Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Days of School

It's your first day of school!  All of the work and preparation over the summer is now culminating into this, the first time of the year that you are teaching.  The question is, what to do?  While it is fun to plan for activities, lessons, and the curriculum the first day of school can be something of an enigma.  When I was preparing for my very first day of school I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  Should I just go over the syllabus and then play some ice breakers?  Maybe I should just jump in with the material?  The first day of school can be different for everyone and still work in all of its permutations.  Despite that there are a multitude of permutations available for this time, there are a couple of things to consider.

The first thing I consider is what the students might be looking for.  This first day is something like a faq page for a website.  Students want to know what they will be learning, how hard the class is, what type of assignments they will be doing, what is acceptable behavior in the classroom, how is grading done, and much more.  Because of this, I would recommend that whether you decide to go over your syllabus or not, that you take some time during the first day to review some of these aspects of your classroom.  This way you lay the foundation for the rest of the year.

The second thing I consider is what I want the class to run and look like for the following year.  Because the students use the first class as a judgement of how the daily routine will be, it's important to review your common procedures such as how to enter the classroom, the end of class, how you hand out papers, how students look for help, how you quiet the class, and so on.  Even having a practice run or two can help.  Another aspect of this I find useful is to consider some of the main formations of activities that I am planning to use during the year and try and implement it during the first class.  This means if you have a lot of group work, try to have a small group work activity to expose the students to.  If you practice a lot with the jigsaw method, then use it for a short time period during your class.  For my first day I begin and end every class with a do now and a question to go so on my first day of class, I had a do now which was to locate their seats and a question to go which was to ask students why they were taking physics as their choice for science.

The last thing that I consider is what is the pool of knowledge that the students are coming to class with.  This student brought knowledge to the classroom can affect how they answer questions, approach problems, and more throughout the year.  To do this you can do several things such as an assessment, questionnaire, activity and more.  This past year in my physics classes I had a math assessment the first day for the first part of the period to see at what level of math they were as because of the math needed for physics problems in the classes I teach.  Having looked them over, I'm now more prepared to know which parts of the math might need more guidance and which parts students already know and just need guiding through.

After the first day where you learn so much from and about the students, it's time to jump into the daily routine of the classroom.  Between day one and the first unit from the curriculum, some teachers insert a review of previous years and units for students as a Unit 0 for students.  During my first year of teaching, that is exactly what I did.  However, this year I am trying something different.  This is because while a review is useful for students, it can also be stagnant and boring to them, even with fun activities because as the student views it, they already know the information.  Therefore, I have jumped right into my first unit without any review unit.  Instead, I am taking the approach of reviewing information as needed at the time that it is needed.  Therefore, on the second day of class when we did an average speed lab for physics class, after the lab during data analysis time, we took time in the class to review how we can calculate average speed as well as how to organize data, what graphs and tables are appropriate, and what uncertainty in measurements were.  The students were very receptive to the information and were more vested in the review as it applied to their current activity.  While this may not work for every class, this is something that should be considered for the first days of school, to have a review unit or not.

Finally, for the first days of school it is important to take the time to reinforce your syllabus and acclimate your students to your classroom.  This means practicing how to hand in assignments, go to the restroom, how to silence the room, and making sure to equally reinforce these items.  It can be hard during the first few days as everyone becoumes aquainted, learns the routines, and more but taking the time now means that later on in the year the students will be following the routine and less issues will spring up in the future.  While the first days of school are some of the most important, make sure to keep calm and have fun.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Your syllabus will be one of the most important documents you will create and use throughout the year.  Because of this, it should also take a great deal of your time to consider because it will last the whole year and set the tone for your class.  Whether it's the first time a syllabus is written or the 10th time, a lot has to be considered.  To this end there are things that are good to consider and have in your own syllabus.

First, the syllabus is the location that your students will come to understand what your class is all about.  Because of this, having a brief description of the course and outcomes of the course help at students to look through the window and see a glimpse into the future.  Another thing to keep in mind for the students is that they like to use the syllabus as a FAQ location for your class.  Therefore, covering the basic questions that they may have helps answer questions the students may have.  Some of these things to consider having in your class:
  • How you will grade the course?
  • What types of assignments they may have?
  • How frequent are assignments?
  • What are the units in this class?
  • What skills do they need?
  • What materials do they need?
  • How should they organize their materials?
  • How much effort will this class take?
  • What types of procedures will they need to know ( entering the classroom, end of class, silencing the class, if need to go to the bathroom, etc)?
There are a lot of questions.  Depending on your school, you may even need to include a specific format or certain items so you will need to keep that in mind as well such as including your e-mail, classroom number, website, and more.

