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)

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 

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 

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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