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The Secret's in the Little Things: Simple Tips for Successful Teachers

Here they are -- 11 quick tips to help make managing your classroom a breeze! Included are tips for getting to know your students, communicating with parents, getting your day of to a good start, and much more!

My first teaching assignment, years and years ago, was as a kindergarten teacher. That year, the children in my class, like those in nearly every kindergarten in recent history, presented their families with a treasured gift -- painted, pudgy handprints smeared next to this poem:

            My Hands
Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But every day I'm growing ...
I'll be grown-up someday,
And all those tiny handprints
Will surely fade away.
So here's a final handprint
Just so you can recall
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.

What a great idea for an art project -- so simple, so foolproof, so effective!

This year, my own daughter, whose fingerprinted kindergarten poem still hangs among a collage of school mementos, graduated from high school. She brought home a diploma and a gift -- painted, no-longer-pudgy handprints neatly applied next to a slightly revised version of the poem:

             My Hands
Sometimes you got discouraged
Because I was so small
And always left my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But every day of growing ...
Made me grown-up today
And all those tiny handprints
Have surely gone away.
So here's a final handprint
Not to be washed away
Exactly how my fingers looked
On Graduation Day.

What a great idea -- so simple, so foolproof, so affective! Proving, as every teacher from kindergarten through high school knows, that a little idea can make a very big difference!

Here, in no particular order, are 11 simple ideas that can make a big difference to you, your students, and your students' families.

  1. Send a postcard to each student a week or two before the first day of school. Introduce yourself and mention some of the activities you've planned for the year. Suggest a great book or a silly assignment to complete before school begins.
  2. Every Friday during the year, send home a note describing the next week's schedule. Include special events, birthdays, tests, quizzes, and important assignments, field trips, parents nights, assemblies, and so on.

  3. When you create your seating chart, use small sticky notes with students' names on them. They're easy to move if you want to rearrange the class -- or move a single student.
  4. Set up a Morning Corner, and stock it with activities students can do as soon as they arrive each day. Some ideas for settling them down -- and in -- include the following:
    • Pose a few brain teasers on index cards.
    • Provide writing paper, and suggest a few people students might write to -- a friend, a relative, a pen pal, a newspaper editor, or a person in the news.
    • Write the days' events in code, and have students decipher it.
    • Laminate an assortment of crossword puzzles, anagrams, word searches, and number puzzles from newspapers or magazines, and display them with washable markers.
    • Fill a Challenge Box with extra-credit activities related to their classwork.
    • Turn a shoe box into a Suggestion Box, and invite students to use it to ask for help, submit complaints or problems, or suggest ideas for classroom activities.
  5. Have students make a school passport. Ask each student to glue his or her photograph to a note card or an index card and then encourage students to add personalizing information, such as interests and goals, likes and dislikes, family members, and special friends. Keep the passports at your desk. Students can use them as hall passes, and you can use them to learn your students' names. (Keep a disposable camera handy to take those pictures -- and others.)

    Other interesting (and durable) hall and bathroom passes suggested recently on listservs by veteran teachers include these:

    • an old bowling pin
    • a soft football
    • a rubber chicken
    • a stuffed animal
    • a laminated index-card necklace
    • an old CD
  6. Create a class jigsaw puzzle. Cut large sheets of paper (enough to cover a bulletin board) into interlocking pieces. Provide each student with a piece of the puzzle and ask students to draw pictures of themselves engaged in a favorite activity. Encourage students to include words, phrases, or symbols that relate to the activity shown or to their feelings about it. (Older students might prefer to include a favorite poem or quotation.) When the puzzle pieces are done, have students assemble the puzzle on the bulletin board. (It's a good idea to write identifying numbers on the back of the puzzle pieces as you cut them and to keep a map of the correct arrangement -- just in case.)
  7. Purchase a sheet of white melamine from a local building supply store, and cut it into 12-inch squares. Sand rough edges, and provide each student with an individual dry-erase board. Keep paper towels and odorless dry-erase markers on hand.
  8. Write each student's name on a craft stick, and store the sticks in an unbreakable container. Use the sticks to call on students during class activities and discussions to make sure everyone gets a turn. Or use them to pick partners or groups for cooperative activities.

    Other items veteran teachers use to assure random selection or to create pairs or groups include the following:

    • distinctive pairs of socks
    • clothespins labeled with students names
    • oversized playing cards
    • computer-created "business cards"
  9. Begin each day or class period with a brief reading -- a short poem, a famous or funny quote, a surprising fact or statistic, or an inspiring message.
  10. Computerize as many school tasks as possible: Record and compute grades; file lesson plans, teaching masters, tests, quizzes, and notices; keep records of significant events, student incidents, parent conferences, and so on.
  11. Play classical or instrumental background music during study periods or seat work time.

And have a great year!


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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