Monday, September 8, 2008

Top 10 things that 19 years of teaching experience has taught me...

Ms. Malarkey recently posted her "Advice for New Teachers". Here is my story and some of my advice.

My story...
Nineteen years ago I moved from a very small town in New Hampshire to the large city of Albuquerque, New Mexico to start my first year of teaching. I went through a little bit of culture shock, along with panic over now being responsible for my own bills and meals. 

Next, I was the new girl on the block and the youngest person at my school. I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. On top of that, it was very daunting, thinking that I was now responsible for the education of children. 

I was hired as a 1/2 time kindergarten teacher (there were no full day kindergartens at the time). I had only been teaching my 7 students for about 5 days when the principal told me that he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that they were cutting my position because I had so few children. The good news was that the full time, third grade teacher quit and they were giving me her position. I would now have double the pay and insurance. Boy, was I excited! I also felt better about being with older children.

I taught third grade for two years and then moved to 5th grade, where I have been for 17 years. The first year is definitely the most daunting and nerve racking. I feel very confident in my abilities now, but I continue to learn something new every year.

My advice...
1. Observe in other classrooms whenever possible. You'll see good and bad, both of which can teach you a lot.

2. Find a mentor teacher, if possible. I had one for my first two years and it was priceless. Not only do you have someone to bounce ideas off of, but you have one person to go to, to learn the ropes of that particular school.

3. Classroom management is key. You can't teach unless you have the cooperation of the little buggers. They need consistency, established guidelines and a leader to follow. If you aren't that person, they'll find someone who will be and usually it's "Larry Laugh Track" or "Sally Spitball," that they lean toward.

4. Keep an anecdotal record book of phone calls and issues that come up with each student. It will help you when conference time comes along, when parents call or if the principal asks you about a certain student's progress. You have to cover yourself for legal reasons too. Documentation of calls, issues, strategies you've tried and notes sent home, will be a God send when "Mommy Dearest" comes in irate that "Little Billy" has a "D" in math and supposedly she knew nothing about it.

5. Don't become a workaholic. You need and deserve down time. Every teacher takes work home, but limit yourself. Don't expect to grade 39, twenty page reports in one night. Have the kids do some of the easy work: handing out papers and some grading (multiple choice tests etc.). Don't try and reinvent the wheel. There are so many great educational web sites out there, helpful books at teachers stores and ideas from other teachers that a lot of what you need is already out there, you just have to find it.

6. Make friends with the people who "run" the school: secretary, janitors, work room aid, and teacher's assistant. The secretaries know the ins and outs of ordering, what money is available and which child's mother is a nightmare. The janitor can get you a key for the weekend, empties your trash and has extra screws for that table that's broken. The work room aide will make you copies when you're pressed for time, can order you supplies and knows how to work the new overhead projector. The teacher's assistant can spend some one on one time with a slow reader, staple those 45 colated packets together and watch the class for a couple minutes while you go pee. These people can make your life a living hell or help you carry a heavy load, so be nice to them.

7. Organization is key. Many teachers I know are pack rats, but not me. I figure I don't need to store tacks for next years art display, I can get them again when I need them. I focus my attention on planning and keeping accurate records. Your file cabinets can only hold so much. Don't keep 57 copies of the same worksheet that you used once, 10 years ago, because you MIGHT use it again one day. Divide your files up by subject, topic, or season, whatever works best for you. Use as many graphic organizers as you can. They saved my life. And if you are not organized, take a class or read a book. It will benefit both your teaching and your personal life.

8. Don't try to do everything or become an expert at everything all at once. Focus on one subject or area a year. I didn't join any committees or take a leadership role for the first three years. I spend the first year organizing myself and learning the ropes, the second year I tackled management, and the third year I spend on curriculum. Around that time I started to feel better about where I was headed and I joined a committee or two to help out and then around year 5, I took on my first leadership role.

9. Keep pictures of all your classes. I started doing this my first year teaching and it was great to look back on them. Unfortunately, when I moved, that book was in the one box of stuff that I lost.

10. Get your masters as soon as possible. I am saying this because I never did. When I first started teaching, I could have taken half my pay and the school system would have paid for me to get my masters and I would be making $10,000 more then I am now. Now, that masters program no longer exists and the difference between what it would cost to achieve and the pay raise aren't comparable and on top of that we are going to have a new baby soon. My energies are focused on that now. I know some people will comment that, no matter what, I should make it happen, but it just doesn't fit into our lives right now.


Amy said...

That was a great list...Very informative...I may try to do the same type of thing with my homeschooling experience...There are so many teachers out there (whether traditional school teacher or homeschooling mom) who are just starting out and will be greatly encouraged by this information.

And if I do a list like this, I will link back to your list and give you credit for the idea.:)

God Bless,

Mountain Girl said...

I taught special education for 6 years. My second to the last year was pure HELL. I had an abusive principal who NEVER should have been in education. Your list was great and oh, so true. What would you say about cliques and lousy principals, etc.? I have a friend who basically got blackballed by her principal, HR and everyone else, she wasn't sure she'd even get another job in teaching - she did, but only because she had subbed at this school.

Melba said...

EXCELLENT advice, Tracey...and as always, I am soaking it up. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

great ideas, I'm passing this along to my cousin who is a first year teacher...Your SBP

Sheila said...

That Master's idea is a good one--
but rather dumb, from a student's point of view.

After all, what really makes a good teacher--someone who has their Master's, or someone who is naturally gifted?

What I think they should do is give pay raises commensurate with teaching ability. Then you'd be paid what you're actually worth! Making you jump through hoops for something that doesn't necessarily reflect teaching is silly.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have done it earlier--only that it's a pity that you needed to!

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