SURVIVE (AND THRIVE!

)

YOUR FIRST YEAR
10 tips they didn't teach you in school to make your
first year a success—and some good ideas for veterans, too. BY OTIS KRIEGEL
During my first years teaching, I struggled to learn
the many tricks and strategies to run a classroom
effectively. I wasted hours trying out new ideas and
what I thought were creative systems until I discovered what worked. But rookie teachers don't have

to learn things the hard way. Use these tips as a
starting point to develop your own classroom strategies. Talk with your colleagues about what works for
them and, most important, what doesn't, and keep
the conversation going.

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SURVIVAL GUIDE

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Appoint line lieutenants.

4

Don't buy a new rug!

5

Create opportunities for parents.

whoever said, "Always walk at the front of the line!" never
bothered to look behind them. Teachers leading their class often have
no clue what is happening behind them, or even if anyone is following!
Choose two line leaders and tell them to stop every 10 to 20 feet, at
physical landmarks like parking meters, trees, or classroom doors. As
they lead their classmates to the destination you've indicated, you'll
have the freedom to walk up and down the line, talking with kids and
making sure everyone is on task.

1

Stash a set of
spare clothes.

What do you do when, in the middle
of that fabulous art project, a bottle
of glue spills all over your leg? Teach
the rest of the day with your pant
legs stuck together? No way! Ask a
colleague to cover your class for a few
minutes, grab the spare clothes you
packed away in your closet for just
this reason, and run to the teachers'
lounge to change. No one works well
when uncomfortable. If you're covered
in glue, paint, or puke, you want to
be able to change out of those soiled
clothes and move on with your day.

2

Build your bulletin
board to last.

Every school has its own requirements
for bulletin boards. Some principals
want them changed every month,
some bimonthly, and a few, it seems,
want them reworked every week to
resemble an exhibit at the Louvre.
Whichever it is, you'll likely need to
adhere a background to the bulletin
board before you post your students'
work. Instead of using paper as the
background, which you'll have to
replace every two to three weeks, find
a large piece of fabric. Not only will
the fabric look better than paper, it
will last for several months, saving
you the time and energy you would've
spent redoing it every few weeks.

Many a new teacher has been lured into buying an expensive
classroom rug. But before doing so, consider who's paying for it. That's
right: you. If you need a rug, find a local carpet store and tell them
you're a teacher and the size you need. If they have a remnant in
good shape, they'll likely let you have it. You'd be surprised how willing many businesses are to help out local teachers. Or buy a bunch of
inexpensive bath mats for kids to sit on—they can be easily washed or
replaced as the year progresses.

Not all parents can commit to an ongoing role in the classroom
(e.g., as parent liaison) or even to a daylong field trip. Diversify the
ways parents can participate and offer opportunities that pose a minimal or one-time commitment, such as a neighborhood walk, helping
with dismissal, or organizing class materials in the morning. How
about a midday 30-minute art project? Make parents feel welcome and
let them know they possess a skill that is useful to you and the class.
This will encourage more participation, and soon you'll be telling families you don't have room on the next field trip.

6

Give students time
to brainstorm.

7

Never share
bad news alone.

It can be disheartening to see the same
hands raised over and over again. And
it's frustrating for the kids who feel
they don't have a chance to gather their
thoughts before you call on the first
student to raise his or her hand. When
you ask a question, give your students
some time to "turn and talk" to a neighbor so they can brainstorm together.
Or have kids write down their ideas on
clipboards. This encourages everyone to
partake in the discussion.

Whether you're a veteran of the classroom or it's your first year, if you have
potentially upsetting news to share
with a family, such as recommending
that a child be evaluated for a learning
challenge or reporting disruptive or
violent behavior at school, it's always
wise to bring someone with you to
the meeting to bear witness to the
conversation. It can be a member of
the school administration, a guidance
counselor, a school psychologist, or a
fellow teacher. The witness can back
you up and help explain the issue if
you become flustered.

8

Create good traffic patterns.

