Here’s our collection of professional resources for novice teachers and educators new to the middle level. You’ll find some aid, some comfort, and some good advice! For help throughout the year, subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief.
NEED IDEAS IN A HURRY?
New teacher? Research says: Expect the Dip.
The New Teacher Center’s research-based graph, Phases of First-Year Teaching (right), ends in July where it began in September — with anticipation of a new year in the classroom. That’s important because in the intervening months, attitudes cycle through “survival” and “disillusionment” before rising toward rejuvenation and reflection.
Though many novices may feel their experiences are unique, teachers have struggled with first-year challenges since the days of the one-room schoolhouse. In May 2012, ASCD Express printed an essay from 1943. Teacher educator Francis Martin described the fatigue, lesson preparation difficulties, isolation and discipline problems teachers faced once they left her college lab school. Research shows some of those same factors impact teachers and their students now, according to McREL executive Bryan Goodwin.
This Resource Roundup begins with immediate help for teachers beginning their initial year in the middle grades. Then come resources you can use throughout the year and beyond.
First Aid Fast
The first year of teaching begins well before the first day in the classroom. Teacher and author Dan Brown provides a summer’s worth of preparation strategies from Educational Leadership’s June 2013 open-access issue focusing on using summer for growth. His title is apt if a little scary: “Before the Deluge….”
As part of the Teacher Leader Network’s Teaching Secrets series, Kansas middle grades teacher Marsha Ratzel offers “10 To-Dos for New Teachers” (via EdWeek tiered access) before the kids arrive, from arranging to pair up with a friendly, experienced neighbor down the hall during those first crucial weeks, to meeting and befriending non-teaching staff members. In another EdWeek Teaching Secrets post, Ratzel describes a Classroom Tour to help students understand what’s expected — a tactic that can save lots of time in the months ahead.
Find more ideas on What an Effective Teacher’s Classroom Looks Like in this MiddleWeb article from teaching experts Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker. The authors contrast the typical characteristics of effective and ineffective classrooms using two simple but compelling bullet lists. The article is the first in a series excerpted from the second edition of their bestselling book Seven Simple Secrets. Breaux and Whitaker share more ideas in excerpts How to Teach for Real Life Learning and How to Create an Effective Teaching Plan. Bonus articles are attached, just right for brand new teachers.
Pernille Ripp looks back over her years as a fifth grade teacher and shares 10 First-Year Teacher Myths and How to Avoid Them in a Powerful Learning Practice post adapted from her book, Passionate Learners: Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students.
Tween Teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron in a MiddleWeb article invites teachers to share her techniques for establishing a vibrant learning community based in rules which students help develop. Nearby in a MiddleWeb interview, Wolpert-Gawron notes that while many teachers avoid the middle grades, others like herself are captivated by the energy and emotion of young adolescents. She suggests strategies for building a classroom community to suit the young adolescent mind and body.
A week of sitting in a teaching seminar left middle school teacher Sarah Cooper inspired but also thoughtful about how students experience daily classroom life. “I felt new empathy for having to follow teachers’ instructions all day long.” Read her 10 takeaways in this MiddleWeb guest article.
In an Education Week Teacher article, Michigan teacher Cossondra George offers step by step strategies for Taming the Dragon of Classroom Chaos. And she shares more good advice in this MiddleWeb interview. In his “The Don’ts and Don’ts of Teaching,” from EL, math teacher Gary Rubinstein suggests subtlety is best avoided by novice teachers. Rubinstein explains his reasoning behind such admonitions as ‘Don’t dress too casually’ and ‘Don’t make tests too hard.’
Writing about “Movin’ Up to the Middle,” former teacher and writer/speaker Rick Wormeli explains teacher mindsets that build upon the transitions middle school children undergo in mind, body and location. He also offers strategies for communicating effectively so that students feel welcome and positive about learning. Wormeli is among the top middle school teaching experts in the US. Be sure to also see the first of a several-part MiddleWeb series on smart homework practices, adapted from his seminal book about teaching in the middle grades, Day One & Beyond: Practical Matters for New Middle Level Teachers.
Educator and consultant Jennifer Gonzalez agrees that middle school students are a unique breed and that they need teachers who are tuned in to the intense dichotomies of adolescent life and learning. She shares essential observations in her MiddleWeb guest article 8 Things I Know for Sure about Middle School Kids.
How do the kids see the move to middle school? In this EL article, interviews with northeastern students held before and after they entered middle school revealed their concerns about academics and social dynamics. Students from elementary schools in poorer towns in the district were acutely aware of the impact of class differences on their academic, extracurricular and social prospects. The four authors of the article suggest actions schools can take to make students feel welcome.
Edutopia features a collection of blog posts for new teachers, including Rebecca Alber’s “Backwards Planning Takes Thinking Ahead” and Lisa Dabbs’ New Teacher Academy and New Teacher Connections posts. And don’t miss the #ntchat (New Teacher Chat) twitter stream maintained by Dabbs and described by her at her site Teaching with Soul. By following #ntchat through the school year, you can stay in touch with other novices and reap lots of helpful web links. (Seriously, this is one of the smartest things you can do to help yourself!) If you’re not sure about Twitter’s value or how educators can use it effectively, here’s a useful guide for teachers from Powerful Learning Practice.
