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What I Wish I Knew Before My 1st Year of Teaching

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When they say hindsight is 20/20, it is definitely true for teachers. While teacher training programs do their best to prepare you for the job, there are so many things I wish I had known going into the classroom. These tips will help you with the reality of your first year in the classroom.

Teaching is Expensive

One thing I wish I had known before my first year of teaching is that teaching is an expensive proposition. Especially in your first year, you may walk into an empty classroom that, in a matter of a few days, you are expected to make a comfortable, cozy learning environment for students. Depending on the building you are teaching in, that alone can be a daunting task. I taught in a windowless classroom for nine years, and it took some serious creativity and money out of my own pocket to make it feel comfortable both for myself and my students.

Then there are just the basic supplies you need to teach every day: paper, pencils, expo markers, crayons, etc. You may even need to buy basic school supplies for your students if you teach in a low-income school. All of those expenses add up.

School Supplies

Teaching on a Teacher's Budget

I wish I had known the reality of living on a teacher's budegt. On average, teachers spend around $500 a year out of their pockets on school supplies. In many cases, that amount is $1,000 or more a year. This amount will vary based on a number of factors at your school. For example, some states provide supply stipends to teachers at the beginning of the year to help cover the cost of general classroom supplies. Science teachers also receive additional money specifically to purchase materials such as chemicals or lab specimens for use in their classrooms. Even in affluent schools, that money won't be enough to cover all of your lab materials for the year.

This issue is intensified by the fact that teachers' salaries are significantly lower than other professions. In 2012-2013, the national average starting salary for teachers was around $36,000. If you have to pay rent, a car payment, and a student loan every month, that doesn't leave much left over for food and essentials. However, many teachers still bite the bullet every month and squeeze their already meager budgets to purchase supplies for their students.

Classroom Management is a Product of Your Lessons

In the teachers' workroom and in the lounge, you will hear teachers new and veteran complain about students' behavior. Some will say they have 'bad kids' who are impossible to teach. I wish I had known before I started teaching that much of classroom management depended on myself and the design of my lessons. It would have saved me a lot of stress in the long run.

First of all, you have to design your lessons appropriately. If the material is too easy or too hard for the students in your classroom, you just opened the door for classroom management issues. Students are going to act out when they are bored or frustrated. On the other hand, if they are engaged and busy in the activity, you will significantly decrease the likelihood of classroom management issues.

bored student

Make sure that when you design activities, they are clearly segmented with time limits so that you can keep the class moving along together. If students have too long to complete a task or are given too many tasks to do independently, you are more likely to have issues with misbehavior from your students.

Positive Reinforcement Works Wonders

Coming into the classroom as first-year teachers, we hear a lot about discipline. However, in terms of classroom management, I wish I had known how much more powerful positive reinforcement is than traditional discipline methods. It would have saved me a lot of stress--and ridicule from my administrators--that first year in the classroom. It is much easier to teach by focusing on positive student behavior, as opposed to teaching by disciplining negative student behaviors.

Those who need guidance in positive classroom management can look to Fred Jones. Fred Jones is a psychologist and classroom expert who helped pioneer positive classroom management strategies for teachers. Most of these strategies involve using positive reinforcement to condition student behavior. It is not that you don't have the standard systems of consequences, such as detention or being sent to the assistant principal's office. Rather, it is about modeling and focusing on positive behaviors to decrease misbehaviors in the classroom first.

Body Language Works Wonders

Using effective body language is a powerful teaching tool. Eye contact is an essential tool for keeping students on task. Looking them in the eye when you speak portrays confidence (even if you aren't feeling it that day). If a student senses you feel uncomfortable, it is like blood in the water for a shark. Students are more likely to misbehave when the feel you aren't confident in the classroom.

classroom

Simple proximity to your students is a powerful management technique too. For example, instead of calling a student out, just stand beside them. Most of the time, the simple proximity of the teacher to the student will make the student feel less comfortable. The less comfortable they are, the less likely they are to start or continue any inappropriate behaviors.

Rewarding positive behaviors, rather than dwelling on negative behaviors, is an important classroom management tool. For example, with younger students, this might mean having a reward system such as stickers or earning 'school bucks' they can spend in your classroom store. With older students, you can use incentives like earning class points that lead to special activities, such as a 'Fun Friday' reward. It's not that you should ignore misbehavior in your classroom. It's just that incentivizing good behavior goes much further than sending students to detention all the time.

By Rachel Tustin
December 2016
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