The epoch of belief

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Charles Dickens famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities surely sums up the experience of a first year middle school teacher. "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light..."

I started teaching middle school in a self-contained drop-out prevention ("DOP") class. Translation: self-contained, please-don't let-them-out-we're-scared class. I was hired in October after the previous teacher packed up his things and quit in the middle of the afternoon. They were desperate, and as a single mom with only one income, so was I. To add to the bell bar of this most challenging time was the brand new state wide testing trends that often dominate the papers today. Regardless of the of weight overload, it is ten years later and I'm happy to report both the students and I survived that year. The principal even let us out for a local field trip and only the clock in the front lobby wall of the science museum did not endure.

Trust me when I tell you there was nothing they taught me in college that prepared me for my first year of teaching middle school. I know however, that the worst of times could have been a lot easier if I knew then what I know now. That is where this book comes in, to provide you with more wisdom, belief, and light, and a lot less foolishness and incredulity on your path to great teaching.

Using This Book

Educating students on the cusp of their most influential age encompasses much more than a few text books, cute bulletin boards, and some expo markers. Creating an effective yet comfortable learning environment amid today's state standards, inclusion classes and federal mandates is truly a notable accomplishment. Fortunately, we also teach in a digital age which has simplified many of the tasks our predecessors found grueling.

Read this book cover to cover then keep it close by as a reference source throughout your first year. Education is a busy highway, but if you are up for the drive, this book is the place to start and will lead you through:

  • Forging lasting, professional relationships with administration and colleagues during your first year.
  • Creating a well organized, well behaved, comfortable, "safe zone" classroom while adhering to district, state and school expectations.
  • Facilitating lasting, positive relationships with administration, fellow faculty, and district and support staff.
  • Guide you through analyzing pacing and curriculum guidelines and finding and imbedding your state's standards into personalized units.
  • Finding strategies that will help you create a technologically savvy classroom that keeps students engaged with your lessons in this age of MP-3 players, gaming consoles and multi-functioning cell phones.
  • Facilitating the creation positive partnerships with parents, and show you how to turn the most difficult parent into your most valuable ali.
  • Define, provide ideas, and offer samples and templates for academic teams, interdisciplinary units, and departmental planning.
  • Comprehending the driving rational behind federal laws such as ESOL, the No Child Left Behind Act, and various special education laws and their affects on mandated testing.
  • How to ensure your students meet the adequate yearly progress as dictated by mandated testing while maintaining an effective, fun, and creative learning environment.
  • Numerous resources such websites that offer free teacher instructional ideas and pod casts, appropriate and high interest novel suggestions for middle school students, and samples and templates for lesson plans, and units, and many other forms.

This book is the GPS that will help you maneuver around your middle school neighborhood. I bid you a promising farewell on an adventurous journey. I hope you will find it as meaningful as I have.

Chapter 1 Teachers and Money

Teacher Compensation

Let it be said that there are lots of benefits to teaching. It is highly likely if you have made it this far you understand money is not one of them. If somehow you have missed that piece of information, a good suggestion would be to put this book down and go buy a copy of What Color is My Parachute. There is nothing wrong with be willing work hard for finer things in life. Unfortunately, the effort and expertise expended by teachers, far out way the compensation received. Education in the United States is government run and so the bulk of decisions are made by elected officials. Although there is a lot of rhetoric spewed around about the importance of highly paid professional teachers, in reality, increasing educational funding is very often low on a politician's priority list. Influential parents regularly send their children to private school and therefore, public school funding is merely a tiny bleep of little consequence on the radar of their children's future. Shameful? Maybe, but, while politicians twirl around the latest and supposedly low cost teaching trends, educators in the United States have produced some of the most significant leaders of our time.

With that said, districts do, in fact, offer many monetary benefits and although teachers will not reach six figures on teaching alone, it is a decent living. There is more good news; although, certainly not mandatory, flexible hours and summers allow teachers to supplement their income through other avenues, some of which are addressed in Chapter 14. This makes teaching a very attractive career for individuals whose hobbies, such as writing, art, and software design, may not provide fulltime living. And, finally, teachers are historically able to retire quite comfortably on a stable income.