Before delving in and answering all of these questions, you need to consider a few rules that are non-negotiable for you in your classroom such as  students needing to hand in homework at the very beginning of class or no food.  This is because while there may be many things you want in the classroom, your rules are the items that students will have to do or receive the consequences.  Also, sometimes there is something that you as a teacher would like the students to do but which is more of a procedure than a rule such as how a student should go to the bathroom (ie. a sign out sheet).  Another important thing to consider is that these rules will last the whole year and will be equally enforced to all students at all times so you should feel comfortable with them and be able to enforce them.  Take some time therefore and consider what you really deem to be important in the classroom and then organize into various categories so you can include them in an ordered way for the students to follow in the syllabus.

One way that I have done this in my syllabus has been to have a classroom conduct section where I lay out the behavior expectations I have for the class along with the consequences for behavior that is not appropriate for the classroom.  During the first day of classes I try to emphasize that everyone can make mistakes but it's important to learn from them and that with any choice there is a consequence for that choice.  Then I have a separate section for the procedures where I lay out what students can expect when entering my classroom (for me it's a Do Now activity), when leaving my classroom, how they can go to the bathroom, whether food and beverages are allowed or not, and more about how the class is run like handing out and turning in papers.

Once you have created your syllabus, a second thing to consider is how to determine how much information the students have processed from it.  A way that I am determining this is to have a quiz on the syllabus either the next class or the one after depending on the class.  By doing this it emphasizes how important it is to read the syllabus, not just sign the sheet, for the students.  It also highlights the parts of the syllabus that you believe are the most important.  If you don't feel comfortable with doing this then determine your own way of assessment such as reaffirming parts of the syllabus every class or week, having it posted openly in your classroom, or other reasons.

After doing all of the above, you are now prepared to make your syllabus and share it with your students.  If you are still unsure with ways to organize your syllabus or points that might be particular to your school with procedures or grading, one way to solve this is to look at your colleague's syllabi for different classes, levels, and grades.  These will give you a feel for the environment at the school.  These can typically be found from the school website or separate teacher pages  Good luck!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

School Open House

You've rocked out your first days at school and a week or two have gone by.  Now it's time for school open house to discuss your courses with the parents of your students.  This will be your first impression on the parents for your classes and thus is an important step.

While it may be intimidating or scary or many other things, what I have found is important to keep in mind is that the parents are on your side and you all want the student to succeed.  Thus, you not only want to convey what is involved in your class but what parents should expect.  One of the things I did before and am still doing which was successful is to have pieces of paper or index cards, simply something to write on and something to write with for the parents.  As the walk in, have it written on the board and ask them to share important contact information and at least one thing that they would like to share with you about their child.  This can range from an unknown hobby to a concern.  I find that this helps open the dialogue between you and the parents and it conveys important information to you as a teacher about the student.

It is also important to come in prepared as you typically only have a short time to convey all of your information.  You want to summarize the main points of your class such as what it covers, what it prepares students for, as well as grading and homework.  If possible, try not to be too rushed and leave a little time on at the end to answer any questions that parents may have.  It's also nice to introduce yourself.  Include what classes you teach, some of your background like experience and school, and anything else you think is important.  This just gives the parents an idea of who is teaching their child and helps to open the dialogue.  In my first year of teaching, when introducing myself in included my education, a little about my student teaching, a little on my philosophy of teaching, and went in to was entailed in my class.  This was followed up by questions which were well done by the parents.  During the year, this first communication helped with further ones when they took place.  And of course, remember to relax.

Call Me?

Communication is one of the most important things in being a teacher.  You have to communicate your ideas to colleagues, students, parents, and more.  In order to do this it is important to keep your channels open.  Sometimes this can be easy and sometimes it's harder than you thought.

Having gone through your welcome training, you were probably given an e-mail and told what your phone number is.  At this point everything seems to be complete and ready to communicate as much information as you can.  For me, it was not.  Even though I had received an e-mail, I had not been updated on the school website and thus, unless a student had carefully placed their syllabus with loving care is a known location, e-mail at first was a challenge until it was updated.  To fix this first problem I talked with several people in the school and was directed to the technology where I informed them of the problem and they very kindly and efficiently fixed the problem for the future.  While it seems like something simple, with everything else coming at you at the beginning of school, you want to take a minute to check how you are posted on the website.  The second issue came with the phone.  First the name was not listed on the directory so after some searching I was lead to the office to report this.  As a lot of parents call it is important to check the directory out.  Along with the directory for the phone, it's important to set up your voice mail in order to receive messages.  Depending on the school system it will take different methods but for mine it involved calling a certain number, entering a code, then changing your password and recording your voice message.  Make sure to have some patience, I ended up receiving 4 e-mails, each with different instructions before I was forwarded a 5th and correct e-mail.

