WHETHER YOU'RE FEELING LIKE THIS......
THE BIG DAY IS APPROACHING QUICKLY!
The first day of school! I don’t know about everyone else, but that day still makes me nervous every year. In the beginning it was straight up nerves but now has shifted to more nervous excitement. A new year! What will this year be like? What will the students be like? How will all of the changes I made to my curriculum work out? There is a lot of potential on that first day of school.
There is a lot of prep work that goes into the first day of school and the beginning of a new year. There is the room set-up, curriculum, school and department meetings, and so many other details that work up to this day. I know that the first day looks different at different grade levels and I will admit that I really only familiar with the secondary set-up. Regardless some of it is the same and most classes are trying to get the same types of tasks done:
For the new teacher, the first day of school can definitely be a day that is filled with excitement and nerves.
Here are some tips/things to know about the first day of school:
The real trick to having a successful first day is to have activities where the focus is on the students and not the teacher only talking at them all day about rules and procedures. It’s an easy trap to fall in, especially in the secondary classroom, spending every class reviewing the class syllabus, rules and procedures of the class. This is boring for the teacher and the students.
I have tried many different things for the first day to keep the focus on them and not me. There are so many different ways to approach this and it really depends on what you want to accomplish on the first day. Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and other social media outlets are filled with different ideas for what to do on the first day of school.
Here are few ideas that we like!
The first day of school is a chaotic, nerve wracking, and exciting day. Take time to enjoy it whether you are a first year teacher or veteran teacher. It is a day filled with promise, new beginnings, and new opportunities!
Above are just a few ideas on how to make the most out of your first day of school. If you have any other ideas, please share them below!
An open house is typically the first chance that students and parents alike get to put a face with a name. They know that they (or their child) has been assigned to you for the year but now is you chance to put their minds at ease and give them a good idea of what to expect for the year. Depending on how well your community turns out, this may be your first impression opportunity for the majority of your students...or it may be just a few. Regardless, it is better to be prepared!
The first thing any visitor notices when they come to your open house is your classroom and you. This is not the time to be in shirts and t-shirt working on your classroom. This is your first teacher duty for the year and parents will be looking for a professional. You want your classroom to be welcoming, clean, and organized. This parent is entrusting their child to you and you want to leave them feeling confident in you. Greet them at the door and have a space designated for them to sign-in and leave contact information, any handouts you want them to give, and places for them to sit and wait in the case that you have a line.
Some handouts you may want to give:
Every grade-level and school does open house differently, some may have presentations for parents and others are more of meet and greet. If you have a large group, you may have a presentation style overview of your information ready and maybe an activity that parents/students could participate in. At the secondary level it is more of a meet and greet where we get to meet with just the parents and student which makes it a lot easier to get to know them. At this point, we like to go over the handouts. At the secondary level we talk about the syllabus. The big points for us to include are how we grade and what our rules and expectations are. Communicating this to the parents now before school really gets going will help us avoid confusion about grades and discipline later on. We also discuss the supplies they may need throughout the year. We are at one-to-one schools and complete a lot of things online but ask our students to have some organizational tools like a folder, notebook, and/or binder as well as pens and pencils. Once we have gone over the handouts, we like to check in with the parents about their understanding of the school learning management system. Most of us have an online portal where parents can see their student’s grades and attendance. I like to make sure parents know they have access to this and answer any questions they may have at this time.
You’ve now introduced yourself, let them know rules, procedures, what to expect, and what supplies to purchase. Give them a chance to ask questions and then help them find their next stop! Maybe they have another classroom to visit or maybe they are on their way home for the evening but your last job is to guide them in that direction! You'll be exhausted after doing this over and over but you can rest easy knowing you put your best foot forward!
We hope you had a successful open house! Let us know if you tried something different that either went really well or you wish you'd never done!
Co-teaching is hard. It can take years to really perfect your flow as a pair of teachers in the same room and a lot of co-teaching partners don’t get the chance to do that. Someone moves or gets their schedule changed and it’s back to square one.
