Ten things every new teacher should know

3. Have a backup plan.

“The one thing I wish my education professors had told me about school/classroom management is something perhaps they all felt was too obvious to share: The best classroom management is obtained through a well-planned and prepared teacher. When the teacher is well-planned and prepared, the students are engaged, and when students are engaged, most of the management/discipline issues go away. The well-planned and prepared teacher knows what the class is going to learn and why and can easily share that information with the students, lowering the student anxiety level. The well-planned teacher has already thought about what differentiation might be needed for her/his class, what accommodations will need to be made, and what plan B is if the lesson simply doesn’t click.” —Leigh M. Abbott, principal, Springton Manor Elementary School, Glenmoore, Pennsylvania

2. Be clear in your student expectations.

“Luckily, my first-year mentor teacher … told me what my professors didn’t about classroom management. He told me to have a clear and complete set of Expectations and Procedures (not “Rules and Regulations”) that itemizes what behavior is expected and the associated consequences/reinforcement (including how conduct grades are determined), and to consistently follow the Expectations and Procedures. Itemize the procedures for everything from headings on papers to how you will collect your papers (all home learning papers are placed on the upper right corner of the desk at the beginning of the period, etc.) and as a teacher, follow those procedures to the letter.

“The Expectations and Procedures are reviewed the first day of school and signed by both the student and parent. Throughout the first nine weeks, the Expectations and Procedures are reviewed periodically. Amazingly, by the end of the first nine weeks, after consistently following the Expectations and Procedures to the letter, I have found that I no longer have to manage my class, the students follow the process, and I can facilitate and teach to my heart’s content. One caveat: If I deviate from the Expectations and Procedures, the students remind me in no uncertain terms, and they assign my consequence! By the way, I teach in a Title I school in the fourth largest school district in the country, with students who are typically low-level math students, many with serious behavior issues. As [my teaching mentor] said, that consistent structure and clearly defined limits help to maintain a healthy learning environment.” —Petra Burns, M.Ed., grade 6-8 mathematics teacher, Centennial Middle School, Miami, Florida

“[I wish I was told] the importance of firmly establishing and reinforcing classroom routines during the first few weeks of school. My tendency as a new teacher, after the usual orientation on day one, was to dive head first into the curriculum. Gradually, I learned that it was more important to hold off on the math and science, and spend the first few weeks discussing, practicing, and reinforcing classroom routines, in order to save time and energy during the rest the term. So, I developed and taught routines for morning activities, lavatory use, lining up, fire drills, lunch and snack, homework collection, cooperative learning activities, dismissal—and practiced them the same way we did our multiplication tables, with repetition, purpose, and understanding that it was essential in making the class run smoothly and safely. Watching my students learn these routines gave me great insight into their personalities and learning capabilities. Some picked it up the first time around, and most needed the repetition. A few never got it, and still needed reminders in June! The best reinforcement for all of this work was getting a note from a substitute saying, ‘It was a pleasure to spend the day with your students. This class runs it itself!’

“I may have been behind my colleagues in the math book, but we always caught up, because time was saved later on in the year because the kids knew the routines, so we could focus more on learning and less on behavior issues. I recommend Harry Wong’s list of routines in his elementary edition of The First Days of School.” —Jennifer Bova, director, OWL Teacher Center, Lindenhurst, New York, and 33-year veteran teacher

Meris Stansbury

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