Create a mathematics environment. Fill your classroom with examples of mathematics being used in the real world. Dedicate a bulletin board to mathematics. Include a “Problem of the Week”. For ideas, look on the Lessons and Resources page on the web for the Calendar Problems from the journals for a steady source of rich problems. Illustrate a particular theme, such as “Math in Nature: Mathematical Patterns in the World around Us.” Create a mathematics center including puzzles, thinking games, and manipulatives that could be explored by students.
Make mathematics a priority within your classroom. Plan to integrate mathematics with other subject areas. An easy way to get started is to collect children’s literature that promotes mathematical concepts. The April 2005 focus issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School has several ideas that can be modified for use in the lower or higher grades. Connections can also be made to your science and social studies curriculum by analyzing data that can be extended into a real-life problem-solving situation. See the tips on Using Current Events and Real Data.
Plan to connect with parents. Providing parents with a welcome letter followed by monthly newsletters include a brief overview of mathematical topics that you intend to teach each month. For the younger grades, a take-home “manipulative of the month” made out of sheets of craft foam or other inexpensive material could also be shared. Suggest activities for parents to do at home to reinforce the concepts and activities that the students are investigating in the classroom. See tips on Communicating with Parents.
Take an inventory of your mathematics materials. The start of a new year is a good time to get organized and find out what mathematics resources you have and what you might need. Sort through the manipulatives that you have collected over the years and develop a method for organizing your resource books by topic. Make a prioritized list of the materials that you do not have and decide what you would like to purchase (or ask for funding for) this year to enhance your classroom instruction. Also be sure to share materials that you think other teachers would find useful, and check with others to see if they already have some of your desired materials in their collections.
Seek opportunities for professional growth before students come back. Set a goal to add at least one new book to your professional library, such as a mathematics dictionary that will assist you in your daily teaching. Consider taking a course or workshop online and looking for opportunities to attend professional development sessions offered within your school district or at a local university. You can also plan to attend a local, regional, or national conference. Ask your principal about getting a group together to participate in the “Back to School” NCTM e-workshop together.
Share your success. Everyone has a favorite mathematics lesson or research project. Share this lesson with teachers in your school that teach similar classes. By sharing lessons before the year starts, you will increase the number of engaging activities you have for your own classroom. Consider writing up the lesson for a professional NCTM journal. Check out the writing opportunities on the web. Impress your colleagues, and display your students’ work.
Take a leadership role in mathematics by offering support. Start a professional reading group to discuss mathematics teaching and learning. Schedule a time (even lunch hour) once a month to meet with other math teachers in your school to share ideas and ask each other questions. Involving beginning teachers in a mathematics-related reading group would help everyone involved grow as a teacher. Involving veteran teachers will allow them fresh ideas and an opportunity to mentor. Consider using the series Empowering the Beginning Teacher of Mathematics for topic ideas for the meetings.
Become an advocate for mathematics. Celebrate the mathematics learning that is taking place in your school. Plan a school-wide math bulletin board, and display student work. Collaborate with other teachers so that each gets a turn. Share your experiences (math fairs or family nights, for example) with the local newspaper. Letting others know about your school may result in a tremendous boost to your school’s mathematics program, and ultimately more funding as well.
Ask the principal to purchase a NCTM school membership. The school membership includes a subscription to a journal, reduced registration fees for all teachers in the school at the annual meeting and regional conferences of NCTM, and 20 percent off NCTM educational materials and special products. This is a great way to strengthen the school mathematics program with access to high-quality educational materials and professional development opportunities.
Take Notes. Make a place for yourself where you can jot down observations quickly throughout the day. Informal observations early in the year can be helpful further down the road if you have a student who may have a special need or is displaying behavior that continues to disrupt the class. Also, document what went well and what could use improvement each time you use a lesson, and more importantly, stay organized - so that you can find and consider the notes next time around! Date each observation.
Know your discipline/classroom management strategies. Take time to think about what is and is not acceptable in your classroom. What kinds of things are NOT okay? How are you going to handle them? Think about what kind of learning environment you would like to create for and with students. On the first day, work as a class to set expectations for behavior and work habits. Chart, model, practice, and reinforce behavior expectations. Keep it simple; having a long list of rules may be difficult to monitor and enforce.
Know Your Students. Before school starts, find out who your students are. Do any of them have special needs and/or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that you should be aware of? What level of English development are the English Learners in the class? Do you have students that are identified as gifted and talented? Having more information about your students will help you better plan for their needs. On the other hand, make sure to give each student a clean slate if you hear about past performance or discipline problems. If you begin to have issues, focus on giving the student positive attention by assigning more responsibilities instead of negative attention by punishing him or her.
Set up specific places for students to turn in work. Plastic stackable baskets with bold clear labels for each class period are an inexpensive yet organized solution. This stops students from tossing a paper onto my desk and having it sucked into the black hole, never to be seen again.
Have a designated place for absent students to collect their work when they return to school. Each day before leaving school, take care of work for absentees. Look at the attendance and identify each student who was not present in each class period. Put exactly what your class did that day—with any homework and handouts— in a basket marked both with ABSENT WORK and the particular class period. This puts the primary responsibility on the student, who knows that he or she is expected to find the appropriate basket and act accordingly. It makes the teacher's life easier; if the question “What did I miss yesterday?” is asked, you can just point to the basket.
Have a “NO NAME” folder. On occasion, inevitably students turn in work without their name. Later, when they note a missing assignment, you can ask: “Did you check the No Name folder?” It grabs students' attention to frequently hold up my red “No Name” folder with a declaration like, “Mr. No Name has an A in math! Do you?”
Investigate the option of an online grading program. If your district does already use a grading program, work to get one. Such systems make it possible to share grades and other information via the Internet with students and parents. This makes for fewer parent phone calls, fewer students asking questions about their grades, less time spent preparing lists of missing assignments, and best of all, no last-minute panic at report card time. Parents and students appreciate having instant access to what is missing and what is due. But do not get behind on grading. You expect students to turn work in on time, so you too, should have the courtesy to assess and return that work promptly. You may even find yourself much more accountable when grades are posted for parents to view.
Keep seating charts handy. This will aid you in taking attendance in a split second as students are completing the ‘class starter’, a task written on the board to get their minds into gear. It will also be the secret to knowing everyone’s names instantly. The rosters can also be helpful for fire drills, and are invaluable for substitute teachers.
Use email for parent contacts whenever possible. This saves time and makes it easy to keep a “paper” trail. Parents appreciate the ease of contact. Talk to parents early on—establish a positive relationship before there are problems. Send them a positive email about something you notice about their student. Those positives are like money in the bank when you do encounter a discipline problem later in the year. And, from an organizational point of view, these upbeat notes encourage the practice of communicating by email.
Lastly, let go of the things that don’t really matter. Be conscious of what you are spending your time on as a teacher. Step back regularly and decide what tasks are producing the least gains for your students and eliminate them in order to make time for more worthy tasks or, equally important, time for yourself!