Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dear New Teachers: An Open Letter to New & New-ish Teachers Starting Out

11 years ago, when I was hired 15 minutes before Meet-the-Teacher Night, I was overcome with excitement and honestly, pure terror. The teacher, who was assigned to my classroom had decorated it with the cutest decorations and sent out postcards to the kids to introduce herself, decided that she wanted to transfer back to her previous school that morning. And so, I walked into a fully decorated classroom and met students who thought I was someone else.

The night actually turned out great and my excitement helped calm my nerves. It was only until the next day that it hit me. My classroom was completely EMPTY except for the furniture, the mandatory school signs, and the name plates that were left behind. 

Everything that I had bought and saved up from the Teacher Section at Dollar Tree was in a big plastic bag and that was it.

Teachers from across grade levels at my school then began dropping off decorations at my door, and I happily and gratefully hung them on my walls. No specific theme, just whatever that worked to help run an organized classroom.

Those were the days of NO PINTEREST, NO FACEBOOK GROUPS, and NO INSTAGRAM. There were few teacher blogs around, and seriously I didn't even know of them because I had not even of such a thing until much much later (silly me). But with the limited digital and instant source of ideas at my fingertips, I didn't really feel pressure one way or another my first year of teaching to buy or have much.

My classroom was decorated, but according to today's standards, it was pretty empty and plain. However, I had one of the most memorable years in that classroom with my students and wouldn't change it for the world! 

For new teachers today, it's different. Way different. And I get it. While it's inspiring and exciting to see so many ideas for your classroom, it can literally be OVERWHELMING! Everywhere you look, the bar for teaching has risen so high with so much talent, creativity, and innovation, that you can't help but to question your own talent and creativity. I know, because even after all these years I still doubt and question my own ability. 

But, what I want you to know is that you are ENOUGH. Yes. YOU ARE ENOUGH. 

Beautiful decorations are nice to have. Bright colored bins are pretty and eye-catching. Laminated colorful supply labels make your classroom very organized. But none of that can replace a GOOD teacher. To get to this point in your life, you have had to complete hours of observations in the classroom, hours of volunteer work with children, passed amazingly hard college and state exams, and jumped over unbelievable hurdles to receive your own classroom. You GOT this. You are ENOUGH.

Don't feel overwhelmed and intimidated with what's out on only display on social media. Know that what is posted on teacher accounts and profiles mostly relate and pertain to ideas and resources for all teachers because they are afterall, teaching accounts. You do not have to have all those things to be a GREAT teacher. 

You just have to do the best you can everyday with your own students. That is the most important thing of all!

So don't feel intimidated or pressured in anyway. You GOT THIS. You really do.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

5 Things to Do Before the First Day of School

So the countdown to the first day of school has begun for many teachers.  As more and more things are added to our long list of things to do, it is important to prioritize all the tasks at hand and go down the list one by one.  I am guilty of having a million imperative things to do and then finding myself in the corner of my classroom rearranging the pillows at the Library Center.  Yup, that's me! Guilty as charged.  :)

So to keep me focused, I have come up with 5 Things to Do Before the First Day of School so that everything will go as smoothly as possible, which of course does not include me remembering to grab my lunch from the kitchen counter before dashing out the door. :)

1. Have your plans and class schedule ready. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but after spending hours getting your classroom ready and meeting your students at Meet-the-Teacher Night, you need to have your class schedule set and all the plans with any print-outs to go along with the first day and the first week of school ready on your desk. Display the classroom schedule on the board or somewhere students can easily find and follow along.  This is especially important toward the end of the day when it is dismissal.  Going over and practicing how students will be dismissed will definitely make your first day much smoother and less stressful.  Being organized and prepared will help set the stage for the rest of the year.

2. Designate different learning areas in your classroom.  Part of setting up your classroom is having different learning areas for students.  Do you have an area for reading, Word Work, writing, computer, math, STEM, etc.?  Are you doing Flexible Seating? What are the expectations for those areas?  The more defined the areas are, the more helpful it is for the flow of the classroom and for students to learn the expectations of how to work and learn in your classroom.

3. Establish a system on how to organize your classroom supplies and let your students know. Having a place where supplies are stored or a designated area for students to get and replenish their supplies later on will help with classroom management.  During the first week of school, I always go over where our classroom supplies are and the process of getting them.  For instance, construction paper is separated by color and is stacked on the open shelf in my classroom.  Also, there are two buckets for sharp and dull pencils by my pencil sharpener.  When students need to sharpen their pencils, they simply leave their pencils in the bucket and get a new one.

4. Have a behavior incentive system ready.  No matter if you are doing a clip chart or brag tags.  Having an incentive system so that students can be recognized for their good choices and be held accountable is imperative in a positive and productive classroom. In the past, I have done clip charts, tickets for Treasure Chest prizes, and punch cards.  They have all been effective and helpful in encouraging good choices.  Whatever you decide to use, make sure that you explain it thoroughly to your students and parents, be faithful to it, and have your prizes ready (little toys, coupons, etc.).  However, if you need to change it up in the middle of the year or so, do so!  You know what's best for your class.  Just make sure you go over with your students and their parents as well.

5.  Label individual student areas.  Have name tags ready for where students will place their own personal belongings.  Will they have their own cubby or hook to hang their jacket and backpack or assigned desk?  Young students like having their own personal spaces in the classroom.  It helps them keep track of their own belongings and feel belonged in the classroom.

It's hard to believe that with a blink of an eye, summer will be over soon.  But your new students have been waiting all summer to meet and get to know you!  They are so excited and know that it's going to be their BEST year with you as their teacher! :)

Below are some resources that are great for Back-to-School!

Pin now. Read later!

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