Pay Scales

Payroll may fall under different departments depending on the size of the district. It may be in accounting, human resources, risk management, or in bigger districts, simply payroll. You will most certainly want to be familiar with this particular department.

Among the information you will find in the payroll department are pay scales and salary schedules. Although statistics vary slightly from state to state and district to organization, most agree that the average district starting salary is in the mid thirties. The average salary of a tenured teacher in the United States is in the mid fifties to low sixties.

Base salaries are negotiated through a union in most districts. The amount is in conjunction with the years in service and at times, the type of contract you are under. Here is an example of a salary scale in South Florida. "Step" is the amount of years in service.

Some district will have two pay scales, one for beginning teachers on annual contract and another for tenured teachers. An annual contract means the district has the right to renew or not renew your contract at the end of each school year. A professional services contract is otherwise known as "tenure". Tenure means you have an ongoing contract with the district. There may be additional pay incentives for "tenured" teachers in your districts. Many districts require you work under an "annual contract" for three to five years before you fall under the "professional services contract". The payroll office in your district will let you know where to look for your pay scale and how long you need to work before you are considered tenured or professional service.

Pay Schedules

Beware. Teachers are often given a choice whether to take their annual salary over 10 months, throughout the school year, or 12 months, which includes the summer. Salary schedules vary from district to district, but generally speaking an educator will get paid every two weeks or twice monthly. If one is self-disciplined and fiscally savvy, taking their pay over a 10 month period is the wiser option. An individual can earn interest on the money they put into savings during the year.

For many teachers, especially those without financial finesse, this is quite nice in theory, but by the time summer rolls around they are flat broke. It is highly suggested during that a new teacher take his or her salary over 12 months. Summers are for vacations, professional development and re-energizing for the upcoming year. It is not time to stress and scramble to pay bills or to be living on a diet of ketchup sandwiches. No one wants debt collectors chomping at their heels when it is time for school to resume.

Additional Incentives and Fringe Benefits

Since many districts have additional pay incentives, you will want to check and see what is offered in your area. Here are examples of some more common incentives:

Critical Shortage Areas Some teaching positions are more difficult for districts to fill than others. These are known as "critical shortage areas". There are many benefits for teachers with the expertise and education to fill these positions. They usually include science and math, special education and English Speakers of Other Languages. Compensation may range from hiring bonuses to student loan forgiveness programs.

Higher Degrees and Certifications

Districts regularly offer added compensation to teachers with additional credentials. This may include a masters degree in a specific subject area, to ESOL or National Board Certification. Payment may be a one time bonus or a salary increase.

Travel and Lower Economic School Incentives

Lower economic and rural areas are difficult to staff. To attract quality instructors, stipends are offered over and above regular salary to compensate for time and travel. If this is an option for you, be sure to consider not only mileage and wear and tear on your car, but if in your first year of teaching, you are able to meet the many challenges faced by lower economic students.

AYP Bonus

Adequate yearly progress is determined by state wide assessment testing in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind Act, both explained in greater detail in Chapter 13. Funding is offered to schools and/or districts which meet the goals set forth by AYP standards. Although how this money is spent is somewhat controversial and varies even from school to school, it could mean a yearly bonus for you from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand.

Sick and Personal Days

Teachers normally get a set amount of sick and personal days that they can use during the year. Check with your district. Find out if you will loose these days if you do not take them. More often there is the option of carrying sick time from year to year. Saving it up should you need it for important life events such as maternity leave. If sick leave and personal days remain untouched the when its time for retirement the school district will calculate the amount of time saved. Teachers then receive a lump sum parting payment upon retiring. This can add up to quite a hefty amount, even if just a few sick/personal days are saved each year.

Risk Management/Human Resources

Like most government agencies and larger companies, teacher compensation normally includes lots of added benefits such as free or low cost health insurance, disability, life insurance, etc. Find out what your individual district offers

There are monetary rewards in a teaching, but mostly your career will offer unlimited intrinsic compensation. You will be literally shaping the future of your community, your state and your country. By the time you retire you will have been responsible for the intellectual lives of thousands. And if you are successful, you will never be forgotten.