While you may not have years to perfect it, here are some tips for the here and now while you still have your co-teacher!
DIVIDE UP RESPONSIBILITIES CLEARLY AND EARLYfrom Pinterest and Co-teaching That Works
Co-teaching is somewhat like a year long group project. If you don’t know who is doing what, you are likely to get frustrated and do more (or maybe less!) work than you really should. Think about the major parts of your classroom and split up responsibilities. I use something like the chart to the side when dividing up work.
Some of these are responsibilities are pretty obvious to me about who should be doing it in my classroom and may be obvious to you. The point, however, is that a conversation is had with your co-teacher and you agree on specific responsibilities. What may be obvious to you may not be what your partner teacher is thinking.
Something else to take into consideration while splitting responsibilities would be how often you see your co-teacher. Maybe your co-teacher is already moving between multiple classrooms throughout the day! You may want them to be with you all day or want their focus more on your class. Maybe they help with a special activity or coach outside of school and one time of the year is busier than others. Talk about it and be sure to take their schedule into consideration when dividing up responsibilities.
SHARE FACETIME IN FRONT OF THE CLASS
This is just one person's opinion BUT I don't think co-teaching works well when the students see one of you as the teacher and the other as the assistant. When one person is using all of the face time in front of the class and the other is only used one-on-one, students see one teacher. And a big part of co-teaching is teaching together. While you have different specialties, you were both trained to be in the classroom. Maybe one of you delivers the notes/lecture portion but the other can explain the transition activity or homework. Maybe there is a weekly activity like What's in the Box? that they can run. Whatever it is, you need to share face time. Decide how this will happen and then don't interrupt each other unless you've discussed being ok with it. Co-teaching is sharing and all of your students are watching it happen in front of their faces! Set a good example for what sharing a classroom and being polite looks like when talking to the class. :)
COME TO AN AGREEMENT ON MODIFICATIONS AND ALL BIG ASSIGNMENTS/TESTS/PROJECTSTypically the set up is that one of you is a master of content and the other is the master of special education. You each have your specialties and there is a reason you are both in the room. It is important to talk about what types of modifications will need to be made for students and to BOTH have a good idea of what they need regularly. My co-teacher made a "students at a glance" page so that accommodations are easy to see rather than needing to reference a 504 or IEP all the time. A different co-teacher I worked with made a spreadsheet and checked off the modifications that each student needed so it was easy to see what a majority would need.
Sometimes I get really into my content and start making tests or projects that are really awesome but may be super overwhelming for some of my students who have learning disabilities or 504's. Bouncing ideas off of my co-teacher helps me think through it and chunk better or completely remove parts of a project that aren't necessary.
It is important for BOTH of you to agree on the modifications when it comes to shortening tests or projects. Just be sure to communicate! Which brings me to my last point...
BE A TEAM!
There are days when the last thing you want is another person in your room BUT there are also times when that person is the ultimate life saver! Everyone has one of those days where you need to be able to step back and let someone else take the lead and having a co-teacher means you can take a breather and get back in there rather than feeling the full weight all day. A good teammate provides that breather for you when you need it!
A good team adapts together. Maybe this is your first year co-teaching and you are used to having the run of the room with no one else to check in with. You already have your routine....but you aren't alone this year and it is no longer your classroom. Not gonna lie, I had some trouble sharing and adapting my first year co-teaching. But digging my feet into the ground with my own routine didn't help anything and I had a million times more positive experience the next year when I completely opened up my routine to change. It became our classroom and our routine rather than just mine. It was better for me. It was better for my co-teacher. Most importantly it was better for my students. Be willing to change and don't take things to personally in the process!
In fact, this person is now your work wife/husband in a lot of ways! Students will definitely treat you that way. You may have told a student they need to wait to use the restroom just a seconds before they walk over to your co-teacher to try again. Have each other's backs! Be their freaking person!
