Our TLN Forum members contribute weekly features to Teacher Magazine, sharing their ideas and insights about both education policy and classroom practice. Each fall we provide a series of Teacher Magazine essays titled Teaching Secrets, aimed specifically at new and novice teachers. Marsha Ratzel wrote two “Secrets” essays this fall, and we thought we share her “extra” one here. Our hope is that we’ll draw the attention of younger and newer teachers to our website devoted to teacher leadership. It’s not just for veterans anymore!
Some context: Marsha teaches middle school math and science in the Kansas heartland. She’s National Board Certified and began her (so far) 17-year teaching journey after a first career in health care administration.
My Top 10 To-Do List for
New Teachers Starting School
by Marsha Ratzel
1. Find your curriculum and read through it several times. Put post-it notes in places where you have questions. Work with the principal to partner with an experienced teacher at least several weeks before school starts to get an overview of the entire year and do serious scrutiny of the first month’s goals.
2. Find all your supporting materials, both student and teacher copies. Know where and how the curriculum and the textbooks match up in a general sense. Do a more thorough matching for the first unit, so you’ll know exactly where and what you’ll be using. Be sure to scan through all the supplemental materials that most publishers provide. This can be overwhelming at the level of fine detail, so go for the big picture snapshot. You can come back later when you see a need if you have some working knowledge of the possibilities.
3. Ask to look over last year’s yearbook. It’s a great place to see the kinds of activities that are important to your new school community. The faculty pictures and names will be there, too. If the school has a newspaper that would be another source for developing a sense of the school identity.
4. Create a birthday list for each class (celebrate half-birthdays for summer birthdays). Decide what small thing you might do to honor that child. Maybe it is a B-Day postcard you send home. Maybe it’s a Free Homework Pass. Maybe it’s a Birthday Pencil. Take the list and group birthdays by month and get everything ready to go for the whole year. Since I use Homework Passes, I put student names and the birthday date on each pass, then hand them out at the start of each month.
5. Develop some sort of impartial method for calling on students. Assigning student numbers and then randomly picking a number works well. You can put the numbers on craft sticks or ping pong balls (some gradebook programs have a student picker option). You may be able to number the desks and call on the student sitting in that desk. However you do it, you’re demonstrating a method that removes bias and gives all students an equal chance to be asked.
6. Figure out how you will capture students on the first day of school. Going over the rules or what they’ll be learning is NOT the way. Think of some easy-to-implement, highly engaging activity to snag their interests and build a bridge between you and them. I always try to give them a sense of who I am, my sense of humor, what I love about my job and them. This helps students relax and realize you are their ally, their partner, their facilitator…not the enemy. The activity has to be structured, though, or it could descend into chaos. It’s a fine balance -- so ask around and see what has worked in the past for other teachers.
7. Design some method to manage and keep track of daily paperwork -- especially for absent students. If you have all of your students regularly asking you for their work, you’ll lose your mind. There are so many options out there. My favorite is to have a hanging folder for each student in every class. If I pass out papers, the student at the front of the row is responsible for filing the handouts for every absent student in the appropriate folder. When the student returns they know they can look in their folder for all their work.
8. Make an appointment to sit down with important building specialists. If your building has a library, see if you can meet with the library media specialist to find out how you can best utilize their resources. Even if the discipline you are teaching doesn’t seem to require library resources, you will be amazed at the things that are possible and available if you only ask.
9. Introduce yourself to the school secretaries, the nurse, the bookkeepers and the paraprofessionals. Most importantly, find out who is going to clean your room and make sure to start building a close relationship with them. Friendliness leads to cleanliness!
10. Decide where and when you will fight your battles. Gum chewing, talking, a failure to bring pencil and paper to class -- these are all potential danger zones. Your rules must adhere to district/school policies AND be supported by your fellow teachers. But that still leaves lots of latitude. For example, our policy leaves gum chewing up to the discretion of each teacher. A teacher needs to know where they stand (vis a vis other teachers) before it becomes an issue with a student. Pencils used to be a constant battle for me. Now I just buy about 1,000 of them during the Back to School supply sales for $5.00. It’s the best $5.00 I could ever spend.
These straightforward, practical tips can help you get off to a good start by smoothing the path to the destination you care about most -- teaching well.