Back to school season is one of the most challenging times of the year. But there are some ways to reduce your stress and stay sane this year. Here are 5 tips to help out new and veteran teachers alike:
Tip #1: Keep a paper copy of parent information.
It's inevitable that just when the computer system, or the internet, or the power, or some other form of infrastructure goes out, you will need to be able to get ahold of a parent. I keep a lot of information on my computer, but I always, always have a binder with a paper copy that includes parent information and student transportation information.
During back to school night, I have my parents complete my Important Information Sheet. One simple page, hole punched, stuck in a binder, and I always have the ability to call home, and get my kids home. I also take this same binder with me on every field trip. I can't tell you how many times I've used it.
Tip #2: Teach EVERY routine through direct instruction.
90% of kids won't need instruction on how to sit down as they enter your room. But the 10% who will can throw your entire day off every day for the entire year. So I start out each school year assuming that every kid is in the 10%. During the 1st 2 weeks I give instructions like my kids have never seen a school or a classroom before. I model how to enter and exit my room, how to line up, how to get supplies, how to get my attention, how to interact with each other, how to take turns, etc. etc. etc. It makes the first 2 weeks slightly monotonous, but it makes the rest of the year so much smoother.
Also, especially with kids 3rd grade and up, they generally get bored with having things explained to in this fashion. So throughout the year if we start to forget expectations, I can often ask if we need to go back to "First Week of School Explanations" and they straighten up real quick!
Tip #3: Have puzzles ready during one on one assessments.
Puzzles are fabulous for so many things - academic skills, problem solving skills, etc. However, they are also something that can easily be picked up and put back down without stressing out the classroom or your students too much. For this reason, I use puzzles as what the class is working on while I need to pull students for one on one assessments in the beginning of the year.
Sometimes I use regular jigsaw puzzles, but most often I use Self-Correcting Puzzles or Tiling Puzzles. We all know that there's too much curriculum to cover, so having students beginning to play with curriculum puzzles before I start teaching curriculum gives them a foot up and starts building background knowledge. For additional ideas on how to keep kids busy during assessments, check out my blog post - How to Keep Students Engaged While You Are Doing Assessments.
Tip#4: Observe your students working in groups.
How students interact with each other will dictate the types of activities you will and won't be able to complete with your students this year. During the first two weeks, have students work on a variety of activities in groups, when you are NOT busy assessing, organizing supplies, or other beginning of the year activities. While they are working, walk around with a clipboard and take notes. Who are your natural leaders? Who gets off task easily? Who takes over and doesn't let others work? Who doesn't want to participate? Better than any get to know you game, watching kids interact with their peers will tell you a lot about the personalities, abilities, and motivations of your students.
Pinterest is full of cute STEM ideas that would work for these group projects, but if you need to start building in curriculum, think outside the box. Have the kids work in a group to create a mini test using my Be the Teacher worksheets, or have students work together to complete an internet scavenger hunt. Really any assignment can be made into a group task that you can observe to gather this information.
Tip #5: Start practicing math facts from the get go.
I have never worked at a school that didn't have a goal of building math fact fluency. We generally wait for about a month before we start taking stock of where we are and what we need to do. And then very often we spent a lot of time going back and re-teaching or re-practicing the facts from the previous year. I have never understood this delay.
I start math facts on the first couple of days, often starting with last year's facts to build up confidence. Then when everyone else is build a routine a month in, my kids are already used to daily practice. Plus, they have often refreshed their memory of last year's facts and are ready to move on to more challenging facts. I use my Math Fact Quiz package to meet my kids wherever they are in the spectrum of fact fluency over all 4 operations.
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