Beyond Surviving the First Day of School: Long-Term Strategies for New Teachers

Beyond Surviving the First Day of School: Long-Term Strategies for New Teachers
Monica Fuglei August 25, 2015

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Tips for New Teachers Beyond the First Day of School

Returning to school is always a flurry of activity. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators are all adjusting to  the back-to-school schedule and learning their new environments and social groups. New teachers can use our checklist to navigate their often-terrifying first day of school, but what happens after that?

Beyond the first day: Setting up for success your first month

New teachers pay a lot of attention to preparing for the first few days of school, but the first month also provides a powerful opportunity for both students and teachers to develop great habits. Here are several strategies novice teachers (and others) can use to keep their classrooms running smoothly on day two and beyond.

Set classroom routines to make students comfortable and confident about what comes next

One of the first habits to set with students is basic classroom management. In her column “The New Teacher Advisor,” Emma McDonald recommends that a good first step for student habits is identifying classroom procedures that need to be repeated each day. Routines like daily check-in, desk organization, or small writing or focusing exercises can help students get comfortable in the classroom and prepare for learning.

While students often come ready for school in the first few weeks, implementing daily routines also helps prevent behavioral issues. Because they contain clear transitional activities, set procedures can provide comfort to students who have sensory integration disorder, are on the autism spectrum, or otherwise have a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another. Learning routines can take some time, however; McDonald suggests explaining your expectations to students, then practicing daily procedures and intervening when students skip steps or when habits relax over time.

Help students develop healthy study habits at home

Preparing students for healthy study habits is key to their long term success, so in addition to good classroom management, consider supporting them in establishing daily work time at home. For young students, daily work can be as simple as encouraging read-aloud time with parents. As students get older, age-appropriate homework or flipped classroom experiences are helpful, but it needs to be an established routine and add value to their classroom experience.

Consider scheduling homework in regular and expected ways so that students can cultivate their work habits. Additionally, encourage students to extend their understanding of classroom procedure to develop their own at-home procedures for getting work done.

Every family is different and will have varying attitudes about how to complete homework. Discussing the importance of procedures with students and encouraging them to develop a personalized system at home will help them establish good homework routines that last the whole school year.

Communicate with families

While much of a teacher’s day-to-day is spent ensuring that students develop good habits, establishing routine communications with parents is another important habit to develop early in the school year. Many teachers send out weekly or monthly newsletters via email, or post them on a class website. While this can take time, the connection with parents that such habits establish is very valuable.

Regular updates from teachers also allow parents to avoid the monotony of “What did you do in school today?” in favor of asking more pointed questions that highlight how important student learning really is. Having access to these materials may also save time in the long term, answering parent questions about content or schedules.

Where can new teachers turn for daily support?

Finally, an exceptional habit to establish early in the school year — and maintain year-round — is to establish communication with your colleagues and other professionals in the field. All too often, new teachers end up functioning in isolation or in small teacher groups. While it can be incredibly supportive to have a partner or mentor, it is also important to break out of school or even district isolation to see what teachers in other areas and disciplines are doing.

Social media offers many opportunities for informal professional development

Some of the best informal professional development is happening in social media, like Twitter’s new teacher chat (#ntchat) or teaching strategies surrounding books or groups such as Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap). The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests that one key habit of “master teachers” is using social media to see what other teachers are doing or to collaborate with others across the country.

Technology offers a vast array of readily available tools and apps for teachers to use, and it can be very helpful to discuss the practical application of these tools with others. While formal professional development is excellent for introducing new skills and opportunities, seeing others work from the trenches can have a greater influence on classroom behavior.

At the student, parent, and teaching level, the first few weeks of the school year are the time to establish and practice healthy teaching habits. While it may take some energy and investment for the first month or so, these habits can be quickly established as routine and can enhance the overall teaching experience.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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