If you are like me, I wanted to be a ROCKSTAR in my first years of teaching, but got immediately overwhelmed. I wish I knew half of the teaching tips, advice, and strategies that I do now. I fumbled A LOT, yet learned from every trial and error. Through my 26 years in the classroom, I learned so many things to make my job easier and keep my room more organized. This is a collection of things I did in my classroom along with SANITY advice.
Before I begin, I’m going to skip to the very last strategy since I think it is the most important. YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL. Seriously. Don’t compare yourself to someone who has been building a classroom environment for several years. The teaching profession needs you and doesn’t want you to burn out too early! I hope you find something that will work for you! Learn 30+ Things I Wish I Knew My First Years of Teaching!
Let me start with some inside scoop. Getting to know people in the building will be incredibly helpful. Most people who work at a school know you juggle many things and are willing to give you a hand. Establish relationships!
GET TO KNOW:
Custodians: They will help you hang things, rearrange your room, come quick when there is an accident, and so much more. Some custodians can even become mentors for kids.
Lunch Ladies: Oh this may seem silly, but seriously. When you build a relationship with lunch ladies, they will help you and your students. They will be more willing to help with field trip lunches, parties, items needed for lessons, you name it.
Office Staff: I’m sure you’ve done this already because they are often the first people you meet. Get to know them. They can do so much for you. They will give little reminders, look out for you, help with mail, share important information, etc.
Parents Volunteers: I know that some parents can be overwhelming, but let them in! They will help cut, paste, organize, file papers, set up for parties, clean up, and soooo much more. I had Grandma Jan come in to my classroom to volunteer one year and she ended up stayed with me for 15 years! When her grandchildren moved on, she stayed. What a blessing!
Mentor Teachers and Veteran Teachers: Many times we don’t want others to know that we are struggling with something. Don’t let your mind go there. Ask for help! They might have a simple trick that will save you so much time!
Getting organized is the key to keeping your classroom running smoothly. These little tips will help!
Student Mailboxes: This makes it easy to pass out papers. Make a routine for students to check them at the beginning and end of the day. You can quickly look into the box to see who already visited their mailbox. You can also use the mailbox for turning in work, permission forms, etc. Save money by getting a Wooden Literature Organizer. It may be more expensive to purchase now, but it will last! I went through so many of the cardboard ones.
Task Cards: Organize your task cards so they are easily accessible. I love these COLORFUL PHOTO KEEPER BOXES!
Graded Papers Crate: Have a crate with hanging file folders to keep graded papers for each student. Being transportable is key. You can carry it to different locations to file papers throughout the week so they will be ready to send home.
Student Files: Have a file folder for each student where you place emergency forms, communication forms, behavior documentation, student-led conference information, etc. Keep it somewhere private like in your desk drawer or file cabinet.
Take Home Folders: Have a Heavy-Duty Folder for each student. It should be two-pockets with prongs. I like to have them in the same color for each student. Make sure that it is heavy-duty to last throughout the year! Label one pocket “Keep at Home” for papers that need to be sent home and the other side “Return to School” for homework or things that need to be signed. In the prongs, place a calendar, homework sheet, behavior chart, newsletter, or anything needed to do homework successfully.
Team Jobs: Everyone should pitch in to keep your room tidy. I like TEAM JOBS. When you pair up students, it makes them work together and keep each other accountable.
Daily Bins: Have bins for M-F and put all your student copies, supplies, books for the lessons for that day. Fill them on Thursday or Friday the week before! I have to say this was a game changer for me! I started off by just having file folders for each day and the bins were just magical! Here are some ideas: Daily Bins. or Colorful Daily Bins. I liked to have extra bins for projects, substitute plans, etc.
Library: Have a system for your library. Check out the How to Organize Your Library blog post. It will share ideas for getting all those books organized. If you don’t have many books in your library, see suggestions for building your library below!
Restroom: Have a system for using the restroom. Schedule class times throughout the day. Include times before lunch and after recess to wash hands. Then use a bathroom pass where only one person can use a pass at a time. This will keep students from meeting “buddies” in the restroom. Establish rules for the pass. For upper grades, you can even do a sign out/in sheet.
No Name Papers: Have a system for students who forget to place names on papers. Place these papers in a designated bin or a bulletin board with clothespins to hang the papers. If you are missing a paper from them, they can look there.
