You’re about the start your first year as a science teacher. The first year or two is exciting but also intimidating. It feels like there’s so much to learn and you probably can’t wait to get in there and get your hands dirty. We asked veteran middle school science teachers what they wish they’d known and what advice they have for the new science teachers. Here’s what they had to say about how to prioritize and stay sane while you’re making that magic happen!
- You don’t have to have a Pinterest-ready classroom, says veteran teacher Michelle B. of Wyoming. Make it interesting, neat and colorful, but don’t compare yourself to Instagram feeds. Sue from Florida says she likes to include her new students’ names in her bulletin boards – maybe write their names on leaves on a tree or stars on a space themed bulletin board.
- Clutter distracts the mind. Put it away. Many science classrooms have a prep room where you can temporarily store labs that you haven’t cleaned up yet or papers you have to grade or file.
- Nearly every veteran teacher we spoke with agreed that organization is key. When it comes to lab supplies, you can store supplies you use all year – beakers, meter sticks, scissors – in one place and curriculum specific supplies – mineral samples, DNA models, pH test strips – together with other supplies for the same lab or unit. I have one cabinet for each unit I teach and one for general supplies. Kelly, a science teacher entering her 12th year, says you might want to spend a day or two emptying every cabinet and creating your own system if you’re moving in to a classroom someone else has cluttered.
- How you arrange the desks and/or lab tables in your classroom may be dependent on fixtures like sinks or built in lab tables. It also may be dependent on pandemic and social distancing standards. Your supervisor might even have input to provide. Mrs. T from Illinois says she prefers having students sit in pairs for group work and Jill from Texas prefers round tables of 4. There is no right or wrong way – I rearrange desks often in my classroom because I get bored easily and I guess students might also.
- Back in the day, teachers kept giant binders of the original copies of all of their worksheets, labs, and handouts for each unit. These binders were essential so you didn’t have to recreate everything every year. Of course, those binders are now Google folders and organization became a little easier. Ken is a 6th year teacher and he suggests that you create a folder in your Google Drive for each unit. Then, create sub-folders within each unit. He suggests to name these subfolders by content – Lab 1, for example, or Assessments. Within each sub-folder, name the individual documents not only with a name that you’ll recognize but also with the number that indicates where it fits into the unit. 01-Do Now is the Do Now for the first day of the unit. 12-Erosion lab is the lab that is the 12th activity or document you’ll use in that unit.
- Until you get to know your students and curriculum, make sure you over plan. Middle school science teacher Mrs. P from New York says she plans at least one additional activity for every class period until she feels she understands how long her students need to get through each activity. In terms of classroom management, it’s much easier to manage students who have too much to do rather than students who have too little to do.
- Plan a unit at a time loosely and then plan each week more rigidly.
- The custodians and the secretaries run the school, says Bobbi from Oklahoma.
- If there are other teachers that teach the same course as you, they are critically important. They’ll be able (and hopefully willing) to help you plan what you’re going to cover.
- You will find your people. Find the people you trust and the people you admire. They may not be on your team or even in your department, but you’ll find people you can talk to or vent to or ask advice from.
- Ask for help when you need it and practice self-care. Nearly every veteran teacher we talked with said to take it one day at a time.
- “Fake it until you make it” is another common thread. Don’t lie to your students, but tell yourself you’re confident and capable. One teacher reported that she was only 1 chapter ahead of her students in learning the content that she was teaching for the first time.
- You don’t have to grade everything. Many veteran teachers said to manage your own time by planning assignments. If you have a lot of grading to do, give a multiple choice assessment instead of an open ended one or only grade some of the work you assign rather than all.
- Don’t spend every spare minute grading papers and planning.
- When you feel like you’re starting to burnout, and you will, don’t push yourself to keep working. Take a day off, put your feet up, take care of yourself. Ask for help when you need it.
- Everyone is new at something sometimes. Learn by trial and error, but don’t beat yourself up for the errors.
- Remember why you became a teacher. Enjoy the relationships you’re building with your students. Laugh with them. Linda from Delaware wants you to know that they’ll forget what you taught (it’s humbling, but true) but they won’t forget how you made them feel.
- Set boundaries. Many veteran teachers recommend that you not bring work home at all. Others recommend that you leave school on time every day. Find what works for you, but don’t feel like you have to spend every minute working.
- When you leave your classroom every day, set it up so that you’re ready to start the next day. It’s easier to sleep at night when you don’t have that running list of things to do.
- Wash your hands. Every teacher gets a ton of colds, especially in the first few years, says Fidelma of Vermont.
- It’s easier to manage behavior before it starts, says Tina from Indiana.
- You’re not their friend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly, says Ms. H who is a 17 year veteran teacher.
- Hanna from Pennsylvania says to call or email home with praise as early in the year as you can. This helps build cache for a time when you might need to call with a less stellar report. Keep the lines of communication open was a common suggestion from many veteran teachers.
- Souad from Massachusetts suggests using tools like student-made murals, online resources, guest speakers and the involvement of parents in the classroom to motivate students.
- Kids do love to see you at their sporting events. If you can spare some time, go cheer on the lacrosse team and show your face for a few minutes to help build rapport, suggests Ms. E from New York.
- As a rule, middle school science standards include earth, physical science, environmental science, and life science. Your school district probably has a plan for which grades cover which of the standards.
- If your school district has not provided you with a curriculum guide telling you what you need to cover, ask for one. Minimally, you should be told which standards you are expected to cover in a year says 18 year veteran teacher Joanne.
- Souad from Massachusetts says that a good focus for middle school teachers is problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity to enable students to understand the world’s challenges.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Someone, somewhere has taught this already.
- Once you know the standards, scour sites like Pinterest, OER commons, TeachersPayTeachers, or even your favorite content specific Facebook group. Collect ideas, weed out the bad ones, try the ones that interest you, keep a few on the backburner to try if you need to reteach. It’s far better to teach the same thing 5 times then to teach 5 things once each.
- The best advice I ever got as a parent also works for teachers. The days are long but the years are short. Enjoy them.
- Be sure parents know that you like their child and want their child to do well says Ms. R from New York. That’s the most important thing to them and therefore the most important thing to you if you want them to be a partner with you in their child’s education.
- Early, positive communication is extremely important to set the tone for the year.
- Document, document, document. Keep a notebook or spreadsheet of all of your phone calls and emails to parents. Refer to previous communication before you contact them again.