Friday, November 12, 2010

Ease Stress by Being Prepared

As a new teacher your life is already stressful. You are entering a new job, setting up a new classroom, dealing with new procedures, completing a ton of paperwork, and having to relate to many new people over the course of a day. Unfortunately this stress will not end anytime soon. For the first several months you'll find yourself running from task to task trying to keep up with everything that is required from you. There will be more forms to complete, papers to grade, parents to contact, lessons to plan, and then of course you are teaching all day long as well.

One of the best ways you can lower the amount of stress you deal with on a daily basis is to be prepared. Some of this preparation requires organization. If you are having trouble getting yourself organized, you might want to read my earlier column on "Getting Organized in the Midst of Chaos" for a few strategies to help. Preparation is absolutely the key to being a successful teacher. The more thought and effort you put into your lessons and your job, the better you will be. You will also be less stressed out during the year.

The first thing you want to do is begin some routines. The first routine is lesson planning. Choose a day of the week and make a firm appointment to write lesson plans on that day. Take into account faculty meetings and other events that you have going on in your personal and work life when determining this day. For me Wednesday was the best day for planning. It gave me enough time to get materials copied and shore up any unknown details before turning them in to the Principal on Friday. By having lesson plans and materials completely finished before Friday you are giving yourself a little time over the weekend to relax. Don't allow friends or even colleagues to sway you from completing your planning day. Just remember that whatever you don't complete at school or during the week must be done at home on the weekend.

As soon as you plan your lessons, go ahead and gather all of the materials you will need for the week. If you have handouts, go ahead and make the copies. Get the books or magazine resources you need from the library and set up any Power Point presentations or video clips you plan to use. If you need to sign up for the computer lab or need help from another colleague, contact them immediately. Don't wait to the last minute. Put requests in writing and follow-up with an email.

Now you may be worried that you'll have a ton of papers all over your classroom. This is where organization comes into play again. I create folders for each class for each day of the week. For elementary teachers this is as easy as one manila folder per day. You might want to color code them and label them with a marker. Place all handouts and materials for the day in its special folder. Put your lesson plans on top of the materials inside the folder. Place larger materials in a special area in your room and be sure to mark it clearly.

Secondary teachers will want to organize differently. I would suggest either a plastic crate or a filing drawer. Have one hanging file folder for each day. Then, inside the hanging file folder place one manila folder for each class you teach. You might color code the folders according to class period so that they don't get mixed up. Again, place all copies & other materials in this folder and put your lesson plans in the front. What you'll find is that you are no longer running around trying to find the handouts or materials for each lesson. Everything is all together in one location. Additionally, if you have an emergency or an unscheduled meeting comes up, everything a substitute or relief teacher will need is in each clearly marked folder, including the lesson plans. You won't need to worry about gathering everything and getting it organized before leaving the classroom. You won't need to stress over writing out plans for a substitute while you are deathly ill.

The last routine you want to develop is setting up your classroom, Power Point, or overhead before you leave for the day. If you are teaching elementary school, go ahead and set up your white board (or blackboard) with your focus assignment, agenda, objectives, homework, and any other information students need. Do this as soon as your students leave the room at the end of the day. Get out the folder for the next day and place it on your desk, podium, or overhead so that you are ready to begin. Review your plans and double-check that you have all of your materials in the folder. Now do whatever else needs to be done after school. By making this a daily routine you are ensuring that your classroom is ready to go no matter what. If you get sick, have a flat tire, or have an early meeting that goes on too long, the students will be able to enter the classroom and get started without you. The substitute or relief teacher will have all they need right at their fingertips and you will not have to stress out over not being there.

Secondary teachers will want to set up their "board" information either in Power Point or on a transparency. Type out the information listed above either in a Word Document or as a Power Point presentation for each class. You'll need one transparency or Power Point per prep you teach. Get the first period one ready as soon as the students walk out the door and have it on the overhead or computer. Be sure to leave instructions in bold to turn on the overhead or computer (just in case you cannot be in the classroom). Have your daily folder ready on your desk, podium, or overhead along with whatever materials are needed for the first class.

By having all of this ready to go before you leave the classroom each day you are ensuring that your classroom can continue to run smoothly whether you are there or not. It relieves stress on your part because you will not have to worry about writing up last minute plans while you are sick or worry about your students having their assignments ready to begin if you are late for any reason. Get in the habit of preparing your classroom for the next day as soon as your students leave. This makes certain that it will get done before you are distracted by all of your other duties.

