Teaching secrets: Great advice for new teachers

What new teacher, fresh through the classroom door, wouldn’t welcome a wise and experienced voice, ready with practical advice? This selection of “Teaching Secrets” articles [Top-secret1] were written for Teacher Magazine by members of the Teacher Leaders Network. For the price of free registration, novices can take advantage of several hundred years of accumulated wisdom. We’ve tried to arrange them in priority order, but jump in anywhere you like.

And thanks, experts, for this teacher leadership.

Teaching Secrets: FIVE TIPS FOR THE NEW TEACHER
Cindi Rigsbee, a finalist for 2009 national teacher of the year, shares her five favorite comments to new teachers in her middle school. Rigsbee begins with “Hit the floor running and breathe when you leave” and ends with “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” Other veteran teachers are leaving additional tips in the Comments section.

Teaching Secrets: THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL (PART 1)
Veteran elementary teacher and Milken award winner Jane Fung looks back on her first years in teaching and thinks of all the things she wishes she had known then – and wants to share now. In Part I: Quick pointers, school procedures, surveying your first classroom.

Teaching Secrets: THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL (PART 2)
Elementary teacher and mentor Jane Fung looks back on her first years in teaching and thinks of all the things she wishes she had known then – and wants to share now. In Part II: Adjusting to a new grade level; working with parents; when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Teaching Secrets: HALLWAY HINTS
We put this scenario before the Teacher Leaders Network: It’s the first week of school… You’re a veteran teacher who’s rushing toward your classroom with the last armload of materials from your car. You spy an impossibly young adult, apparently frozen in place in the hallway. Your quick diagnosis: NTSS (new teacher shock syndrome)… Your heart reaches out. But your head says you can spare only two minutes right now. What’s your best advice? Read some of what our K-12 experts had to say.

Teaching Secrets: MORE HALLWAY HINTS
Even more quick advice from TLN’s K-12 experts, including: “Let students do the work,” “Plan, plan plan,” “Take time to marinate,” “Remember kids will be kids,” and “Don’t take it personal, but make it personal.”

Teaching Secrets: TAMING CLASSROOM CHAOS
“My classroom is not neat and tidy and shiny like some,” writes math and social studies teacher Cossondra George. “It has that homey, lived-in, loved look. The tables are never quite in perfect straight lines…and my teacher desk looks like a recycling center exploded on it.” So how does the semi-organized teacher hold the Mighty Dragon of Chaos at bay? In this article, Cossondra shares 10 “stolen” strategies that help her and her kids stay focused on learning.

Teaching Secrets: HOW TO SMILE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
When Kathie Marshall entered her first classroom nearly 30 years ago, “I found myself running to veteran teachers at the first sign of trouble, asking ‘What do you do?’ Without fail, she remembers, someone would say, “Don’t smile until Christmas!” Their advice to assume a “grim and commanding presence” didn’t square with Kathie’s vision of an inviting teacher. Her alternative? Early in the year, she and her students work together to develop class rules and routines. It’s worked for three decades, says the Los Angeles teacher-coach.

Teaching Secrets: TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR CLASSROOM
As mentoring coordinator at our large suburban high school, writes Gail Tillery, “I’m in charge of inducting about 25 teachers a year. Usually, these novice educators are very young—most have just graduated from college… Suddenly they may find themselves standing in front of a room filled with 35 seniors, some of whom are only three years younger than they are. In many cases, the disaster is coming on fast.” Dodge the disaster with this National Board Certified Teacher’s advice.

Teaching Secrets: ORGANIZING MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
Special education teacher Laurie Wasserman shares time-tested methods that can help even the most “organizationally challenged” sixth grader find his or her way. “It’s hard sometimes to realize that students don’t deliberately misplace papers, forget pencils, or lose track of assignments… It’s our job to teach them the tools and strategies for getting organized and feeling successful.”

Teaching Secrets: STUDENTS BEHAVE WHEN TEACHERS ENGAGE
Anthony Cody began his teaching career in inner-city Oakland CA almost 20 years ago. It was a rough first year, with many lesson preps. “My credential program had not really dealt much with behavior issues. The idea was to deliver a rich curriculum, and the management would take care of itself. If you are already teaching, you know this does not always work.” After floundering the first year or two, he got some good advice from down the hall. Follow his tips and you won’t have to way a year or two to establish a harmonious classroom environment.

Teaching Secrets: THE PARENT MEET-AND-GREET
Parent nights send “chills up the spine of many teachers,” says NBCT Marsha Ratzel. Her article is aimed at helping novice educators prepare for a successful parent meet-and-greet experience. Filled with practical tips and survival strategies. Don’t get lost in the details of your classroom, she says. Most parents want to know two things: (1) You’re going to treat their child fairly; and (2) You are committed to teaching both the curriculum and other skills well. “Parents want reassurance that you’ll listen to them as a valued partner in their child’s school year.”

Teaching Secrets: USE LEFTOVER CLASS TIME WISELY
This July 2009 article by high school teacher Larry Ferlazzo got 10,000 hits the first 48 hours after posting. It’s filled with good ideas about making the most of those leftover minutes between the end of the planned lesson and the bell. Many of the ideas will work with middle and elementary kids, too. If you like what you read, link up to his popular teacher resources blog ,Websites of the Day.

Teaching Secrets: ASK THE KIDS!
Fourth-year teacher Ariel Sacks has spent her short career in the inner-city NYC schools. In the middle of her second year she had a revelation, triggered by once-excited eighth graders who were now “yawning, poking one another, throwing paper balls, and complaining during class.” Ariel’s first reaction was to bristle. Then her a-ha moment arrived. Why not ask the kids what they wanted that they weren’t getting? Teacher and students began talking — and negotiating — and a new, more positive atmosphere emerged.

Teaching Secrets: THE MIRACLE OF CHOICES
Stubborn two-year olds respond to choices, why not adolescents? That was the thesis Mary Tedrow began with, some years ago, when she devised an engagement strategy that allows her high school English students latitude in selecting assignments. Which are, of course, carefully designed to produce the same learning effects – whatever they choose! As you’ll see in the Comments section of this Teacher Magazine essay, middle schoolers like to be choosy, too.

Teaching Secrets: PRIMING THE STUDENT LEARNING PUMP
New-teacher mentor Kathie Marshall tells the story of a novice middle school teacher who learns some important lessons about student engagement. One reader commented: “As a first year teacher, this was a refreshing article to read and relate to. I know that engaging students is the key to their success, but I, too, became overwhelmed with the curriculum and ignored the most important factor of teaching.”

Teaching Secrets: WHAT KIDS WISH TEACHERS KNEW
When NBCT Laurie Wasserman sat down with Talia to reminisce about the high school sophomore’s middle school days, she soon found herself jotting down “candid insights from the other side of the teacher’s desk.” Wasserman’s report on what middle school kids want teachers to know about their learning preferences includes useful reminders for any educator who hopes to reach and engage adolescents.

Teaching Secrets: BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP
Laura Reasoner Jones says it can take some self-scrutiny to determine whether boys and girls are being treated equally in your class. An NBCT with a background in both early childhood and elementary grades, Jones lays out a series of strategies that teachers can employ to avoid unconscious gender bias.

FINALLY, while this isn’t part of our Teaching Secrets series (yet), TLN member and TweenTeacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron has a great “Top 10” blog post titled “How to Take Control of Your Teaching” that has advice for newbies and veterans alike.

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