New Teacher Temptation #3

new teacher

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed as a new teacher.

And it’s so easy to think you have to get everything right your first couple of weeks. Great teaching books like Harry Wong’s The First Days of School emphasize how important a strong start to the year can be. My favorite Teach Like a Champion has 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. Version 2.0 has 62.


So new teachers are often tempted to think they have to get everything right at the beginning of the year – or at least implement an overwhelming number of teaching techniques.

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to get everything right. You don’t have to start off with 62 techniques. You don’t even have to start off with half of that.

You can start with 2.

I wish someone had told me, when I was a first year teacher, the 2 most essential things I needed to be able to teach my kids so I could focus on those things instead of obsessing over the overload of advice I felt like I was getting. I mean, I had been educated at Notre Dame’s ACE program…


Apart from the most important thing – which is to love your kids – there are only two things you really need to start teaching. Obviously other things will help you. But you can start with these two and start becoming an effective teacher right away:

1) Create an Entrance Routine

2) Create An Attention Procedure

If you can teach your kids how to walk in your classroom every day so that you have their attention from the get-go, and if you can teach your kids how to give you back their attention every time you ask for it, you can teach.

The best part is, if you mess up your first couple of weeks of school, you can always reteach those two things and practice them with your kids until they get it right.

What is an entrance routine? It’s the specific way your kids start class every single day. Whether you have your own classroom or you are a “floater” and borrow other classrooms, you can have an entrance routine. The idea is that you want to START class with the kids’ attention, not try to get it after class has begun. If you start with the kids’ attention every day, you’re already a long way towards being an effective teacher.

1) Here’s how I teach an entrance routine at the beginning of the year.

I don’t allow kids into my room. I have them line up outside my door. After the bell rings and other kids leave the hallways, I say, “Period 2, welcome! As you come in, I will give you your seating chart and your Do Now. Find your seat silently and start your Do Now without talking.”

And I shake the first kid’s hand. I give him his seating chart and point him towards his desk. I remind him of the directions.

I make the kid behind him wait until that first kid has begun working.

I repeat the process. It doesn’t matter that it takes a longer time – this is an investment of time that will pay off later.

I pause kids at the door. I make sure I can check the room. I narrate positive behavior to make sure my expectations are clear: “Period 2, I see everybody working on the Do Now silently and without talking. That is the expectation.”

Inevitably, someone will want to say hi to a friend or will have trouble finding her seat. I immediately call the student back and whisper, “Hey, I know you were just [insert innocent violation of expectation here]. But you can’t talk during the Do Now. Go back and try it again.”

Do this every day for the first week of school. Do it longer, if you need to. I’m still doing it with my high school kids and we just finished the second week.

2) Here’s how I teach my attention procedure:

“Ladies and gentlemen, there will be times in class when you will be talking a lot and that is a good thing. However, when I need your attention, I will always ask for it the same way. I will stand here [indicate the spot in the room you will always use] and I will say, ‘Back to me, please.’ That means you need to stop talking, turn and face me with your hands free, and listen silently.”

I make sure my voice is very calm but very firm when I say this.

“Alright, let’s try it. When I say ‘go’ – but wait until I say ‘go’ – you will turn to your partner and talk about [insert Do Now topic or whatever you like]. I will call you back to attention. Okay – go!”

I walk around and listen as they talk. Slowly I go back to the front of the room. Some kids might pause in their talking as they see me do this and that is okay.

With a firm but calm voice I say, “Back to me, please.”

Usually the first time goes well, but to enforce high expectations I always say, “Pretty good. But I think we can do better. Let’s practice again. This time, when I say ‘go’, talk to your partner about ______. Ready – go!”

And we practice again.

I make sure to practice this at LEAST two times every class period for the first week of school.

Your Entrance Routine and your Attention Procedure do not have to be the same as mine by any means. But you need to have them.

So, new teachers: don’t give in to the temptation of being overwhelmed by procedures. If you teach your kids an entrance routine and an attention procedure, you will have enough classroom management to get some real teaching done throughout the year.

All teachers: are there any other procedures you believe are essential?

New Teacher Temptation #2

Teacher counseling student
The “private mode approach” – see below. Pic via

A few weeks ago I wrote about a temptation I found myself giving into all the time as a new teacher. Let me say at once that, according to most rubrics, I am still a new teacher. Not brand new, of course. Not a newborn. But perhaps a toddler who has learned a thing or two. I still give into these new teacher temptations all of the time, but I am becoming experienced enough to at least recognize them when I do. And for any baby teachers out there, I’d like to share these temptations with you so you can be on the lookout.

