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.
In the care of smugglers, a 12-year-old girl set out from Ecuador to join her parents, who had immigrated illegally to New York. She made it to Mexico before she died.
This is such a heartbreaking and important article to read.
In all honesty, I hadn’t given much thought to unaccompanied children crossing and being detained on the border until this past December. Like most Americans, I didn’t have to.
The week before Christmas break, a student of mine from the previous year, Haley*, came up to me at our holiday concert and said that her mom wanted to know if I would teach her younger sister Sabrina*, who was fourth-grade aged (* I have changed all names). I know Haley and her family very well, but had never heard her speak of a younger sister.
It turned out that, when Haley was 5, she and her parents crossed the border and left behind Sabrina and a younger brother to be raised by a grandmother in rural Mexico. The grandmother was very abusive and in poor health, and so when Haley’s mother had enough money, she hired a coyote to bring her two youngest children to America.
Like Noemi Alvarez Quillay, Sabrina and her now-seven-year-old brother travelled unaccompanied. Like Noemi, they were also caught and held in a detention center. Fortunately, Sabrina and her brother made it out alive, though I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be detained for almost a month as nine and seven year olds. They were finally given temporary papers to join their family in America because Sabrina and Haley’s mother is a victim of domestic violence, and the Violence Against Women Act now includes provisions that allow undocumented victims and their children to stay in the US.
Sabrina came speaking no English (and I don’t speak Spanish), but she has been a complete joy to have in class. She is happily experiencing many firsts (first time on a computer, first cupcake, first Easter Egg Hunt). Her family is still in a very tough situation, but I am relieved they are reunited.
Immigration is a very difficult issue, and I don’t know all the solutions. But when I hear about children like Noemi Alvarez Quillay and I look my student Sabrina, I know our system is broken. I also worry that these beautiful, innocent children are too easily ignored.
Nearly six years ago—during my college’s first year orientation—I set my sights on becoming an elementary school teacher. Five years ago, I attended a Teach For America (TFA) info session at my college’s library. Many people encouraged me to apply, and (at a time when getting a job is anything but guaranteed) it was tempting. My East Coast liberal arts school is a sort of powerhouse for TFA. Between 40-60 of my class’ 500 graduates went on to TFA. As a comparison, six of us graduated as credentialed K-12 teachers.
Three years ago, I wrote “Why I Won’t Teach For America”. As I complete my second year of teaching (aka the length of a TFA commitment), I firmly stand by that decision for both political and personal reasons. From my personal perspective, here’s why:
I was properly trained to teach.
Had I done TFA, I would have had five weeks of training. Instead, I had literally years. Under the guidance of a master teacher, I experienced it all. If something went wrong or I didn’t know how to respond to a situation, I had people to help me. I studying education theory and pedagogy and learned material I still use every day.
I had a strong first year.
The TFA teachers I know often say things like, “My first year was horrible, but that’s just how it is!” TFA pushes the myth that a teacher’s first year necessarily is rough. In this assumption it is implicit but ignored that the students of these first year teachers are experimented on and get a sub-par education.
Even for credentialed teachers, the first year is challenging and new. But even with that, I loved my first year. I felt prepared, had an amazing class, and was finally doing what I loved. I know I am a better teacher now than I was then, but I also believe that I gave my first students a quality education. This is not because I am inherently “better” than those who teach through TFA, but because I was given the proper training and experiences prior to having my first class.
I teach in and am dedicated to my community.
TFA has applicants rank a number of locations, and the teachers I know got placed all over the United States. Two years after their placements, many are moving back to where they are from or to where they desire to live.
I teach at a school very similar in demographics to those where TFA teachers are placed: 85%+ minority, 80%+ free or reduced lunch, majority ELL. I also teach 10 minutes from where I was born. I foresee myself saving up to buy a house and raising my family in the town. I have connections to the community, and am personally invested in its long-term strength. I feel fortunate that, after two years of teaching, I am already established in the town and not looking for a transfer.
I am a public school teacher.
Had I done TFA, I would have likely ended up in a charter school. TFA has a very close relationship with the privatization movement. In LA, 90% of TFA teachers are placed in charters. I am proud to be working in a school that is making huge gains with an “underserved” population AND is fully public. For so many reasons (way more than can fit in this post!), I am a supporter of public education.
I am a member of my school’s community, not of a “corps.”