Chapter 1 Meeting the District and Middle School

Finding clarity in the first confusing days of professional development (teachers only back to school) is important in kick starting a successful middle school career. This chapter plainly explains what to look for in those vital first week meetings. It will assist you in gathering the information needed throughout the year to prepare an innovative classroom atmosphere that meets both district and school expectations.

Knowing Your District

District Structure

Chances are, if you've been hired to teach your first year of middle school you have been to your district office for an interview, fingerprinting or to fill out the plethora of paperwork required of many educators. But the internal structure and workings are what will most affect you for the time you are employed. Whether it be a few years, or until you retire, this is the place that will dictate everything from payroll policies to curriculum practices.

Many districts will offer the information you need to jump start your career such as curriculum pacing guides and suggested lesson plans on their website, so visits to the actual school board building will be minimal. By simply logging on to the district's website, and most of them are quite comprehensive you can find the information discussed throughout this book.

Regardless, be sure to visit your district before school begins and attend any early school year meetings that are geared to helping you navigate your way around the district departments.

Your District's School Board and Mission Statement

Most relevant to districts structure and to you and your students is its mission statement. The mission statement starts with your district's school board. The board is made up of elected officials headed, by a superintendent who is appointed by the board. This board has a vision for the education of the district's students which will be reflected in a mission statement. The following is an example of a mission statement from a New Jersey school district in Morris County:

The mission of the East Hanover School District is to prepare our young people to be positive, contributing members of society. Through a diversified curriculum which incorporates the expectation that all students achieve the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards(NJCCCS) at all grade levels and a school environment that fosters self-esteem, independent thinking, and respect for individual differences, we provide our students with the skills and experiences necessary to assist them in achieving their fullest potential as unique individuals and to meet the challenges of life.

Similar, common sense, all encompassing practical statements are designed and maintained by a multitude of districts. If yours has one, keep it close by. You can take the district mission statement, along with your school's mission statement and create one your own that encompasses your professional goals as an instructor in your county Use it as a summarized guide for the expectations you must meet as teacher.

You will see your districts mission statement in action on a daily basis. However, if you wish to get to know your school board members and learn how your district facilitates and maintains the integrity of its mission statement, attend a school board meeting. Districts post their meetings on their website or newsletter and are often held on the same day of each week or month, during evening hours. District meetings are public forums, anyone is invited to attend and with prior notification has the right to speak.. They can be long and drawn out, but you will find everything from subsidy debates, to calendar decisions, and perhaps even some protesters bucking the latest teaching trend or funding fiasco.


Your district's Certification department is your credential keeper and does not stop monitoring your accomplishments once you have completed your initial teaching requirements. Many districts offer added compensation for additional degrees or certification specialties. Also, your certification department will know what type of tuition reimbursement plans are offered. It is advisable to find someone knowledgeable in that department by checking with experienced teachers.

Additionally, throughout your career you will have to renew your certification ever few years with professional development points covered in detail in Chapter 3. Find the department and stay in touch with them periodically to ensure you are up to date on whatever requisites may be asked of you.

District Unions: To Join or Not to Join

Generally, districts have teacher unions. Whether they are effective or not is certainly up for debate by many and there are both pros and cons to being a union member. Research your local union thoroughly. They will be happy to talk you. See what they have to offer. In the long run it may be worth the dues.

Union dues can often be deducted from payroll. Services vary from conveniences such as discounts to local merchants to covering the cost of legal services should you need council and/or representation. Additionally, for the first year teacher, some unions offer professional development courses or assistance with certification exams.

If you should decide against joining your union you will need professional liability insurance. If your district does not offer liability and you choose not to join the union, you will need purchase your own insurance. If you are a teacher of integrity and effectiveness, this is one of those policies you will more than likely never need. It happens, however. Remember, as a middle school teacher you will come into contact with over 100 children per year plus their parents or guardians. Your moral compass may impeccable, but that does not mean you will not find yourself in a predicament that requires legal representation. You need only read today's headlines to understand the many creative ways teachers are being sued.

