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:
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 early
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/projects
Typically 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! :)
The anniversary of September 11th brings about a lot of feelings for many of us. At this point, we (Becca and me) are teaching high school students who were either not alive or too young to remember 9/11 or the impact it had on our country. How do we pay respect to such an event in our history? And what about everything else going on? A controversial president, a rise in political action, a rise in terrorist events, natural disasters, and a media battling each other are just some of the issues that our students are witnessing in our world today. The question is what role do schools play in dealing with these issues?
It has always seemed to me that at least while I was a student that schools tended to shy away from certain topics and teachers never shared their personal opinions and thoughts because that was seen as trying to sway students to certain side. This has become even more tricky, with the rise in parents challenging schools and their curriculum. I can understand why teachers have wanted to focus specifically on their contents and not delve into the swamp that is current and/or hot button events and topics. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have made the decision that I am going to hit the hard topics head on and focus on teaching students how to question what is happening, how to have conversations about hard issues, and come to their own conclusions about the issues.
To me it comes down to building critical thinking skills in students. Critical thinking is written into every content area's standards that I have ever seen. We want to produce productive members of society and to be truly productive, citizens need to be able to analyze the events around them, apply their content knowledge, be able to have civilized discussion, and come to a conclusion. There is a lot of noise out there in the world and I think it is time for schools to meet it head on and work on ways to teach students how to navigate it. One of the easiest ways is to simply talk about current events. This may not be comfortable for everyone and I wouldn't encourage a teacher to enter into territory that they are not comfortable discussing, but there are ways to discuss current issues and connect them to your content without entering the realm of arguing and name calling.
Here are the strategies that I use to bring current events into my social studies classroom and some ideas for other contents:
These strategies are definitely not anything new and many teachers already do this I am sure. What I want to us to do as teachers is to be more intentional about our use of current events and make time for students to talk and question what is happening in our world. Social media and the news outlets are changing the way people have discussions about our world and not entirely in a positive way. One question I have been asked by teachers in my building, is how I have these conversations with students without telling them what I personally think. To be honest, I don't necessarily hide my personal thoughts and feelings about issues from my students. The reason is I want them to know that even if you disagree with someone about particular issues, you can still work with them and have respectful discussions with them about issues. I make it very clear to all my students that it really doesn't matter if you agree, it is that you have come to your own conclusion using facts and that you discuss the facts in a respectful manner including me. I encourage them to question me and where my information comes from. They know that I will not tolerate inappropriate language in our discussions and all opinions have to be backed by facts that they can discuss.
As teachers, I feel our job is not to tell students what to think but teach them how to question, gather facts, see the opposition and come to their own conclusion. Every content can contribute to this and I hope that other teachers see the need to focus on these skills with their students.
Please share how you are using current events in your class and how you breach difficult topics in your class!
So you’re a new teacher! You may be brand new to the career or maybe you’re just new to the building. Either way, you will most likely be assigned a mentor to help you settle in and learn what you need to about the school and the culture.
My advice to you in getting the most out of your mentor is to ask questions! Ask them all! They are there to help you adjust and answer questions.
For brand new teachers specifically, you may have a million questions but these are the ones I suggest you ask early!
For all teachers new to a building, you’ll want the answer to these questions!
These questions are not all encompassing. You will continue to have questions. Keep asking them! Other than those specific questions we suggest you:
We hope you have a terrific first year teaching or first year at your new building! It can be a roller coaster but having a mentor and truly using them can make even the roughest of years a great experience in the end! Stay strong! Let us know how the years goes and any other advice you have about getting the most out of your mentor!
“READ THE DIRECTIONS AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. DO NOT TURN THE PAGE UNTIL TOLD TO DO SO…”
With these words, the nightmare begins. For the next fifty minutes, a typical teacher will experience a range of emotions that would make Dennis Rodman seem normal. A teacher has waited, prepped, looked forward to, dreaded, longed for, talked about, banned the word, and despised this day, the first day of STANDARDIZED TESTING. At some point during the school year every teacher has made the statement, “I just wish the TEST was over.” This statement was mostly likely retracted, no more than a few hours later, to be replaced by: “My kids are not ready yet. I still have standards to teach, oh goodness please delay this TEST!”
In case you are second-guessing reading this post, no this is not a post depicting a teacher as a crazed loon, but rather an attempt to portray the immense stress placed on this precise moment in time. A whole year of chatter, hours of planning and execution of those plans boils down to the next fifty minutes.
THE MOST IMPORTANT FIFTY MINUTES OF THE YEAR and of course Jimmy has already broken his pencil. Bobby has devoured his snack with only a few crumbs left, darkening the corners of his mouth. Sally is asking about today’s softball game and Johnny simply just doesn’t like his hair this morning. The most crucial morning of the school year and yet curiously they seem no different than every other morning. How can they not see how vital this test is to their success?
Often we get caught up in the stress and pressure to succeed as a teacher, and forget the single most important detail. We are working with children! These test-takers are not professionals. They are not even adults! Heck, they are not even cognitively fully developed. Johnny’s hair looks the exact same as yesterday, but don’t you dare tell him that. Today’s softball game won’t be played, as it is pouring down rain, but Sally doesn’t realize that fact. Jimmy will break three more pencils before the day is done and Bobby just had the only snack he will be provided all day. Each of these stressors are miniscule, trivial problems that must be treated as such. This day will not be perfect. Someone will bubble in on the wrong answer document. Hannah will finish in five minutes and promptly stare at the wall. Yet, life will go on.
The make or break moment isn’t really a “moment” at all. The success of this day, is rather determined by the moments throughout the school year. The moment that Sally understood a difficult math concept because you related the problem to softball. The moment Johnny forgot his hair, despite the mess it was becoming, because he was too busy running around reading clues to a scavenger hunt you spent hours creating. The moment you thought no one noticed anything you did, only to be pleasantly surprised by a small thank you note from Bobby. These moments and countless others throughout the school year are the secrets to a successful year, NOT the next fifty minutes.
You’ve had these moments, the kids are equipped with the tools of success thanks to you. Don’t allow the stress of fifty minutes overcome you. Sit back and enjoy your coffee. Enjoy fifty minutes of no school emails and know that you have done your best. You have earned that second doughnut waiting in the lounge. Bask in the glory of your moments! Just make sure, however you celebrate, you don’t let the students turn the page before being told to do so.
......for more from Norman, an 8th grade social studies teacher, visit his blog!