To sum this all up, just make sure that when you are communicating that others can communicate back with you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Before You Enter the Classroom

As a first year teacher, this will be the first time you will have your own classroom.  There is a lot involved in running a classroom and curriculum.  I know that when I had chosen where I would be spending my first year teaching, there were a lot of questions running through my head at that time.  During the summer before my first year, I was lucky enough to participate in the Boston University Research Experience for Teachers (BURET).  This is a program designed for teachers who are looking to expand their horizons with current research while attending seminars in pedagogy and research.  The people who made up this program were put into pairs, one veteran teacher, and one newer teacher.  The point of this was to help out the newer teacher with the experience of the veteran teacher.  Through this experience, a lot of conversations happened about the classroom and things to consider for the upcoming year.  Now, after my first year, I have reflected and realized how important all of those points were in how well my first year went.  I also took some time to talk to some of my friends who were also first year teachers who ended up running into some of the points that I was lucky enough to have been exposed to before having my first year.

One of the most important things to consider is your syllabus.  This is a document that will include what you plan on covering over the year (units, topics, etc.).  It also highlights what is the purpose of the course, possible prerequisites as well as what classes the student will be prepared for afterwards, as well as some room procedures and rules.  This is possibly one of the most important documents you will create all year.

Also consider room layout.  This one can be a little trickier to control because as a first year teacher, it is highly likely that you may share a room.  I myself moved between 3 classrooms for my classes.  If this happens, it is important to talk with the teachers whom you will be sharing the classroom with and see how flexible they are with their seating arrangement.  If they are, you want to consider how to arrange the desks.  This can be related to how you think you might run the class.  If you think there will be a lot of group work then you may want to arrange the desks in groups.  Likewise, if there is a lot of individual work, it might help to  have desks arranged in such a way that this is encouraged.  Either way, it is important to consider how to organize, keeping in mind it is important to be able to move as well as you can in the classroom as well as handing out and taking in assignments and papers.

Think about at least the first two weeks of school.  This way, when you walk in you will at least know what the first two weeks will entail so that you can worry about all of the other jobs and duties that you will be adapting to during the upcoming year.  Depending how you are planning your units, along with requirements and your schedule, you may want to plan more.  It is important when planning a unit, that it is planned at once.  By doing this, the test will better reflect what is being done in class if it is all done at the same time.

Finally, within the last point includes the first day.  This should be carefully thought out as the first day helps to lay out the atmosphere for the rest of the year.  It is important to think of how you will introduce yourself and the syllabus.  It is important to make sure that in the introductions students have a grasp of what the year will look like.  One way to do this can be to have an activity similar to the type that you plan to use throughout the year.  If the year will have a lot of group work, then have a group work activity.  Something else to keep in mind, if you plan on doing something every day such as a Do Now or Ticket to Leave, then try to do that as well on the first day.  This reinforces that it happens every day and helps students to know what to expect.  The same idea can be said for classroom procedures.  An example can be handing out papers.  When I hand out papers in rows, instead of handing papers to the front row and having students hand it back to the student behind them, I have students had horizontally and I hand the papers out across the rows so that on the first day of school, I used the same method so students knew what to expect.

If you have the time over the summer to do so, make sure to really think about the above ideas and sleep on them so that when you have finally made your decisions they have been well thought out.  This will help for a successful year by working on starting on the right foot as well as distressing what can be an intense time of the year.  Good luck with your planning!

Friday, July 6, 2012

You've Just Been Hired! Now What?

Congratulations!  You have just acquired a teaching job.  Welcome to the profession!  This is a rewarding job where you can affect many people in a relatively short period of time (180 Days).  The questions you had before getting the job are now morphing into what the year may bring.  It is important as a first year teacher to remember there is a lot you don't know and thus, it is important to ask questions about the unknown.  During your journey you will discover much on your own and many will share information over your upcoming year.  Some of the questions that you want to be considering now that you have the job are:
  • What does my schedule look like?
  • Where can I access the material for preparation over the summer?
  • Does this school use Syllabi and if so, is there a format?
  • Does this school have its own grade books and lesson planners that I can use?
  • When will I receive my class list?
  • When will I be able to set up my e-mail and voice mail?
  • Is it possible to see the classroom/s that I will be using this year?
  • How can I access the teacher and student handbook?
  • Is there a copy of the curriculum for me to access?
  • Will there be a seminar for the new teachers to the system?  If not, how will I be aided in acclimating to this school?
  • Is there a location where I can locate the school calender for planning?

Some of the questions may not be answered until closer to the actual school year as some schools have new teachers meetings towards the end of summer (make sure to find out from the question above).  However, without knowing, it is important to consider all of the above questions because if they are not answered before school it can add to the pressure and stress at the beginning of the year.

On top of all of the logistics questions mentioned above, make sure to consider how your classroom will look and what you will be teaching.  This includes your syllabus, classroom layout, order of units, and at least the first few weeks of school.

