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!