Recommended Strategies and Apps for a First Year Teacher
–Carina Hilbert and the TeachCow Podcast Team–
The first year of teaching often is the hardest. You’re in your own classroom without anyone else there to turn to, and the students smell fresh blood in the water. To help guide new teachers through those rough waters, a few of us experienced educators sat down and talked in a TeachCow podcast about important strategies, applications, websites, and books that can help new teachers be successful. While this list is long, focus first on what you already know your weak areas are, and spend time exploring these strategies and resources before the school year starts next year.
- Schedule down time and time just for you.
- Find a mentor, and meet regularly. Be careful in choosing one, but once you find the right mentor, keep that relationship going. Observe in that teacher’s class, have him/her observe yours, and go over the good and bad things regularly.
- Don’t take the kids too seriously. If they tell you they hate you, don’t take it seriously. Most of the time, they are reacting to something beyond your control and possibly something that has nothing to do with you.
- Schedule at least 8 hours of consecutive sleep, and stick to it! I know that sounds unrealistic, but shorting yourself on sleep leads to serious health problems that will cost you more in the long run.
- Drink water. Go to the bathroom every chance you get.
- Set limits on what you take home. Don’t spend every minute at home on work stuff, too. Set boundaries, and stick to them.
- Learn to say no–it’s okay to say no. No clubs, one committee, no more than one team in that first year. You have enough on your plate.
- Use routines in the classroom and at home. Don’t save everything for the weekend.
- Don’t grade everything! Make the students grade some, but don’t feel you have to write feedback on every single practice page and assignment.
- Don’t hang out in the teachers’ lounge, especially if it’s populated by teachers who badmouth others and complain about everything. You don’t want to soak up that negativity.
- Be positive and have fun!! There are great games now to bring gamification into the classroom, from cheap Jeopardy templates to Kahoot! and Quizlet. Students love playing games, and if it helps them review for assessments and keep it fun, everyone wins!
- Pick your battles. Don’t feel like you can’t compromise or people won’t respect you. Instead, figure out what battles you really cannot afford to lose, and focus on those. The rest is small stuff.
- Spend time in self-reflection. Remember all those journals you had to write in your education classes? Those actually were good to write. Keep a blog or journal, and make time to write, reflecting on your teaching and what worked that week.
- Establish yourself. Become the teacher you want to become. Start small, master that, and then try something new. Don’t try to be all things to all people, but instead pick what you want to try, try it, stick with it for awhile, and then assess whether or not it’s for you.
Apps and What to Use Them For:
- Evernote!! This is a life-saving app. It works on your school computer, home computer, tablet, phone, and anything that can connect to the internet. At its core, it’s a note-taking app, but in reality, it’s much more than that. You can share notes and even entire notebooks with others, and you can take audio notes, picture notes (even scanning documents with your phone), hand-written notes using a stylus, or typed notes. I have used Evernote for:
- Lesson planning and posting my plans on my website
- Keeping track of parent phone calls
- Saving resources I’ve found online using WebClipper for Chrome (free extension for Evernote)
- Taking notes in meetings and sharing them with colleagues who couldn’t make it
- Taking pictures of class notes on the board and then posting those on my website for students who weren’t there
- Taking audio notes when interviewing students for my master’s research (also a good tool in meetings, and then you can share those notes with all present)
- To-do lists with reminders
- Weebly! We’re a little ways into the 21st century, and that means that every teacher should have a website. Honestly, it’s just easier that way. It removes an excuse. Weebly makes it easy to have a blog; a calendar page; and pages for announcements, pictures, links to lesson plans, and links to copies of handouts. Moodle is good, and Edmodo is great for younger kids, but I prefer Weebly so I have more control over what the kids and parents see.
- Classcraft!!! If you teach secondary, this is the better classroom management system. It encourages teamwork, and kids love being able to earn more points so they can change their avatars. The new features of Classcraft make it worth the class time and the effort. Use kids’ obsession with video games to help them learn.
- Smore.com or Remind!! These apps are great for keeping communication going with parents and students. Smore is a digital flyer, like a mini website, and that makes it easy to quickly communicate with parents and students outside of the classroom. Remind is a free app that can email, message, and send texts to students and parents who sign up for your class. Students and parents can safely message you in the app, and no one gets access to your private phone number.
- Google Classroom/Edmodo/Moodle!! Having a learning management system is a lifesaver! Students can read articles, engage in conversation about them, write a review or summary, and you can grade it all in one place. While these take some time and effort to set up, they save a huge amount of time down the road, and being able to use an LMS is a critical college/career-ready skill for students.
- Oncore!! This is a free iPad app that helps you assess students and tailor their instruction and even group assignments to individualize their learning. This is the kind of app that makes any administrator happy, and it saves you time in the end.
- Google Apps for Education!! The GAFE platform (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Classroom, YouTube, Blogger, etc.) is powerful, and it saves you time in the end. Getting to know the apps and using them will help you and your students, especially in secondary grades.
- DialMyCalls.com–use robocalls to save time and still connect with parents. If you have to call 15 students about grades, use this website to set up a robocall and give parents the information they need to get a hold of you with any questions.
From the podcast, there were many good resources for surviving that first year mentioned. Here are a few:
- Harry Wong’s First Days of School book and teachers.net http://teachers.net/mentors/classroom_management/ This book really should be required reading the summer before your first year or, really, the summer before every school year. There are great classroom management ideas in there, and Wong is right in that how we start the year makes a big difference in how the year goes.
- Edsite.com (K12 free material and assessments for teachers) Major rule for teaching: never turn down good free help. This website has great materials for free, and that makes it worth checking out.
- Making Learning Visible book (Visible Learning) http://visible-learning.org/ For those of us who have a hard time remembering how we learned something, this strategy is very, very important to use.
- Pinterest. While I personally think that Pinterest is the black hole of the internet (be careful to stay back from that event horizon!), I can’t deny that there are thousands of great ideas lurking in its pages. If you’re stuck trying to figure out a learning center or lesson plan, Pinterest is a good place to start.
- EdCamps!! EdCamps are some of the best professional development available, and they’re free!! They are based on an unconference model, so those who attend are the ones who decide what the topics are, and when you get the chance to meet other teachers and work through common issues and problems, everyone wins.
- Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. Another great resource on helping students actually learn and master material. This is a great book for when things get rough before Christmas or before Spring Break.
If you have any other resources or strategies that you know really help, share them in the comments below! What has helped you be a better teacher?