Now I’d like to add another one, now officially entitled new teacher temptation #2:

The idea that the best way to get a student to go back to doing what you want during class is to reason with that student.

When teaching high school, this temptation can be very strong indeed. Most of your students seem to demonstrate (occasionally) the ability to reason and employ logical argumentation. Many of them seem to relish this rather newfound ability. In a sincere effort to meet them where they are, you believe that when conflict arises, the most rational thing to do is to reason with them.

However, it is not.

Imagine this scenario (which may or may not be strongly based upon multiple interactions I have had with students over the last few years):

According to rehearsed and well-established procedures, my kids walk through the door of my classroom, take their seats, and begin their bell work silently.

Then one student breaks her pencil. She whispers to the student next to her, “Hey, Angela, can I borrow one of your pencils?”

Angela does not respond verbally but hands her a new pencil.

“Mira, there is no talking during bell work. That’s your verbal warning,” I say as I continue taking attendance.

*First rookie mistake. I had a perfect opportunity to go over to Mira’s desk and remind her of the expectations privately. Instead, I responded to her in front of the whole class, perhaps because I wanted all the students to know that I strictly enforce my expectations. Now she will feel the need to save face in front of her peers.

“But I broke my pencil,” Mira (reasonably) objects. “I was just asking for a new one.”

“I understand that,” I reply. “However, we all know that during bell work, there is no talking unless you raise your hand and I call on you. We’ve discussed before how beginning class silently helps all of you get focused more quickly and how it frees me to take attendance and prepare for class.”

*Second rookie mistake. I not only am prolonging the conversation, I am attempting to reason with Mira – to show her that my expectations are logical and necessary. Now she will feel the need to show me that her behavior is logical and necessary.

“But if I didn’t have a pencil, I wouldn’t be able to do my bell work at all,” she responds.

Heads begin to turn. There are murmurs of agreement.

“True,” I reply calmly. “But if that situation happens, you can just raise your hand and let me know you need a new pencil. Please get back to work.”

*Third rookie mistake. It’s too late now to offer alternative solutions. I’m just prolonging this conversation now because I want to show her that I’m right.

Mira, encouraged by the glances and murmurs around her, continues. “But I didn’t want to disturb you. It’s not like it’s a big deal. I just needed a pencil.”

Realizing the situation is getting out of hand, I realize too late that I need to stop it. I say, “Okay, Mira. We can talk about this after class.”

*Fourth rookie mistake. In an effort to diffuse the situation and to try to be reasonable, I have inadvertently given a consequence – staying after class. Now Mira feels as though I have been unjust. This whole interaction has taken place publicly, in front of her peers. Being the sixteen-year-old who is dedicated to the core adolescent principles fairness, justice, and looking good, she cannot simply let it go.

“But that’s not fair! I just needed a pencil! You can’t keep me after class for that!”

… the situation disintegrates from there. You get the idea.

There are multiple things going on here, but one of the most important ones was my desire to reason with Mira in front of her peers. I wanted her to understand why she should not ask Angela for a pencil during bell work. I thought that if she understood my reasoning, she and the rest of the class would cooperate and approve of my wisdom.

As you can see, that is not the case.

Do not – I repeat – do not attempt to reason with your students in the middle of class. You can attempt such a thing later, in private. You can reason with them as a group while discussing a hypothetical situation, as I do when discussing consequences for cheating or giving a brief rationale for certain procedures at the beginning of the year.

But providing a rationale for your real-time actions during class only gives students the opportunity to argue with you.

And if you give them that opportunity, they’ll take it with gusto.

Here’s how I should have handled the situation:

According to rehearsed and well-established procedures, my kids walk through the door of my classroom, take their seats, and begin their bell work silently.

Then one student breaks her pencil. She whispers to the student next to her, “Hey, Angela, can I borrow one of your pencils?”

Angela does not respond verbally but hands her a new pencil.

Immediately, in full view of other students but with the clear intention of being discreet, I walk over to Mira and kneel down by her desk as she is working. I whisper,

“Hey, Mira. I know you were just asking for a pencil. But we all need to be silent during bell work. That’s your verbal warning for today.”

In 90% of these kinds of situations, that intervention is enough. Because I have kept my interaction with Mira as private as possible AND shown her that I understand why she behaved as she did, she will not feel the need to argue with me. And because I have not attempted to reason with her – I have only reminded her of the expectations – she will not feel the need to defend her actions.

Some kids, however, may respond anyway. Luckily, since I have already framed the conversation as a private one, this is the likely alternative scenario:

“But I needed a new pencil, Ms. Shea,” Mira responds quietly.

