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Tricks and Tips from a First Year Teacher

Updated on June 29, 2017
HLKeeley profile image

HL Keeley has received a Bachelors degree in middle grade education. She is currently teaching high school.

Last week was my last week with students. I finished my work days a couple days ago and I am officially on summer break! The end of my first year teaching. I would be sleeping in more if my dog was not programmed to my teacher schedule. I need to retrain her.

Still, my classroom is sitting in my dining room because next year I am teaching at a different school with students much younger than I had this year. So disclaimer before reading:

My first year teaching was with 8th grade students teaching English Language Arts at a Title 1 school. It was a great experience and a lot harder than I could imagine. There were obstacles I could not dream of and honestly appreciate because I came out stronger than going in. Along the way, I picked up many tips and figured out my own tricks! Here is just a little bit I learned.

Tip 1: Do Not Listen to the Students

This was the hardest thing to learn all year. You have to remember that the students are kids! They are manipulative and do not want to be learning. They rather be playing on their computers or gossiping or flirting with their new interest. That is a lot of examples for the older kids.

For me, I realized that the students LOVE drama, especially among the teachers They would straight out lie to another teacher to get them upset with another teacher. It is a power play that they are very good at! They know that the teachers care about them, so if they are not liking another teacher, they will go crying to another teacher to get that attention and get the teacher they do not like in trouble.

You need to listen for inconsistency and figure out why they are telling you something. Is it for attention? Is it for the well-being of themselves or another? Is it to keep them out of trouble?

Tip 2: Listen to More Experienced Teachers

I am so grateful for the advice I got along the way. They provide tricks which I will put in the bottom for classroom management, organization, and time management. These teachers are the best resource provided by the school, especially if the school does not have many resources.

Listening to them also shows respect to their knowledge, expertise, and time in the field. You are acknowledging that you want to grow. It is off-putting when a teacher walks around like they know everything and do not have any need to grow. It is ignorant as well because education is constantly evolving with culture and technology.

Tip 3: Boundaries

Red List: Before going in, write down what you do not want anyone to know. This list will be your "Red" list. These are all the things that you need to keep to yourself. The "Red" list mostly for you and your friends. This list can damage your reputation among students and staff. Get to know your co-workers before sharing this list, but this list is an absolute no list for students. Also on this list is Facebook and social media. You might think a picture or post is okay to share to the world, however as a teacher, your students and their parents are trying to figure you out as well to see if you are the best person to teach. Teachers are meant to be saints. Unrealistic, yes, but always something to remember when dropping the "f" bomb on social media.

Yellow List: Now write down topics that you are uncomfortable talking about. This would be religion, boyfriends, girlfriends, politics, etc. There are some topics that become unavoidable or will be asked. "Ms. Keeley do you love Jesus?" "Ms. Keeley, gays are going to go to hell. I am trying to help him." Insert me very uncomfortable and at a loss for words and a little bit of anger. These are red list worthy, but they are on the yellow list because you need comebacks! You can't ignore it. Do I love Jesus? See other article. I usually counter questions with a question.

"Child, do you love Jesus?"

"Of course!"

"Awesome! Have a great day."

"Child 2, you need to go speak with a counselor."

The bullying with religion is always an email to a counselor from me, especially with counselors who are very religious! Tip 3 1/2: If you don't know, refer to a counselor.

Green List: This should be the longest list. You need antidotes. You need stories that will connect you with the students! You also need to know what the students are experts at because they love to teach you! Fidget spinners and new fads are always something they like to explain. Even if you know it, act dumb! "This class is lit! Child 3 get the lights. Apparently, the students would like lights on for the PowerPoint." Corny, yes. Effective, not really. Lovable moment, absolutely!

These boundaries help with the students. They need to know you, but they also need to remember you are the teacher. You are NOT their friend. That is why I played dumb, even though I am a million times "cooler" than all of them combined. Not true, but I know their terms and fads. I use their lingo, but if I used it in a conversation, the students were like "no, Ms. Keeley. Don't say that again." When I heard that, I knew I was seen as a teacher! Best day ever!

You don't want to be "cool." You don't want to be liked. You want to be respected.

Have a list of what you are required to report! I always reminded students what I have to report before they spoke with me. This reminded them that I am a teacher, but I do care. I never repeated what they told me unless it was on that list or other teachers that teach the same students needed to know. I got more careful with telling other teachers because not all teachers are the same. This trust helped me with getting information about fights and drama and with my seating chart.