District Department Meetings

School Districts are not only payroll departments. The curriculum you will be teaching and pacing of your units and lesson plans come from your district's office. It is imperative you get to know where to find these materials and information. At times it may be distributed through your school department chair. Other times your school department chair will refer you right back to your district office or website.

Early Year Meetings

Each department from science to English should have an early school year meeting. This may be a series of events held solely for new teachers, professional developments classes for all district teachers in your subject area or workshops introducing new textbook adoptions. It may seem you are overwhelmed with meetings your first week in your new career and you probably are. As a result of these meetings there will seem barely enough time to get your classroom decorated. It may be very tempted to skip out on district meetings, especially after you note a few veteran teachers have remained behind. Do not skip these meetings. Not only are they full of information, but you can kick start your year off with professional development points and often free classroom supplies. '

District meetings are often a great place to gather some of your classroom supplies. Keep your eyes and ears open, see what they have. Once you become a teacher you are immediately given scavenging immunity. It is okay to shamelessly forage. No one will look twice. Materials that can be uncovered at district meetings include post-its, pens and school-year calendars left by organizations like the credit union who target advertise to teachers. You may also find materials such as bulletin board boarders and educational games and activities. The great thing about these gifts are they will be in conjunction with the theme of your text books.

New Teacher Events

Some districts will have an entire week devoted to new teacher training and others will have perhaps a day or two. These meetings will help you navigate your district's policies. They will give you the specific information on mission statements, structure, and payroll and benefits that you need. You will also meet other teachers on the starting line of their careers. Additionally, some districts will have union representatives, textbook and teaching store venders who do are ready and willing to show you the ropes of education.


The Professional development workshops held by the district reinforces the vision it has for its teachers and is often facilitated by veteran instructors who are looked upon as successful. These are great role models who have been in your seat. You will find most of them eager to help you get the information you need.

Textbook Vendors and Workshops

(PICTURE OF VENDOR DISPLAY) New textbooks and ancillary materials are adopted by districts every few years. The book itself, the amount of time it is used and what will go along with the text to help your teaching is normally decided by a district committee made up of teachers in your area. Once the decision has been made there will commonly be a workshop held by the textbook venders.

Even if you have an aversion to sales people, make your text book vender a very close friend. They know their company and its books and software inside and out. They can and will answer any questions you may have from walking you through online textbook access to ancillary accelerated math scoring software, to what current novels are being used by your subject and grade level throughout the state. Even better, they are often willing to provide you with sample materials to test out with your students. In today's world that may mean some very cool and very free new technology.

Workshops on new textbooks are equally important. Many teachers immediately discount what textbooks have to offer because there is often so much material is it overwhelming. Take the time to get to know your text and the workshops offered by venders are a great place to start. Often textbooks will provide you with objectives, essential questions and actually address your individual state's standards in your teacher's edition. TE's great ideas for differentiated instruction and fun activities that go along with your lessons and we will address that further in Chapter 5. Finally, your district chose that textbook because they feel it aligns in some way with their instructional mission.

So get to know get to know your textbook vendors, talk to your union and explore your district. A comprehensive understanding of its mission, structure and policies will provide clarity in understanding the decisions made by the administration in your individual school and the policies implemented. Knowing the big picture will help you understand where you and your middle school fit in and what is expected.

Your Very First Middle School Faculty Meeting

(PICTURE OF FACULTY MEETING) Some new teachers may find themselves on information overload during their first faculty meeting as these meetings are filled immeasurable amounts of information and a plethora of paperwork. This is where you will meet your administration and colleagues. Moreover it is these early year meetings where you learn your school's academic standing in your district, state and perhaps the nation. Equally as important are the specific instructions for first week procedures. Watch and listen. Take notes. When you go home review them and if you have questions seek out answers. You will avoid a tidal wave of stress and misunderstanding if you truly understand what's expected your first days of school, so stay focused.

Your Colleagues

Early year faculty meetings are great way to ferret out the countless winners in the game of education. New teachers will find throughout their upcoming years as educators, truly lousy teachers are an infinitesimal minority. This small minority's outrageous and sometimes criminal behavior is magnified several million times by bad press. Most middle school teachers, regardless of their diverse personality traits and imperfections, love their classroom and their students. This is not a business you want to wake up to in the morning if you do not.

