As a new teacher, your ambition is going to be the death of you. Yes, you were hired for IT and admired by your principal because of IT, but you will soon find out what every veteran teacher has already come to discover—you cannot get out of the way of the work.
Like Sisyphus, whose mythological plight was to roll a boulder up hill for all of his hours until it would come crashing down upon him at the start of each new day, teaching almost teases you into thinking that if you stay for two extra hours tonight, maybe you’ll finish the pile of grading still to be done, or lessons still to be planned.
The truth is, no matter how many hours over how many days—or weekends—you stay late, you will never get in front of the work. So, work from this two-pronged premise that will serve you well if it is your entire aim: your children will be safe in your class, and your children will learn in your class. (And, remember, feeling safe includes the comfort level students have to participate and engage in your learning environment–alas, the power of positive connection!)
Everything you will communicate to parents will be about how their child is performing in your class. Everything you need to communicate to your administrator will be about how effective you are at helping children develop. Every bit of knowledge you exchange with colleagues about trials and victories will again relate to how well students are doing in one class and how a teacher might change practices to have the same kind of success.
When you are a busy educator, you need some time-saving tricks for getting to the heart of the matter more quickly. Anticipating your needs is something that just comes with time on the job. But since I recently spoke to a nice group of NDNU teachers-in-training, I thought I’d share some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way that I shared with them. Here are the handouts.
1. Transcript Request Form
Before you even get your first job, it is important to anticipate what your future District requires. Why fill out all of the same information every single time it is needed when instead you could have a snappy little one-sheet identifying all the must-haves for your transcript request. Here is the example that has always worked for me. Notice the white space? Make yours easy to read:-)
2. Application Checklist
This will be helpful when you are sending out the plethora of packets each District requires. Yes, a lot of this can now be done electronically, but having a file copy and keeping notes is still important. Ideally, you have created your own checklist so that there are no blanks to fill in over and over again. You probably know which top three letters of recommendation you would like to use, list those names so you don’t need to re-write them on each checklist. True also for the colleges and coursework completed for any campus that holds a transcript for you.
3. Unit Master with Resources
Backwards mapping—this is the single key phrase every effective teacher understands early in her or his career. If you know the end game for what your students must learn by June, then you can work backwards to figure out how many days of school you will have to teach them exactly what they need to know. Block out holidays and teacher workdays, and give yourself some cushion for unplanned fire drills and assemblies, and shortened days for conferences schedules—this ought to give you a pretty clear idea of your instructional days. There are never as many as you would like to have. The few resources that supplemented my teaching could easily be planned out every month with this one sheet and I was able to show my principal which essential standards I was reinforcing from the checklist. (Hint: Administrators like to know teachers have a game plan for teaching standards.)
4. Student-Friendly Learning Packet
I learned a few years into my career that I had become that teacher who would hand out a single piece of paper 3 or 4 times during class. Each time, this distribution resulted in the same shoving into the backpack and stirred up the energy in the room, taking precious minutes away from focus. When I finally realized my error, I helped the students get organized by spending my two hours at the copy machine to make learning packets for the month. Yep, two hours—but only once a month. It worked for me. It also worked for my students. The kid-friendly version covered due dates for readings, workbook pages, and the kinds of writing we’d be doing—complete with upcoming test date, and even more importantly, the date this packet was distributed in class. No one ever lost it. No one ever complained. It was a much more efficient system and kids like to know what’s happening. The biggest selling point—parents LOVED it because they knew the plan for the month. I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is to communicate with parents. Partner with them. A supportive parent can do a lot for your reputation!
5. Sub Plans
Considering your class runs like a well-oiled machine by now, you probably could use a day off. The first time I was asked to substitute for a colleague during my prep time, I was taken aback by the six-page narrative I realized were the sub plans. It took a very long time to disseminate and when you walk into a new classroom, you want to be in control rather quickly and understanding the objective for the day is critical. Make your sub plans simple. I strip it down to the bare bones, safety and learning:
6. Persuasive Writing Rubric
A long time ago, I learned that I was spending a lot of my grading time writing the same comments over and over again on seventh grade essays. I never tested writing skills until I was confident my students had mastered the basics we had practiced in class. So when I was ready to call for an essay, they would write in class to a surprise topic and show me what they could do. What they really wanted was immediate feedback—and the A. In order to provide both, I trained them on the rubric elements I would be looking for. I shared examples of writing for them to compare and discuss how they would grade each sample I had created for them so that they could learn the differences between being a Proficient and an Advanced writer. Once they knew it—meaning they could even give each other tips on how to improve—they could churn out impressive essays for me nearly every single time. This made my grading much faster because the reading was easier, PLUS the rubric allowed me to merely circle the scores and comments. When students understand how they will be held accountable, they will consistently rise to the occasion.
Happy teaching in your new District!