Absent Students: Have a form listing missed assignments for absent students. Ask a class buddy or group to fill it out and collect any papers for them throughout the day. Staple or place the items in a folder and have a designated bin.
Substitute Plans: We all know that missing a day of school can be stressful. It is almost easier to go in sick. It doesn’t have to be. If you already have your day planned out and papers in the bins, you can follow your regular schedule. Create a blanket Word document with your schedule and routines and fill in the lessons for the day. If you don’t have plans, keep an Emergency Substitute Plan. Most of the time, you will need 1-3 days away from your classroom. Plan 3 days of lessons and have materials and copies ready. Place it in a designated area (one of the Daily Bins). Then you won’t have to worry about being out!
Planning: Start by going through the school calendar and adding all of the dates to your planner. Then think about short term and long term planning. If it isn’t required, it is worthwhile! You can look at the week, month, grading period, or year and know where to focus your time. It will also serve as a reminder to cover grade-level standards.
Year-round Bulletin Board: Create a bulletin board that can be used all year. (It makes it easy to switch out student work to display in the hallway.)
Centers: Decide on what centers you need for your curriculum. Set-up the area so it can be easily changed each week. Include supplies needed for the activities. This is an example of SETTING UP A WRITING CENTER.
Student Numbers: Assign each child a number. Label everything that belongs to them. Use colorful dots and number their cubbies, books, notebooks, folders, mailbox, etc. Keep a roster with their numbers close to cubbies and mailboxes. It will help others who are in charge of finding the right spot to put students’ items. Round dots and rectangular dots that are 3/4 inch work well. Many dot labels can be placed in your printer to print the numbers. 🙂
Good communication between students and parents will develop a strong rapport.
Love Your Students: They are not going to be perfect. They are not going to act the way you expect all the time. They will come with issues and individual needs. Don’t assume they have structure at home or family that care for them. Think about your students as if they were your children. How would you want their teachers to view them or treat them?
Build a Strong Relationship with Your Students: Ask your students about their interests and things they do outside of the school. Go to one of their afterschool activities. Students will see that you care! Have students fill out a student interest inventory. I do this when we are Brainstorming Ideas for writing. Also ask students to fill out a survey of their thoughts and habits. Do you need ideas for boosting student morale? Click HERE.
Build a Strong Relationship with Your Parents: Have parents fill out a survey of their child. What are their concerns and what wonderful things do they want you to know about them? Also, keep parents in the loop. Don’t let them see poor grades come home over and over again without contacting them. Knowing that you care will go a long way! I HIGHLY recommend using the ClassTag App. This awesome tool allows you to streamline any engagement and communication with your students’ parents!
Send a Weekly Newsletter: As a parent, I cringed every time my own children had a teacher who didn’t have a weekly newsletter. I was busy holding down my own teaching career, furthering my education, and keeping up with my children’s homework and afterschool activities. I often felt stretched too thin and trying to figure out what was what and what was due when was so stressful! Make sure they know upcoming events, due dates, etc. If you have a place to put it on a website or send out weekly emails, that is a bonus!
Send Home Weekly Papers or Reports: Parents do not like to have surprises on report cards. Don’t rely on the parent portal either. Parents want to see the work. It gives them something to discuss with their child. Place a form on the outside of a folder and have parents sign that they saw them. Staple the papers in the folder so they don’t get lost or fall out.
Student-Led Conferences: Student-led conferences are an effective way to conduct parent-teacher conferences. They will not only strengthen an open communication between home and school, but the positive vibe will have everyone smiling. Students will learn about setting attainable goals. Read this blog on how to set up STUDENT-LED CONFERENCES.
To help with instruction, there are many learning strategies. If you focus on Motivate-Educate-Differentiate, you will go far!
Motivate: Use a song, rap, poem, acronym, quote, or anything memorable to teach tough concepts. For example, use song lyrics to teach poetry analysis. See this post for a FREE download. Play Games to review standards-based content like I Have Who Has, Head Bandz, Paper Snowball Fights, Classroom Basketball, Jeopardy, Eggspert.
Educate with Step-by-Step Instruction: Don’t assume they learned the standards prior to your grade level. Use Step-by-Step instruction. Most difficult skills need a solid foundation of a basic skill for a thorough understanding. Learn about Step-by-Step Writing and Step-by-Step Reading.