“I understand that. In the future, just raise your hand for me or go over to the supply table in the back of the room where you can borrow one.”

In this case, I can offer Mira an alternative solution since we are having a private conversation. Most of the time, this approach will work and there will be no public confrontation at all.

In other situations, you might get a student who wants to argue with you from the get-go. In that case, you still should not attempt to reason with the student. The best thing to do is to simply repeat the directions like a broken record.

“Hey, Mira. I know you were just asking for a pencil. But we all need to be silent during bell work. That’s your verbal warning for today.”

“But I just needed a pencil. Can’t I ask a friend for a pencil?”

Remaining by her desk, still in private conversation mode with a whisper or very quiet tone: “Get back to work, please.”

Student responds as I walk away: “But unless I got the pencil from Angela, I wouldn’t be able to do it!”

Return to her desk in order to maintain private mode. Still use a calm, quiet tone. “Get back to work, please.”

“But I wasn’t trying to distract anybody.”

“Get back to work, please.”

Frustrated sigh. Student gets back to work.

There will be rare occasions when the 1) private intervention and 2) broken record approach do not work. But they MUST be tried. And you MUST not reason with your student in front of the class. Save the reasoning for a private conversation outside of class, when the student feels no need to appear triumphant and victorious in front of her peers.

Back to School Again!

source: pintrest

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

School starts again tomorrow, and for the last few days I have been thinking about what went well last semester and what things I can improve upon.

I’m going to be reteaching key procedures from last semester and introducing some new ones for the next two days.

Procedures to Re-Teach:

1. Strong Start / Entry Procedure – I’ll be having them line up outside the classroom. I will give them a seating chart since they have all new seats and I will remind them that they enter my classroom silently without talking and get started on the bell work right away. Then I will let them in a couple of kids at a time so I can make sure they are following directions. If not (e.g.: if they whisper or giggle etc) I will ask them to come back to the door and try it again.

2. Attention Procedure – “I need your attention in 3, 2, 1. Thank you.” We need to practice this a couple of times because they tend to forget a lot of things over break.

3. Talking in pairs procedure

4. Getting into groups procedure

New Procedures to Introduce:

1. I’m going to try an implement my own version of “Participation Protocol” for my high school kids – but I got the idea here at TeachingChannel:

2. I have changed my seating arrangement from desks being in single rows to being in double rows, since it frees up more space for me to move around the room and makes Pair Shares more fluid.

Single rows! (not my room)
double rows! (


I have to teach them what to do when we need to separate the desks for quizzes and tests. The even rows will move their desks away from their partners to the left, the odd rows will stay put. Even at the high school level this might take a little practice, believe it or not.

3. I need to work on improving student engagement. One great idea, also from Teaching Channel, is to make a silent signal with the kids so that they can indicate when they agree or disagree with the speaker. This 5th grade teacher explains her “Talk Moves” strategy and I’m going to adapt it for the high school level, probably with a lot of my students’ input because it will be more meaningful to them that way:


And here is a PDF of the bell work assignment I created for tomorrow. It’s a survey that hopefully will help my kids reflect on their first semester and think about specific ways they can improve:


Feel free to use it!

Binder Control

I thought I’d share with you some practical things I’m working on this year.

Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion recommends a technique called “Binder Control,” whereby you show your kids how you want them to organize their stuff.

My first year of teaching, I thought this was silly and too elementary for high school kids. Wouldn’t they think I was being a control freak? After this many years of school, didn’t they have their own organization methods?

By the end of my first month, I was cured of that delusion.

Yes, some students will have their own methods. But a majority of them will not. And if everyone keeps your class’ information, handouts, etc. the same way, you will save a lot of time and prevent a lot of “but I can’t find it” or “I left it in my folder back home,” etc.

1. First, I ALWAYS have my kids use binders with loose leaf paper because then you never have to worry about torn pages and scruffy edges.

2. They have 5 labeled dividers, called: Bell Work, Notes/Handouts, Vocabulary, Grammar, Passed Back.

3. This eliminates the question “Where should I put this?” because you always pre-empt it by saying: “Please open your binders to the ______ section.”

4. Make it clear that this binder, appropriately labeled and stocked with college-ruled paper, is a homework assignment due the first week of school. Assure them that if they think they may have any financial or logistical difficulties getting these supplies, that you will provide them. (So have some extra binders, divider labels, and paper on hand). I have offered this for several years and students have NEVER taken advantage of the offer without good reason. It shows them that you care and you are willing to go above and beyond to help them succeed.

