My first year of teaching, I taught 4th grade with two women who wouldn’t exactly be considered “team players.” Since then, I have been fortunate to teach with an amazing person who has become one of my best friends. This teamwork has made a HUGE difference to me both professionally and personally. I am, no doubt, a better and happier teacher because of my partner. Because collaboration is so important, here is my list of what I would look for in a partner teacher:
1. Help each other out without “keeping score.”
My partner and I are constantly doing “favors” for each other. I’ll make copies when she has to leave early, she will stop by the store to buy supplies, we always get and prepare double of everything. It is such a stress relief to have someone who can help out when something comes up, and I enjoy returning the favor. I never feel like we are “keeping score”: we both trust each other enough to keep things equal.
2. Motivating without being competitive.
I love listening to my partner’s ideas and seeing what she does in her room. We both are eager to copy each other’s great ideas. I am such a stronger teacher because we plan things together, and we both want to be the strongest team possible. However, we are also not competitive. Sometimes her kids do better on tests, sometimes my kids get higher reading scores…we can share results without comparing our teaching. I know so many teachers struggle to collaborate because they want to be “better” than their partner, and that’s so counter-productive. We just want to be “better” than we would be alone.
3. Shares common interests and approaches.
My partner and I are generally on the same page with our pedagogical approaches and beliefs, and that is invaluable to our partnership. When I wanted to switch to guided math and math workshop this year, she was on board. She found a great literacy conference for us both to attend in October. We share the same approaches to homework and classroom management.
4. Her students and my students are “our” students.
My first year, I barely knew the other fourth graders. Since then, I closely know every student in the grade. We both make efforts to get to know each other’s kids, which makes us so much more effective in helping each other. If I say, “I’m having a hard time getting Joe to complete his work,” she knows all about “Joe” and can offer suggestions. Our students see how close we are and that we are a “team,” and they know they can come to either of us.
5. Supportive both professionally and personally.
We all have bad days. Sometimes things are going on at home. Sometimes everything goes wrong in the classroom. When I felt like I would never connect with my new students because I didn’t love them like I did my old students, my partner listened to me vent without judgement. When we were both feeling down because we were having a hard time fitting into work clothes due to a few extra summer pounds, we cut planning short and headed to the mall.
6. Makes time for “us.”
Collaboration takes time, which is something teachers have very little of. During the day, we are each in our own classrooms. Recess and lunch fly by. However, we both put effort into making sure we have enough time to work with each other. We find afternoons (and evenings) we are both free. Friday nights mean take-out and planning until 9 or 10 at night, which feels more like a night spent with a friend than a chore.
Honestly, the list reads a lot like a dating site. However, teacher collaboration is kind of like dating: even through very stressful situations, you need to find ways to help and support each other. Teaching can be a very isolating and solitary career, but, in my experience, it’s better together.
Week three of my third year of teaching, and it’s days like today that make it hard for me to wipe school thoughts from my brain.
Walking around campus after school, I run into a group of my girls from last year, now 5th graders. One girl stands in the middle crying. I ask the group what is wrong and need the other girls to translate. Despite the fact I taught the girl for six months, she speaks only Spanish and I only English. She was one those “unaccompanied child immigrants” that were in the news recently. She and her seven-year-old brother were detained on the border for a month. She is also smart, brave, kind, and strong.
She left Mexico to join her mother when her grandmother (who was raising her) became ill. Her grandmother is now weeks or days from dying in Mexico, and she knows she will never be able to cross the border to visit her.
But she is not crying over her grandmother. She says she is crying because she has a huge crush on the new boy at school. In typical fifth-grade fashion, her friend told the boy and asked if he liked her. He replied that she was, “dirty and disgusting.”
She is crying because of the normal sting of unrequited lust, but also because she has chronic lice living in her beautiful long hair and bite marks from bed bugs all over her body.
Most of her clothes she received for free. Today, she is wearing a shirt that reads: “GOLD DIGGER: Like a hooker, but smarter.” I am sure she does not know what it says.
To me, she is a beautiful child, but to her crush, she is dirty.
Tomorrow is her birthday.
