Hints and tips for teachers?
November 4, 2017 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm an experienced teacher and am about to move schools. What things have made you a better, more efficient teacher?

For example:
One thing that made my life easier is creating rubrics for all the topics I teach. I can then tick statements that have been completed, and underline other statements as targets. Students know what I'm looking for and marking is (fairly) quick.

I know this is a broad question but I'm just looking for ideas! Thanks!
posted by chr to Education (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Routine! If kids know what they're supposed to be doing they'll do it!
posted by raccoon409 at 10:21 AM on November 4, 2017

I'm a veteran teacher. Off the top of my head, since you're moving schools:

1. Read the IEPs, especially the accommodations and modifications for your students.Don't be that teacher who wants to get to know the kids before their mind is sullied by the IEP. Special education teams put in tremendous effort testing kids and creating an IEP that will help every child learn, and when a teacher decides their instincts are somehow more clever than this finely-honed effort, you will be doing your kids a tremendous disservice. You do not know better than the team that created the IEP; trust in their collective wisdom.
2. If you have any questions about how to put an accommodation or modification into place, ask the kid's liaison who will be only too delighted to give you ideas.
3. It's probably likely your department has some very weird ways of getting things done. As much as you may know superior methods to accomplish tasks, do not say anything. Nobody likes the new teacher who waltzes in with a whole bunch of ideas. NEVER say anything like, "In my old school we did...".
4. If you can during a prep period, ask if you can watch other teachers to get a sense of how they run their classes. Does everyone write objectives on the board? Do kids get sent for admin action often? Do people assign nightly homework? Do teachers work well beyond their hours at school or does everyone make a beeline at 2:45? Getting a sense of the culture will help you.
5. Expect to be utterly exhausted the first few months and treat yourself accordingly. This is not the time to take an awesome new graduate course or volunteer to be the lacrosse coach or run the debate club. Learning a new place, new admins, a new team and new culture should and will take your energy. This is the time for healthy eating, getting into a meditation or yoga or exercise practice and lots of hydration.
6. Buy some new clothes and comfy shoes and maybe even a snazzy new bag. Don't question this; just do it.
7. I hesitate to add this, but...there is always one teacher who is just really f*cking disgruntled. They will try to get you to join their team and be their Pity Partner. Avoid this person as soon as they make themselves known to you (and they always do).
8. If you don't know how to do a thing, ask, otherwise your co-teachers and admins will assume that you can do this thing. Like, if they use Aspen or Google Education or something you're unfamiliar with, ask your department head how you can get trained.
9. Discover the prevailing culture about photocopies, use of paper, supplies, the school secretaries (who control everything), and parent contact. Are you expected to buy your own supplies? Email parents within 24 hours? 48? Always cc your department head? This is one of those areas where I've seen new teachers really submarine themselves.
10. Something that makes me personally better (I'm a sped teacher so YMMV), is using Google Education for everything. I take data with forms, have kids self-reflect using forms, use Keep for notes, Calendar for organization; basically everything I do is on the GEducation platform. All my lessons are in shared folders, I have a GClassroom which I update and it's where my kids find assignments, etc. It has been a game changer, organiztionally because I can see from year to year what I did, where it is, what worked, etc.

Other than that, try to enjoy the kids, your team, the culture, and everything else. Teaching is probably the greatest job in the world and moving to a new school is a very exciting time! Congrats!
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:49 AM on November 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

The most important things for me are going by what research says works, and listening to my students. I've moved schools a ton of times in fifteen years and started at a new school this year, actually. And the research and talking to kids strategies have been essential to my effectiveness.

Your question seemed to be looking for teaching hacks, but these are the things that have vastly improved my life and teaching practice:
1. Kids do well when they can. No one wants to fail or look stupid. If kids aren't doing well, either academically or behaviourally, it's because they can't.

2. Homework has, at best, a neutral effect on students, and at worse, can be extremely detrimental.

3. Dealing with bad behaviour is downstream from the actual problem, and dealing with behaviour when a kid is in distress or angry will never be productive. Kids need help learning how to solve problems, and problems are best solved proactively.

4. If you make sure every kid has done the work in class, grading and individualised feedback get a lot easier and quicker.

5. Google Classroom is a lifesaver. Before I was 1:1 with chromebooks, I had kids take pictures of their papers and upload them to an assignment in classroom when we had devices.

6. Don't go to a parent before you've talked to the kid. Don't expect the parent to solve a problem that only occurs at school either. The kid is the best source of information for solving the problem.

