The First Days of School and All Year Long

  • 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.

    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.

    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.

    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 be the secret to knowing everyone's names instantly. The rosters can also be helpful for fire drills, and are invaluable for substitute teachers.

    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.

    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.

    Ask the principal to purchase an 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% 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.

    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.

    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!