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! :)
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!
Teaching is a hard profession to enter. No one can deny that. Teachers tend to have a burn out rate of 5 years. One of the best ways to help get past this is having a support system in your school. This usually starts with a mentor in the building. Most districts have a new teacher program that pairs new teachers with a mentor in their building. This mentor is the first line of defense and support for a new teacher and is an incredibility important relationship.
The quality of the mentors used in a school seem to have a direct relationship to new teachers staying in the profession and staying in that specific district.
What makes a good mentor? What qualities do mentors need to have to be what they need to be for new teachers?
Our profession is very important and we should do all we can to keep quality new teachers in the profession. Having a mentor with these qualities can go a long way to helping a new teacher grow and feel welcome in their school.
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!