Everybody loves Top 10 lists. In addition to being fun, they’re also a very good way to present important information in a concise, compact way. If you lined up 100 teachers and asked for their Top 10 Do’s, you’d probably get 100 different lists. Here’s mine.
#10. Use technology to keep families informed….
These days, more is better when it comes to family communications. It would be nice if you could call every parent every day to update them but that’s not reality. For homework, tests, field trips, important events and general information, take advantage of what’s out there. I had a web site that was very effective and made my job a lot easier. Today, I’d be using text messaging or some other social media, with appropriate privacy and security measures in place. Many, if not most school systems now have integrated systems that do all of the above. Many teachers are reluctant to fully utilize them. Take the time to learn.
#9. Use the phone to discuss sensitive information……
Email – what would we do without it? It’s quick and easy – too quick and easy. It’s also insecure, with no guarantee that it will be read by the intended recipient or won’t be read by someone else. There’s a case to be made for it being downright illegal for discussing private information. And once you hit the ENTER button, there’s no getting it back. The same can be said for text messaging and other media currently in vogue. In fact, e-mail is considered too slow and cumbersome by many, including my own grown children. Phone calls are much more personal, secure and informative. People are more civil on the phone and you get immediate feedback, including non-verbal. Things like tone, inflection and pauses can tell you lots about what’s going on at the other end. Plus with a phone call, you’ve got plausible denial if things escalate. Memories fade and things are interpreted differently, so you can cover yourself. If they’re waving your last email, you’ve got nowhere to go. (I know what you’re thinking, but CYA is part of the job.) Use email to send general information to everyone or give an innocuous response to a parent email.
#8. Have some activities in your bag of tricks that you can pull out at a moments notice….
Things change. Fire drills, lessons that end early, assemblies that get cancelled and a thousand other things can interrupt your best laid plans.Nothing makes a classroom go downhill faster than dead time. Have something ready just in case. It should be simple, easy to do, familiar to the students and maybe some fun too. My favorite was a game called SKUNK. Sudoku puzzles, Magic Squares and 24 Circles work well too. I subscribed to a website celled EdHelper which enabled me to create all kinds of things in just a few mouse clicks.
#7. Put the students to work as soon as they come in…..
Don’t wait for them to get settled to start your class. Start your class to get them settled. Keep them too busy to do anything else. If it’s not a routine item, put instructions on the front board. I used to draw a pirate’s head on the board, complete with eye patch, with a talk bubble coming out of his mouth like a comic book. If anybody asked me what we’re doing today, I simply said “Ask the Captain”. Meanwhile, I kept myself stationed in the doorway so I could monitor the hallway and the classroom.
#6. Require your students to know basic math facts down cold….
When they get to middle school, that means the times tables. They are also the division tables, fraction tables and ratio tables. The middle grades are where students start Algebra. You cannot do Algebra if you don’t have your times tables down cold. Sadly many students do not. Take time to drill on times tables in class. I used a drill called Fast Facts. The students paired up. Each had a sheet with several columns of mixed multiplication problems in the 0-12 range. At the GO signal, one student would answer as many as they could in one minute while the other student followed along and checked them on their sheet. Then they switched. It was fun, active, let students work at their own pace and greatly improved their math facts. If we had just a couple of seconds, I would roam the room asking math facts or showing flash cards. Sometimes I would point to a specific student. Other times, we did choral responses. (BTW, I had a student one time challenge me to get all 100 problems on the sheet correct in one minute. I did better than that. I did two sheets – 200 problems without a mistake – in 55 seconds).
#5. Rehearse classroom procedures…..
This should be your main focus during the first week of school or longer if necessary. Explain, demonstrate, practice and rehearse everything – how to come in the room, how to leave the room, how to hand things out, how to hand things in, how to ask a question, how to label their work and anything that is used often.The most important one is the signal for the class to be quiet and give you their undivided attention. You can have an active chatty classroom and still get the work done but you have to able to bring them back on signal. Until they respond to that, classroom management will be difficult and group work will be impossible. My signal was a plain wooden kitchen counter stool called the Cone of Silence sitting at the front of the room. The only time I sat on it was when I needed them to quiet down and focus on me. It worked like a charm. In 10 years, I don’t think I raised my voice 10 times to re-direct a class.
#4. Use wait time, physical proximity, routines and planned transitions to maintain order….
Good classroom managers are smooth. They control a classroom through subtle means and practiced procedures. They don’t lose momentum when changing over during class. If you have to constantly yell over the students to get their attention or keep them on task, you’re making things hard on yourself and headed for burnout and frustration.
#3. Document, document, document….
We live in a litigious society where the culture of victimization has run amok. If a student is having problems, start documenting. I wasn’t one to go running to the administration or the parents at the first sign of trouble. I tried very hard to work things out with the student. But if it goes outside the classroom, chances are you’ll find yourself playing defense. You need written documentation. I kept notes all day of corrections and actions I took in dealing with students. At the end of the day, it went into a file and served as a memo for the record. After several entries, I would involve the administration or our teaching team and start calling the parents. If it isn’t in writing, it never happened.
#2. Remember that you work in a fishbowl…..
There are no secrets in a school. Everything you do or say as a teacher is observed, cataloged and analyzed by students. It then shows up on the bus, in the family car, in the bleachers and on the streets of the community. Teachers must be above reproach, choose their words carefully and be temperate in word and manner. This means being VERY careful in situations that might involve close physical proximity with students. I didn’t give hugs or slap backs. Occasional high fives and handshakes were as far as I went. If I had to lean down to a student to help them at their desk, I pointed with one hand and put the other in my pocket or the small of my back. Survival Rule #1 for me was to not be alone in a room with a student. If there was no other choice, we worked right up front with the door open and I would tell another teacher nearby. Our staff covered each other that way all the time. This precaution is especially important if you are a middle-aged male teacher. All it takes is one hint of inappropriate or suggestive behavior and your career is over. I’ve seen it.
#1. Take care of yourself….
Fifty percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years because of burnout and frustration. Teaching can be a 24×7 job if you let it. There’s always something that needs done. You think about it all day and dream about it at night if you can get to sleep. Sleep deprivation is common. Make sure you take some time to relax and rejuvenate. For me, it was Friday nights. It was the one night of the week when I forgot about school and did whatever I felt like. If you’ve got sick days, use a few even if it’s just for a mental health day. Do whatever you can to stay healthy and sane. You and your students will be better off for it.