First Few Weeks as a New Teacher: 3 Things I Wish I Had Known

tips for new teachersIn her book How to Survive and Thrive in the First Three Weeks of School, Elaine K. Mc Ewan elaborates on a teaching formula known as 3 + 3 = 33—something I wish I had learned about before I passed the 22-year mark as a teacher.

This simple equation is used by standout teachers to maximize time management and learning at any grade level. Simply put: Three weeks of teaching the three R’s (routines, rubrics, and rules) leads to 33 weeks of higher student achievement.

The start of the year provides an opportunity for students to participate in “on- the-job” training. We should not assume students come to our classrooms knowing what they need to know to succeed. Instead, like new employees, students must be made aware of essential survival skills that will ensure they can climb our classes’ ladder of academic achievement.
New teachers can avoid stress, self-doubt, and confusion simply by implementing a few essentials right from the start.

Assign Seats Before School Starts

This is a strategy I learned the hard way. Back when I was a new teacher, thinking I was being progressive I invited students to “sit wherever you want” on the rst day of school. To my horror, more than one student found themselves in the embarrassing situation of getting shunned or shooed away from a seat supposedly saved for a friend. My carelessness had resulted in some students feeling like unwelcome outsiders. At any grade level, it’s easy to assign seats before the year starts. Just number the seats. On the first day, hand each student a number as he or she enters the room. You now have a seating chart. If you quickly realize that Tanner and Isabella should not be seated near each other, you can make adjustments.

Show them Where (and How) to Turn in Work

The very first time we ask kids to write something down, we should also teach them the procedure for turning in work. The turn-in area should be clearly marked, with class periods and/or subjects labeled, and it should remain in the same location for the entire school year.

Make sure students know that an assignment submitted anywhere other than the turn-in area will likely go unseen. Give them a chance to practice turning things in during the first few days of school. Keep at it until there is no confusion.

Manage Student Behavior

When it comes to the most challenging aspect of teaching—classroom management—having a plan is what matters most. Ask your principal if your school has a set policy for all students. If so, use it. If not, do a little research and nd a plan you can support. And don’t be afraid to consult a book for help. The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong is one of the best when it comes to providing excellent classroom management ideas. Plans vary, of course, but the one you choose needs to uphold student dignity. Good plans do not punish. They manage. In the Wongs’ book, you will discover that most behavior problems in class- rooms are the result of poor management, not poorly behaved students.

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the maxim, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Nowhere is this truer than in the teaching field. As a new teacher, I used to think raising my voice was the best way to get the class’ attention. If students were working noisily together on an assignment, why not just shout over them when I need their attention? This wasn’t an angry shout—just a loud command that went something like, “Okay folks, quiet down please!” In using this approach, I was inadvertently training my students to wait for the shouting before giving me their attention. The louder they were, the louder the shout had to be. Today I use a bell or a simple raised hand to quiet the class. There is no place for shouting in good teaching. A consistent signal is best. When adults raise their voices, kids often feel anxiety.

Implementing these important ideas early in my teaching career would have prevented many headaches, not only for me, but for my students, too.

Chad Donohue is a middle school teacher, adjunct professor, and blogger living in Snohomish, Wash.