Dear First Year Teacher #1

So, you are getting ready to start teaching and if you were like me, you are freaking out trying to think of EVERYTHING. LOL. Teaching is like anything else, you get better by doing it! However, I wanted to share a series of posts to include so many of the things I wish someone would have told me or that I would have thought of while getting ready that first year. Grab a snack because this will be a long one!

First up in this series is focusing on what to spend your time and money on. Please keep in mind that some things that didn't work for me may 100% work for you. Some things that I swear by, may not be your cup of tea. This is all about knowing yourself and being realistic about what you can manage.
The summer before your first year is when you are probably devouring everything you can find on the internet - blogs, instagrams, TPT stores, youtube channels, etc. to find what you think you want and need for your first year.

My biggest advice to you is to know yourself and keep yourself in mind before you invest any time or money into something you see someone else do. It is better to add things in later, rather than start a bunch of stuff you can't keep up with and quit it all (me). Kids notice. Don't be like me. HA. If you scrolled back to the very beginning of my instagram, you would find things that I made or purchased that I would no longer dream of using now. Here are some of those things...

One that sticks out was this magnetic board that I made for attendance. What was I thinking? Seriously. The little stones were heavy and would fall off, and that little cabin fell off after about .2 seconds of kids using this thing. Now, all I do is look at each table and see who is missing. Done, check, moving on.

Homework Club
Here is another one. I thought I was smarter on this one for using little laminated paper so they weren't heavy, but they were so light that if a student moved theirs, it knocked 5 off onto the floor. Also, this never sat well with me. I didn't like calling kids out for not turning in homework and this was very short-lived. Not to mention I really don't care about homework anyway, I just thought I was supposed to have something like this based on what I saw online.

Flexible Seating
Technically flexible seating is providing any other seating option than just desk/chair. So, by that definition, allowing kids to work on carpets and other chairs around the room is "flexible seating." What I mean is a full classroom of wobble stools, yoga balls, rockers, and everything else instagram tells you that you need to have. CHA-CHING! It not only takes money, but it takes a LOT of procedures, expectations, practice, and sometimes removing of options to make this work. I just can't be bothered - but it may work for you!

Classroom Library
Okay, now a LOT of people use this system and it works for them. I share this one because remember, you need to know YOURSELF and what works for you. I tried this system of the colors on the spines to organize the library. A few reasons why this didn't work for me:
- I was obsessive about the spine colors being in perfect order, and kids don't care about that so it was a constant struggle trying to "police" the library
- The colors kept peeling off so I had to print these labels, cut them into the strips, place them on the correct spines, then put tape over to hold.... too much extra work for me
- I wanted my library sorted by genre and this was set-up by author last name. I like genre because I can put them in baskets/book bins and it is really easy for kids to put them back. Yes, I know some instagrammers would disagree... but it is what works for me and the kids.

Behavior Chart
Again, I don't like calling kids out and this didn't make it past my first year. I don't even use Class Dojo anymore for this reason.

Writing Process
I completely forgot about this one until I started looking back through the depths of my instagram - LOL. This isn't something a ton of people use, but what I want you to take from this is... am I making/buying this because I saw it somewhere and it is cute and could be functional, or am I making/buying this because I really think I will NEED this day-to-day. Don't waste your time or money on things that can be done more simply. If you are conferencing with writers on a regular basis, there is no need for something like this. KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Treasure Box
I just moved classrooms and found my treasure box from my first year. What a nightmare, LOL. I will never again reward students with toys and junk. First of all, we don't make enough money to waste on crap to put in a treasure box. Also, kids are more excited about GOING to the treasure box, than what is actually in there. Instead, give kids things they can use and experiences. I tried that my second year and learned very quickly I did NOT like giving away my teacher chair or teacher desk. Some of my friends wouldn't THINK of offering lunch with the teacher because they enjoy their quiet break too much. Really think of rewards you can live with, haha.

I have told you about some of the mistakes I made getting ready for my first year... But let's see what DOES work for me because maybe they will work for you too! Here are the things that I have used year after year and have been manageable for me!

Classroom Sign-Out
I have thought through and tried so many strategies for this - passes students take, a notebook by the door to fill out, the silent hand signals, I didn't like any of them for me. I will share a quick why just so you can think about what might/might not work for you.

Passes students take - this felt gross so I never even attempted it. A student takes a pass to the bathroom and brings it back... no thanks.

Notebook by the door - I was so proud and excited about this one. I had it all set-up with space for name, time out, time in, location, it was going to be perfect! NOT. It takes so long for kids to fill that out first of all, they have to physically go to the notebook and disrupt their learning to see if someone else is in the restroom before they can go, and I could NOT keep up with keeping pages filled out.

Silent signals - That lasted about a day. I couldn't remember them and I had to be on the lookout at all times for a kid's arm waving frantically trying to get my attention while I was working with students, no go.

Here is what worked and what I have used every year since:

Sign out on my door and their numbers sit on this cart right next to the door.

