We’re in the library now, just starting the actual looking-for-sources-this-library-doesn’t-have-anything-on-my-topic-now-the-librarian-has-an-agenda-too-with-a-bunch-of-lessons-and-what?-homework-and-no-you-can’t-search-Google-here-you-can-do-that-at-home-I don’t-know-what-notes-to-take-I-left-all-my-sources-at-home-did-the-librarian-just-have-to-give-one-of-my-“children”-a-timeout?-OMG-I’d-rather-be-teaching-than-this-whole-“coaching” process. Well. I think you get the idea; it’s a little draining.

So I’m going with another installment of the (not so) regular feature, Tips for New Middle School Teachers. (Here’s round 1, and here’s round 2; wow, it’s been since November since I ran this “feature”?)

1. Vocabulary is EVERYTHING. I tell the kids all the time, “If you don’t know the words, you can’t think the thoughts.” We do a vocabulary list every week, that comes from whatever we are reading at the time, but we also have a lot of vocabulary in disguise. Academic words, spelling and roots, slang and dialect. Grammar. It’s all about the vocabulary. They can’t write if they don’t know the words. They can’t understand what they’re reading if they don’t know the words. They can’t do the job (any job) if they don’t know the words.  The comma fanatics and don’t-begin-a-sentence-with-a-coordinating-conjunction people can take a hike, so to speak. It’s all about the vocabulary.

2. Make the kids do the work. I swear, next to the phrase, “as lazy as the day is long,” my second most used comment at Open House was, “You already did seventh grade; it’s ______’s turn now.” Don’t make excuses for them, don’t accept excuses from them, don’t do anything they should be able to do for themselves. Also, 140 of them doing something once is much more efficient than you doing something 140 times.

3. Give them the test first. Otherwise, how do you know if you need to teach whatever’s on it? I always start with a pretest to see how much they know about whatever we are going to do. Just going over it after is a great first lesson. Yes, I teach to the test. I make up the test. Duh. If the test is good and valid and legit, why wouldn’t you teach to the test? If you don’t teach to your tests, you better make up new tests.

4. Get a good student aide every year. I don’t know if your school/district has such things, but my aides do a lot for me. I always get an 8th grader who received an A from me the year before. I try to make sure they have typing and computer skills, and that I can put up with them solo for a period per day. Duties my student assistants have performed over the years include:

  • updating my website, as well as the school’s
  • scanning old handouts so I can put them on my website
  • typing up handouts for the above
  • creating web pages for the school site to announce dances and the like
  • taking pics of kids, art, and activities for the school web page
  • the usual copying and stapling and whatnot
  • correcting tests for absentees who didn’t click in
  • writing simplified vocabulary definitions for my EL kids
  • the usual filing and tidying (we only clean for Back-to-School Night and Open House)
  • light tech support, like fixing printers and suchlike
  • keeping track of my tech-support hours
  • installing RAM and other hardware updates
  • collecting/shelving/checking in novels
  • bulletin board set up and teardown
  • general stepping and fetching and gittin’ of supplies

And that’s just off the top of my head. It takes a little training, especially early in the year, but the benefits are large. I sometimes even farm my more efficient ones out to other teachers now and then. One teacher “pays” in Butterfingers. Mmmmm. Almost every teacher in the school owes me and my girls a favor. (They usually end up being girls; the boys tend to be too lazy. But I did have a boy one year who was my software and tech-support god. He even later ended up as my “mole,” working part-time in IST for awhile, while he was at the high school.)

Make sure you make it clear that your assistant will actually be working, and not just hanging out at the copy machine, but it shouldn’t be hard to recruit. A well-trained aide can make your life a lot easier, and make you look good too. Even the kids commented how tidy the room looked at Open House.