Best books and online resources for new public school teachers?
April 19, 2016 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm an ESL teacher with several years of experience teaching adult ed. I'm transitioning to the public school system. I have my license but in order to interview well and actually teach public school students, I feel like I need to read up! I haven't had any formal education in teaching and I want to get myself up to speed this summer. What books and blogs would you recommend for a newish teacher? What books are read as part of Masters in Ed programs that are actually useful?

Content-specific would be great but I feel stronger in that area than about things like tracking student performance, building a good classroom routine, talking to parents, etc. Thank you!
posted by chaiminda to Education (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you have only taught adults and never taught children, you should absolutely read The First Days of School by Harry Wong.
posted by gnutron at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was also coming in to recommend The First Days of School. Excellent, practical, comprehensive. Follow Wong's approach and you'll do well.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:58 AM on April 19, 2016

1) Read up on classroom management, 2) whatever accreditation standards, state standards, standardized testing requirements, and regulations your school district follows, 3) introduce yourself to your union local, if you have one, and become familiar with your contract, how you'll be assessed by management, its expiration date, and what they hope to gain in the next round of negotiations.

The actual content of what you teach is the easy part.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:00 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also was coming here to say The First Days of School. It's an invaluable book for new teachers and was given to all the incoming students in both my and my husband's MAT programs.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:48 AM on April 19, 2016

Nthing The First Days of School. Also, ignore the terrible title and read Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. Hands down the best book I've ever read for practical techniques to become a better teacher.
posted by Barnifer at 7:58 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't emphasis Classroom Management enough. Seriously, you won't even GET to the content if you can't get the kids to sit down.

I'll tell you a few tales from teaching English in a school with a high immigrant population:

1. The kids are mentally exhausted because they're sitting in other classes not understanding what's going on, or concentrating like murder to understand what's going on. You will see kids actually go to sleep in your class. This is no reflection on what you're doing, it's that they've reached their limit and must rest.

2. Start off every class with a Do Now or a Bell Ringer. Every single class there's a writing prompt on the board and each kid knows to sit down and get started with it. It's a gradable assignment and it gets people with paper out, pens out and settling down.

3. Know what your testing schedule is and work your lesson plans according to it. ESL kids are tested, just like native English speakers, and you'll be teaching the test. Make your peace with it now, and figure out what the test is, and what the strategies for taking it are. If you're in Florida, and it's FCAT, my sympathies.

4. Work with The Six Traits of Writing. You can use one per day as an activity in class. Just cycle through them.

5. Understand the Nine Types of Intelligence and make sure you hit on each one. Be open to assignments being done with art materials (I kept blank paper, crayons, markers and colored pencils in the middle of each table for this purpose,) songs, dances, etc.

6. Watch one, do one, teach one. Let the kids be the teachers, this works exceptionally will with ESL classes. Teach Back is a beautiful thing.

7. Familiarize yourself with Common Core and your State Standards. Base your lesson plans on what you're supposed to be covering.

8. Do your lesson plans for the entire term ahead of time. I'm not joking.

9. Post the lesson plan schedule on the board so that the kids know what to expect. We had block scheduling, so I had them for two hours. It's important to break out the class time into digestible chunks and so they can predict what will happen next. Even with a 55 minute class, you will want to have at least 3 different segues.

10. Familiarize yourself with the textbook. I found that ours was about 25% useful, and incorporated that into my lesson plans.

11. Homework. I gave up. I never assigned it. No one did it.

12. Grading program. Your school may have an electronic grading program, you may have a web page. If so familiarize yourself with them, and post the assignments daily. Do a weekly overview on the web page. I did grade reports weekly and let parents know to expect them. Even then, I had parents who were so overwhelmed with other things that these were met with indifference.

13. Call home when kids do well, call when they're not. Don't be surprised if there's a language barrier. Hope you speak Portuguese, Spanish, Creole and Mandarin.

14. Parents don't show up for Parent/Teacher night. Sometimes the kids will.

15. Be prepared to deal with administrivia.

16. Don't take roll in class like they do on TV. Silently do it while the kids are working on something. Stopping for this nonsense let's them get off task.