When I entered my school at 22 years old, I was by far the youngest teacher. But I was also just that: a teacher. I quickly bonded with the other teachers, many of whom have 10 or 20+ years experience. TFA teachers often say they are “doing TFA” rather than “teaching.” Amongst the TFA teachers I know, there is close camaraderie within the corps members. They live together, party together, and support each other. While this is likely necessary because many of them are placed far from home without any support system, I feel fortunate to be a part of my school’s community, and not an organization.
Teaching is sustainable for me.
Teachers work hard.
Many TFA teachers speak of the burnout they experience. I believe the organization does this purposely: if you are only getting two years out of your teachers, you might as well work them until they can’t do it any more. Every teacher I know—student teacher, career teacher, TFA teacher—gives 110% of herself mentally and emotionally. There are countless long nights and draining days. But at the same time, I know I want to stay in teaching, and I am not doing myself or my current or future students any favors by giving up my sleep and personal life. Moreover, my colleagues are people who are balancing work and personal life (often including kids and other obligations) very well, not other sleepless 24 year olds.
I am not leaving teaching now (or likely ever!).
I know for a fact I will teach next year. While we can’t predict the future, my long-term goal is to stay a classroom teacher. This shapes so much of what I do: I have invested literally thousands of dollars into my classroom and my library, I eagerly attend professional development workshops, I reflect on my practices and preserve my best lessons, and I forge strong relationships with families in the hopes that I will someday teach their children. I firmly believe all of this makes me a better and happier teacher.
The second year TFA teachers I know are taking many different paths. A few are staying in the classroom. Many are getting recruited out of their current placement by charter chains or by TFA itself. Others are going on to graduate school or, yes, to banking.
While there is a lot of dispute over TFA’s retention rate, many state that about 50% leave after two years and 80% after three years. I could not imagine what my second year of teaching would be like if I was planning on packing it all up and moving on to my next professional adventure come June.
One of my largest critiques of TFA is that it focuses on the experiences of the teachers over that of students, and I realize I have done just that here. Still, after two years of teaching, I firmly believe that NOT “Teaching for America” was the best move for me professionally, and certainly was the best service to TFA’s supposed mission that, “one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”
Last week, I posted about my students’ PBL (Project Based Learning) project. A big part of it that I didn’t include (forgot to take pictures!) was the brochures my students made about their inventions.
This was my first time having students make detailed brochures as part of their final project, and I loved it! They were able to really show what they know and it wasn’t too time consuming. The brochures also integrated writing and vocabulary into science. I made tons of copies, and at the presentation, groups offered visitors the brochures. I am glad that parents and other adults had something tangible to take home from the presentation.
For our current PBL unit, students have been learning about electricity and magnetism. For their final project, students used what they know to create their own inventions. I was worried they wouldn’t come up with anything, but I was wrong! They used circuits, buzzers, lights and electromagnets to make all sorts of cool things. Each group made a brochure explaining the science in their invention. We then watched clips from “Shark Tank” and kids came up with their own pitches.
Today, family, friends, the principal and other students visited the “Invention Convention.” I was totally blown away. My kids were confident, enthusiastic and really knew their stuff. Every who came was so positive.
Today was one of those amazing teaching days. (Also, I love PBL!)
My co-4th grade teacher is one of my favorite people ever. This is her first full year teaching (she did a long term sub gig last year), and she’s amazing. She’s great with her students and works so hard. We make each other better teachers and are great friends. We are two of the only young teachers on campus, and lots of people refer to us as the “Dream Team.”
My principal wants to keep her next year. Families want to keep her. I definitely want to keep her!
After school today I have to sit through 4 teacher interviews for her position. She was hired as temporary, so inner-district transfers have seniority over her and can come take her job.
I am a supporter of unions and contracts and theoretically understand this, but it’s not an easy day.
I was always that kid with a messy desk, but I do have certain expectations about the insides of students’ desks. I try to teach my students to treat their work with respect and to learn basic organizational skills. These habits help them when they get older, and they also make for a smoother classroom: kids can quickly find what they need, and if I need to go into their desks to pull work samples, I can also find things.
My hands-down favorite organizational tool is the desk “buckets”, which I posted about a while ago here.
But this year, I have one student with very severe ADHD who really struggles with his desk. I swear it’s a “Black Hole”: things go in there, and he never finds them again. I was getting frustrated with him being unable to do assignments he lost and destroying classroom books by shoving them inside. He cleaned it once a week, but that wasn’t working.
So I got some packaging tape and “closed” it down. His bucket sits beside his desk. Three weeks later, his bucket is still organized. I offered him his desk back, but he says he’d rather keep it closed for a while. He likes having a clean desk.