Q&A #7008

Support for a first-year teacher (math)

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From: Kimberley (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Oct 06, 2001 at 21:37:22
Subject: Re: Support for a first year teacher (math)

Donna, Organization can help a lot whether in keeping the class in control or in the overload of paperwork you are feeling. Some teachers find it helpful to have a 3-ring binder for each class they teach. Class notes, handouts, examples you want to use, and any other resources can be kept in one place. Other teachers prefer a folder for each chapter which will hold the same items. Try color coding so that it is easier to find what you need. For example, use a different color folder for each subject (red for Algebra, blue for Geometry, etc). I like to use a color which matches the main color on the textbook cover. One thing that makes teaching easier for those of us who have been doing it a while is that certain things have become automatic, without us having to think about them specifically. One of those is attendance. Find a spot on your desk or in a drawer to keep the necessary attendance sheets or cards so they are always handy. Are you trying to grade every student's homework papers, as well as tests, quizzes, or projects? Simplify your life by not trying to grade everything. Some teachers have the students grade their own homework, then collect it to record those grades. By circulating around the room while correcting it, you will have an idea which students have done their work, and which ones are writing down answers. Keep a pack of stick-it notes in your book to make notes on such things that you can put with the papers you collect or put in your gradebook so you aren't trying to remember what you saw later. A colleague of mine allots a certain amount of classtime to answer questions students might have on homework. Then he collects it. He picks maybe four problems from the whole assignment and assigns grades based on those. Each problem is worth 20 points with the remaining 20 points awarded for completing the rest of the assignment. For some quizzes, I have the students correct their own papers. I tell them when they are done with the quiz, they have to drop their pen or pencil on the floor. Then I give them a colored pencil to use to correct. When we're done going over the quiz, I have one student go around and collect the pencils while the others pass their papers in. You didn't say what level of math classes you are teaching, but all students need motivating once in a while. If the class is required, there may be some motivation in that. If there is an exit exam required for graduation, there's another. The reality is that you really can't force motivation. Each student needs to find it for himself. You can however show interest in what you are doing. It's catching. If kids perceive you think the topic is not worthwhile, they will too. "Teach as though you really like the stuff". You may not be passionate about math, but letting students know you like it really helps. Your idea of gathering stories about mathematics to make it appealing to students is a great one. Hope you aren't trying to remember them all. Make notes in your textbook about a particular story which fits. Or copy it from the book and stick it into the book or the folder for that chapter. Not every topic will have a story, but many will. The history of math is a rich resource for background on a subject. So, too, may be the origins of a particular word. Why do we call that ratio of opposite over hypotenuse the "sine"? What about having the students research some of those origins or stories? Assign a couple of students to each section of a chapter or to a particular chapter. This will save you time as well because they will be able to research a lot of topics in a short time and then you will be able to use that information in future years. As for the students controlling the class: I'm a petite woman who has taught a variety of kids and used to worry about class discipline (in the summers before school started I would have bad dreams about losing it). Several ideas I have learned from others have helped me. Every teacher will have her own way of keeping a class moving in the same direction. It may take a bit to find what works best for you. 1. To try a new technique, pick a natural break after which to begin. Mondays are better than Wednesdays because you can start with week with something like, "It's a new week and we are going to try something different." Other natural breaks are the end of grading period, after a vacation, etc. I had one student who commented that he could tell whenever I had attended a workshop because I came back with "some new idea." 2. Refuse to argue with a student, especially during classtime. It wastes the time of the other kids and you will never win because there are more of them. If a student is unhappy with how you graded a paper or something, else, let him know you will be happy to consider a written argument, where they get to present their side of a situation. 3. If the class is being too noisy, don't continue to raise your voice. Once again, there are more of them and they will just continue to talk louder. I will often stop in midsentence and wait for their attention. Eventually one or two students, the ones closest to you will notice and spread the word to be quiet. A friend of mine would turn to the blackboard and write her expectations for the moment on the board--while not talking. There are also the techniques of turning off the lights or raising your hand. Along these lines, you might have students do any necessary reading from the textbook. The first few times it will help to ask students what is meant by listening and respecting the person who has the floor. If one student is talking while another is reading, I say, "Excuse me, Karen, but Holly isn't ready to listen." 4. Students will respond to some routine. In my class we always face our desks north to take a quiz and east to take a test. It may seem silly, but there is a certain mindset involved and it helps us get ready for what is coming next. Work on one new method or idea until it becomes comfortable, then try another. Throw out those which didn't work. It will be a slow process, but it is more do-able and will not feel so overwhelming. Finally, you said you had some great colleagues. ASK them for suggestions. Go visit their classrooms during your prep to see how they handle different situations. Invite them into yours. Are there several early career teachers in your building? At a neighboring district, those teachers didn't wait for someone to volunteer to mentor them. They formed a "support group" of sorts which met once a week for breakfast. They discovered they were having similar problems and could share what worked and what didn't. This response has gotten rather long, but I hope you can find some ideas which fit you. Best wishes. -Kimberley, for the T2T service

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