There is definitely some extra stress that comes with co-teaching (at least your first time or with a new partner). Communicate early and often, always take each other into consideration, and don't take things too personally and you'll be just fine!
And on those days when it doesn't feel "just fine" dance it out!
Just kidding...kind of.
I've witnessed some really toxic teaching partnerships that just were not going to work. If you are communicating and considering the other person in sharing your classroom and procedures but you are still frustrated, set a time for a conversation one on one.
There were a couple times in the last few years when my co-teacher and I stayed for a few minutes during lunch or after school to talk over how something one of us said came off as rude or disrespectful in front of the class. For us, it was always just a miscommunication and we were able to just apologize or laugh it off and move on. That is not the case for everyone.
If a few one on one meetings don't seem to be doing the trick, ask your co-teacher if they would be willing to sit down with an administrator to work out the problems. I really hope it doesn't come to this and some of you may be laughing thinking about two adults not being able to work things out at work but it happens. If your co-teacher is open to it, hopefully you can resolve differences or your administrator can see the relationship is not healthy for students and make a schedule change. If they don't want to speak to an administrator together, you should go alone and ask for advice. At that point, it is documented and if you work with some great administrators like I do, they'll be able to help you out one way or another. The key here is to work up the chain of command and not turn it into school gossip. We're all adults here. Be sure to act like it!
That's all for co-teaching! How long have you been co-teaching? Any words of advice to add?
Let us know by commenting below! :)
Parents. I feel that teachers have a love-hate relationship with parents. We love parents for sharing their students with us, and we love when parents are proactive and work with us to help students be successful. We hate when parents are helicopters and constantly question our decisions about our class and response to students. The reality though is that it essential for us to make parent contact and try to build solid, positive relationships with parents as much as possible.
Keeping in contact with parents can be a challenge. From phone tag, numbers that don't work, trying to keep up with emails, unreliability of letters and newsletters making it home, and social media issues, making parent contacts can be a huge stress of our job. Unfortunately I do not have some magic solution to always getting a hold of parents when I want to and make every parent contact a positive one.
Here are some tips that have been passed to me and what I have found in time teaching:
Make contact early in the school year. Many schools have a back-to-school night, so try to make the most of this time and have a conversation with parents that come and share with them some basic class information and get their contact information. If you are super organized and ambitious, you can try to make contact before this and make a parent phone call inviting them to back-to-school night and introducing yourself. This would obviously be easier for elementary teachers because they have less students that would have to called. For secondary teachers that would seem insane and I totally get it. The way this could be doable for secondary teachers would be if you have a homeroom or advisory class. Then you would have one class that you could call and make contact with personally. At my school that is what our expectation is. Within the first 2 weeks of school, we have to call all the parents in our advisory class to introduce ourselves and discuss our role as advisor.
Make the first contact a positive one if possible. If you have been working in education, you know this to be true. Parents are more apt to work with you and be receptive to negative information, if you have first had a positive conversation. Even if you do have to have a conversation with a parent about something negative related to their student, it is helpful to start with 1 to 2 positive things and then bring up the issue that happened in class with that student.
Try to make it a partnership. When you have a student that is difficult, I have found it helpful to ask for help from the parents. I ask them to help me understand their student and what we can do to help that student be successful. When parents realize it is not an 'us versus them' scenario, they might be more open to addressing classroom issues at home and supporting your actions in school.
Write a script. If you are a new teacher or just uncomfortable talking to parents, it could help to write a script. I definitely did this when I was a first year teacher, because I had never done it and while I am super comfortable talking to 130 teenagers in a day talking to their parents is something else entirely. I still use scripts now, mainly because it keeps me on topic. Sometimes a parent just wants to talk and then I get off topic or after making so many calls I just forget what I need to talk about. Either way writing it down and having it in front of me is helpful.
