Dear New Middle School Math Teacher,
You landed a job as a middle school math teacher! Yay, you! You might have a ton of questions or you might be feeling like you don't know what to ask because you don't even know what you don't know!
That's okay. Breathe.
Today I'm presenting to 4 new middle school math teachers in my district. I made this presentation, which is pretty specific to my district, but here it is if you want to take a look.
I really wanted to write this post so I could take a minute to write down some of the tips that I give to new middle school math teachers. This might be one of those posts that you read now and then revisit later once you've had a chance to settle in a bit.
1. Come up with an attention signal
Before you even start, think about how you might get the class attention (without yelling). Believe me, it helps. You could do a call-response (I like the one where the teacher says "class" and the kids say "yes" in whatever manner the teacher said "class." So if I say "classity-class," they respond "yesity-yes.") or you could do a bell/chime. Some teachers do "high five" where they put there hand up and students do the same and stop talking. Any are fine, just have one!
2. Don't plan too far ahead
The biggest mistake I see with newer teachers is wanting to plan the whole first quarter (or even unit) before school even starts. First, it is really time consuming to plan a whole unit and what if you end up scraping it. Also, you really want to plan based on the needs of your students. You can't really plan until you know them, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Plan with an overall goal for the unit, but really only plan specific activities about a week at a time.
3. Join Twitter!
So many good resources and professional learning on Twitter. Check out this post for some tips on getting started. Follow the hashtag #MTBoS (math twitter blogosphere) to learn from some great math educators.
4. Be ready for the silliness
When I gave an acceptance speech for a middle school math teaching award last fall, I talked a little about the joys of teaching middle schoolers and the silliness like love of 1-Direction or giggles every time the answer to a problem is that number one larger than 68. It's part of the charm of the age. Embrace it! Read more about silliness here and here.
5. They aren't "too old" for stickers
Even those worldly 8th graders get excited for stickers. :)
6. They do appreciate you, even if they don't show it
Middle school is a tough age. There will be students that are pretty mature and comfortable talking with adults. They will compliment you, write you notes, and maybe even thank you in a graduation speech. But many middle schoolers are going to come to your class everyday, sit quietly or be disruptive, do the work or not do the work... but in the end, you'll never really know the impact you had. It's tough sometimes to wonder if you are reaching all the kids.
But then one day, you might have a former student contact you that is in college studying to be a math teacher because they want to be like you. And you will be shocked because you had no idea they even liked you or your class!
Or you will be at a coffee shop and a worker will look at you sheepishly and ask if you remember them because you taught them 8 years ago and they still remember your class and how you made math fun.
So they do appreciate you, even if they don't show it in middle school!
7. Math is often a "hated" subject
I sometimes feel like part therapist when a parent wants to share with me their horrible math experiences growing up and why they still hate math. Or kids will outright tell you they hate math. Don't take it personally, but do work to show them math isn't an all or nothing kind of thing. Foster a growth mindset and let your enthusiasm shine through. They'll come around, but you might need a thick skin for all the complaints about your subject/class at first.
8. Listen more than you talk
Listen to the students. Try to avoid being the "sage on stage." Lecture less, lead discussions more.
This advice goes for in the classroom as well as with colleagues. A big mistake I made my first year is trying to act like I had it all together when I didn't. I needed to ask for help more and listen to the answers.
I'm not saying this to scare you, but more to reassure you when it happens. Almost everyone cries at some point during their first year of teaching. Teaching is very personal and it can be hard. Someone (kid or adult) will hurt your feelings. You might cry... just try not to cry in front of the students.
10. Be a better teacher tomorrow than you were today
If you are a perfectionist like me, it can be very hard to not be a perfect teacher. I make mistakes all the time, even after teaching 11 years. You will make mistakes your first year. Reflect, problem-solve, make a change and move on. Be better tomorrow.
You got this!