5. Make it clear that you will conduct “binder checks” once in a while, and then give them notice ahead of time. “On Friday, while you are working on your quiz, I will be checking your binders for these elements… You can earn up to 5 points.”

People, don’t try to surprise the kids by saying “And now, put your binders on your desks. I am going to check them to make sure you’re all doing what I say.” Any kind of “gotcha” technique creates resentment, not respect.

Master teacher Tyler Hester of TFA even includes pictures in his syllabus:

source: Tyler Hester HW Binder assignment
source: Ibid

You’d be surprised at how many of my kids brought binders with no dividers, or binders with no paper, or binders with dividers that weren’t labelled, etc.


But I learned something new to add to my “Binder Control” technique this year!

My friend and fellow teacher told me about how she has her kids organize their Notes section by using a table of contents. On the first day you take notes, you explain with them how this process works and why it is helpful.

Here’s a slide of hers that I modified to show them how to correctly format their table of contents. I did this with my students today since we are learning about growth and fixed mindsets:



The “1.1” stands for Unit 1, Lesson 1. That way, when they are preparing for a quiz or test, you can tell them: “For this assessment you will need Notes 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3”

Make sure they do not write anything else on this table of contents page, front or back.

Then you have them open to a new, fresh page and label it before beginning to take notes:



Explain to them that this method will also help them if they are ever absent from school. They can ask a friend to for notes and look them up by date.

Fellow teachers: what ideas do you have to help keep your kids organized?


First Day of School!

Tomorrow is my first day of school!

I’m thinking about class culture, setting the tone, and practicing procedures with my kids. I’m pretty nervous, but that’s okay. I’m excited too.

Here’s a video I’ve found helpful and maybe other teachers will as well!

Setting the Tone from Day One

This the kind of thing I would have been really uncertain about my first year – especially since I teach high school. The kids in this video are clearly in middle school. My line of thinking used to be – “I don’t have to be that strict with h.s. kids. They already know how to behave. This will seem silly to them.”

Biiiig mistake.

Whether or not it seems silly to them, having high school kids practice what you want them to do and HOW you want them to do it in the first weeks of school is crucial.

Yes, most high school kids will behave really well on the first day of school, because they don’t know you and they’re a bit nervous.

But fast forward three weeks and you will wonder why it takes you 5 minutes to settle your kids down every day. You’ll be frustrated. You’ll think: “They know better!”

When really, it’s your fault.

If you don’t show your kids from day 1 what your expectations are, you have no right to expect them to read your mind.

I try to tell my kids that I’m super strict in the beginning of the year, and super clear about expectations (especially no talking at the beginning of class) because I care about them and I want them to learn.

Keep it simple, people. Remind them that you care and then tell them what expect from them. Students rise to expectations.


By the way, the video above comes from, a website I have found very helpful. Yes, it’s super aligned to the Common Core (for good and for bad), but the teachers are great and share some wonderful ideas for all grade levels and subjects.

Check it out!

The School Year Cometh

So apparently tomorrow is the first day of school at my old school.

It’s really strange because now there are a couple of ACE teachers there whom I have never met. And they are having their first day tomorrow.

I remember how scared I was on my first day… week… month… of teaching.

Year of teaching.

So, for any current or past ACE teachers – any teachers at all – who are reading this: I am thinking of you, and praying for you! You got this. Love on those kids and make some mistakes.

Here’s some inspiration from one of my favorite teachers of all time, Tyler Hester:



The school year cometh for me, too.

I spent four or five hours in my new classroom today, rearranging desks, making signs, revising my syllabus, sitting in different student desks so I could see what they will be seeing on August 25th…

…putting up Calvin and Hobbes cartoons in appropriate places…

I am so. excited. and. so. nervous.

I feel like it’s hard to explain to  a lot of people. “Didn’t last year go well? Why do you have to reinvent everything? Use the stuff that worked before.”

Because I know I can do it better.

I’m designing a new late work policy, a new homework policy, a tighter consequences system… Yes, everything worked okay last year, but I didn’t like it that some kids just didn’t do their homework ever but managed to pass my class anyway. I didn’t like using “participation points” for behavior management, even though it worked well. There must be something else, something better. I didn’t like it that the Honors class did not read twice as much as the regular class, that I did not push them like I could have.

There were things I did like: proposing Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” at the beginning of the year, picking grammar concepts to focus on based on the Summer Reading essays and their following revisions, the quote board in the back of my room, the passing-in papers competition between the classes.

How could one ever get bored with teaching?

If I ever do, I hope I quit. Because if I’m bored or I think it’s easy, that means I’ve lost the love of it and I’m not serving my kids anymore.