|It’s only 80 today!
Yesterday we made it through the entire first day of school…my classroom got up to a stifling 86 degrees. Even with shades down, lights off, ceiling and floor fans going, it was…a bit beastly. By the end of the day, I unprofessionally took off my cardigan and my shoes and taught barefoot in my tank top. And even so…the third floor was so much worse!
A small (and somewhat sarcastic) upside: when parents came into my room for back-to-school night last evening, they didn’t stay to have long conversations because of the heat! This meant I got home before 9 PM, unlike last year, where parents stayed to meet the new teacher and I got home closer to 10 (I like meeting parents, just…less at the end of a 14-hour day).
Small mercies: the freshmen are on a cool retreat today at one of the local camps, so I get their two class periods free to plan ahead. It’s been a very relaxing morning as a result: I taught one AP class before lunch, and then didn’t see students again until 12:42!
I feel like this year I’ve gotten a few “teacher tricks” down that are finally all working together to make me feel on the ball, so the rest of this post is me writing them down for posterity.
Tricks of the Trade
1. My attendance game: I post the roster on the board. I say hi to the first person alphabetically, he says hi to the second person alphabetically, until we get to the last person, who greets me and then gives me a compliment. I told them that in my pregnancy, it is crucial to my self-esteem that I get complimented six times a day, and that I expect my AP students to use some advanced vocabulary in their compliments. This makes attendance, name-learning, and fire drills so much easier. Credit for this goes to the late speech coach at the first school at which I taught.
|Ready for back-to-school night!
2. Parent Emails before Back to School: I put together an FAQ page for each of my classes detailing all the questions parents usually ask: supply list, grading policy, what books we read, etc. I then emailed this to all the parents the afternoon before back-to-school night yesterday. As they came in and saw my handout, many said, “Oh yes, I already read this! No questions, just wanted to say hi.” This helped me from killing more trees, repeating the same answers over, and helped the parents feel in the loop (this was especially reassuring for freshmen parents overwhelmed by the first week). Several parents who couldn’t come replied to the email with their concerns for their child; my email gave them an easy way to respond and their email gave me info in writing instead of passing conversations I might forget.
3. Also for Back to School Night: I laid out copies of the books we’d be reading so people could pick them up and look at them and tell me what good books they were – I do love when people validate my reading list. Visual aids are always a nice touch.
|My agenda board – helpful for me and them!
4. Agenda location on board: The school where I did my student teaching required teachers to have their “SWBATS” and agenda on the board in a certain place for all classes. SWBATS – Students Will Be Able To…, or objectives for the class, give the teacher and students direction for the class. Without an answer, teachers can sometimes fall prey to busywork. “What is the purpose of this word search? Does it actually help the objective “Students will improve their spelling,” or does it just take up class time?” My board got bigger this year because of the third prep in the same room, but students have a place to look for all objectives, assignments and directions on a big, busy board.
|Graded journals, ready to return to students!
5. Summer Reading: My AP summer reading had three parts. The first was a 400-word proposal letter they sent in June, introducing themselves and detailing which book from the list they were choosing and why. This I printed and graded throughout the summer, and personally responded to each one – I had the time. I then returned it in printed form yesterday. The second part was a reading journal they kept as they read their book. They needed at least six full-page handwritten entries, with guidance given on what sort of things might go into a reading journal. Last week, when I was in school anyway for in-service, I emailed an invitation to turn in their notebooks before the first day of school for five points extra credit. Over half of them did so, giving me an extra few days to go through and enter them. The remaining turned them in yesterday, and I graded them before back to school night. The third part is an essay they are writing over the weekend, which is only 400 words long – not 5 pages like the paper last year. So instead of taking six weeks to stress over summer reading grades, they are already done and entered! Such a relief.
|My first two days of online AP lesson plans
6. Online materials: Much more for me than the students, I use Google Docs to create interactive lesson plans to keep track of what I do in class and when. I then post these on our student classroom site for students to access if they are absent. It takes a bit more time in creation, but with three different classes during the day, I can’t tell you what I taught last period, let alone last week. These interactive lesson plans also hold my students accountable for finding what they missed when absent. Granted, not every teacher likes this style or wants to post every little thing online (it can encourage helicopter parents just a bit), but I find it extremely helpful from year to year, and students never have an excuse for not knowing what’s going on in class.
7. DEAR Day: I started this in earnest last year, but my Drop Everything And Reads days are among the most popular class decisions I’ve ever made, especially for my AP students. With my freshmen, I start the day with a short lesson from Reading Reasons: Motivational Lessons for Middle and High School, a wonderful instruction manual detailing the importance of a free-reading curriculum, then they get the remainder of the class to read whatever they want. My only rules: must be physical unless e-book is approved by me; and it must be fun – no textbook reading. I bring in Wall Street Journals from home, copies of our Harvard and West Point alumni magazines – kids read all sorts of weird things. They don’t have to finish the books or write a report or do anything more strenuous than a 1-minute book talk with their neighbor or a short journal entry. They are graded on participation. Did you turn pages? 10 points. Did you sleep or play on your phone or do other homework? Zero points. Easy. The bonuses (besides kids reading and getting smarter): by having it on Mondays, they and I always know what to expect. No work is due on Mondays. I get to read with them. It is obviously a huge chunk of classtime, but especially from kids in band or athletics who get home after 9 on weeknights, this is often the only time they get to just…read. Plus I never have to lesson plan during Packer games, because tomorrow is a DEAR day!
I’ll add to this list as I come up with more tricks, but I am very excited for this school year and feel like after four years I almost maybe sort of know what I’m doing. Although you can’t tell from the state of my desk:
|I moved it to the back of the room last year because students told me the piles in front “stressed them out”