Welcome, New Math Teacher! If you have made it to this blog post, you are most likely about to enter your first year of teaching or your first year teaching math. (And if you are a veteran math teacher, we would love for you to share your tips in the comments :))
We will be attempting to cover everything that will set you up for success in your first year. This is the last post in our series, so be sure to go back and read the previous three posts to get caught up.
- Part 1 – How to Teach Middle School Math as a New Teacher
- Part 2 – Cultivating a Strong Classroom Culture
- Part 3 – What To Do When Everything is Urgent and Important
- Part 4 – Our Favorite Practices (You are reading this one now!)
Today’s post will be all of the little things that will set you up for success. I am calling them best math practices, but since I have no scientific data to back them up, I will refer to them as favorite practices too. Let’s do it!
Work Out Every Problem Before You Teach the Lesson
This is probably my #1 best math practice. I like to do this for three reasons.
- As I work through problems that I will use for my direct instruction, partner work and independent practice, I am prepared with the misconceptions my students may encounter. By mentally scripting what I might say or ask to combat these misconceptions, I am more prepared to teach. If while working through some problems, I am not really sure why [blank] is the next step, I can watch a video to help my explanations be clear and concise.
- When I am circulating while my students are working, I have my worked out answer key in hand, so I can check student progress. Instead of just looking at final answers to monitor progress, I like to quickly look at the students’ work too. If their work matches my work, I can give them a thumbs up, and move on to the next student. This idea also reinforces to students that their work is just as, if not more, important than the answer. In addition, if I do see an incorrect answer, I can look at their work, compare it to mine, and find the error faster.
- My first principal, Luz, told me this before my first year. It will take students 3 times longer than you to complete a problem. By working out every problem, I was able to assess whether I would need more work to fill up the class period … which leads me to my next point.
Always Have More Prepared
Your students will have varying math skills and speed levels. Some students will accurately complete all of their work before another student finishes the first problem.
Another best math practice is to provide meaningful work for students to work on after they have completed their assigned work. If these students need a challenge, make sure that it is rigorous enough to keep them engaged (don’t give them fluency practice) but not so challenging that they need your help.
My go-to would be to ask them to write a test question based on what they learned that day, complete with answer choices and an answer key. Our digital activities are a great supplement too!
Often I see teachers recommend to abandon seating charts at the beginning of the year, so you can learn who is friends with whom. This is not my advice!
While you may not know your students well enough to create an informed seating chart, creating a seating chart that will help you learn names! I would start with alphabetical order because it helped me learn first and last names and made attendance easier.
Here is my rationale for starting with a seating chart. You can always give students seating choice after they have earned it. It is always easier to loosen up an expectation than try to wrangle students back in after they aren’t meeting your expectation.
In addition, students without friends in that class or who are new, will feel more comfortable and safe in a classroom with a seating chart. You can read more advice about seating charts here.
Don’t Talk Over Students
There are entire books written about classroom management, so advice in this department cannot really be summarized in one paragraph in a blog post. I am going to pick the tool that packs the biggest punch. Don’t talk over students.
When giving instructions (not direct instruction), get your students’ attention, stand still, and wait. For example, it is time for students to go from working in stations back to their desks to start their exit ticket.
Teacher is standing still, squared up, and facing a majority of students.
“I am waiting for all eyes to be on me. Thank you, Gabriel. Thank you, Max.”
“Most voices are turned off. Thank you. I am waiting on two more.”
*Teacher turns body and makes eye contact with the two students who were talking.* (non-verbal redirection)
Students are still talking. *Teacher walks over to them.* (proximity)
Students are now silent, and the teacher gives clear and concise directions. Teacher stops and waits if there are any interruptions.
When you give a direction while students are talking, you are communicating to them that what you have to say is not that important and they have a choice whether they need to listen to you or not.
Being in the classroom for any length of time will result in a variety of mishaps – fire drills in the rain, copies running out, technology rendered useless since the internet is down, vomiting by both students and teachers, and a mouse running around. (These are examples from my classroom. Yes, the mouse visited my classroom during state testing, so that was …fun.)
You can’t really get too worked up when something chaotic happens. Your students will follow your lead, so take a deep breath, problem solve, and make the best of it.
Students will work harder for teachers they like and feel like them. Here are some ways to build relationships with your students on a daily basis.
- Use an individual’s name (so learn those names quickly 🙂 )
- For every correction or redirection a student needs, be sure to praise them two times
- If a student invites you to a game or performance, go! If they went out of their way to invite you, then they love you and want you there.
- Be consistent. You can’t treat every student the exact same, but you have to hold all students to the same bar.
Become an All Access Member
Finally, my best math practice is to become an All Access member! It bears repeating that the best thing you can do as a first year math teacher is find a reliable, standards-based curriculum. You will be spinning so many plates; don’t add curriculum writing to your very full scope of work.
Veteran teachers, what are some of your best math practices? New teachers, what questions do you have?