Sunday, August 23, 2009

The New School Year: My Top Ten To-do

Number 10. Go through your closet and get your own school clothes ready to go. Update or accessorize your outfits. I know I did not like wasting time trying to figure out what to wear, or discovering I had forgotten to dryclean or mend something at the last moment.

Number 9. Get to know those important unsung heroes, the backbone, of the school. The janitor, school secretary, librarian, the cafeteria ladies, the recess monitors, the school nurse.

Number 8. Figure out your rules and consequences for violation. Have a behavior management system in place. Make sure your rules and consequences are compatible with school policies and the general practices of other teachers. Talk to other teachers early to shut down efforts by students to play teachers off each other before it has a chance to begin.

Number 7. Rehearse routines with students every day until following the routines is automatic. Think about: how do I want students to enter the room and record their tardies? Do I want a student monitor to help me with roll, leading the pledge of allegiance, lunch money collection, other? What is the procedure for turning in homework? How should they set up their desks for start of class. When are pencils to be sharpened? Bathroom procedures? Papers for absent students? What kind of behavior do I expect when there is a substitute? Make sure EVERYTHING is spelled out so that they know exactly what to expect.
“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.”

Number 6. Communicate with parents before school starts.
“You can start communication with parents before the first day of school. Teachers can call home to welcome students and talk to the parents before school starts. I like to send postcards to new students introducing myself. Other teachers hold special class events such as class picnics in the park or an ice cream social before the first day. An opening letter from you on the first day of school is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the families you will work with. Along with the letter, I also send home a family survey. The data gathered provides insight and invaluable information about my students and families right from the start. Here are some things I include in my family survey:

• What languages are spoken at home?
• Is there someone to help your child with homework?
• Emergency phone numbers, emails, updated address
• Food allergies/Health issues/Diet
• Celebrations and Cultural Awareness
• Child’s Strengths
• Special Needs
• Interests and Talents (parents love this)
• Areas of Concerns, if any
• Expectations for the year
• Questions”

I also plan for open house. I like the custom of Japanese teachers who visit the homes of every student. Take a little gift with you, maybe something the students can use in your class. Oriental Trading has tons of ideas. I like these crayon-shaped erasers.

Number 5. Write a week's worth of lesson plans for the substitute teacher BEFORE you are so sick you cannot even lift your head. I like to base my substitute teacher plans on that last “optional” chapter of the textbook, the one no one ever gets to. As a hands-on science teacher, I preferred to interrupt my regular lessons over burdening a substitute with overseeing an experiment.

Number 4. Plan your first day of class. Start out with an engaging activity that also provides students with a chance to learn and practice something to help them be successful during the year. I had my students to a simple experiment on the first day as a vehicle for teaching them lab rules and procedures in an interesting way.

Number 3. Find another teacher, whether in your grade level or field or not, to partner with, peer mentor each other, and integrate materials. You may want to integrate with more than one teacher at your grade level and with teachers in other grades.

Examples of multi-grade integration suitable for k-8 schools:
Have students create some sort of science teaching aid, like paper models of body systems, and use their teaching aid to teach younger students in another grade. Or invite a younger class to be lab partners with middle school students for a class period.

Examples of within-grade integration suitable for a middle or high school:
Coordinate spelling words with the English teacher. In my case, a word like “hypothesis” might be an extra credit word. Or combine assignments, so that a lab report written in my class get graded for data analysis and conclusions, but the same report gets graded in English class for English mechanics. Or coordinate with the math teacher to teach the metric system in math class at the same time the science teacher is teaching the metric system for gathering quantitative data.

Number 2. Get your supplemental materials together for the first unit, and make a list of the supplemental materials for subsequent units. Put a note on your calendar about a week or so before the end of a unit to remind yourself to gather the listed materials together for the next unit.

Number 1. Know your material, Read over your curriculum several times. Write out a scope and sequence for the entire year. Invariably you will make adjustments as the year progresses, but you will be able to prevent becoming bogged down if you keep an eye on the destination.

Finally, do something nice for yourself.

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