Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#Teach2Teach - How to manage it all

I'm a little late to the game but this in response to the #Teach2Teach movement started by Amy Lenord. In-service teachers answer questions posed by pre-service teachers. You can check out more at the website here or follow the #Teach2Teach hashtag on Twitter.

Q1 “How do all these teachers balance the workload between teaching and planning?  Now that I am getting ready to perform all this work, I am beginning to wonder how anyone manages it at all.”

The trick to managing it all is to not manage it all. I'm in my third year of teaching and each year I put something on my radar of one to two things I want to get better at. Does that mean that I wish I had a monthly newsletter to keep families up to date on what we're studying, complete with resources to be used outside of class? Sure - that sounds great, but it's not on my focus list right now so it's a goal for someday in the future.  Is my classroom management in the TL better? Yes, because that's on the list.

Pick a few things that will make a difference to you and your students and focus on those. When you get good and comfortable with those few things, pick a few more. A veteran teacher told me once that, "this is a marathon, not a sprint." You can't be good at everything all at once so don't bother. You'll only get down on yourself.

The other thing is to have realistic expectations. It will not be easy. Your feet are going to ache. You might find yourself going to bed at 7. You almost certainly will be sick constantly until April. When I first got hired a teacher friend of mine congratulated me and said, "Congratulations! You're going to be great. And miserable. You won't have a life this year but it will get better. And you're going to be awesome."  My second year she said I would still be tired and miserable but it would be slightly better. And by year 3 or 4 I would find my feet. So far she's been right. I'm in year three and things have been better each year. (Sometimes I pinch myself because this year has been amazing so far.)

Tips from a FLES teacher on time management & organization

1. Multiple grades learning the same thing=less planning. As your program grows each grade will naturally be at a different place but at the beginning save yourself some time and teach the same topic with some variation to make up for age level. 5th graders don't always enjoy the same activities as kindergartners. Then again sometimes they do!

2. If you're on a cart, pack it for the next day before you leave each afternoon. Then check it again before you head out in the morning. Does this guarantee you won't forget something vital? Absolutely not, so have a few games on hand that you can play with no prep.

3. Write the schedule for the class somewhere where you and the students can see it. This is so they know what to expect even while you're 90%+ TL, you remember what comes next, and if you've taught a particular lesson already the students can tell you, "WE DID THAT LAST TIME!"

4. Writing down what you did with each class at the end of the day is absolutely necessary. Because no matter how hard you try assemblies, band practice, field trips, and things like Career Day will always get one class off track from the rest. I look back each morning at what we did the last time I had each class for the day and write the next lesson in the sequence on a post-it note and I reference it throughout the day.

5. If you have time plan your year over the summer. I find resources, write unit plans, and develop a calendar of when I'll be teaching what to whom over the summer months when I have lots of time and am relaxed. That doesn't mean I don't change my mind or find new resources or ideas throughout the year but it's much less pressing and only because I want to since I already have stuff planned. (I was hired a week before school started my first year so this is not always possible.)

6. Pick a day and take over the copy machine. I try to do this during primary planning because they use a different copier than me or after school. I like to have all of my copies ready for the week if possible. (And to make friends with colleagues, make sure to let them jump in front of you and your 700 copies for their 30 copy job.)

7. Take advantage of the fact that you might be teaching 24 different classes. Use each lesson to continue to refine it. I've had several lessons completely bomb this year, usually in 3rd grade because they've had less schedule interruptions. By the time I taught it to 4th grade, I had it perfected.

8. Don't be afraid to go slow, VERY VERY slow. I have been working on colors with kindergarten since the beginning of the year and they still can't tell the difference between black and white. Elementary age kids are great because they WANT to watch the same video, hear the same story, play the same game WAY more times than you think possible. And the fact is they need that repetition for language acquisition.  Find ways to play the same game but with different language. Use the same story but do something different with it or add on to it.

9. Make classroom management and your organization system priorities from the beginning. You will probably have to experiment and see what works best for you and your students but things fall into place so much better when you are organized and your students know your routines and expectations.

10. Find other FLES teachers through #earlylang on Twitter. Check out the community Carolina is building through her Fun for Early and Elementary Spanish Teachers page on Facebook. Join NNELL. Organize swap shops to share ideas with other teachers in your district/city/state.

Teaching is not easy but it can be fun and fulfilling. I met Helena Curtain at a conference my first year of teaching when I was overwhelmed and discouraged. Classroom management in English, let alone in the TL, was proving difficult. I had little sympathy from other corners but she told me something along the lines of, "Just do what you can. And forgive yourself. Each day is a new chance to start again." I treasured those words and I try to remember them when students are wild or we don't get to 90% TL or a lesson bombs. Each day is a new chance to start again.

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