Why this has worked for me:
What I love about this is I was able to laminate the pieces and glue them on our door. Now, whenever I need to know in a split second if a student is out of the room, who it is and where they are, I just have to look at the door. I also love that I can put velcro dots wherever students are allowed to place their numbers. For example, there is one velcro dot next to, "I am in the girl's restroom" and there is one next to, "I am waiting for the girl's restroom." This makes it easy for kids to see if someone is in the restroom, and if someone is waiting so they don't get up and disrupt their learning unnecessarily. 

Classroom Library
For years now, I have used this product and it is all I need to have a successful classroom library:

My classroom library now and when I originally organized my books.

Why this has worked for me:
It is a lot to set-up at first if you have a bunch of books, but it is extremely easy to maintain and for kids to be in charge of. I actually have boxes of books I need to label for this upcoming year, but whatever I don't get to, just won't go out this year and that's okay! To start, I would make stacks of your books to see what genres/topics/series you have, then print the labels to go with them. Don't try to print all the premade, then have empty bins sitting because you don't have any of those books. My favorite thing I have done with this is made a "book return" bucket, so if kids aren't going to take the time to put a book back in the correct place, they can just put it there and my library leaders will take care of it later!

Leadership Teams
This is actually something I created and use every.single.year. and :

Leadership teams without and with classroom economy.

Why this worked for me:
There was nothing worse for me than trying to remember to move all of the popsicle sticks on Fridays so kids could have new jobs each week. Number one, it doesn't sound like much work but it was one.more.thing. I had to do that I just couldn't keep up with. Number two, there were always students who couldn't remember what their job was or what they were supposed to do, so I would have to stop and figure out who our "lights manager" was and remind them we need the lights turned off or else I have to take my time to do it after school. TOO MUCH.
Leadership teams allowed me to put groups of kids in charge of tasks so they really remind each other, or there are other students who can help pick up the slack when needed. They also have weekly team meetings to decide how they are going to distribute responsibilities that week and lots of communication and compromise practice come into play.

Classroom Economy
I just started this last year and LOVE it:

My kids love creating new jobs our classroom needs, I usually end up permanently adding these the following summer when I have time.

Why this worked for me:
You may want to just implement leadership teams your first year to get the hang of it, then add this the following year. Or you could implement just this and not have kids on teams your first year. Or you could do both! I love that kids get paid for their jobs, I have the freedom to give and take money, and they are getting consistent money/adding/subtracting practice. Next year I am going to change how much students get paid to include change and create some coins to go with the system because second graders have such a hard time with coins! Another thing I like about this is kids trade in their money for "passes" which they turn in when they want to use. I never had to reprint money, jobs, or passes! EASY.

Unlock Games
I already have this back to school one set-up in my room for next year:

Here is the game full size, I now print it half size.

Why this worked for me:
It does take some set-up, and I finally have a system figured out. I am going to print, laminate, and put magnets on a generic set of numbers to use each month because making new "game pieces" for kids each month is too much for me. (Even though it adds to the awesome factor, know your limits!). I also started printing them on half sheets so it doesn't take up my ENTIER whiteboard, I still have some space on the side (see below). This is awesome because it is a ready-to-go math center for the entire month. It takes my kids the entire month to complete these challenges and get them correct. I have students turn in as they finish a challenge, and I check and return for corrections and to continue on. These challenges spiral skills that kids need to continually practice and they are CHALLENGING. These ladies have really put in the work on these games and even though they are tough, my kids get SO excited when they see a new unlock game ready for the month!

Small Group Rotation Board
Wow, I have made my own (probably at least 5 different versions) and purchased different versions as well. This is my favorite:

Why this worked for me:
I actually own her bundle, but use this part every day. If you are new to math workshop and want more guidance, get the bundle! I also have her reading version that I use as well. However, I had to make so many changes for it to work for me because I started having 5 reading groups instead of 4. I would start with the math and get the hang of it, then add the reading later when you feel comfortable and have your reading groups established. I love that I can fully edit everything. I actually tend not to use the timer because some groups need to meet with me longer than others. I love the clean look and how easy it is to read for students. My favorite is to set it up for the week and not think about it again until next week! (That doesn't always happen, but when it does it is wonderful, LOL!)

Morning Routine
I was so sick of planning/copying/prepping morning work! So I created this to simplify and use it every day in my classroom:

A typical message using my morning routine board.

Why this worked for me:
Now, you don't really need to purchase anything to have a simple morning routine. The first thing I did was cut out morning work and make it a time for students to book shop, catch up on anything they need, and read. Morning tubs are becoming super popular, but I know myself. I need it quiet and peaceful in the morning to greet students, check emails for transportation changes/sick students, work with students in a short session, etc. So I created this to remind students (without having to say anything about it), what to do to prepare for today - hang backpack, put lunch and snack away, turn in anything I need, maybe remind them of something happening that day, etc. Then the other side is what to do when they are ready for the day - which tables can book shop today, and read is usually what is on there.

Phew, I think that is it for this one. The next post in this series will be all about procedures and easy things I love to make the days run smoothly!

Thank you for reading and I hope this was helpful!

1 comment

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