18. Don't pass back papers, don't let other kids pass back the papers. Get milk crates with hanging files. Have the kids make themselves a manila folder. (First day activity with the art supplies.) File them. Return papers to the file, it's up to the kid to retrieve them. Clean them out weekly.

19. Make up assignments, extra credit. Have a box by the door with the weekly assignments. It's up to the student to get the assignment and make it up. Don't hassle them, chase them or re-teach them. You can assign a student to explain the work (for extra credit). I had a list of things kids could do for extra credit, and limited them to 300 points per term. One of the things was to bring in classroom supplies like tissue, paper towels, cleaning spray, hand sanitizer, etc.

20. Some kids won't have supplies. I bit the bullet and had pens, pencils and paper. It's a stalling tactic and rather than get into a hassle, I'd just supply it. That was not the hill I wanted to die on.

21. Referrals. Get plenty of them from the office, and have them mostly written out so that if you need to send a kid out, it can be done quickly.

22. Bathroom passes. Find out what the skinny is on these. I'd say 10% of kids who wanted a bathroom pass, actually used it for that purpose (my classroom was next door to the bathrooms.) If a kid comes back WAY later than expected from a bathroom break, decide now how you're going to deal with it. You can blow it off, or you can send them to their AP.

23. Stand at your door as kids come into the class. Check IDs. Lock the door once everyone is in. Do not let students open the classroom door. If you do, you will get some random kid, who's roaming the halls, coming in and disrupting your class. I actually had teachers walking through my classroom to get to the copier. I mean, really? Lock the door.

24. If you do exams (high school) do two. An essay that's assigned a week before exams, and a multiple-choice, scantron test the day of. The day before review the test, and the answers and let them take notes. Have your test be open book. You will still be amazed at how many kids will fail. Tell the kids that if they turn the essay in prior to Exam Day, they'll get an additional 10 points on it. That way you don't have 200 essays to grade all at once. Screw that.

25. Grade things in class, while the students are working on other things. Get up periodically to ensure they stay on task. Do Nows can be graded easily and filed back within class time. If you have a prep period, you can do the bulk of your grading then, although I didn't, so I built in 'work among yourselves' time into the class so I could grade. The HELL with grading at home. That's for chumps.

26. Don't be afraid to engage the kids in such a way that they'll be talking, so long as they're on task, it's fine.

I have more, but you are going to be blindsided, and I wanted to share what I learned from my years in the trenches.

Good Luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

If you are going to be working with older children-- I found the "First Days of School" to be a bit more elementary focused. "Tools for Teaching" by Fred Jones was an amazing resource to me in terms of classroom management and classroom culture in my first few years of teaching. Best of luck to you. Teaching is amazing and challenging work!
posted by jeszac at 8:16 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you looking to become a classroom ("homeroom") teacher, or an ESL teacher? And what grade level are you considering (elementary, middle or high school)? The answers to those questions would help with providing really specific advice.

But if you are considering ESL, make sure when you interview that you understand both the county's "official" model and the model the particular school you are interviewing at uses. Will it be push-in? Pull-out? Will you have a class and a room of your own, or will you be itinerant? Class size? Second language support, bilingual, or English-only? Assigned to one grade level, or several? Using SIOP, or another protocol? Teaching all subjects, or just language arts?

Seconding the recommendations for "First Days of School" as well as "Tools for Teaching." I also recommend you at least browse through some responsive classroom books or videos (here). Responsive classroom's great for fostering a developmentally-appropriate, positive classroom learning environment, and they have other books like "Yardsticks" that can help you get a feel for characteristics of kids at different age/grade levels. A lot of teachers post great ideas and materials to Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers - I'd get an account at each site and start seeing what other teachers are doing.

Wherever you're interviewing, be sure to find the state's standards of learning online for the grade level you're interested in so you have some idea of the content load and whether you think you'd enjoy the subject matter. This will also help you be able to talk about why you are a good fit for a particular position.