The first year of teaching is very stressful. However, by putting in place some very simple habits, you can reduce some of that stress. Being prepared is not only helpful for you, but for your students and any guest or relief teachers that may be working in your classroom. It shows your principal that you are a professional and that you are efficient in getting your job done. It shows parents that you are on top of your job so that they can feel secure in knowing their child is in your class. Best of all, by taking a little time throughout the week to prepare, it gives you some time for yourself.

Reprinted from Emma McDonald's column at Education World.

Managing the Parent Teacher Relationship

There is one thing every teacher dreads more than changes in district policy, new standardized tests, and additional responsibilities required by the state – the angry parent. Nothing can ruin a day faster than being called to the principal's office to face a disgruntled, frustrated, or demanding parent. Managing the parent-teacher relationship can be a challenge for everyone. What can we, as teachers, do to develop a relationship with parents and minimize the angry encounters throughout the school year? The key is being proactive by informing and interacting with parents in a positive manner.


Keeping parents informed from the beginning of school is your first move towards managing the parent-teacher relationship. Most of the confrontations between parents and teachers result from a lack of communication from school to home. Gone are the days when parents sent their children off to school and trusted completely that the school and teachers would take care of everything. Today's parents want to know what their children are doing in the classroom and how it is being done. We live in an information age and that is exactly what our parents expect from us – information.

You can start by providing the basic facts to parents about your classroom expectations for student behavior and work product. Parents of elementary students will also want to know their child's daily schedule. Send home information about your classroom management and discipline strategies so there are no misunderstandings about what is expected and the consequences for making poor choices. Teachers should also send home the grading policy. If you or your school has a website, consider posting the more important details of your classroom policies here and refer parents to view it as needed.

It is also important to keep parents informed throughout the school year as well. A bi-monthly or monthly newsletter is a great way to let students and parents know about upcoming events, units, and due dates. You can also use the newsletter to explain commonly used acronyms, skills taught, or learning strategies used in the classroom. Again, this kind of information soothes those over-anxious parents who want to know what is happening with their child during school hours. The newsletter is also a great way to celebrate birthdays and offer a thank-you to volunteers and chaperones. If you and your parents have access to email, consider emailing your newsletter and other information. This will make sure the parent receives the information.

Lastly, make sure you send home notices when students are missing two assignments or have received two low grades. By sending home this information after the second instance, you are providing the parent and child more time to turn in missing assignments or to improve grades. Waiting until the last minute puts a strain on you, the student, and the parent. Just like with our health, early detection is the key to resolving a problem before it becomes a major issue. When receiving bad news in a progress report or near the end of the grading period, parent frustration will, more than likely, be aimed at you. However, when notified early, parents will put the heat on their child to improve grades and get assignments turned in. Otherwise, they cannot reprimand their children and support you in your efforts.


Unlike informing, which is a one-way type of communication, interacting requires two people. Because there are two (or more) people involved, interactions are influenced by many factors. Some of these include cultural backgrounds, level of education, emotions, and personal agendas. As the teacher you approach all interactions with parents from one point of view. The parent will be coming to you with a completely different point of view. The levels at which these factors meet and are in harmony often determine the success of the interaction. So then, how can you create more positive interactions with parents?

First, initiate contact with the parent. Don't wait to be called. Take some time during the first several weeks of school to briefly call and talk with each parent. For secondary teachers this may seem overwhelming, but it can be handled by calling ten parents a night. You may even prioritize and call the parents of those students who exhibit signs of behavior and/or academic issues first. This will ensure that your first phone call is a positive one. Spread the rest of the phone calls out over the first month or two.

Begin your call by introducing yourself and offering a positive comment about the student. Next, ask the parents if there is any information they would like to share with regards to their child. This information could be very helpful to you in managing the behavior or encouraging the student to higher performance levels in your class. Remember, the parents know their children far better than you do at this point. If you are already noticing a potential problem, gently mention it and ask for suggestions from the parent in handling the situation. Next, encourage parents to ask you any questions they have at this point in the year. Near the end of the conversation, let the parent know the best times to contact you and offer your school number or email.

This type of phone call near the beginning of the school year will go a long way towards developing a positive relationship between you and the parent, especially if the child is one who will be a constant challenge in the classroom. Now the parent knows who you are and has experienced your interest in their child. They will be more likely to call or email you calmly with a concern rather than storming up to the school in a rage.

Second, be aware of cultural differences when interacting with parents. Should you address the father first or the mother when conferencing with both? Is it acceptable to call a parent by first name or will they consider it insulting? These little details can sometimes make the difference between parents who are willing to work with you and those who are not. Also, be aware of how your cultural background influences the way you interact with others. You may be more casual in your conversations which could be interpreted by other cultures as uncaring or flippant. Having a basic understanding of the different cultures within your school will help you better prepare for parent interactions.