Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ten Tips for the New {Math} Teacher

Ten TIps for the New Math Teacher

A new school year is about to begin...a brand new group of teachers is ready to start for the very first time!  It's exciting to finally have your own group of students, but there is also a feeling of am I going to handle these kids all by myself???

Here are ten tips that I came up with for the new teacher...most are tips for every new teacher - but a couple are specifically for new math teachers.

1) Play nicely.  Schools are full of gossip and not just among the students!  You are a new teacher - don't participate in it.  Be nice to everyone.  Be happy and cheerful - no one likes someone who is gloomy and down all the time!  Make friends - listen.

2) The secretary is your best friend.  Secretaries know where everything is and who everyone is.  If you have a question - secretaries are a good great resource.  Ask nicely, bring chocolate :)

3) OK, the maintenance person is also your best friend!  Do you need a mess cleaned up (throw up is the worst!)- is something broken?  Enough said :)

4) Listen more than you talk.  The old saying God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason is certainly true.  You have plenty of time to try to change the entire educational system - for now listen to people who have worked in it for awhile.  They have valuable opinions.  Find out why they are doing what they are doing and what happened to cause them to do it that way.

5) Dress appropriately.  This seems rather obvious, but at my school we have sent more than one student teacher home for the day based strictly on their dress.  Remember that what is fashionable is not always appropriate for the classroom.

6) Be on time.  School doesn't start at ABOUT 8:30 - you want to be there long before your students.  Don't plan on finishing something right before class starts.  It's stressful to not have everything ready the night before.  Something always comes up right before school starts!

7) Do the homework!  I can't tell you the number of times I thought a certain problem that I assigned was going to go in one direction and it went in a complete other direction.  When you are a new teacher, it is especially important that you develop a rapport with the students.  The students need to trust that you are doing the math correctly.  Although it is certainly true that everyone make mistakes, you don't want to stand up at the board regularly without knowing how to solve problems.

8) Every student is someone's child!  Even though Jimmy will be driving you nuts by the end of the second day of school, he is still someone's little angel.  Kids can quickly tell who your "favorites" are - don't show it!  Let everyone have the same opportunities.

9) Communication is key - talk to parents - keep an open line of communication.  Call them when something good happens!  When someone is upset with you, listen and then ask how you can help.  Sometimes parents just need to get things off their chest.

10)  Students will try to get away with whatever they can - don't let them!  It's ok to tell them no they can't get up whenever they feel like it to walk around the room :)  If you let them, they will!  I have found that kids (for the most part) rise to your expectations - have high ones!

11) A BONUS TIP - The first year is hard - there is no getting around it.  Give yourself a break.  Everything doesn't always go smoothly even for the most senior of teachers.  Do nice things for yourself on the weekend.  Get plenty of sleep - you'll feel better :)

Do you have other tips to add?  I'd love to hear them in the comments below.


  1. Great list! I've been teaching 13 years and #7 still gets me sometimes. I have been assigning a lot LESS homework, so that helps.

    You forgot a big one ... get a Twitter account! I so wish I was a "connected educator" when I first started. Many of us only had a handful of mentor teachers when first starting to get ideas from. Now, all it takes is a #MTBoS search to find so many great resources and various methods to teach a topic.

    Also, know when to change your mind. I've started school years with some great ideas as far as organization, grading, policies, you name it that I quickly realize are NOT going to work as planned. Be honest with the kids about what and why you need to change and do it. Don't hold fast to a system that is not working.

    1. Bethany, So true about Twitter...a lot of great ideas can be found there!! I agree if you're honest with your students about why you are changing something they will understand. Thanks for your comment. Jennifer

    2. I would be careful with our district, it's not acceptable for us to communicate with students via social media. I would stress finding out your specific district policy before doing this!

      However, I will say that you're absolutely right in that you need to be able to communicate with students in the way they know how -- electronically. We have a school management system that does that. It's also important to teach kids how to utilize email, so I do that. :)

    3. I 100% agree with the Twitter account advice. I do not use it to communicate with students, but with other math teachers (#MTBoS). It is the *best* professional resource I've ever used!

  2. Actually, sometimes not having the homework done ahead of time is okay. As an "experienced" math teacher, I think we often make the process look too easy and direct. So when students aren't able to recreate that on their own with their first independent question, they get frustrated and discouraged. That's when a lot of them make that determination of "I'm just not good at math.”

    When I started teaching IB Higher Level math I got caught a few times on homework problems that I couldn't do correctly on my first attempt ... and a couple of times I needed to step away, spend some time on the problem, and go over the solution with them the next day. It’s actually important for them to see that. I really realized that when I attempted a problem, 5 steps in saw that I was going in the wrong direction, and started over. The most brilliant and important question a student asked was: how did you know? We don’t always teach that. This happened to be a great question for it to have happened with … there were three reasons and it resulted in a long discussion.

    We say that perseverance is important, but we don’t always demonstrate that. So sometimes showing students that an answer doesn’t come easily or quickly … even for us … is a good thing. It’s all part of the process.

    And no, this can not happen all the time … the students will lose faith in you pretty quickly. But when it does happen, it’s great to make it an important learning experience.

    1. Great point - it is important that students realize that we couldn't always do the problem correctly the first time - or see the "trick" that would make it easier right away.

  3. Great list! I've been teaching 15 years, but this is a terrific reminder of professionalism as I gear up for a new year! Thank you