Advice for a new First Grade teacher?

Question:I am fresh out of Texas A&M and ready to start my first year teaching in just two short weeks! I will be teaching First Grade, which I do not have much experience with. I'm hoping to get some good advice for the first couple of weeks of school, and especially the first day. Any ideas for parent communication, classroom organization, activities, classroom management, etc. will be greatly appreciated!

Answers:
I'm starting my fourth year with 1st graders! The beginning of the year is hard with them because they are still fresh out of kindergarten, and really can't work too independently on a lot of things yet. Getting out homework and tearing out workbook pages will seem like such a chore at first. BE PATIENT. Of course, with practice, they get better. Toward the end of the year, you'll actually get a little bored waiting for someone to ask for help because they grow and mature so much during that year, and they'll be much more independent. So keep that in mind when you start to get frustrated.

Weekly or bi-weekly newsletters are great when communicatiing with parents. I hate phone calls with parents, so this seems to do the trick. You may or may not want to give out your home email address. I did my first year, and luckily I wasn't bothered at home too much, but I haven't any other year because I want school-related issues to stay in school. Anyway, parents love the newsletters and it helps them know what's coming up so they and their kids can be prepared.

ALWAYS post homework. Buy a magnetic dry erase board and put it in front of the kids. I abbreviate a lot of it so they can write it down too and it doesn't take an hour to do it. ;) (like practice book pages 81 and 82 would be PB 81, 82. They understand it after a few short weeks.)

Put 2 pencil sharpeners in your room and make sure they sharpen at least 2 every morning.

They'll want to get up and blow their nose all the time, so make sure you tell them unless there is snot running down their faces (in better words, of course, hehe), they are not allowed up when you are in the middle of teaching. Make sure though they know that if it IS an emergency, they can just quietly get up and do it, or else you'll have, "Can I get a Kleenex?" questions interrupting the class. It's distracting, and 1st graders get distracted easily.

Keep desks away from windows and doors if possible, for the same reason I just mentioned.

Give them jobs! They love it! Messenger, Pencil Patrol (empties pencil sharpeners), Book Patrol, Calendar, Plant Patrol, Line Leaders, etc. Add it as part of their morning routines. Give new jobs every week.

Put up lots of colors in your classroom. Keep plants in the room. Go on quick drink breaks once in a while. Have them get up after long mornings and do stretches with them. Play quiet music during private reading time. Play classical music while they're working.

When you say something to them, go through with it, whether it's a punishment or a reward. They remember things, and this can be a bad thing ("Johnny, I'm going to talk to your mother about your behavior." Then you don't do it, and he sees he got away with it!)

Never NEVER email parents about problems with their children. Call, or meet face-to-face. Always first talk about the good qualities of their children.

Stay organized! It's so much easier to know where everything is!

Take advice from your colleagues. If they give you stuff, and they will, take it. Store it away for later if you don't need it right away. They want to help! (I STILL get things from them!)

Create a cozy reading area. I have a cozy "Book Nook" in my room that I reward quiet readers with. It's for serious readers only, and they know it!

Read to them once in a while. My 1st graders LOVE the Judy Blume "Fudge" series!

Always have "sponge activities" for those 15 minutes or so between classes/activities when you don't have time to start a new lesson. These can be as simple as drilling math facts, playing a spelling review game, but you can Google a ton of these! I live by them!

Always have back-up plans because nothing will ever run as smoothly as you hope. :)

Laugh with them when it is appropriate, but don't let it get out of hand. If something silly happens, don't get mad. Giggle it off then move on.

Be an actress! They LOVE enthusiasm! Use voices, gestures, etc. to get them interested!

And most importantly, respect them, and they will respect you.
I have heard from many first year teachers it is necessary to start out fairly strict with the children, and then as the year goes on ease up a bit.

Once they see that there are set rules to follow and set consequences, it will be much easier than trying to enforce rules after the kids have run all over you.