Don't take it personally. This is hard. I still find this hard to a certain extent. When a parent is hard on you, it can be easy to take it personally, just as it is when a student is difficult. The thing to remember is that parents are trying to look out for their students and they don't know what it is like in the classroom most of the time and they have only heard one side of the story. As the teacher our job is to first listen and then ask questions that help get to the root of the problem. Then discuss with parents your version of things and reassure parents that our goal is have students be successful. We all want what is best for our students. When parents are going off though it 99% of the time isn't really about you, but frustration with their student, their history with teachers and education, or any number of family issues that could be happening. I know that when it comes down to it, that may not help you feel better when you have a rough parent contact but it can help you put it in perspective when you are more calm.
Make use of Technology. There are so many tools out there now that can help you reach out to parents. They definitely can make life easier for you and parents. Here are some tools you can try out:
Original post : 9/25/2017 Revised: 7/23/18
The search for the best teacher professional development book can be an overwhelming task. In an effort to make your search easier, I want to share 5 of my favorite professional development books. The topics vary but these are books that I always come back to help remind me of the best practices in teaching or have really helped me grow as a teacher.
These are some of the professional development books out there on a range of topics related to teaching, but I find all of these to be useful and interesting. What good professional development books would you recommend? Have read any of the books above? We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for all teachers!
Everyone assumes we take the entire summer off to relax, sleep in, sit by the pool, vacation, etc....but let's be honest, if you haven't started scouting out school supplies or planning out some activities to try this year yet, you probably will soon! July is the month of Pinterest searches, Target receipts, and hours spent in your classroom making it just right. You are putting in work! And we want to see it!
We would love to feature your classrooms as you finish them (or even as you complete mini projects for your classroom)!
Fill out the Google Form here and we will contact you with any questions we may have or to let you know when it will be posted on the blog! WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOUR PROJECTS AND YOUR ROOM!
Testing season is upon us for some or has just passed for others. It is always a time of stress and anxiety for the subjects that are tested. Even those of us that are not tested feel some of the strain. I am not one of those teachers that has to directly deal with testing and am usually at war with myself about my feelings on testing. I am relieved that I do not have the testing stress that other teachers have, but at the same time I feel like my subject has been slighted and diminished to a subject that is not as important.
I teach social studies in Missouri at the secondary level and have never experienced what it is like to be a tested subject. In Missouri the only thing that is tested in my content is government which is taken by seniors at my school. There really isn't much pressure on me as teacher except to do some things that support government so that when students get to government, they will hopefully have some foundation.
When I taught middle school there was even less pressure on me as my only experience dealing with testing was an encouragement to support English teachers by having activities that included reading and writing. Honestly I would do that anyway because I think it a good practice and skill for any person and especially as a social scientist.
Many of my co-workers have told me that I should feel lucky that I don't have to worry about the stress of jumping through the testing hoops. Honestly I am happy that I don't have to worry about it. I don't agree with testing and I don't really feel that the tests that have been created really tell us if they are learning, but it is what we use so we have to deal with it. However, even though I’m not an advocate for state testing I have always been bothered by the fact that they don't test social studies because of the message it sends to schools, parents, students, and communities. It sends the message that social science and social studies is not as important as the other subjects.
In my career I have had the conversation with students and parents about why it matters for them to take history classes when they aren't tested. I recognize that this is a subject that I love dearly and am probably biased when it comes to its level of importance in every single person's daily life, but I have come to realize in our current society that we have lost what it means to be a citizen... I don't mean the legal requirements of being a citizen but the knowledge required to participate in our society and understand the significance and meaning behind it. Dealing with the big issues of our day are all relevant and many are connected to the social sciences. The lack of testing just reinforces the sense that this subject isn't as important as its counterparts.
I realize that I am probably overreacting and to be honest I do enjoy the freedom that is allowed to me as teacher that doesn't have to teach a very specific curriculum for the test. I have the freedom to evaluate my standards and create learning experiences wrapped around needs that I see in my different classes. I also realize that I am not alone in teaching a subject that seems to be undervalued or that as teacher we all recognize that the learning experience is more important than the test, but we are all stuck in this give and take of balancing learning and testing. I am not even sure that I would want social studies to be more heavily tested because I don't like testing, but I am frustrated as a teacher that wants her subject to be valued and understood. I think that is really what it boils down to. I want all of us in education to be taken seriously and valued like we should be.
