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My first year of teaching was ok. A lot of people have these stories where every single day of their first year of teaching is awful and they almost quit and so on and so on. I will say that I did not hit that point until about February.
That’s a pretty good time line, right? That’s quite a while for my first year.
Now that I am in my second year of teaching, I am realizing just how many things I did wrong in my first year. Or things I may not have done “wrong” but really, REALLY could have been better.
I thought all summer about things I’d do better in my second year, and now that I’ve gotten through a week of school, I am able to nail down some of the things that I wanted to do differently but didn’t know how.
If you are in your first year of teaching, go ahead and take these tips so you won’t have to bother with as much of the first-year-ridiculousness. You can skip right into second year ridiculousness.
If you are a second year teacher, then go ahead and ake some of these ideas to help yourself! And if you are past the first and second years, hen you can still steal some of these ideas. They may still help.
And let us know in the comments what you learned your first year to help in your second year, and beyond!
Teaching Rules and Procedures
I’ll repeat that: teach rules and procedures.
People always said that, but I had no idea to what extent that meant. Or even how to do that.
Now, I got really lucky in that I teach at the school where I student taught. That meant I already knew a lot of the students, and I kept a lot of the procedures the same.
And thank God I did. Seriously. Because if I had not, it would have been a mess. Because I did not do a very good job teaching the rules and procedures in the beginning.
So what does that actually look like?
On the first day of school, have kids come inside. Give them assigned seats. I’ll repeat that: GIVE THEM ASSIGNED SEATS. Seriously. It helps you learn their names and keeps the chaos down. Not to mention the talking.
Have them go back outside and come in correctly. Correctly meaning walking straight to your seat, quietly, etc. This is something that I did not do on my first year, and it has made a huge difference already.
Let them do something quick and fun, then go over some of your procedures. What procedures are we talking about? Here are some ideas:
- Getting water
- Going to the bathroom
- Fire drills
- Answering questions
- Getting tissue
- Exiting class
- Everything else
- How to sit
- How to stand
Kids need really specific procedures. And they need you to be a bit over the top.
For example: When talking about answering questions, I tell them that I only call on people sitting quietly and raising their hands. We talk about how you have to hold it high, so I can see it. If you wave your hand around, I will not call on you. If you say “Me me me!” I will not call on you. And we practice all those things in the correct and incorrect ways. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
And then you have to stick to that. When students call out answers, I say, “I’m sorry, I can only hear you if you raise your hand.” If they aren’t sitting correctly, I will make them fix it before I call on them. If they are making a bunch of noise, I don’t call on them until they stop.
Also read: Routines You Need in the Music Room
Giving them something to do immediately
Last year, I had a hard time with students coming into my classroom and running to their seats and acting ridiculous. I got a suggestion from a vetran music teacher to give them an assignment as soon as they get inside, to give them something to do. So far, it has been working well. You may want to check back in with me in February.
I have been doing this all week with my 2-5 graders. My k and 1 are usually ok with just coming in and sitting down.
Some examples of things that I have used so far:
- Putting rhythms on the screen for students to play
- Putting on music and having students keep the steady beat
- Putting up a picture and having students guess what it may have to do with music
- Reading lyrics to a song
- Putting a question on the board for them to think about
Now, you don’t have to do all of these. Especially starting out, you can just pick one. Like every day, they will come in and find the steady beat. Or every day they come in and read lyrics to the song. Don’t stress.
It has made for really interesting conversations, and all of these require higher order thinking skills and autonomy. It doesn’t have to be perfect—they don’t even have to do it. The point is that if they have something to do, they will (hopefully) be calmer.
Not giving out pity points
In my classes, students earn class points. They get points for coming in correctly, participating, listening, lining up, transitioning, etc. I have had different versions, but the idea is that the class earns some sort of reward from the points.
In the past, I would sometimes be a little too loose with my point giving—especially at the beginning of class. I have moved to a if I hear any talking at all when you walk in, we do not earn the first point system. Although this may seem overboard, I am sticking to it, because I want them to actually earn the points.
Now, if I have one kid that is just ridiculous all of the time, I’ll ignore the one. Other than that one kid, we all work as a team. And if there is always that ONE, I will even say, “I can ignore so and so as long as the rest of you are correct.”
Reviewing and referring to the rules
The first day we spent a lot of time on rules. And my first year, and that is all that happened. This year, we have reviewed them everyday (five times). We have talked about specific things I have seen to nip them in the bud. And on top of that, when people show what I expect, I point it out.
For example, one of our expectations is “Be respectful”. When I hear a student saying something nice, I say, “Thank you so much! That is really respectful!” And I literally point to it on the wall.
This way, the rules—sorry, they are supposed to be expectations now—are not just something that we go over once, but they are involved all the time.
Calling parents early
Y’all. I’m just going to be honest. I was TERRIFIED to call parents my first year of teaching.
