New Teacher Tips, Part II

Hatorade must have been on sale when I published Part I of my New Teacher Tips because a couple of Crabby Abbys attacked me after reading it. Because of this, I will start Part II with the following disclaimer:

I am the kind of person who values straight up, truthful advice. I am also a bit of a realist. If you fall into any of the categories below, please X out of this blog post immediately:
-sensitive
-easily offended
-detached from reality
-lacking the part of the brain that gets sarcasm

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New-Teacher-Tips
6. Stop Grading Everything
Just stop. Put your red pen down right now. It isn’t physically possible to correct everything without going utterly bonkers. There was a time when I thought that I just HAD TO correct everything. It got old really quick, so I made a better system.

I call it the Pick and Choose system.

The Pick and Choose system involves grading student work that is easy to correct, like my assessments below. There are 4 or 5 questions. Each question is either right or wrong. No blurry lines. No going bonkers. Yeehaw!
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 1
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 2
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 3
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 4
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 5

If you choose to ignore this tip, that’s fine. Have fun going completely crackers as you find yourself mulling over how to grade one paper for the next 16 hours. Oh, and have fun with that helicopter parent who disagrees with how you graded the paper as well.

(I know you’re probably wondering how I grade writing. Please don’t. I can’t help you because I still don’t know how. I have been in the bonkers phase with this one for the last 3 years.)

7. Don’t Get Too Comfortable With Your Current Assignment
I’m going to tell you a little story. If you aren’t sitting down for this one, you probably should because it involves my biggest FAIL as a teacher to date:

It is a brutally hot week in the month of August. My current assignment is a 3rd Grade Academic Interventionist.

I am in great spirits considering I have just moved all of my classroom materials up and down 2 flights of stairs… for a 4th time… in the last 2 months. I find this completely acceptable though, since I overate this summer and can’t afford a gym membership anyway. To me, this is a gift.

Students arrive in 5 days and my classroom looks like this:New-Teacher-TipsThe best thing about those 5 days before student arrival is the great abundance of time you are given to prepare your classroom. I mean..I love professional development and I do appreciate the importance of number talks and inferring, but can’t this be summed up in less than 8 hours?

So I do what any sane teacher does in that week before school: Show up at 5am to work on my classroom for 3 hours before attending an 8 hour long PD session to let me know that I suck at guided reading.

It is at some point this week that I completely lose my shiitake mushrooms. My number 1 priority turns into painting this disgusting bookshelf, because I figure, “Hey, why set up a 4th classroom when I can make this bookcase pretty?”New-Teacher-Tip

Not only do I paint this bookcase, but I decide that it would be a magnificent idea to paint over every bulletin board in the room. I stay at school until 8pm every night sweating bullets in 90 degree heat. I manage to get it all done before the students arrive.

So, why was this such a fail?

Well, the principal entered my room with some wonderful news while I was cleaning up paintbrushes, folding up drop cloths, and admiring my masterpiece: “We have to open up another first grade classroom because the numbers are too high. Your new classroom will be downstairs.”

Moral of the story? Don’t get too comfortable in your classroom.

8. Have a Sub Tub Prepared/Take a Mental Health Day at Least Once This Year
Taking days off can be a nightmare for a teacher. This e-card sums it up pretty well:substitute-planningIf anyone needs a mental health day, it’s a first year teacher. There will be at least 1 day this year where you will completely question your sanity. If the 25 students in front of you start to look like a blurred carousel and/or you find yourself helplessly throwing your hands in the air, this is probably a good time to take a mental health day. Don’t fight it; just do it.

When I discovered the Sub Tub on Pinterest, I needed to make one. It took about 5 minutes to put it all together. I believe I got the white tub from Target for 3 bucks. (It’s actually a mini trash bin. Fancy, eh?)
sub-tubThe greatest thing about the sub tub is having everything set up for the sub weeks in advance. Say goodbye to those last-minute-planning-panic-attacks!

If you are confused about what you should put in your sub tub, don’t be! There are some amazing resources on Teachers Pay Teachers that will get you started. All you have to do is the following:

1) Go to teacherspayteachers.com
2) Type “sub plans” and your grade level in the search.
3) Immediately watch your blood pressure go down.

Last year, I kept my sub tub on a book shelf behind my desk. It was ready to go and I never had to worry about making plans last minute!sub-tubsub-tub

9. Be Gracious When Another Teacher Shares with You
I know there are schools out there where everyone is hunky-dory with each other and this would never be a problem, but I’m still throwing this tip out there. (Maybe it’s for my own venting purposes. Sue me.)

If another teacher in the building shares a resource with you, do not do either of the following:
1) Be a jerk.
2) Be a know-it-all.

When I was a K-5 intervention teacher 3 years ago, I had to make lesson plans for every grade in the building. Because of this, I had the opportunity to share resources with almost every teacher in my school. These resources were usually awesome printables that I found by utilizing my amazing Google skills.

