the first time I tried it so I'm happy overall with the results. 

Monday I went back into work to get some organizing done. I told myself I had to be out by noon and the time flew! I was able to organize my lessons from this year into three binders (one for each grade). Next week my goal is to finalize the kindergarten binder and double check to make sure I'm not missing any lessons. 
And I have a couple of crafty projects up my sleeve there too! I got an email Wednesday from the secretary telling me a package "containing glass" had arrived"...dun dun dun! I'm hoping to get that project done in the next month or so and I'll post the results here.

 I got a new laptop! At first I hated it and was bemoaning to myself...Why didn't I listen to all those techy people and buy a Mac?? 
But then I had a realization: the reason I hated it was because I didn't understand it. It's Windows 8 instead of 7 and it had me so frustrated! I'm so used to 7 and so used to having my computer set up exactly the way I want!
But this will be yet another summer project as my goal is to be fully transitioned to my new laptop by the end of summer. I'm planning on bringing my old one in to work to be able to work on tech projects at school (not that our school computers aren't able to handle tech projects...;))

This morning I spent some quality time in Starbucks stealing their WiFi...err drinking a strawberry smoothie...while downloading software.

 Monday night I read at our public library as part of our districts #raponsummerslide initiative. Every Monday night throughout the summer, two teachers read great books to children followed by pizza. When I first got to the library about fifteen minutes before it started there were about 5 kiddos. Not too bad for a gorgeous summer night.
By the time we started, there were 65 students there, from preschoolers to leaving second graders! It was such an awesome experience and the neatest part was seeing all the kiddos lined up to check out books after...mission successful! 

My favorite part about summer is you have the time to both get things done AND to relax! I read as many books this week alone as I read all year. My legs are slowly becoming tan..well tanner. I'm running and not feeling exhausted. I'm actually looking forward to my long run tomorrow! I LOVE summer.


Five for Friday: Hello Summer!

Happy Last Day Of School!
In honor of the last day, I wore this shirt...I saw it on another blog and immediately Googled it.  We also had a whole wide assembly today with a slideshow and surprise video of teachers dancing. By the end of the them I was definitely crying...which is kind of weird since I made them both. ;) You would have thought I would have been immune! But there was just something about all the kids being there, cheering for their teachers and classmates, and singing along to the songs that really got to me. Oh my goodness. Must stop now! Don't need more waterworks! The picture of me in the left corner was after I taught my last class for the day today. Such a mix of sadness and excitement!

With my first graders this week I talked about summer reading then they chose a story from Jon Scieszka collection to read as a class. Students then went on BrainPop Jr to learn about the author. Once they were done with that they completed an End of the Year survey that consisted of three Questions: What was your favorite part about media? What was your least favorite part about media? If you could change one thing about media, what would it be?
I finally got the guts to look at their responses last night and they made me smile and laugh, as well as ponder! One of the biggest negatives that they didn't like was they didn't like that they had to sit! It makes me wonder how I can incorporate more movement in my lessons and shorten the time of the lesson (about 15 minutes right now). 

The second graders also learned about the summer reading program and took the End of the Year survey. Then they had free choice, where they could pick out of all the different digital tools and websites they've used this year. I have to admit at the end of some of my classes I got a little teary! These kiddos head to a new school next year and I have loved teaching them. 

Look  at this cute little tumbler! It was the perfect present from a student because my tumbler actually broke about two months ago. I was making due with a semi broken one that leaked. But now I don't have to! Yea! 

I can't believe I'm officially at the end of my first year of teaching! It's extremely surreal. I have dreamed of teaching for so long and to have successfully completed a whole year leaves me in slight shock! I'm definitely looking forward to not having to wake up to an alarm but will still head in everyone in a while to get work done. And you can tell from my second picture that I already have my planner for next year!


Five For Friday = Five More Days!

My first graders this week reviewed Internet safety by watching and reading the movies, digital stories and posters second graders created the week before. I loved seeing the second graders work be used to teach and the first graders especially loved watching the videos the second graders made. 

Before the end of the year I really wanted to have the students use Google Drive for a project. I had tried and failed using Google Slides to create a class wide presentation that reviewed behavior. Well, let's just say it was a disaster. Twenty second graders all in one document at the same time = mass confusion. I should have seen it coming but nope! 
I decided when I revisited Google Drive again, I would group students by their Jump Rope Numbers (a system that stems from PE where each student is assigned a number for their jump rope and which is super helpful when assigning computers). Only a small cluster of students would be working in each document, lessening the confusion factor. 
I was reading through Stephanie Harvey's AMAZING book (seriously, if you want to incorporate tech in your classroom, you should read it) and she had a great lesson where students collaborated on a Google Sheets, reading a book then note taking what they learned, wondered and what made them go WOW! I loved the idea and decided I would group students by Jump Rope numbers (1-3,4-7,8-11, etc.) and assign each group a spread sheet and a book from Tumblebooks. One problem was kind of bugging me (technically two problems): would the student wasn't interested in the book I assigned them? And what if the book I assigned them was WAY above or WAY below their reading level? 
I was doing my readings for my Differentiation class when it hit me: don't group them by jump rope number! Group them by book! Instead of having a spreadsheet for each cluster of numbers, have a sheet for each book. Then show students the book, what the book topic is, and each books reading level (most students by second grade know their own reading level). That way the students can decide which book they want to read and therefore which spreadsheet they want to contribute to. It's completely DUH! after the fact but it felt like such a break through when I realized it! This way too their interest level will increase and therefore their attendance to the real task and of achieving the objective, which is learning how to contribute to a collaborative document, will increase. 

By the end of the week instead of having them sit at their assigned computers, I had them sit grouped by which book they were reading to help diminish cries from across the room of "Hey! Jack is typing in here too! Hi Jack!" This worked A LOT better than having them scattered. 

I woke up yesterday to see the projected high temperature was 90 degrees...oh my! Thankfully we just have five days left then summer! Wednesday was Beach Day for our kiddos. I loved seeing their inner tubes, cute t-shirts, and beach towels! But it also made me long for summer!!

On the last day of school we have a End of the Year Celebration complete with a slideshow created by yours truly. Last week some second graders asked if they could help me put it together...of course! This was awesome because it meant less work for me ;) and an opportunity for the students to create a product the whole school would see. 

Today there was fundraiser for a boy with cancer at the high school, where teachers, students, and parents participated in a variety of races, from a competitive 1600 to a speed walking contest. I participated in the speed walking contest and I was horrid! I'm pretty sure everyone had a light jog happening though and not a speed walk! I also got to race in the 4X400 with other teachers which made me realize I am sorely lacking in speed work in my daily running! It was such a great time and for such a great cause. 


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