It’s official. “Back-to-school” season is here and it's time to shift your focus from rest and relaxation to preparation and professional development.
In the coming weeks (or even days), a fresh crop of students will enter your classroom, eager for guidance, structure, and routine.
Are you ready to hit the ground running?
You love teaching math--more than you love Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Adele's new album combined--and you know the material well. Plus, you've got your go-to teaching strategies and lesson plans at hand.
All you have to do now is make some seating charts and photocopies, right?
Well, maybe there's a bit more to it than that.
Whether you’re a first-year math teacher or a seasoned veteran, there are always aspects of being a happy, healthy, and effective educator that are routinely overlooked this time of year.
After surveying hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school math teachers with varying levels of experience, I’ve identified the 7 most useful reminders for starting off a new school year on the right track.
1.) First is Not the Worst
"The most successful classes are those where the teacher has a clear idea of what is expected from the students and the students know what the teacher expects from them." –Harry Wong
You know what they say about first impressions.
It's easy to underestimate the importance of the first day of school. Although it can be chaotic and disorganized, handling it correctly is vital to managing your students' behavior for the entire school year.
Why? The first day of school is your best opportunity to set the tone and establish clear and realistic expectations as well as consequences for failing to meet them.
The keys to effective classroom management are consistency, communication, and clear expectations.
Do you accept late assignments? Do you want to be able to control the voice level of your students? Do you want them to follow a certain routine?
If you have daily behavior expectations, then you need to view the first day of school as the most important day of school.
Go Deeper: This video from Teaching Channel shows how teachers can promote equity by allowing students to establish their own rules and behavior expectations on the first day.
2.) Pump the Brakes
"I work with a lot of mathematicians, and one thing I notice about them is that they are not particularly fast with numbers; in fact, some of them are rather slow. This is not a bad thing; they are slow because they think deeply and carefully about mathematics." –Jo Boaler
Learning math is not a race.
Teachers and students rule the speed of learning, not pacing guides.
Math concepts build upon each other and even the smallest gap in the tracks can derail a train. Rushing students through a topic or concept to stay on schedule is unfairly damaging to those who need extra time to think deeply about mathematical concepts.
Of course, there are curriculums that need to be covered, but moving too fast is an easy way to sap your classroom of equity and create a learning environment that only caters to a select few.
It's better to give students the time they need to truly grasp a concept before you move on. Their thinking skills and overall math proficiency will be stronger in the long run, and you'll make a greater and more lasting impact on their education as a result.
Go Deeper: This video from Teaching Channel shares an example of how teachers can differentiate classroom instruction and optimize instructional time using technology.
3.) Embrace What's Trending
"Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time." - Hebrew Proverb
Education is evolving.
With so many movements, initiatives, and acronyms being tossed around these days, it’s easy to understand why many teachers have resisted what they perceive as temporary educational trends.
But progressive ideas and technologies are growing in popularity for a reason: because they work! Whether it be flipping your instruction, adding a maker space to your classroom, or incorporating a genius or coding hour into the daily routine, your students will be more enthusiastic, interested, and engaged.
And while you don't have to embrace every new trend, it is important that you are willing to keep up with the times and experiment with new ideas, philosophies, and technology.
Go Deeper: Initiatives like Girls Who Code share insights and resources for teaching coding skills and closing the gender gap in technology.
4.) Build Your PLN
"T.E.A.M. = Together Everyon Achieves More!"
Teachers can't do it alone.
They need community, inspiration, and support.
Effective teachers have strong personal learning networks (PLNs). They surround themselves with people who will help them to grow as educators.
Social media has revolutionized the way teachers can network. In the past, you could interact only with colleagues who worked in the same building. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram now allow you to network with fellow teachers, content experts, and educational thought leaders from around the world.
Have a question or an idea? Share it with your PLN and see what comes your way. The access to insights and resources that social media provides is truly incredible, so go go ahead and join the conversation.
If you're not using social media for building a strong PLN, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to grow.
Go Deeper: Building a PLN on Twitter is easier than you think. This guide from MindShift will get you started.
5.) Take More Risks
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” –Albert Einstein
You know that activity that you’ve always wanted to try?
Remember, the super ambitious one that's miles outside of your comfort zone?
This is the year that you will finally take action.
You can’t grow as an educator if you never push your limits.
In fact, studies suggest that the best teachers aren’t afraid to take risks. If you expect your students to be fearless in learning and to use their mistakes as opportunities for growth, then you should expect the same of yourself.
Use your down time to research your idea, write up the lesson plan now (even if you don't plan on using it for a few months) and share it with your PLN to gain more insights and to hold yourself accountable.
And let your students know that you are experimenting with something new and are looking for feedback. You'll be surprised how willing they are to participate when they know that their input will affect other students in the future.
So, what are you waiting for?
Go Deeper: Want to bring PokemonGo into your classroom? Discovery Education recently shared a variety of ways that teachers can use the massively popular app to engage students.
6.) Go With The Tech Flow
"The proper artistic response to digital technology is to
embrace it as a new window on everything that's eternally
human, and to use it with passion, wisdom, fearlessness and joy." –Ralph Lombreglia
These kids these days and their darn cell phones.
Some teachers love to whine about the immerging role of technology in modern life.
But, if SmartPhones were around in the 80s, then they would've been just as popular then as they are now because modern tech is awesome and has sparked an authentic transformation in education.
Telling students that they can’t use digital devices is like telling teachers they can’t drink coffee.
It’s not happening.
Effective teachers know how to harness their students' energy and redirect it towards pursuing learning objectives. When used correctly, this strategy, in combination with technology use, allows for far-reaching educational opportunities, which is why many schools are adopting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture.
It's time for all teachers to embrace a BYOD culture and provide more opportunities for students to use technology as a tool for pursuing learning outcomes.
7.) Learn to Say "NO"
“It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” –Steve Jobs
Vanessa Williams' 1992 hit Save the Best for Last is the appropriate background music for this final reminder, because it's the best advice (and the most difficult to put into practice) for math teachers.
Here's a fact: Effective math teachers are in short supply and students, parents and administrators are masters of (often unfairly) stretching them as thin as humanly possible.
Here's another fact: You have the right to say “no” to unreasonable requests without feeling guilty.
It's true that teaching is an inherently selfless profession and many teachers view themselves as servants to their students, schools, and communities.
It's also true that healthy students have healthy teachers. If you want to get through the school year with your stamina and sanity intact, then you need to learn to be selfish sometimes.
Your time and energy are valuable. They are also finite resources, so be mindful of how and what you spend them on.
Great teachers, of course, are team players, but you don't have to say yes to every request.
Know your limits and never feel guilty about putting a cap on how far you're willing to extend yourself.
Go Deeper: In this TED Talk, Kenny Nguyen passionately speaks about the power inherent in saying "no."
by Anthony Persico
Anthony is the content crafter and head educator for YouTube's MashUp Math and an advisor to Amazon Education's 'With Math I Can' Campaign. You can often find me happily developing animated math lessons to share on my YouTube channel . Or spending way too much time at the gym or playing on my phone.