Be sure to check out the indefatigable Larry Ferlazzo’s “Best Advice for New Teachers” collection for lots more resources, some directed specifically to middle grades teachers.
First Year Reflections
What teachers remember about their first days in the classroom can provide warning signals and models. After linking to a description of his short-lived first effort at teaching, Paul Barnwell shares Advice to Myself as a New Teacher, a Center for Teaching Quality post, looking back from the vantage point of his decade as an educator. Writing in Educational Leadership’s May 2012 issue for new teachers, high school teacher Dan Brown reveals his own first year horrors and goes on to outline what teachers and administrators can do to build successful first years. In the same issue Katy Farber offers ideas for changing schools so that teachers thrive, and teaching expert Linda Darling-Hammond discusses The Challenges of Supporting New Teachers in the school and beyond.
In “The Homeroom Is a Home,” excerpted from his book This Is Not a Test, José Vilson (right) describes his first year with seventh graders in New York City. A graduate of inner city NYC schools himself, Vilson expected to manage students without much difficulty. But wearing the grown-up hat in his classroom was far more challenging than he’d ever imagined. Some of his experiences were numbing, but, as you will read, he found ways to reach his kids and their values and to excite them about learning.
Teachers also look back to their professional beginnings in Educational Leadership’s June 2013 issue. In Tell Me About … / Your Most Memorable First Day of School teachers recall humorous moments along with challenging days. And Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers shares educators’ suggestions in 100+ Tips for New Teachers and Good Reminders for Veteran Teachers.
Parents: First Impressions and Follow-up
When it’s time for your first Parents Night, Marsha Ratzel offers a detailed essay at CTQ on preparing for and staging the event. And if you need strategies to make your first one-on-one (or two) parent conferences successful for you and for parents and guardians, see this Educational Leadership article by two Syracuse University professors. They describe an effective conferencing model and provide guidelines and suggestions. (Responding to a parent whose child is being bullied is central to the essay, so helpful specifics for conferring on bullying are included.)
As Weeks Turn into Months, More Resources from Fellow Educators
In our searches, we uncovered a treasure trove of video advice about managing those first critical classroom weeks (and beyond). The Teaching Channel is packed with videos featuring teachers in action. The site includes a series, The New Teacher Survival Guide, that’s well worth viewing. You can search the website by the guide title or age or subject area.
Tune in to BAM! Radio to catch helpful discussions from educators for educators. Recent conversations include New Teachers: Three Things They Didn’t Teach You in Education School with Vicki Davis and Dana Dunnan, What Savvy Teachers Know About Managing Disruptive Student Behavior featuring Kaye Otten, Nancy Rappaport, Jessica Lahey and Nancy Flanagan, and Rethinking Boundaries Between Teachers and Students: Tough Teacher, Trusted Friend Or… with Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Rita F. Pierson, Peter DeWitt and Nancy Blair.
Scholastic provides a wide-ranging collection of articles for new teachers: designing the classroom, welcoming students and parents, responding to differences among students, handling stress, and much more. And don’t miss Scholastic’s monthly survival guides.
For up-to-the-minute posts helpful to novice teachers from education leaders, keep an eye on MiddleWeb’s homepage and be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief. In addition to articles mentioned above, educators Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan, Larry Ferlazzo, Bill Ferriter, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Lisa Hinkelman, Amanda Wall, Debbie Silver, and Elizabeth Stein share ideas in MiddleWeb posts.
MiddleWeb’s book review collection is a gateway to the knowledge and know-how of expert educators. One to read right now is the review of Julia G. Thompson’s The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-to-Use Strategies, Tools & Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day (3rd ed.). Followed closely by our reviewer’s take on Teach Like a Champion Field Guide: A Practical Resource to Make the 49 Techniques Your Own by Doug Lemov.
A Moment for Yourself
For new teachers who feel the need for a deep breath before the school year starts, visit Cindi Rigsbee‘s MiddleWeb guest article, Welcome to Teaching! She looks back to her own first day, points to the challenges of today’s schools, and considers the essence of teaching. Find more teacher voices in the May 2012 issue of Educational Leadership with its collection of comments from educators who remember the first time they felt like real teachers. Later in the year, novices and everybody else may want to visit Rigsbee‘s poem, ”Oak Island Goodbye,” to gain a little distance from the frenzy of the classroom.
Finally, we highly recommend the archived recording of our 90-minute webinar for new teachers (Summer 2012) featuring middle grades teaching experts Rick Wormeli, Heather Wolpert-Gawron and Elizabeth Stein. It was wild and wonderful — everybody seemed to have fun and learn a lot! Visit this webinar page for background; from there you can jump to the recording itself. It’s on the Blackboard/Elluminate Live platform (requires Java 7+ which it will offer to download).
Update, August 2014: Just in time – Back-to-School Countdown: How to Build Classroom Culture, a vlog series from Sarah Brown Wessling at Teaching Channel.