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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Don't Reinvent the Wheel: Seven Tips for New Elementary Teachers to Save Energy, Time, and Tears

There are so many things a new teacher needs to know before he or she gets into the classroom, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with the Common Core Standards. These are skills teachers learn the hard way, through trial and tears. But it doesn't need to be that way. Here are seven tips that can help new teachers get off to a good start and help them to be more effective on day one (not day one hundred and eighty-one).

1. Don't Walk at the Front of the Line

Walk with the line! Many teachers think they need to lead their class as they travel down the street or into the school auditorium for a performance. But what's happening at the back of the line? The teacher sure doesn't know. Three kids may have peeled off into a corner store, or one stopped to tie his shoe and now can't see you. First, assign line leaders (it helps to pick students who know the route). Choose an easy-to-recognize landmark -- the third parking meter, the fourth door, the first tree -- then tell your line leaders to stop there. As they walk towards the agreed-upon destination, you can move up and down the line, talking to the kids, and making sure everyone is walking at the pace of the class and staying in line. It makes a lot more sense then trusting those eyes in the back of your head.

2. Keep a Spare Set of Clothes in the Classroom

The five classroom P's: pee, poo, paint, pens and puke. Who knows what is going to happen during the school day?! You might be in the middle of an art project and sit on a glue stick, get marker on your shirt cuffs, or -- yes, it happened to me -- a student might pee their pants while sitting next to you on the rug in a reading group (what is that warm feeling under my knee?). It's hard to teach all day in clothes wet with paint or glue -- being comfortable is key to being effective. If you get dirty, change into that spare set of clothes.

3. Share Good News with Your Principal

Principals are burdened by responsibilities beyond your wildest nightmares -- they hear enough bad news every day! Good news in the middle of the school day (their day is usually longer than yours) about a lesson or breakthrough from your classroom can remind your principal why he or she is doing the job. Leave a particularly wonderful piece of writing or art in his or her mailbox, or share the effective new way you’re teaching fractions. Make your principal's day!

4. Create Multiple Ways for Parents to Get Involved

Encouraging parental involvement can be a monumental challenge. Parents are busy, and many have negative connotations about school from their own experiences. Create new ways for parents to involve themselves in their child's classroom life. Field trips, class fundraisers and art projects are great, but what about having a parent read for 15 minutes in the morning, or help kids put their things away? How about a parent who can help at dismissal for ten minutes or sharpen pencils? These tasks may seem menial to you, but they can help parents feel more like a part of their child's classroom community. Eventually, they may volunteer for a longer time commitment because they feel comfortable with you and the class.

5. Don't Let Changing a Bulletin Board Take Hours

Rolling out colored paper as a backdrop can take a while, and it always rips when removing or adding work, so you end up doing it over and over again. Use colorful fabric as a background -- it will endure staples, push-pins and tacks without ripping.

6. Write Up a Daily Schedule

Never leave at the end of the day without taking five minutes to write up the following day’s schedule. This works as your crib sheet and lets students know what they can expect (everyone likes to see the map before taking the journey), so make sure it's in a place where they can see it. After a certain point in the year, have your students write it up for you. Check off items as you go through the day. Circle the things you don't get to and rewrite them at a different time, or cross them off and do them the next day.

7. Create Several Methods of Communication for Parents

Email has made communicating with families far easier, but some parents don't have easy access to the Internet. In addition to email, use notes home in student’s homework folders and phone calls from school. A phone tree or class list makes it possible for families without email to call a family who can email you on their behalf. Make it easy for parents to get in touch with you, but beware: don't give out your personal cell phone number unless you want to receive a call from a parent while you are at home having dinner.

These tips are meant to prepare you, the teacher, for the many day-to-day classroom experiences that can take up time and energy. By saving time and not being as stressed, you can focus on being an effective teacher and on having more fun. Your students will appreciate it.

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