Being a new teacher is very challenging so I’m providing my best advice for the fall in this post. Did you miss the advice for new teachers over the summer? Click here to read the post or listen to the podcast.
Focus on Building Student Relationships
From the moment you meet your new students, you should work on building relationships. Students will care and put in more of an effort for a teacher that cares about them. The first way you can build a relationship is to learn their name.
I like to make sure I can pronounce their first and last name, but also ask if they have a nickname they prefer. I make myself a cheat sheet by writing how to say their name phonetically on a blank roster and keep it near me while teaching the first weeks of school.
Another way to show students you care is to spend time in the classroom asking them non-education questions. My favorite way to do this is a five-minute moment called Good Things. This can be done at the beginning or the end of your school day. Students are randomly picked to share a good thing from the day. Other students are invited to ask additional questions and then the student sharing is celebrated.
Related Post: Classroom Management Quick Wins
Create Family and Staff Relationships
Aside from getting to know your students on a personal level (but not too personal), you’ll want to get to know their families and your co-workers. Just like your students, get to know your co-workers names and their position at the school. You never know when you might need their help or advice.
Some of the most important relationships will be with the office and custodial staff. I like to visit the office and just say hi to everyone each morning. During stressful times (back to school registration for one), it might be nice to offer a small treat to the office staff.
During the school year I like to help the custodial staff in small ways. Each day I place the trash cans close to the door for them to empty. Often there might only be one person on duty each night to clean everyone’s room so unfortunately emptying the trash is the highest priority.
I also have students stack their chairs on days I know they will be vacuuming. The custodial workers often appreciate it and might do little favors throughout the school year for me.
To get to know families, reach out to each family with a positive note or phone call in the first week of school. After that, make an effort to repeat the note or phone call at least monthly. Make sure to have a communication plan with families as well and begin communicating early. Things like the specials schedule and homework procedures are items families like to know about.
Learn About Your Students Academically
Back to school season is notorious for teachers wanting a peak at each others’ class rosters. Returning teachers are always curious where their last year's students ended up. Unfortunately this also means unsolicited advice about “those” students.
If a teacher approaches you about wanting to see your list, preface the look by telling them “please don’t say anything about the students. I want to form my own opinions first.” Most teachers will respect this and then not tell you about all the naughty kids on your list.
The beginning of the year is also marked with assessing students. Depending on what your grade level is you might do more assessing then some. When I taught first and second grade, I did a lot of assessing those first weeks so I could form my small groups.
Your school or school district will often have particular assessments for you to do as well. Don’t be afraid to ask what the outcome of these assessments might be. They might be used in place of an assessment you had planned to do. Save time and just do the one!
My go-to assessments are a sight word assessment (both reading and spelling the words), a spelling inventory (required by my school district but useful in my word study groups), a running record (sometimes replaced by an oral reading fluency passage), and a phonics screener (required by my district).
All of these assessments can take several weeks to get through for a whole class which brings me to my next advice -
Spread out the assessments.
I like to do pieces of the phonics screener to break up the monotony because giving the same assessment over and over can be draining. Our phonics screener is several pages long so I will test just the alphabet letters and sounds and go through the whole class one student at a time.
Then I move to the next section, again going one at a time until I’ve done the whole class. I feel like the assessment moves quicker and I can find smaller chunks of time to complete the assessment rather than doing all the pages for one student.
After your assessments are done, don’t forget to use the data! I like to keep a spreadsheet of all the data. This way I can look for trends within my classroom but also each individual student. It is easier than flipping through stacks of papers to try to find a certain student’s score.
Using this data I can decide which lessons are needed in reading or phonics, and how I can use my centers to target some skills that should be but haven’t been mastered.
Find a School Friend or Mentor
If you’re lucky, your admin might assign you a mentor as a new teacher. If you're not lucky, you might have to seek one out on your own. Look for teachers that will make eye contact and say hi. Maybe you have a jam at the copier and they are willing to help you out. These are the teachers you can find if you have questions about something.
Another great way to find a friend or mentor is through the support of a Facebook group. I work in a large school district and found several Facebook groups specific to my district. If you work in a smaller district you can find many, many grade level groups.