I know, I know. Ridiculous. But seriously—did anyone else feel that way? Or is it only me that was a wimp?
Anyway, it took me a loooong time to call parents.
And once I did, I realized it wasn’t that bad.
This year, I started early. Like third day early.
But I called all of my students that can get a little more wild, but hadn’t yet, because it was so early. And I said, “Your child is doing a great job in music!”
This created a few things. 1. It establishes a relationship with a parent you may need on your side. 2. The kid gets really excited, and they continue doing a good job to get the same attention. 3. It changes the culture—my parents sometimes don’t even bother answering the phone when the school calls, because they get so much bad news. Sending home a positive phone call can really help change that. 4. You may find out things you did not know.
For example, I called a parent today, and she happened to mention that her religion does not allow them to sing songs that are not about God.
Y’all. I had no idea. I thought this girl was just refusing to sing. Honestly, she has some other behavior issues as well, so it wasn’t far fetched. But knowing that is valuable information! I talked with mom about what is and is not ok, and on Monday I am going to talk to the girl and make sure we are all on the same page. Because right now I’m not sure if she thinks she can’t do anything in music, and that is the problem. Even if it isn’t, at least she’ll know I am not upset with her about not singing.
Teaching my choir kids songs for later in the year
Last year, I got a choir together, and realized I had NO CLUE what I was doing.
I feel so much more prepared in my second year.
I haven’t started the choir yet (we’re only 7 days in!), but when I do, I have more of a plan.
I have a concert in December, one in January, one in February, and one in May. And possibly more. But at least those.
Last year, even without the January concert, it was a mess. It was a mess because I wasted my first few weeks when it is too early for Christmas music. Then after Christmas, we did not have a lot of time to get all of the pieces ready for February, and it was stressful.
This year, I am going to teach my students the songs for January and February right off the bat. This way, they already know some songs, and they will have something to do if we are asked to do a surprise concert.
Also, I am going to try structuring my choir rehearsals like this:
5 minute warm up
10 minute theory lesson (to help us learn sight reading)
15 minute work on new material
15 minute work on parts we already know
This way we are not working on the same thing for too long. I am hoping the pace will work out well.
More assessments and more centers
I don’t mean that every day we will sit down and write papers, but I want to do a better job knowing what my kids know.
This could mean that I just watch them play instruments to see them learn rhythms, walk around and listen to their singing voices, etc. I am trying to find something to assess in every class. That doesn’t mean that everything is a test, it just means that I am trying to know what they know.
Because if they know a concept, we can move on. And if they are struggling, then we can’t.
For some reason, this was hard as a first year teacher. I think you get caught up in the idea of assessment as sitting down and taking a test. That is part of it, but not all. In my second year of teaching, I am really exploring different (easy!) ways to assess students.
Yesterday I had my second graders playing rhythms on drums. I literally just watched a different student each time, and marked down whether they got it or not. It seemed to be about half and half (although I was happy to see that the students I had last year did better than the ones I did not). So that told me we can stay on the concept longer.
It also told me how to group them. So next time we do rhythms on instruments, I can group together those who got it and those who did not. Even if I don’t do “centers” specifically, I can still put them together and help the struggling group more. (By having them repeat the rhythm, deconstructing it, pointing to the rhythms as they play, etc.)
I still struggle with this one. But when you teach kids, you should always have some sort of closing activity where THEY tell YOU what they learned. With the little people, this might take some prodding, but from second on, you can just say, “What did you learn today?”
You can have them tell their partner. You can have them do a Kahoot! I am personally loving (although I still it from a first grade teacher who I think got it on pinterest) having 2-3 students tell we what they learned, and then having them write it on a sticky note. They get to put the sticky note on my anchor chart that says, “What stuck with you today?”
Guys. They. Love. It.
Like they are super excited to write on a sticky note. And most of my students hate writing. But this is exciting.
The other things is that I can use what they wrote and transfer it to anchor charts. So I can take all of the stickies talking about rhythm and put it on a poster that talks abut rhythm.
Your administrators will be so impressed.
And you can do this every day until you run out of sticky notes. Then you can buy a bunch from Amazon through this link.
Or this one if you want them to be pretty colors.
I also have all of my students tell me what they learned (or answer a question) as they walk past me while leaving the class. I have learned SO MUCH from their answers. You could also write them down to help you remember.
I avoid writing exit tickets because it is such a pain to get all the stuff out as they are leaving. If any one else has this figured out in your second year of teaching, let me know!
I’m still learning more about closing activities, so if you have ideas, leave them in the comments!
If you are reading this looking for ideas and feel overwhelmed– don’t. I know. It is a lot to think about. Having something for students to do immediately and closing activities and assessing…. That’s a lot of stuff.
But you can do it! If I can, you can!
Just pick one thing from the list– or from your own list of things you want to change– and work on it. Once you get that thing, add in another thing.
What about you? What did you do differently in your second year of teaching? Or your third or fourth? Let us know in the comments!