I guess my message in this post is this: teachers that are not tested are both envious and relieved at the prospect of not being tested. We love the freedom but wish to be taken more seriously. My hope for the future of education is that we come together as an education community and show our country and community how important all our subjects are and how they work together to create a citizen that can participate in our society.
A comment on one of our most recent posts asked:
How do you manage to have EVERYTHING for the whole year prepped ahead of time?
I'm struggling to stay about 4-5 lessons ahead of my students... this is in part because of my team. We have common assessments that we create during our PLC time (roughly 4-5 lessons ahead of when we plan to give them) and sometimes, throughout the course of the semester, our experiences determine that we need to add, remove or rearrange a few learning targets to meet the needs of our students!
Additionally, I've 2 students who are just plain outworking me! They're quite persistent and as soon as I've completed a lesson, they're working on it and have it finished (and, yes, mastered) before I've got the next one ready!!!
I love my self-pacing (as do most of my students) but am definitely looking for ideas to help improve things for next year.
I've had some conversations recently that addressed some similar questions or concerns so we figured we would dedicate a post to answering those!
How do you have EVERYTHING ready for the whole year?
I most definitely do not have everything for the whole year prepared ahead of time. I wish I did and I'd like to get there someday but that day is not today. I try to stay about 3 lessons ahead of my students but I do not have to work in a team to make common assessments so that allows me some freedom to stay ahead of my students who are currently working. Sometimes that just doesn't happen though! I have had a couple of times this year when a student would let me know they are ready to take the assessment for goal number __ and I didn't have it done. At this point I asked them to email me that they were ready for the quiz so that I had a digital reminder to get it completed when I went home that day. After they send the email they have 3 options: keep working ahead and start to study for the next goal, help another student study for their goal (this student must not be taking an assessment), or work on their math project. Adding the math project this year has been a life saver in multiple ways. It allows me some extra time when I feel like I am drowning in work. I don't feel like a bad teacher when I don't have the assessment finished for a student 100% of the time because I'm not stopping them from working. The project has so much more engagement and ownership because they are 100% in charge of designing what their project will be. I also love not having to look at the same project or repeating the same directions/guidelines 1,203,920,409,459,345 times. If you are looking for something other than busy work to give to students when you just don't have the next thing done, I definitely recommend a student led project.
What do you do when students aren't working?
You do the same thing you would do if students weren't working in a traditional class period - whatever that means for you. I've talked with some teachers who have said that's the student's choice and if they want to waste time it's on them. Others would ask students who aren't working to leave the room. Whatever your strategy is in a traditional classroom, do the same thing in a self-paced room. The nice thing however is that you can have individual conversations a lot easier without calling attention to a student because everyone is doing their own thing.
How do you grade so many tests or make sure they don't just tell each other what is on the test?
I use Canvas to create my self-paced course. It allows me to make question banks filled with the types of questions I would ask for each goal but will pull only the amount I ask it to. Basically, I could have multiple students sitting next to each other, each taking the same quiz but none of the same questions. Canvas grades the quiz immediately giving feedback to the student so that they know if they need to do more work or are ready to move on. If they pass the quiz (12/15=80% or higher) then they show it to me and I enter it into the grade book immediately. Our school also has GoGuardian which allows me to monitor their screens or restrict them to specific sites. This helps me to catch students who may be cheating. At my previous school we had lockdown browser which locked students into Canvas and kept them from going to any outside sites.
How do you test things like graphing?
There are some goals that just don't lend themselves to the test setup on Canvas. I do create paper tests for those goals. I create multiple versions of each and get really good at grading them quickly after a few tries! I've considered making them multiple choice tests but right now I just think having them graph the problems are more important.
Do you give partial credit on Canvas tests?
