I can still remember my first day as a new maths teacher. I had no idea what to expect and really no idea what I was doing. Luckily I joined a fantastic maths department which amazing mentors who showed me the ropes. But looking back I still feel bad for my first classes who had to put up with my bumbling along. Twelve years on and I have seen many teachers struggle with the same issues on their first day, so I decided to put together my ULTIMATE GUIDE for NEW MATHS TEACHERS. (While a lot of this post is maths related, teachers in other subjects might found lots of tips that also apply to them)
Start as you mean to go on
Let’s start at the very beginning, the very first lesson you have with your classes. There is no right or wrong way to start your year; you can basically divide maths teachers into three groups on their first day, those who focus on rules and routines, those who focus on relationships and those who focus on maths. In which group you fall depends a lot on your personality and the kids that sit in front of you. Often teachers would combine aspects of all three groups in their first lesson.
But they all have some things in common:
- Plan your first lesson to the letter – make a list of everything you want to talk about, what you want learners to do, what you want to achieve. If you have to write it out word-for-word, do that. When you stand in front of a class it is easy to forget what you were planning to say.
- Set up a seating plan – not only does a seating plan provide order and structure to a class but it is gold when it comes to learning the student’s names. You can always allow them to move around later if you want to. I always seat my classes randomly in the first term. I know other teachers seat them alphabetically, but if all their teachers put them in alphabetical order, it means they always sit next to the same learners and the same kids sit in the back of the class in every subject. A good idea I got recently was to put them alphabetically according to their first name. This has the advantage of mixing the order up, it also makes it easier to remember their names.
I always put my seating plan on Powerpoint on the screen so that learners can find their own seats. Alternatively, get them to line up outside in the order they will be sitting and then show them where they are going to sit.
- The tone you set on the first day will determine your relationship with the class for the rest of the year. The adage “Don’t smile till Easter” might be a bit extreme, but rather err on the strict side, you can always relax as the year go on. Remember that it is easy to make kids like you for one lesson, but to work with them for a year, it is more important that they respect you than that they like you.
- Don’t shout – if it is at all possible especially on the first day. The moment you shout, you lose control of yourself and the situation.
- Make sure you have a back-up activity. On the first day, both you and the learners should be actively busy the whole time (yes drink those vitamins in the morning, you are going to need it) so make sure you have planned more activities than you will have time for. There is always one lesson where things go quicker, so make sure you have an extra activity in the wings.
Focus on maths
I can’t imagine anything worse than a first day listening to teacher after teacher drone on about what they expect from me. So I prefer to start my year with maths. That does not mean I do not spend a part of the lesson on expectations and admin, but I always plan to spend at least part of the lesson on maths, nothing too strenuous but still. This could be a baseline activity, some revision, or a bit of maths magic, but often I just take the first topic and start on it. I like to create a culture in my class that we are there to work and we will be working every single day.
Focus on routines and admin
A lot of teachers differ from me, in that they prefer to spend the first lesson setting out expectations, routines and completing admin. This would include the routine for coming in and leaving the class, class rules, setting up things like Google Classroom, setting expectation as to how their books should look and explaining the format of your lessons.
Focus on relationships
A third option is to spend the first lesson on building a relationship with your class. This would involve getting to know their names and playing a few ice-breakers and setting goals and targets for the year. Before you decide on the ice-breakers ask yourself whether the aim is for the learners to get to know each other or for you to get to know the learners. While you might be new, the learners might have known each other for a couple of years, if that is the case you want to pick activities that allow you to interact with the learners.
No matter how you decide to start your first day, it is important that you do have CLASSROOM RULES. Some teachers have a whole list of rules, others prefer a shorter list. Just remember that if you set a rule, you have to stand by it, so don’t set rules that you are not willing to or able to enforce.
For myself, I have whittled my Classroom Rules down to only 3, thanks to the book Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle.
Make smart choices – You have not done your homework, was that a smart choice? Is interrupting me in the middle of a lesson a smart choice? Was it smart not to go to the bathroom during the break? Is it smart to be late for my lesson?
Make your teacher happy – I know this is a strange rule, but I have found that this covers a lot of ground. You left your litter in my class, does that make me happy? Talking while I am explaining work does not make me happy. Untidy work does not make me happy. Laughing when somebody makes a mistake does not make me happy.
Be both physically, mentally and emotionally present – In a world of multi-tasking and distractions I find this has become more and more important. For the 45 minutes of this lesson, nothing is as important as what is happening in this class. If you are absent you are missing out, if you are checking your phone on the sly, you are not present, if you are daydreaming about your crush you are not present, if you are catching up on your Science homework, you are not present. And to be fair, this rule applies to me as well, while the kids are in my class, I am present as well and not busy with any other work.
Here are some other rules that you might want to consider:
- Follow directions quickly.
- Raise your hand to speak.
- Ask for permission to leave your seat.
- Listen to the person speaking
- Always tell the truth
- No cell phones in class unless we are using it to learn.
- You may only use earphones with my permission (Earphones – yay or nay?)
- Respect yourself, your classmates and the teacher.
- No eating or drinking in the classroom.
- No writing on desks or walls.
- Do not take anything that does not belong to you.
- Never laugh when somebody makes a mistake.