Also find out which grade levels are subject to standardized testing, and which subjects are tested. For example, if 3-5 are testing years but you don't want to have to deal with that headache, maybe you'd rather look at PK-2.
posted by the thought-fox at 3:47 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, everything Ruthless Bunny says is gold.
posted by the thought-fox at 3:48 PM on April 19, 2016

Please don't read First Days of School. It advocates terrible pedagogy where the teacher is the centre of everything, and (as others have said) is far more elementary focused. Routines can be established without Harry Wong's dictatorship.

If I were you:
--I'd join Twitter and start compulsively following educators. Send me an email (gmail is the same as my mefi username) and I'll send you some specific recommendations based on region and content area. I know this seems like weird advice, but ALL of the best stuff is shared through Twitter - blogs, websites, lessons, videos, etc.

--My favourite education book is Teaching Outside of the Box. It's got great stuff - some of the only things that have stayed consistent in my classroom over 12 years. It's definitely worth learning about Affective Filter (Krashen), Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck), motivation (Malcolm Gladwell & Dan Ariely), and Marzano's research. There's lots of stuff on Project Based Learning, Inquiry, and Brain-Based Learning right now. The internet is full to bursting on those topics. Let me know if you want more specific suggestions. Edutopia is a good place to start.

--Pedagogy at the secondary level is REALLY content specific. Will you be teaching ESL/ELD in a high school? You should make yourself familiar with SDAIE (good summary of strategies), TPR, and the standards (these are from California, but does a pretty good job of explaining pedagogy, methodology, and content). I've taught ELD and sheltered classes, and they really vary based on the curriculum the district uses, and the support structure. I've had stand-alone classes (as in, I was their English teacher) and support classes (I had them for an extra period to support the work from English class), and every single school does it differently. Some give you day-by-day curriculum that's supposed to be taught in lock-step, while others just wish you luck and let you do whatever.

--Go visit some classes and watch what the teacher does. Notice how freaking many balls have to be kept in the air at one time to make class run properly. Ask them what the parent population is like (this REALLY varies based on location and subculture) and how they manage communication with parents.

--Figure out how lesson design at the high school level is different than with adults. Even in upper level high school, you ideally shouldn't spend more than 15 minutes on any one thing. Break the class into chunks, and make sure there is opportunity for movement in between, even if it's only a 30 second break. I use a video almost every class period, often to practice a skill that students need to master (What kind of conflict? OR Summarise the argument. OR What's the mood? etc.). I have a reading activity. I have a writing activity. I have a listening/speaking activity. The more variety, the easier it will be for students to stay engaged. It makes it easier to plan, and gives students breaks while still having a routine.

High schoolers are the group that is the most difficult to get to English proficiency. Adults are motivated by career or educational opportunities. Young children pick up language more easily, and often see it as a game. Older children see the social benefit to speaking English. And teenagers have the lowest motivation, and the highest rate of self-selecting out.

I also had students in my ELD 3 class who were born in the US, and had spent 10 years in California schools, but still weren't fluent. One of these students asked me what "male" meant. Often, language issues mask learning disabilities, and many states (like mine!) won't test EL students for learning disabilities until they are designated fluent. Which doesn't happen because they have learning disabilities and struggle to get to fluency. I'm sure you can see the problem there.

Okay, that's all I can think of for now. Please let me know if I can help! I love helping teachers - if we don't help each other, no one is going to do it.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:32 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh! And read Alfie Kohn. Homework is bullshit, and perpetuates terrible pedagogy.

Some argue that homework "prepares kids for the rigour of college." But you know what REALLY prepares kids for college? Having a teacher who EXPLICITLY teaches them how to read a textbook, how to make sure they understand a concept, how to take notes that are actually useful, how to use technology to do research, correctly cite images and sources, how to write and use academic language, how to study, how to collaborate effectively with a variety of groups/situations, how to defeat procrastination and develop good habits of mind, and how to think critically.

A lot of the content I teach is not nearly as important as those things, so I make room for them in my class. And don't count on anyone else teaching those. I never want a student to leave my class without those skills.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:42 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found Setting Limits in the Classroom by accident at a thrift store. I got some helpful tips out of it, even though I'm another ESL to adults teacher. I find tamping down the distractions to be the most exhausting thing, so they really helped!
posted by JulesER at 7:01 AM on April 20, 2016

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