What annoyed me about sharing resources was the general response I received from colleagues after I extended out this good gesture to them. It was…baffling, inconceivable even. I can only equate their response to someone showing up to my classroom and handing me a free coffee. Not only would I fail to say thank you, but I would also take a sip of the coffee, dump it all over their new Ann Taylor shirt, and tell them that the coffee sucks as they are heading out the door.

Sorry… sidetracked. How did they actually respond when I gave them free resources? Noses would turn up. Know-It-All comments such as “This is too easy”, “This isn’t rigorous enough”, and “My students are SO beyond this” would fly out of their mouths.

My response usually looked something like this:Teacher-tips

..but what I really wanted to say was, “Apparently you didn’t get the memo in kindergarten that sharing is caring….but hey, it’s okay. I appreciate the extra couple of minutes that I get to myself now because I don’t plan on ever sharing with you again.”

10. Let the Parent Speak First
I have always found communicating with parents to be one of the most frightening aspects of teaching. During my first year, I really struggled on days where I had a meeting with a parent. If the conference was in the afternoon, I would have crippling anxiety for the entire day because I was hung up on how each meeting would turn out.

I always reflected long and hard after each parent-teacher conference since I knew I wasn’t the best at them. What I can tell you is this: Talking to parents becomes much easier over time, even if you’re socially awkward like the best of us.

One of the biggest things I learned through reflection is that I needed to chill out when the conference started. As teachers, we have a lot to say about our students, but you’d be surprised at how well a conference goes when you let the parent speak first. My worst conferences were usually the ones where I was too eager to tell Mrs. Johnson about the 10 gray hairs I had developed that week because of her son.

So do yourself a favor and start the conference off by asking parents about THEIR questions and/or concerns. 9 times out of 10, they will have something they want to talk to you about. The moment I started doing this, conferences immediately became easier and less tense.

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25 thoughts on “New Teacher Tips, Part II

  1. I loved reading this. I’ve been teaching for 3 years now, but it is still good to get tips like this! I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one who picks and chooses what to mark. And, I get what you mean about sharing resources. My old Syndicate leader and I share resources and ideas all the time. However my new syndicate leader just gives me a look like ‘no…’ and then complains because we don’t share ideas with her.

  2. Yes! I 110% agree. My first year I fell to the pressure to grade everything. It just left me frustrated and overworked. There are certain things you grade and others you check over. I also agree with the mental health days. I started teaching as a first year teacher in a class full of kids with emotional and behavior disorders. Mental health days kept me in the profession!

  3. This year is going to be my first year teaching although I’ve been certified for a year. I definitely appreciate these tips and will certainly take them into my classroom! These are the things you don’t learn in staff development of cont’d ed courses.

  4. Great thoughts- I’d love to hear more about conferencing with parents, especially angry ones. I want to be gracious and hear parents out but also not be personally assaulted because Johnny has late assignments.

  5. I found a 4 point grading system for writing on TPT and it’s saved my life as a departmentalized 4th/5th reading/writing teacher. 80+ open ended questions every Friday that HAVE to be graded…I know the bonkers state very well.
    I’m a few years in and I totally appreciate and love your tips and genuine honesty!!

  6. You are so funny and accurate! I just ran into the same problem when I shared some resources with my team. The team leader was upset because I shouldn’t plan without her…Ugh. So just like you said, I’m saving time by not copying resources for her. 🙂

  7. I love love your point of view! You are so right about the room changes and those wonderful PLC/staff development days. You have the best insight and sense of humor. Gives me some thoughts as I will probably run into those issues! Like I haven’t already.

    I did want to share about the teacher who comes into your classroom and says oh where did you get that? It’s so cute and then changes her mind and says it’s not her taste. Then you go into her room the next week and there it is right in there at the PLC MEETING! Everyone says how adorable and that teacher takes all the credit! Ugh teachers. Thanks for reminding me things like this just come with the territory.

  8. I taught for 33 years and now substitute a few days a week at our local catholic school. I would love to walk into a classroom and see a sub tub!!
    Keep up the great ideas! Your students are blessed.

  9. I remember going to my principal and talking about time management. She asked me to break it down for her. Immediately, she said, “Why are you grading all of that?” My response, “I thought I was supposed to. If I assign it, shouldn’t I grade it?” She looking at me lovingly, smiled, then said, “NO! You need a life or you’ll never make it.” After that, life was so much easier. Even after I had a stack of papers that I wanted to grade but didn’t have time, I gave a completion grade – did it +10, didn’t do it -10. Done. I quit grading homework and practice. Did I look at it? Yes. Did I make note of items that need reinforcement? Yes. Did I hand it back? No. Where did I put it? Not telling! 🙂

    Regarding Parents – the best advice I ever received and still practice is “Be the professional.” Listen first. Tell them no without ever using the word, no. Sandwich the negative between two positives. Be the professional. While they think the sun shines out of their kid’s ass, you know better, but we don’t let them know you know that. Sometimes, parents just need to think you think the same. LOL!

    LOVE THEM ALL! Thank you again!

    • I just heard about the Oreo cookie theory – sandwich the negative between the two positives. This is genius! I wish I had heard about it in my 20s! Thanks for all the comments. I love them! 🙂

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