- The way you treat me will determine the way I treat you.
- You should do your homework every day.
- Have your books in class every day.
- Keep the class and your book tidy.
- Take pride in your work.
Admin for new maths teachers
One of the things university do not prepare new maths teachers for is the admin of the job. Before you start on your admin, it is imperative that you have access to all the necessary technology. Schools use more and more technology to simplify their admin, so there are probably a number of usernames and passwords that you need.
Once you have access to everything, the very next thing you should do is create a set of folders on your computer for all your resources. If you are lucky, the previous teacher left you with some resources, or you have colleagues that are willing to share their resources. But even the best resources are useless if you can find it. If the school does not have a shared drive or folder for resources, I would suggest you start one immediately. Sharing resources are an essential part of being an effective maths department.
There are different ways you can order your resources; I prefer to have a folder for each grade and in that folder a folder for each chapter as well as one for assignments, test and one for exams. Within the chapter folder, I save everything that relates to that chapter, whether it is worksheets, powerpoints or notes. My colleague prefers to have a folder for worksheets, one for notes etc. and within that folder, she will have folders for each chapter. And while you are at it, decide on a naming convention. I am very bad a sticking to a naming convention, and I can not tell you how many hours I have wasted looking for a file because I did not name it properly.
The third part of your maths admin will be to keep a record of your planning. The format of your preparation will depend on the requirements from your head of department. I always keep a relatively simple record of my planning on a Google Doc (accessing it from my phone is a big plus). Sign up for my weekly newsletter and you can download a free template of my planning.
The fourth thing that has saved my life multiple times is my class lists book. Once the classes are finalised for the year, I print ten copies of each class list (with as many columns as I can fit on a page) and bind them in a book. Just remember to leave a few lines at the bottom of the list to add new learners during the course of the year. In use, this to record everything and everything. This becomes a record and reference of everything that happens in my class. Homework not done, I keep a record. My computer crash, I have my marks in a hardcopy. Learners need to hand something in; they sign on the list. I can not tell you how many times during the year I refer back to my book.
Prepare your lessons
When it comes to new maths teachers, nothing is as important as planning and preparation. The quickest way to lose control of a classroom is to be unprepared. The amount of planning you have to put in is also indirectly proportional to the amount of experience you have. When you have years of experience to fall back on, you can get away with planning all your lessons for the following day in an hour or two, but new maths teachers should be prepared to spend hours prepping.
I came across Harry Fletcher-Wood’s book, Ticked off, recently, and I found his advice very useful for new teachers. As a new teacher information overload is a common feature in your life and one of the results of information overload is that you slip up. You forget to photocopy the worksheet for one of your lessons, or you forget to send learners a link to the activity you want them to do or worst of all you forget what you planned to do in this lesson. A checklist can be the security net you need to make sure you stay on top of things. I have made an example of such a checklist, but each teacher will probably want to add their own things to it.
Print it, stick it on your desk and when you do your planning, use it to check that you have done everything for each lesson. After a while you won’t need the list anymore, you will be so used to it.
The second important thing when it comes to being well prepared is to write all your examples out. Yes, I know you can do grade 8 algebra without preparing, well at least I hope you can, but something interesting happens when you stand in front of a class, you go into cognitive overload. To put it simply, your brain or working memory can only deal with so much at a time, when you are standing in front of the class, you are stressed (especially as a new teacher), you are keeping an eye on what is happening at the back of the class, while you are explaining and doing the sum at the same time. This overload can easily lead to 2 + 3 = 6.
But that is not the only reason why you need to write your examples out beforehand. When you are doing an example in front of the class, you want to do it in such a way that all the learners can follow. This means that you want to avoid those type of mental jumps that we frequently make in maths. You want to make your thinking very explicit. In his book How I wish I’d taught Maths Craig Barton suggests that when you write out a complex example beforehand, leave a line open between each step. Then go back and fill in those lines with the steps that you did not even realise you did. I think this is a great way to force yourself to do examples in sufficient detail.
The last thing when it comes to prepping is to do your homework – and stay ahead of the class. In my first year of teaching, I haphazardly did my prep on pieces of paper or in a notebook or somewhere. In my second year, I bought a book for each grade, and I did all my work in that book. I would work out all the examples in the book, write down the notes I want my learners to copy but most importantly I did every single sum that I set as homework. This had a profound effect on my teaching. Not only was I a lot more organised, but the homework I set was a lot more purposeful. By doing it myself I realised two things, textbooks are really repetitive, learners do not need to do all of that, and doing homework takes a lot longer than I anticipated. Knowing what is in the homework also meant that my teaching was a lot more meaningful. As a bonus, it meant that I could eliminate the questions in the textbook that had missing information or just did not make sense. (Yes, textbooks are full of those)
Teaching is a great job, I love every moment of it, and you will too. But do not underestimate it, especially in the first year it is very hard work. But I promise you it will get better. Good luck!!
Resources of new maths teachers
The following books in my bookcase had a profound effect on how I teach
- How I wish I’d taught maths – Craig Barton
- Mathematical mindsets – Jo Boaler
- Teach like a champion – Doug Lemov
Websites to bookmark
What other resources, books and apps is a must for new teachers? Share your most valuable resources and tips in the comments.