Not unless it is blatantly obvious that the students knew what they were doing. I encourage students to do the work on paper so that they can check their work. If I see that they have the correct work and answer but just mis-typed something in the computer I give them partial or full credit for the answer.
What other questions do you have about self-paced classrooms? I'm more than happy to answer them with what I do in my classroom. It is 100% not perfect but I am trying to do what I think is best for helping students master math! Bring on the questions and good luck with the last month or so of school! :)
Year 2 in my student-directed classroom honestly started off pretty rocky. If you have been following us, you are very aware of my struggles. If you are new to following Becca and my teaching adventures here is a summary of how my year started off.
I had such grand intentions of making this year amazing and that all my self-paced plans were going to work out just perfectly. When this years started though I was hit by some serious distractions. My classes suffered from apathy and behavior issues and I didn't respond fast enough. Going into my semester break I knew I needed to restructure and regroup, so I spent some time really thinking about what I need to do. I read a great book and got my head on straight. I knew going into my second semester I was going to need to make some changes.
Overall my second semester has gone so much better! It has been a relief to see some improvements in all of the areas I set to work on.
On the whole things have really improved and I think that my classroom has gotten stronger and the student-directed aspect of my class has gotten stronger as well. This will definitely go down as a year where I have questioned myself as a teacher the most and grown the most as a teacher.
We're nearing the end of the year! I've loved having technology and really embracing the self paced classroom this semester but I'm most excited about seeing the final projects. It's also the thing I've had the most questions about from students.
They are used to getting a lot of structure and most of the time, I try to provide that and be fairly predictable with class. We know that a lot of kids don't have that at home and providing it helps them in more ways than one. In my class, they know what format the quizzes are in and how to access resources. They know the expectations for classroom behavior as well as what goal they should aim to be on each week in order to be "on track". What they don't know is how to get full points on a final project...and I am loving it!
This has been up on the board since the first week of this semester and when students ask me about the project, I tell them it needs to be high school level math...and that's it. When they start to get that confused look on their face, I tell them they can pick something they like in math and I will help come up with a topic or they can pick a topic they like and I will help them come up with the math, but that it is completely up to them as long as it is a high school level math project. They do not have to present in front of the class and they can work on it when they want to in class (as long as they are "on track" with the quizzes).
As most students are nearing the end of their quizzes, they are trying to come up with project ideas and it is so great to hear the different ideas. I love that they have buy in to the project and I love that I will be able to differentiate the expectations based on the student and what they've done all year.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- I have a student who carries a transformer figurine as a fidget. He loves that thing so much. He informed me that when it is in the form of a jet, it is a replica of a real jet. He is going to find the dimensions of the real jet and compare it to his figure. After that he will change it into the transformer and calculate the "real" dimensions of the transformer using the scale factor he found.
- I have a student who loves their phone (who doesn't?) but is always concerned about her battery. She is collecting data using a Google Form about the top 4 apps people use in a 24 hour period and how much of their battery percentage each has used. She'll be calculating averages and finding the most popular apps as well as researching if particular apps are used more commonly on specific days of the week.
- I have a student who would like to compare clothing costs at different stores. She is going to find the same article of clothing at two stores and compare the price. She'll do this with multiple stores and connect at least five stores so that she can compare the markup at different retailers despite being the same brand of clothes purchased.
- I have a student who is going to research the history of pi and create a children's book about it.
- I have a student who is going to calculate the number of seconds spent in school in a single school year, throughout high school, and K-12. They are then going to use different units to share their findings. ex: I could listen to my favorite song, _______ x amount of times
- I have a student who is comparing the cost of buying a house against building the exact house from scratch...so much work....and they know it...and they still really want to do it!!!
Are these projects super relevant? Maybe not. Are my students more engaged in this than they have been all year? YUP!
I have heard a lot of really good ideas and I am excited to see them come to fruition and share them with you. I just wanted to share how AWESOME it has been to step out of the rubric life for just one project and really let them do something crazy and interesting!
Only a month or so left! Let's finish this out strong! :)