Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.
Welcome to Teaching
Your first year in the classroom is like entering a new country. While you may feel excited about entering the classroom for the first time, it is also normal to be nervous. There is really no pinnacle of teaching where you are an expert at everything. Instead, every year you will be greeted with a fresh set of faces, and a new set of challenges. Part of teaching is embracing those challenges every year with a positive attitude.
Getting Off on the Right Foot with Students
The first day of school, and the few days after, are critically important to your success with parents and students for the rest of the year. Your choices those first days can make the rest of the year run smoothly, or they can make the rest of the year feel as if you are climbing Mt. Everest. It all depends on the choices you make in your classroom.
These choices begin from the moment your students line up for your class on the first day of school. What you want to remember is that it is always easier to loosen the reins in your classroom than it is to tighten them, so you want to establish early on that you are in control. Make sure you have clear procedures for the normal activities that go on in your classroom. Procedures are the steps you want students to take to perform specific tasks. For example, when can a student sharpen a pencil? How do they ask to use the restroom? You don't want too many procedures, but establishing a few clear procedures for common student actions on day one is a good way to set the tone for your classroom. You can review them with students and also have them posted in convenient locations in your classroom as a reminder.
Building Positive Relationships
Having positive relationships with your students and your family will go a long way not only toward your students' academic success but also toward alleviating stress in your classroom. A relationship is how you form connections with your students and parents. Students tend to be more motivated when they feel a teacher cares about them. Students who have positive relationships with their teachers have less behavioral problems, and their parents tend to respond more positively when issues do occur. Depending on what level you teach you might have twenty students or a hundred. In either case, you want to make an effort to build a relationship with each student.
One approach to building this relationship is to ask parents to write you a letter or email telling you anything they want you to know about their child. This is a great strategy to get parents involved in your classroom from day one of school. Sometimes you may only get brief notes such as 'Johnny is allergic to dogs,' but a lot of times you will truly get heartfelt information that will help you understand better how each student in your classroom ticks.
Finally, it is important to make positive contacts with each student you teach during the year. When you take active steps to reinforce positive behavior in your classroom, this is positive reinforcement. This is especially helpful if later on you have to make a call about something more negative in nature.
An easy way to give positive reinforcement is to just pick up the phone and call so that it feels more personal to the parent. Another strategy is to write a note and mail it to the parents or even to the child. Believe it or not, though we live in a technological society, people really appreciate the little bit of extra effort you took to send a note. This also works well if you have trouble getting in touch with a parent via phone. Send them a letter, explain you haven't been able to reach them, and give them your contact information. Most of the time it is a simple matter of they changed their phone number and forgot to tell the school. They will appreciate that you went the extra mile to get in touch.
Balancing Teaching and Life
It is very easy to let teaching consume every minute of your life. However, if you focus on your teaching every waking hour of the day and never indulge in personal time, you will burn out. So it is important to find a balance between work and home.
First, there is no need to grade every single piece of paper your students write on. Our tendency as teachers when we start is to do exactly this, and you will end up spending hours a day grading if you do. Instead, focus on grading the work that is actually meaningful. Grading could mean you are just giving feedback to students to improve a draft or you are actually scoring a final project using a rubric. In either case, be sure to plan so that you allow yourself a few days to finish the grading process. This way you can do part of it every day and still have some time to yourself.
Be sure to build in some time for yourself and your family each day. Read stories, watch movies, color, whatever helps recharge your internal battery. You cannot give your class your best if you are tired, run down, and crabby. The reality of teaching is that there will always be papers to grade and your administrators will always think you can do more. At some point you need to sleep and be happy!
Remember to get off on the right foot with your students and parents from the first day of school. From day one you want to set clear expectations for your students, and one way to do this is by establishing classroom procedures for common tasks students need to perform. Next, be sure to take steps to form positive relationships with students and parents. One way to do this is to ask parents to write you letters about their children. Send parents personal notes as positive reinforcement. Finally, be sure to balance your teaching life with your personal life. Making time for friends and family will make you happier, and that translates into the classroom.
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