Before Your Students Arrive

  • Take an inventory of your math materials. Find out what mathematics resources you and your school have and make a list of what you might need. Sort through everything that you have collected over the years. Organize your resource books by topic. Then create a prioritized list of the materials that you would like to purchase (or ask for funding for) this year to enhance your classroom instruction. Share your list of what you have and want with other teachers. You may find that they have things you are looking for or may have a way to pool resources to do more. A prioritized group list of materials that would help you teach is helpful to the administration if they have money that comes available.

    Create a classroom that engages you and your kids. Make your room a place that you like to be. Try filling your classroom with examples of math in the real world, dedicate a bulletin board to mathematics, or feature a "Problem of the Week." For ideas, check out Problems of the Week on the Math Forum and the Brain Teasers section on NCTM Illuminations. 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.

    Develop a plan to connect with parents. Provide parents with a welcome letter followed by monthly newsletters that include a brief overview of math topics their children will be learning about in the coming month. Get the welcome letter written before students come back to ensure it gets done. 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.

    Know and Believe in All 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 baskets with bold clear labels for each class period are an inexpensive yet organized solution. This stops students from tossing a paper onto the 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. 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 the red "No Name" folder with a declaration like, "Mr. No Name has an A in math! Do you?"

    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

    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. Impress your colleagues and display your students' work.

    Investigate the option of an online grading program. If your district doesn't already use a grading program, see if they have considered getting 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 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.