I've seen new teachers spend hours carefully setting up their
classroom, without considering that there will be 30 kids rushing
around the limited space. After two weeks, they inevitably end up
reorganizing the entire room.
When setting up your classroom, keep one thing in mind: traffic
patterns. Whether you use desks or tables and cubbies, or a mix of
both, keep the traffic plan simple and straightforward. Kids need to
be able to move around—traffic jams are going to slow transitions to
a crawl and create problems in your carefully planned day. First, think
about the physical flow of students through the room. Once you've got
that figured out, you can plan all the other details, such as the class
library and the shelves holding manipulatives and supplies.

PREPARING FOR
MEET-THE-TEACHER NIGHT
Meet-the-Teacher Night Isn't a wine and cheese party! It's a chance to
show parents that you're a competent, able person who is dedicated to
their child, while providing them with a bird's-eye view of the academic
year. You should prepare the following things for the evening.

• Make an information sheet with the basic weekly
schedule as well as the dates of state tests, parent-teacher
conferences, and majorfield trips or events.

• Prepare sign-up sheets for field trips or classroom
volunteer roles.
• Pian a short assignment for parents-such asa
geography test or a math problem. This helps set a fun tone.

• Create tomorrow's scheduie. Write up the following
day's schedule on the board, just as you would any other day.
Parents love to see this "real-life" example.

• Write your agenda for the evening on the board as weii.
This not only cues parents to what you're going to cover during the
meeting, it will also help you remember what information you want
to share. If you're nervous, it can make a big difference. Be sure to
introduce yourself, and share how you came to teaching and some
of your hobbies or talents. Encourage parents to ask questions, and
if there are questions you can't answer, tell them you'll get back to
them—then be sure you do!
By the end of the meeting, parents should feel more involved in their
child's classroom, have an understanding of what is to be taught and
when, and be comfortable with you as their child's teacher.

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SURVIVAL GUIDE

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Keep your principal happy.

Principals are like battlefield generals, making countless
split-second decisions throughout the day, so the last thing they want
to hear is one more problem. One way to
help your principal get through the
day is by simply sharing some
good news rather than asking
for something. Leave a note
or, if you see her in the
hallway or office, tell her
about something that
went really well in your
class or a student who
made a breakthrough.
Don't expect a response,
but it's likely she'll take
note of it. It will undoubtedly remind her, in the
midst of multiple disasters,
why she does the Job.

The New

unie Black Book'
Everything a
New Elementary
School Teacher
1
Needs
to Know
(But Didn't learn
in Coiiege)

Otis Kriegel

"Good advice for
novice and veteran
teachers aiike.
Wiiether readers
take in the guide
from cover to cover
or dip in as needed
(which wili be often),
they wiil ieave with
a greater sense of
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-Foreword

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I I ] Collect many
J - V y mentors.
Most likely you'll be assigned a mentor in your first year of teaching. This
veteran teacher is there to help you
throughout the year, but that doesn't
mean you shouldn't find other people
who can guide you as you make your
way. During my first year, in addition to my assigned mentor, I found
a couple of mentors on my own, both
in their third year of teaching; I found
it easier to relate to them since they
were still relatively new.
Instead of my simply asking them
questions, we decided to team-teach.
One teamed with me two mornings a
week for language arts and math, and I
teamed up with the other once a week
for art and physical education. This
was a far more productive approach
than peppering them with questions.
I was able to learn from watching them
teach, and they were able to provide
me with pointers when I taught.
If you're not up for team teaching
yet, you can ask a mentor to come to
your classroom to watch you teach.
This is a very direct way to receive
feedback that you can put into action
right away. Whoever your mentor is,
it needs to be someone you feel connected to, want to learn from, and,
most important, trust. D
Otis Kriegel,
M.S. Ed., is a
veteran elementary teacher, an
adjunct faculty
member at New
York Uniuersity's
Steinhardt School,
a lecturer at Bank
Street Coiîeije of Educotion, and the author
of Everything a New Elementary School
Teacher Really Needs to Know (But
Didn't Learn in College). He has conducted his worfeshop "How to Survive Your
First Years Teaching" for hundreds of student teachers and experienced educators.

1.800.735.7323 • freespirit.com
2 8

SCHOLASTIC INSTRUCTOR | BACK TO SCHOOL 2013

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