As a first-year teacher last year, I learned a few things that I think improved my practice. I found five solutions to common issues for beginner teachers that helped me, and other newer teachers at the high school level may also find these sustainable solutions beneficial to their teaching.
1. Model Work for Assignments
In my first quarter of teaching, I discovered two things with student work: My students didn’t know what their work should look like, and I wasn’t satisfied with the work they were turning in. After some investigation, the answer was clear: I wasn’t setting clear expectations for their work.
Despite the bold, underlined instructions I had written for their assignments, many students still struggled to understand expectations. As soon as I handed out and explained an assignment, 10 hands would shoot up with questions and concerns. After some research, I decided that I needed to give model assignments.
I created completed mock assignments that were done to expectations and presented them along with the assignment directions. I also broke down the model assignment as I taught the relevant material. For example, on days when the class worked on body paragraphs, we broke down the model body paragraphs. This was extremely effective, as students were able to analyze the writing before creating their own.
I soon found that students were better able to understand the expectations for quality work. I found later in the semester, through the use of model assignments, that students were able to rise to the occasion and perform better. The use of model work transformed the student output I was receiving and helped me better assess my classes.
2. Written management strategy
Classroom management can be one of the hardest parts of a school day. It felt almost impossible to be consistent when each behavior had its own set of circumstances.
When I put together a written plan for behaviors, however, I found that if I was consistent, behaviors improved because students knew what was expected. I was clear about the expectations and the consequences for misbehavior. It’s important to have some flexibility, but being consistent with this plan helped me feel more confident in handling these behaviors.
3. Written and Always Visible Expectations
Consistency and clear expectations can help anyone with their classroom management strategy. In addition, I found a physical artifact that can be helpful in dealing with student behavior: a poster. With some directions from our Alternative Education teacher, I made a large poster illustrated with the four expectations that I want every day from every student and placed it in clear view for the students:
1. Be in a learning position (students should be seated with no distractions on their desk and facing the board).
2. Practice compassion (students must act in the best intention for their classmates).
3. Be accountable and have integrity.
4. Don’t distract yourself or others.
The key to success is that you must reference the poster often in class. When the bell rings, I ask students to “find your One” (expectation One, “Be in a learning position”). Students know to clear their desks and face the board. After repetition and consistently using this in the classroom, my classroom can mostly conform to expectations.
4. Have a mantra for decision-making
On average, teachers reportedly make 1,500 decisions in their workday, leading to decision fatigue. To ease this fatigue, I memorized a mantra that I held myself to when making decisions. Anytime I was unsure of a decision, I would go back to my mantra, “My class should be accessible, rigorous, and equitable.” If a decision I was about to make didn’t fit that description of the learning environment in my classroom, then I knew to pursue another route. I have this written down on my desk area, but by memorizing it, I can more consistently implement my mantra in any situation.
Creating your own mantra is easier than one might think. I chose to dissect my classroom goals and organize them into different qualities that I need in order to achieve those goals. For example, I like to prepare students for their next year in English and make them feel confident in their abilities, so I knew I wanted my class to be rigorous.
However, I also want to continuously work toward having an accessible and equitable classroom that allows all students to succeed, so I knew I wanted to always remember the words accessible and equitable in my mantra. By understanding those two goals that I hold myself accountable to, I’m able to meet the goals of my classroom without facing fatigue.
5. Repetition in lesson and instructions
Through the professional development that I did my first year, one thing consistently came to the forefront: the need for repetition in instruction. When I implemented repeating key features of explicit instruction in my classroom, I found that my students became more focused and created higher-quality work.
For me, the following repetition strategies have proved the most helpful:
- I have students repeat instruction to their neighbors after I give an assignment. This is a great way for students to recall and communicate specific instructions. I also have them answer simple questions about the instructions, such as “Is this homework?” and “Tell your neighbor what you are going to do in class today.”
- I give the instructions for the day in several formats. I give them the schedule for the day with explicit directions, give directions for transitions verbally, and also write the schedule on the board. I also have a Google Doc available to all students that has the links to all materials we will use in class in correlation with the class schedule.
Even with the most thoughtful lesson, students may still be confused about the instructions or what they should specifically do. This is unavoidable, but the strategies above will give them the tools to problem-solve.
As a second-year teacher, I still have lots to learn, but these five tricks have helped me navigate the start of my career. And these five best practices have given me some much-needed tools.