I gave all the girls the typical speech about valuing friends over crushes and not gossiping, but in all honesty, I have no idea what to say or do to help her. Though children do it every day, I am in awe over what some children bear. As her former teacher, I love this child. I hate to see those I love endure so much.
Prioritize procedures over projects and building community over teaching content. A good foundation goes a long way.
Every year, I try to pick a couple things to really work on improving. Last year, I implemented a guided reading/reading workshop model, and it was GREAT! This year, I’m working to develop my math practices. School starts on Monday, so we will have to see how it goes, but I’ve already made some big changes this summer.
I spent my summer reading some fantastic books about teaching math. To learn about how to structure my math block, I read Guided Math by Lanney Sammons and Guided Math In Action by Nikki Newton. These books persuaded me to teach math much like how I teach reading: whole-class warm ups and occasional mini-lessons, but much of the instruction takes place in small, differentiated groups. Additionally, students spend a lot more time actually engaging in math during rotations.
I also researched what and how to teach the content. I cannot recommend Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle enough!! I also read Cognitively Guided Instruction by Thomas Carpenter. Both books recommend engaging students in problems solving and allowing them to use their own mathematical thinking to solve.
For the past two years, I followed our district’s math curriculum, which consisted almost entirely of whole-class instruction and worksheets. Because of the shift to common core, teachers are allowed to move away from that style of teaching, and I couldn’t wait to drop it! However, this new approach to teaching math required that I make some changes around the classroom.
First, I needed to create a rotation system for my Math Workshop. I used these signs from TeachersPayTeachers.
I also got rid of my teacher desk to make more room for guided small group meetings.
In the past, our curriculum didn’t involve ANY manipulatives. Well, that’s about to change! I scrounged around the school for old manipulatives, sorted them, put them in a child-friendly location, and labelled them with these labels from TeachersPayTeachers.
Math Around The Room
One of the books pointed out that teachers encourage children to love reading by having reading everywhere in their classroom. Classrooms have large libraries, lots of posters and anchor charts, and teachers integrate reading into other subject areas. However, most teachers don’t do the same for math! This motivated me to find additional ways to incorporate math into my classroom.
I stocked up on more books about math. Some of the coolest books I found for upper-elementary were these nonfiction books tying animals at the San Diego Zoo to math concepts and the Sir Cumference series.
I also decided that students could learn about measurement and conversion all year by tracking their height on a growth chart and recording it in a book I created. I made the chart with chalkboard contact paper and white sharpie. I put it in the door jam because I don’t have space anywhere else, but now everyone wants to measure themselves whenever they walk by! Lots of fun.
I also got really inexpensive thermometers through Amazon and put one inside the classroom and one outside.
For the first time, I can’t wait to teach math! I’d love to hear any recommendations or advice, and I’ll post a follow-up once I have math workshops up and running!
In a couple weeks, I’ll officially be a third year teacher. This is nothing compared to so many fantastic Tumblr teachers, but in my short time in education, I have seen many teachers come and leave the profession. Apparently, at high-poverty schools, 20% of teachers leave every year. After working in one of those schools, that statistic doesn’t surprise me at all.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here’s my advice for staying sane your first few years (and beyond…it’s a good reminder to myself!):
DO NOT go into teaching with a savior mentality. INSTEAD, keep in mind that you are coming in to a new school (and often a new community). All teachers want to make a difference. But remember that the school, teachers, and community have been serving children long before you were hired, and that ignoring this fact will not gain you much respect. Take time to become a part of your new school community.
DO NOT take misbehavior too personally. Kids will have rough days/weeks/months. Many children have diagnosed difficulties or traumatic pasts that even wonderful teaching can’t completely undo. The fact that Samuel threw a fit does not mean that you have failed as a teacher, and it definitely does not normally mean that he was trying to personally disrespect you. INSTEAD, stay level-headed and remember that they are children. Work to improve behavior, but don’t let children’s misbehavior define you. Even incredibly experienced, teacher-of-the-year types have difficult students.
DO NOT stop learning. You just completed years of college and student teaching. Maybe you even got a Masters. But your study has just begun. INSTEAD, read books, articles, and attend tons of PD. Everything you learn is so much more relevant now that you get to apply it to your own classroom in your own way.
