There is nothing like a top ten list for back to school to get you ready for the start of a new year!
Whether you’re a new or seasoned teacher — or somewhere in the middle — you’ll find you’re quickly caught up in the current of the school year. Don’t forget to take a few minutes to set your goals and priorities for the year.
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How long will it take to grade?
ELA teachers grade a lot!
Before you create an assignment or project, decide how you are going to grade it. Make your life easy and plan the fastest way to grade!! Rubrics are great, but keep them simple.
In addition, be mindful of your school’s grading requirements. Do you need to post a grade each week? Are they weighted? Keep that in mind so you don’t get behind on this!
Figure out what you need for grades — if you have one big ELA grade or a grade for Reading and English and Spelling. Make sure you understand the school policy for entering grades.
Don’t disregard the materials your text books provide. Some PhD did the work for you!!! You do not have to reinvent the wheel or come up with original material for every lesson.
Build some pre-sets into your schedule. These are things you do on a regular basis — independent reading, vocabulary practice, warm ups.
Creating a regular schedule will make planning easier.
Be as organized as possible!
Are you a binder person, a folder person, a digital person, a notebook person? Think about how you best want to organize your teaching materials.
You might want a folder for each prep. Or a binder with a section for each class.
Keep it simple and easy to use. If your organizational system doesn’t work — try something else.
Manage student work
Unless you are totally paper free, you will have papers you’ll collect from students. There is nothing more frustrating than students telling you they handed something in, and you cannot find it.
How will you organize papers from students? Try this:
When I collect papers from student
I staple them together — Creating a big stapled sheaf of papers. This helps eliminate the “I handed it in!” If the work isn’t in the stapled pile, it wasn’t handed in on the due date.
Then, I stash papers to be graded in a big pentaflex plastic folder (you know, rubber band thingy around it?) and put all my “to be graded/reviewed” papers in it. I am also a big fan of the jumbo alligator clips.
All papers are collected, collated, and put in the same place. Every. Time.
Stay on top of grading
You know, as an ELA teacher, that you’ll have a lot of grading to do. A lot. You can find grading tips in this post, but remember — you don’t want to save up all your grading to do on the weekend!
That is a recipe for burn out!
Instead, try this:
Set your timer and grade for a specific amount of time each day. If you can stay after school and grade for 45 minutes, you’ll keep your pile from getting overwhelming.
Additionally — remember that you don’t have to grade everything. Meaningful, useful feedback is key.
Plan as you grade
As you grade, keep notes for future mini lessons.
When I’m reviewing drafts of essays, I keep a tablet next to me to record notes like “review comma splice.”
When you see the same mistakes, you’ll have a mini lesson for the next day!
Also, as you are reviewing work, you can sort them into piles for small group work the next day. So piles might be “need to work on sensory details,” “topic sentences,” etc.
Keep it simple
At one time, my students had a binder, folder, spiral, and composition journal! Too much stuff to keep track of!
One of the best things I changed was to put all ELA notes (English, reading, spelling, whatever) in one spiral.
Students created a resource book instead.
Here’s how I did it:
I had students take the first five pages and designate them as the Table of Contents. Then, whenever we had notes, I’d say put this in your spiral on page ___ and write it in your table of contents. I kept a “master” notebook with just the toc. We could reference notes easily. (This idea came from Nancie Atwell’s Lessons That Change Writers.)
If I had a handout for students, I’d trim it (time saver) and have students glue or tape the paper into their spirals.
Start the year by teaching something you love.
I love to teach poetry and started the year with a lesson on word choice. Poetry Writing & Analysis: Weather Poems.
This is a fun way to start the year and takes the students through a series of steps to write their own poems. The poems also make a fun wall display.
Communicate with parents
Communicate with parents. Your school may have requirements for this.
Plan to send a parent email at least once a month – either telling parents what is currently happening in your classroom or what’s coming up.
Post as much as you can on your class website, blog, or digital classroom page. This is so helpful when students are absent!
Establish and practice procedures
Establish procedures. You have read The First Days of School by Harry Wong, haven’t you?
It’s a great resource! Even if you’re a seasoned teacher, you can still learn something from this book.
The bottom line is — you need to teach procedures – as second nature as they feel to us, kids may not have that feeling. Spend a few minutes teaching students how to quiet to the bell, head their papers (put a sample up in the room), line up, etc. It will make your life easier.
Ask for help
If you have a mentor teacher – meet with that teacher often. If you don’t have a mentor teacher, find someone that you like and respect, and ask that teacher for help or to bounce ideas off of.
Work with your team. It’s important to feel like you are cooperating with others and not working alone.
If you haven’t heard the story of the marigolds and walnut trees, read this story: Find Your Marigold. Remember that there are people who will be wonderful resources for you!
(three ideas in one!) Relax, be yourself, and take care of yourself!
You will surely make mistakes. But every day is a new day!! Don’t expect to be perfect! Make sure you’re eating right, sleeping, and playing.
You are a well-rounded person, but it is easy to get totally consumed in teaching and forget to do other things that you love. Keep it round!!!
And…if you were counting, that was 12 tips! I do hope one or more helps make your year the best ever!