Back to school tips for members
Want some ideas that won’t clog your inbox, take tons of time or require meetings with your PLC? We asked some CTA members to share their favorite tips, resources and strategies to help get your year off to a great start.
Spanish teacher, Computech Middle School
Fresno Teachers Association
On Aberle’s blackboard every day are the large block letters BTEOTLYSBAT. It’s not a chemical compound or biosphere. It stands for: By the end of this lesson, you should be able to… Naturally, what follows is something that changes daily, based on the lesson, announced at the beginning of each class session. It may seem like a small thing, but this acronym helps students understand exactly what they are expected to know and do once the bell rings. Like a roadmap, it shows them that they are at Point A and that they need to wind up at Point B. It also reminds Aberle to align daily curriculum with learning objectives, and serves as a guideline to make sure he stays on track. Aberle says his favorite webpage for Spanish lessons is www.cadillac76.com/spanish/ppt (created by Dennis Bricault) because it contains lots of animated and imaginative PowerPoint lessons.
Science teacher, Merced High School
Merced Unified High School District Teachers Association
Get to know your support staff, says Gonzales, or “the people that really run the school.” This includes secretaries, custodians and others who can help improve your teaching environment. He also gets to know his students — their culture, interest and goals — by conducting student surveys at the beginning of the year. His questionnaire asks students about their hobbies and interests outside of school and future career plans. When he knows their interests, he can make his subject matter more relevant to their lives. For example, if a student is interested in medicine, questions in Gonzales’ biology class might revolve around medical science. “Sometimes it’s all the same concept, but it’s worded differently to be interesting and relevant to different students.”
Academic literature teacher, Kings Canyon Middle School
Fresno Teachers Association
One of the best time-savers she implements at the beginning of the year is to put the names of her students — along with their California Standards Test scores — on small, color-coded Post-it notes for a seating chart. She color codes by CST levels, so that when her principal asks if she has looked at CST data, she just shows him her chart. Then she puts the seating chart into a plastic cover. “I clip all the classes together with a big clip. Then, I can easily write on the seating chart with an overhead pen to take roll, mark who owes me assignments, or who answered questions, etc. It's easy to transfer attendance, points, and such to my computer. The best feature is that when I move a student, it’s a quick switch of a post-it on the seating chart. My subs love it!”
English language arts and AVID teacher, Muscatel Middle School
Rosemead Teachers Association
“AVID has a lot of wonderful materials that have truly revolutionized the way in which I approach teaching,” she says. “My favorite resources are their Middle Level Writing and English Language Learners curriculum. Both offer lessons and strategies that are highly engaging and able to be utilized in all subject areas. It makes teaching writing across the curriculum easy regardless of your subject matter.” To help generate thought-provoking conversations and essays, books she assigns include The Outsiders, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Freedom Writers Diary, and Speak. She also shows motivational movies like Homeless to Harvard, We Are Marshall, and Lean on Me, because all of them have themes that teach tolerance and connect to teens. Some of her favorite websites for literacy are www.gamesforthebrain.com, owl.english.purdue.edu, and www.easybib.com/cite/view.
Music teacher, El Camino High School
South San Francisco Classroom Teachers Association
Principles of Classroom Management by James Levin and James F. Nolan is a "nuts and bolts" book that proved invaluable during Galela’s first two years of teaching. He still refers to it from time to time, as he does The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children (Gloria Ladson-Billings), a book where the experiences of eight successful teachers are told anecdotally and tied into research about education and teaching. The stories are about how teachers overcame problems in class: cultural differences, behavior and financial issues. “I found the book easy to relate to,” he says. “While reading each of the stories, I envisioned myself in the classroom as a student and then as the teacher. I certainly learned a lot from this book, and the stories told by the teachers still inspire me to be a better teacher.”
Teacher, Kelly Elementary School
Compton Education Association
“Come in, come in, please come in and look around,” she says on the first day of school, in an effort to make parents feel especially welcome in her classroom. She calls the first day of school a “celebration” where parents are greeted enthusiastically and informed that they are part of the “team” she’ll be working with throughout the year. Parents are invited to visit anytime, read stories to students and help with activities. “This makes parents want to be involved in the classroom and feel comfortable with me,” she explains. “I communicate with them regularly, so they don’t feel I’m only contacting them when something is bad.” Showing support for her students in non-school settings also wins her huge points. Occasionally she will show up for students’ baseball or soccer games or even Bible school presentations. “Everyone gets very excited when I step outside of the school arena,” she says. “Parents are very appreciative and realize that you really do care about their child, and they are more motivated to work with me in helping their child succeed.” As a result, parents are more willing to spend time practicing math with their child. Richardson says she frequently refers parents to www.mathdrills.com.
Becky Stephan and Sherri Prendergast
Paraprofessionals, El Rincon Elementary School
Association of Classified Employees, Culver City
Advice from this pair of paras: Begin the year with a clear understanding of the classroom rules and find out whether the teacher wants a support professional to be independent or follow exact directions. Some teachers want a more structured environment and others give a little bit of leeway, they explain. When expectations are clear, support professionals and teachers can bounce ideas off one another and be partners. They also have this advice: “Make sure to tell the kids how smart they are. They will start to believe it if someone tells them it is true.” Some of their favorite websites are www.schoolexpress.com/spelling01.php, www.theteacherscafe.com, www.tlsbooks.com, and www.opencourtresources.com.
Single-subject credential student (French), San Diego State University
Her favorite book for classroom management for middle and high school students is The First Days of School by Harry Wong. “The book is written in a practical user-manual style and has a corresponding website offering supplementary information.” She uses www.blogger.com to create free class blogs where she posts homework assignments, extracurricular information, and any other tidbits she wants to share with students. “I use docstoc.com to transform document files into embed codes to post work on our class blogs. It's free. To make learning come alive, use multimedia — lots of music, live streaming, Internet, blog, iPhone apps — to keep learning current and integrate technology. You can teach two skills at the same time.”
Assistant professor, secondary education, San Francisco State University
California Faculty Association
Cooks urges his future teachers to find a balance in their lives when they enter the classroom and to build a “quality of life” outside of school to avoid burnout. Teaching can be an all-consuming profession, he says, so it’s important to exercise on a regular basis and create time and activities with family and friends. He adds that it helps to find a core group of people who work in community services (teachers, social workers, coaches, etc.) who can relate to the daily experiences of a teacher.“It’s more important than ever to stay grounded,” says Cooks, “in this day and age of high-stakes testing, budget cuts and overpriced curriculum and instruction materials.”