7. Teachers fall back on "you should already know that!" But in reality, if you haven't taught it, it's not fair to assess it. And kids almost always know less than teachers wish they did.

8. Students need lots of repetition to learn a skill. It takes the average learner 50-100 repetitions to learn something new. I love Kahoot! for this, and I rarely create my own quizzes from scratch.

9. Google Draw can do anything a worksheet can do. Good graphic organisers are easy to create and the tools in Draw can create complex shapes and drawings easily.

I can share the research I've based a lot of this on. The book Lost at School by Ross Greene was life changing for me and every teacher should read it.

Good luck in your new school!
posted by guster4lovers at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing that is really helping me be efficient this year is creating and following a weekly routine for planning and tasks. I teach elementary, so my routine looks like: Monday - science and math plans, Tuesday - reading plans, Wed - make copies for the following week, Th - make any slides or materials, Fr - grade and enter grades online, etc. It has made my work load feel smaller and more spread out, and I never have to stop and think about what I should be doing. I literally printed and laminated this weekly checklist and taped it to my desk.

Grading efficiency (ymmv if you are a secondary teacher) - I stopped feeling like I have to grade every assignment. Some things get a completion grade, some get tossed in the trash, some I give brief feedback on and return to kids without a grade.
posted by raspberrE at 11:02 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for your ideas so far. Keep 'em coming!

To clarify - I'll be teaching secondary / sixth-form. I've been teaching for about 20 years; I'm not really looking for hacks but my current school has fixed systems for pretty much everything, whereas my new place allows subjects to decide their own way of doing things. I'll be the person making the decisions and pretty much starting from scratch. My reason for this question was to help me plan / make decisions etc.

Thanks again!
posted by chr at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2017

This might not make class more efficient, per se, but I think it would be memorable and valuable for the kids- teach them how to apologize well, and give them chances to do so.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:42 PM on November 4, 2017

If I were you I'd sit down and look at the standards you're supposed to be teaching and assessing. Then look at the curriculum you have access to along with any stuff you're bringing along with you. You have a chance to reinvent the wheel here, but deciding what to keep and what to scrap is important so you're not trying to do everything new all at once.

Come up with a general outline of how you'll proceed, including several different types of assessment for given goals and standards. You're a veteran so you already know that what and how you assess varies as much as the kids you get.
posted by Temeraria at 2:45 PM on November 4, 2017

"I'll be the person making the decisions and pretty much starting from scratch"

- Does this mean you are moving into a position of responsibility, like a faculty/department head?
In that case, find out who your team members are and how they work together. Collaboration Collaboration Collaboration. Curriculum review with your group could be helpful- is there a standard year level program at your new school?

What has worked in the past, what hasn't worked? Remember that people can't handle too much change- unfortunately "new you" is one of them, plan on being able to bring in 2 or 3 changes (depending on what else is new for your school that year) -

If my guess is right and you're the new subject head, buddy up with the matching subject (ie if you teach maths, buddy up with the existing science, english/hums) as you might have the same colleagues (and they might be able to get tips.)

sixth-form - is this the final year of schooling? (I would call this Year 12 in Australia) - does this mean you have scope to direct the years below you in how they are preparing the kids for 6th form?

More questions than tips/answers but hopefully they'll prompt you to think about the new position.

posted by freethefeet at 9:06 PM on November 4, 2017

...my new place allows subjects to decide their own way of doing things. I'll be the person making the decisions and pretty much starting from scratch.

Oh, that is very cool!

I would find out everything that's been done in the past few years. What teaching materials were used? How were lessons done? What was the role of tech? Get a sense of what's been done before, unless you're starting a new department, in which case I'm sure you have ideas for curriculum. And of course, every lesson ever written is on the internet.

But regardless, I would really try to connect with other departments to create cross-disciplinary projects. I recently worked with an art teacher as I was teaching "The Crucible" and had the kids create "Witch Alert" posters in the style of 1950's-style anti-communist posters. Cross-collaboration is the best.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:35 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Given that update, I'd see if you can figure out what weaknesses students are coming in with and tailor curriculum to that. Can you see any data from your existing/incoming students and identify areas of weakness?

I know you don't say what subject, but I'd also consider getting more video/audio/photography into your class. I have used podcasts, documentaries, YouTube videos, news pictures, funny pictures, etc. in my class and done all of the same skills as when we did traditional texts, except that the barriers to entry for students are much lower with those genres. The process of building skills requires a level playing field, and adding a layer of complexity with reading comprehension means that skill building is less effective.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2017

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