Differentiate: Find ways to differentiate learning for individual needs. Provide different line spacing options, allow students to write answers on a separate lined paper, offer Reading Comprehension Passages in different levels, show different strategies for learning math skills, etc.
There are so many little tricks to help with classroom management. Here are a few to get started.
Secret Language: Develop a special clap or signal that gets your students attention. A quiet peace sign works wonders! Ask students to do the sign when they notice your sign. Another idea is whenever you say a word, they have a response. Teacher says, “My Class or Fourth Grade” and students say, “Rocks!” This will be quick reminders to listen to you. Tell them it is your secret language to get back on track!
Homework Walk: To quickly check homework completion, don’t have students turn them in. Go over the homework while walking around the room glancing at papers. You will see those who are rushing to finish and those who didn’t complete it at all.
Magic Cup: Create a magic cup and place all students names in it. When calling on students, making groups, or wanting to bring a good mood to the room by picking a winner for a free pencil, this cup comes in handy!
Treasure Box: Create a treasure box. Place items that students can choose from when you want to give them an award. There are plenty of things you can put in there that isn’t candy. Stickers, pens, erasers, bubbles, bead necklaces, fun pencils, homework passes, coupons to sit where you want, be the teacher helper for a day, etc. When students meet an expectation, give them an award.
Group Awards: Be careful when you are doing group awards. Make sure it is a positive spin. Have a marble jar and add a marble every time you acknowledge good behavior. Establish the reward (like a movie and popcorn, extra recess, a trip to the treasure box, free time, etc.) so they know what they are working towards. When the jar is full, they get the award.
Positive Classroom Management: Instead of “I will not accept messy work.” Say, “I am happy to collect all neat work.” Grab my FREE Positive Classroom Management Guide.
Places to Follow
There are many places that offer teacher discounts, memberships, and free items. Take advantage of it!
Classroom Library Books: Unless a teacher retired and left you with her materials, you are not going to start off with a full classroom library. You can start off by checking out bulks of books from the library. Build your classroom library through Scholastic Books Clubs. They offer so many incentives to get books. Start by getting the ones on sale that month! Tell your librarian and public librarian to let you know when they discard books. Check yard sales and Used Book Stores like Thriftbooks. Make sure to become a reward member!
Teacher Discounts: There is an awesome list found on Gift Card Granny especially for teachers!
Take it or leave it, but check out some good advice to keep you grounded.
Take a Break: Take a deep breath, quick mediation. It is not the end of the world and tomorrow will be better. Read this SELF-CARE BLOG POST.
Be Yourself: And have fun with your students. They will love your quirks!
Leave It: Set a time each day and if it’s not done by then, leave it for tomorrow. Go home!! It won’t all get done in one day. But it will all get done.
Teacher Bestie: Find a teacher or two that will hold you accountable and encourage you! Find a Positive Pam and stay away from the Negative Nelly.
Don’t Grade Everything: I used to think I needed to see and grade everything. Choose little parts to grade. For example, only look for Million Dollar Words in writing, or grade the even numbers in math.
Find a REALLY GOOD Pencil Sharpener. Don’t laugh. This is true. Do you know how many school sharpeners I went through? A good electric sharpener is the way to go! It is quicker and often quieter. This is my FAVORITE PENCIL SHARPENER.
Don’t Jump on Board with New Trends: Don’t try new trends in education right away (unless of course your district requires it). Let others work the kinks out first. I remember when flexible seating first became a big thing, so many teachers struggled to find the best fit for them. Patience is a virtue.
Memory Books: Start a Memory Book early in your career. Add pictures from each year and a class roster with addresses. Then when your students get older, you can send them a graduation card! It is also a wonderful wonderful wonderful reminder that YOU are making a DIFFERENCE!
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: Seriously. We all have our strengths. Use your strengths and be yourself. The kids will love you!
Don’t Put So Much Pressure on Yourself: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL! Choose one or two things as your focus each year. Build onto it each year. You can’t compare yourself to someone who has been building their classroom for 10 years!
By reading this, I know you are already getting overwhelmed because you want to implement everything today. That shows that you care, but it just isn’t realistic. Don’t be hard on yourself. The most important thing is that you take care of yourself so you can be on your A-GAME with your students. The rest will come. Welcome to the teaching profession where there are so many rewards and tug-at-heart moments. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to continue getting tips and advice!
ROCK ON MY TEACHER ROCKSTARS!