Invite the parents in for a 1st day of school celebration, that way they can get to know you and feel as though you welcome them into the classroom.

Anyways, good luck to you!!
I LOVE www.abcteach.com. I'm using it now to get lesson ideas.
Classroom management...the #1 complaint with administrators, and challenge with most new teachers. Be consistant--if you lay down rules and consequences, follow through! Be fair. Establish what your rules are early on, and clearly. Let them know what the consequences will be if they disobey. Make the kids feel that you care about them individually, and don't make your expectations for behavior or academics impossibly high, so they feel overwhelmed. Get to know some personal things about each student--do they have siblings? Pets? What do they like to do in their free time?
Many teachers use a tangible rewards system for behavior. If they are good or do well on a task, reward them with a ticket or coin. At the end of the week, they can redeem them for prizes or rewards. Even collectively, you can keep a jar. If all the students have been hardworking and behave well for a month, you can reward them with a party!
The best advice I can give you, act as if you know what you're doing, even when you haven't the slightest clue. Never lose your sense of humor and don't smile for at least the first month, then after that, smile ;-)
At that age, they don't really have any idea as to what's going on and the most difficult thing about that age will be making sure you build a classroom based upon structure, organization and consistency. Make sure they understand that their are consequences for their behavior and give them incentives, internal and external. Most importantly, find a veteran teacher that you can latch on to. Teaching has the ability to be an isolating profession and when you're new, you need all the help you can get. Most of all, the more you talk with other teachers, the better it'll make you feel when you have those days where you wonder what in the hell you're doing in the teaching profession.
Get Harry Wong's "The First Days of School" --it's invaluable!! Also, classroom management is the key!! Be consistent, if you say you're going to do something do it.

Most of all GOOD LUCK!! I promise this book will help.
Like previous answerer mentioned, Harry Wong's First Days of School is a great book, no matter what grade level you teach! I teach primary grades, and the best advice I can give you is to make everything visual, from your behavior chart to rules, etc. Also, be consistent, try new things out until you find what works for you (teaches the kids to be flexible), don't bend your rules, find your balance between firm/compassionate. In 1st grade, they don't have much experience with different teachers, so you'll be the greatest thing to them no matter what.

For parent communication, I just sent home homework once a week, (included a packet with a math practice page for 5 nights, and a reading or writing activity for 5 nights), and I included a cover sheet stating their spelling words, each night's assigned pages, and then a short little note to parents saying what we were learning that week, any upcoming events, requests, etc. The parents always knew what was going on, even if their child said they did "nothing" that day, or if I got behind on grading and they weren't seeing papers coming home. The best thing is to make them feel like you are open to talking to them if they need to. On open house or orientation day, have the parents fill out an index card with their e-mail address on it. That's the easiest way to communicate!

For organization, keep things clutter-free and easy to access as possible. Store books in bins with similar books. Arrange students in groups at several tables. Assign the table a color or animal so that they feel like a team. Award table points for groups working quietly or listening well, and then on Friday eat lunch with the table with the most points. One of my favorite things I did to get the kids under control when they were rowdy was to say "Flat Tire" and the kids would respond with the sound "SHHHHHHHHHHHH" and then they'd be quiet. They loved doing it and it was so simple. I also took a chart with their names, and handed out star stickers to kids that came in and sat quietly or followed directions immediately, and when they had 10 stars on the chart they went to the treasure box.

There are so many ideas out there, I could go on and on. At the start of school, make your lessons simple, like reading picture books about school and then have them draw and write their favorite part, or spend a couple days on setting, problem/solution, etc. The first few weeks you are just getting to know the kids, and they are getting to know you and your procedures/rules, so just make sure you've decided how you want to handle things (restroom breaks, water, tissues, pencil sharpening, paper turn-in, tattling, etc.). Don't make your room TOO busy, and don't place anything on the wall near your carpet area because little fingers are busy. Most of all, good luck, you'll be great!

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