At this point do not become overwhelmed.  You will have time.  You will be able to find answers.  Make sure to stay relaxed but focused as you begin preparations for the upcoming year.

Looking for a Teaching Job and Deciding

Teaching.  The profession you have chosen.  Now that you have graduated college you are starting the job search.  There are some useful things to know when looking for a job.  Apply to as many as you can that meet your requirements.  What I mean by requirements are things that you need at a job.  These can be: location (town, distance from home), type of school (public, charter, private, parochial, urban, rural, ect.), coworkers (do you know someone), specialties (school known for music, English, theater, etc.), pay scale (this is where you use the internet to see how much schools pay so you know before walking in), and more.  Once you have this list, then start looking for jobs.  When applying for jobs, first check out  This is a place where many schools over the United States and also some over the world put up job listings.  If you haven't created an account, this is a great place to start.  Depending on where you are in the United States, some newspapers may have jobs posted and some schools only post in print.  Many schools these days also have postings on their school sites (some harder to find than others) so if there is a certain school you are looking for, check the site (or find out the names of schools in an area and then search their sites).  If you are still unsure of where to apply, consider your experience as a student teacher and what made it great and what made it challenging.  If you can attribute some of these events into concrete choices that may be related to the school, use this to help you make your choice.  Finally, I would recommend, even if you have your heart set on one school in particular, to apply to a couple so that you gain several things: perspective (seeing how different schools function), a back up (in case unfortunately you do not obtain the job), and practice (the more you practice interviews, the better you are).

Now that you've applied, the next step in procuring a job is the interview.  The interview is a time for information, both for yourself and those in the school looking for a new teacher.  Make sure you are dressed in your best (stand out but for your professionalism), contact the school to see if you need any paperwork (license, sample work, lesson plan, etc.), review the frameworks for the location in which you are applying which indicate what you must teach students in the position in which you are applying for (the topics that are taught in you state such as the Massachusetts Frameworks for Physics), and make sure to have a list of your own questions for the school.  Sometimes, part of the interview process includes doing an example lesson on a topic of the interviewer's choice.  What can you expect in the interview?  The point of an interview is to glean as much information in as little time possible for a position.  Therefore, you may receive similar questions to those below:
  • How do you construct a lesson plan? (from framework to the classroom)
  • How do you assess students?  (Consider effort vs correctness)
  • What is your view on education? (your motto or point of view on teaching)
  • What are your future goals? (do you plan to stay a teacher, move up to administration, further education, etc.)
  • Where does you passion for teaching come from?
  • How do you collaborate with others?
  • How do you handle discipline?
  • How do you energize and motivate a class?
  • How do you create an environment that maximizes learning?
 It is important when answering any question that you are thoughtful (make sure to think before speaking).  Also make sure that you are actually answering the question being asked.  Having myself been on an interviewing committee, one of the most frustrating things that an interviewee can do is try and dodge an important question or answer the wrong question multiple times showing that they are not listening and paying attention.  If you are unsure of what was asked, you can ask several things: request a paper copy for yourself to view, ask that the question be repeated, or ask if the question can be restated in another way.  If you are not the best at interviewing, make sure to consider the above questions and how you might answer them.  Practice in front of family and friends or in front of the mirror so that you are relaxed during the event.  At the end of the interview is your turn to ask your questions.  Some of the questions that you may want to consider asking at the interview are:
  • What courses would I be teaching in the upcoming year?
  • Are there other teachers who have this subject?
  • If so, would I be able to contact them over the summer for planning?
  • Will I have a mentor and if so, when would I be notified? 
  • Is there anywhere that I can access the current health care plans?
  • How long are class periods?
  • Would I have my own classroom?
  • How large are class sizes?
  • Is there any scheduled time during the day for common planning or reflecting?
  • What is the approximate age of the department?
  • Is this a full time position?
  • How easy is it to become involved in the school?
  • How easy is it to create clubs for students (if there is interest)?
  • Does the school offer electronic grading and if so what system do they use?
  • Does the electronic grading system include the ability for teacher sites and mechanisms like blackboard, moodle, or webassign?
By asking these questions, it helps to create a fuller picture of the school so that if you are choosing between several schools, you have more points to analyze and consider.  If you can find the answers to any of these questions before the interview it would make your time easier by coming into the interview with as much information as possible.  Make sure that when you are leaving the interview, if you were not informed how long until receiving further information on the position.

Then, after the interview, you wait and are contacted or not about the position.  If you are offered several jobs, see which ones match your requirements.  If you find yourself caught between a couple of choices, then you want to weigh various things like the teaching environment, coworkers, pay scale (to consider your future), healthcare, and then your requirements from most important to least important until you come to a conclusion.  Now all you have to do is accept!