DO NOT isolate yourself from your colleagues. It is difficult to come into a new environment, especially if you (like me) are much younger than everyone else and they are more “traditional.” Additionally, teaching can be a very lonely profession without collaboration. INSTEAD, remain respectful and friendly with everyone. It is ok to do things a little differently, but do not get competitive. Find a few teachers you really respect and build your own support network.
DO NOT feel like you need to be perfect at everything from the beginning. INSTEAD, choose a few areas to really focus on every year. My second year, I focused on reading. This year, I’m focusing on math. It takes years to become strong in every area, and that’s ok.
DO NOT see teaching as a sprint. Every lesson does not need to be perfect. Your value as a teacher is not dependent on you staying until 11pm every day for a month and functioning on adrenaline and caffeine. INSTEAD, imagine teaching as a marathon. As a beginning teacher, you are hardly on the first lap. While you want to be the best teacher you can be for your current students, you also need to keep your future students in mind and make sure your practices are sustainable. It’s ok to leave work at 4 some days to see friends and to get 8 hours of sleep.
And finally, DO NOT forget to enjoy your first years, even with all the newness, stress, and craziness. INSTEAD, remember that it’s a special and exciting time. Find those moments where everything is going exactly as planned, step back, watch your very own class in action, and think, “I’m finally really doing this. This is what I’ve been dreaming of.”
I just got back from coffee with a friend-of-a-friend who is going into elementary teaching. She asked me how I deal with run-of-the-mill defiance: most kids aren’t completely out of control, but many students do talk back from time to time or respond with stubbornness. She told me that most teachers she has observed either yell or threaten the student into compliance, but that she didn’t want to be “that” teacher. I pride myself in never yelling at children and generally having strong classroom management, so I was happy to give her advice.
Obviously situations really vary, but here are my go-to strategies:
1) "Narrate" Behavior: Rather than becoming upset, I try to remain calm and not get pulled into an argument with a child. I really like using the sentence frame “I notice that you _________.” For example, I might tell a student, “I notice that you are frustrated with your writing.” I’ll follow that with a question or instruction, ie “Can you tell me why you are feeling upset?” or “I want you to take a deep breath and write two sentences.” Often by remaining calm, I’m able to deflate the situation.
2) Give Students Choices: Defiant students normally don’t want to feel like they’re being told what to do. To “preserve” their sense of control, I’ll often give them two options, ie “I notice you are feeling upset. You can walk to the fountain and get a drink of water or put your head down and count to ten. Which choice will you make?” I’ll get down to their level and hold up two fingers. When the student makes a choice (normally exactly what I would have insisted that they do), I make sure to compliment them on making good choices.
3) Counting Down: For some reason, I’ve found that children are much more likely to follow instructions if you give them a little time to do it. For example, if a student doesn’t want to write, I’ll tell them “You have 20 seconds to start your writing. By the time I get to 1, I expect to see your pencil moving. 20, 19…” This seems to give them time to collect their thoughts.
4) Repetition: If I give a student an instruction (ie “You will go take a break at your desk”) and they talk back (“But Juan did it!”) I’ll just repeat my instruction in a calm, even voice.
5) Step Away: Sometimes, more “reasonable” techniques don’t work. However, I NEVER, EVER get into a verbal argument with a student. If I feel like I cannot reasonably solve the disagreement, I need to be the “adult” in the situation. I tell the student, “I am feeling (frustrated). We will discuss this in five minutes” and walk away and collect my thoughts. Just like in disagreements between adults, sometimes both the teacher and the student need time to collect their thoughts. Some teachers feel that stepping away lets the student “win.” Rather, I think it helps the teacher preserve their dignity and respect.
I hope other teachers or teachers-in-training find this helpful! I love to hear about how other teachers manage their classrooms.
Who all is teaching summer school this year?
Reblog and tell us what you are teaching and what your schedule looks like!
I’m teaching 7th and 8th grade math (separate classes). It’s a four week long session, four days a week (Monday-Thursday) from 7:45 am to…
I’m teaching a summer reading program in my classroom to children at my school, but run through the YMCA. Fewer than 16 first graders, two aides, all my copies made for me, unlimited supply budget, 8am-noon Monday thru Thursday…pretty ideal.
From Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning In Young Children
What do teachers think? Are classrooms over-decorated?
Honestly, this study doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Kindergarteners were taught three lessons in the decorated classroom. Clearly, when small children are in a brand new, stimulating environments, they will focus more on the environment than on the lesson. To me, that’s not kids being “distracted”…it’s them being observant. However, our students don’t learn just three lessons in our classrooms. They spend 6 hours a day in the room for at least 170 days. The classroom becomes their second home.
I agree that the “highly decorated” classroom above is pretty terrible: random colors and posters, no student work, nothing those Kindergarteners felt ownership over.
But at the same time, I believe that classrooms should be warm, comfortable, and inviting. I don’t put up “manufactured” posters, but do hang many class-made anchor charts and displays after introducing the material with the students. Then, the visuals work to jog their memory and aid their learning. I also hang many examples of student work. Children seem to take pride in having their hard work displayed.
My classroom could be considered “decorated.” It is very organized and bright. When the kids walk in the room, they know that our room is a place we all take pride in. I have been amazed at how clean and organized the students’ keep the room with little instruction. I don’t believe students would feel the same sense of ownership, pride, and, honestly, happiness in the bare room.
Easy beginning of school community activity! During the first week of school, I had each child trace and cut their hand out on card stock. They then took it home and their homework was to decorate it (with family help, if possible) to represent who they are and where they came from. Students then presented their hands to each other and we put them all together. The poster stayed up all year!
On Wednesday night, I was officially sworn in as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) after 30+ hours of training. Soon, I will chose a foster child and work as a volunteer mentor and advocate for him or her. There are CASA programs all over the US, and I would strongly recommend anyone interested in working with abused and neglected children look into it. My experience with it so far has been nothing but positive!!
I have written a lot about the importance of a well-stocked classroom library to which students have easy access. I firmly believe that a good classroom library must include many diverse characters and families for a number of reasons. Students deserve to see kids “like them” portrayed in stories, and all students benefit from reading about different kinds of children and families. While students need to be explicitly taught about diversity, I also believe a lot comes from the moments kids read entertaining, well-written stories and encounter differences on their own.
I have many books with characters of color, single parents, and topics such as discrimination, divorce, immigration, foster care, homelessness, and loss and grief. My library also includes many LGBTQ children’s books. I thought teachers (and others!) might benefit from some suggestions. Most of these books would be appropriate for grades 1-6 (I teach 4th):
Books revolving around GAY MARRIAGE
For some reason, marriage is central to many LGBTQ children’s books. I don’t always love this theme, but it’s a different take on a typical fairytale.
King & King by Linda de Haan: A King doesn’t want to marry princesses, so he marries a man instead. Kids seem to like this one.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen
Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman: At the end of the story, it is revealed that Donovan’s aunt is marrying a woman. Kids seem to be “surprised” by this one.
Other books about GAY FAMILIES
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson: A classroom favorite.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco: Polacco is a very well-regarded children’s author, and I read this book to my class every year around Mother’s Day.
Antonio’s Card / La Tarjeta de Antonio by Rigoberto Gonzalez: I especially love this book because it features a child of color and is a bilingual book. It is very difficult to find LGBTQ books about anything other than caucasian families, or animals.
Families by Susan Kuklin: This book includes interviews with many different real-life families, including one gay and one lesbian. Kids don’t seem to go for it as much as the story-book ones, but I like it.
Books about GENDER:
Horrace and Morris but Mostly Dolores by James Howe
The Paper Bag Princess by Rober Munsch
Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow
A Note About LGBTQ Books:
I believe that teachers need to protect themselves and their job, but I also believe that students deserve an uncensored library. I teach in a mostly liberal area, but many of my families are traditional and conservative, and I know for a fact some of them do not support gay rights. Still, all students are allowed to read these books and take them home as they would any other book. Many of my students have commented that the books are “surprising” or “different,” but they don’t say these comments with disdain. Indeed, many children have asked for other books “like these books.” I have not had families complain about what I have in my classroom library, and I don’t believe that (in my case, at least) the potential of a complaint warrants removing such books. I encourage other teachers to also incorporate LGBTQ texts into their classroom collection.