Trick 1: Grading with a Rubric

I get my rubrics from online rubric makers. They are easy and quick. Printing limits are inevitable and students lose a lot of what you print. When I had computers, I went over the rubric with them online and they had a digital copy to reference. When it came time to grading however I printed one rubric. I put this rubric inside a page protector and used an expo marker to grade. I just checked the box as I went along and counted the score. Typed in the score or wrote the score on the students project with notes and erased the expo on the page protector.

I did a poetry project where I took points off for not having a rubric. One class did great with turning them in, but the other two not so much. When I was done with all the ones with rubrics, I found that the second batch went faster with the expo.


Trick 2: Lesson Planning

Do not reinvent the wheel! Every school has a curriculum. This curriculum is most likely used in other counties and states, especially with common core. is useful as well, but if you are like me, I used their FREE stuff. I never bought from them. Pinterest is also great as well.

Google is your best friend! There are unit plans everywhere and teacher blogs to help other teachers. Teachers are just so friendly and want to help! A lot of schools are utilizing Google classroom and other websites for technology inclusion in the classroom.

1. Students LOVE Kahoot. I think the music is meant to brainwash them.

2. ClassFlow: Recently discovered this website. It is for any type of interactive whiteboard. There are other types of interactive whiteboards other than Smart! I know I was confused when trying to figure out Promethean. This website is great because it is universal for any board. If you leave schools or if the school is not using the program, then you have this website for interactive lectures and board activity.

3. ReadWorks: ReadWorks have leveled readings that are printable, but they also have a digital component as well. It grades for you.

4. NewsELA: The students are basically reading a newspaper on the internet and answering four questions based on common core standards. There is the free one, but the demo will spoil you because you see their grades and which standard they need help with. It also tells you how long they read the article and how much they annotated instead of you with a clipboard reading each computer score.

5. NearPod: I like this website for when I am lecturing. Students can control the presentation on their side or you can control it. You can have a video playing on your screen but not on theirs with a follow up question when done. The best part is the counter at the bottom. If it turns a red-orange color, there is a student that left their screen (and probably switched to games).

Trick 3: Oregon Trail

This was taught to me in internship. Not on purpose.

I did not find out until the end of my first year how much these kids took advantage of the computers.

I did the "If I cannot hear it, then you can listen to music on headphones." This was for hearing bad word songs, but I also realized I cannot hear game music, not even accidentally. What is worse, there are remix songs on YouTube for game music, so I never knew if it was the game or YouTube. My students like to get my upset and make me think they were playing a game when they were not.

Anyway, Oregon Trail. My CT played this game with his class once and they all loved it. I thought the school I was going to that the kids would not be as receptive to the game.

I was so wrong. I did a game day after the benchmarks and I did not want to play a game that had me super involved so I played Oregon Trail. The kids were playing theirs, but when they saw a classmate die from dysentery, now they all wanted to play. This game is defensible. It has the kids reading a map. They need to make decision making skills. Math for the money they need to buy and how much food they need. It has so many critical thinking moments and teaching them history. They also get to kill people on purpose or accidentally. If they survive, they got bragging rights because I never won in class. Someone always distracted me with drama.

Be Naive

You need to be naive. It is the only way to learn. You will make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. This is why you need to be close with teammates and other teachers. They are your support system with an angry parent, fellow coworker, students, and administration. You all need to work together to survive. While you are new to the school, you are bringing something to the school that the school might need. You can be bringing a club that can inspire a student or let a student stay for a little longer before going home to whatever is going on at home.

Making mistakes teach the students that you are not perfect and do not expect perfection. This will help with that anxiety and keep the classroom a safe place for all.

You learn more when you need to fix it. It was one thing to know mentally how to fix a hypothetical situation, but when it happens, you need to know how you really will react. Fight or flight?

Stick to your beliefs and why you went into education

Write down why you are there and remind yourself every day why you chose to be a teacher. You are there for the students. You are there to make money to survive. It might not be the most, but you need to remember to look out for yourself too. People will judge you when you are making decisions for yourself because teachers are seen to be doing it for the students. Do it for yourself too. If you are in a bad situation, get help. If teaching is not for you, get help. Teaching is not easy and is not appreciated. At the end of the day, I always came home to thinking what could I have done to make it better.

Along the way, I stopped referring to myself as "not a real teacher" to "I am the teacher." That is when everything changed for the better in terms of identity. Next year, I will keep working on classroom management.

Kahoot Remix

Should I write more teacher/education related posts?

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