Like any other large institution there are many individuals with diverse personalities. It takes a special person to work with an age group from which most others quickly run screaming and never look book. Therefore, even among the gossipers, whiners, and brownnosers of the faculty meetings, there are always a mass of folks who are incredibly effective with the students in their classrooms. Keeping principals above personalities allows one to enjoy the wit and wisdom of teaching experience even though some of the teachers sharing their experience are not among those one might invite over for a barbecue.

Even those educators who may appear to have aced Evil 101 as prerequisite to all their other courses have something to offer. Discern, but do not judge. If you think back, it is most likely the teachers with the highest expectations, along with the most classroom structure that got your best out of you when you felt like slacking. You can learn much from these veterans.

This does not mean that teachers will find healthy and lasting friendships outside of the classroom with other colleagues.

With that said, it is unfortunate, but there are those teachers who slip through the holes of the good teacher sieve and a new teacher may find themselves working next door to one. New teachers should picture their classroom as a huge vault wherein their educational valuables lie, along with their own business, just keeping watch on your their own vault.

It is important to note, however that in most states there is extra responsibility given to you as caregiver of children. These laws make you a mandatory reporter. Naturally, if a teacher witnesses inappropriate behavior which may constitute abuse, the matter must immediately be discussed with the school's principal or assistant principal If a teacher notices any indications of abuse of any kind, to any child, it is their responsibility to report it and if they do not, they may loose their certification to teach, not to mention the embarrassment it may cause friends and families when, if suspicions are true, you are arrested along with the abuser for aiding and abetting. Herbert Hoover said "Children are our most valuable national resource". It would be a sound tactic wise for new teachers to remember that often we are the only ones on watch of these "valuable resources"

Should you ever be put into a situation where you must report abuse of child by one of your colleagues, do not discuss the matter your department meeting or around the lunch table. This is simply gossip. Be discreet. Even if you report the facts and only the facts to your fellow teachers, well, remember that game of telephone you played in first grade when one person started with a secret and it went around the room only to end up seriously distorted? Well this time your professional reputation is on the line. These are legal issues and a teacher's responsibility is to her students. A reputation as they faculty lounge news correspondent will only bring damage to your career and mistrust from your peers. Make your report to the appropriate authority and then keep a lid on it.

However, if new teachers choose to inform the principal he or she has hired many ineffective educators you are doomed. Firstly, you might as well tell your principal he or she is not doing her job as it is her responsibility to see to it that the students in her school are being educated. Secondly, your principal will want to know why, as a first year teacher learning the crevices of education, that you have time to notice the deficiencies of others.

Many times teachers whose students are not meeting state standards are on the principal's radar anyway. They are given the opportunity to improve and will go through appropriate channels to do so before being let go. It cannot be stressed enough that unless a new teacher sees something totally inappropriate, it unwise to say anything to co-workers or administrators. Until you a new teacher has become a seasoned teacher it is best to keep this type of information to under wraps.

This is no different than any other job. If a new teacher wishes to be counted among the respected and join the winners in this game, they need to learn the game before telling other people how to play.

Principal's Principles and Expectations

Principals are at the helm of middle schools motley crew. She guides her ship through the rough waters of unhappy teachers, belligerent children and enraged parents while the budget she juggles to keep her vessel afloat could not fix a leak on a sinking ship. Sometimes she is pleasant to work for and understandable so, sometimes not. Regardless, if you couple the vision of your district with the vision of your principal, and follow that lead, you can be confident that what you are doing is effective and on task.

Be sure acquire a keen sense of your principal's expectations and leadership style. Some principal's have more of democratic, system where teachers, faculty and staff are the driving force behind the school culture, and others like to micromanage. Whichever group your principal fits into you will have to adjust to that style, for now anyway. It is important you gain an understanding of her leadership principles and how she wants you stay the course so you help her guide her ship to where it is going.

You will find no matter what the style, the most common tools used by principals to impart their expectations to their faculty is standardized testing data.

Deciphering Data

In the kick off days before students arrive, the principal will share the previous year's data with you and she will utilize the data to construct her goals for the coming school year. In today's years of AYP standards dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act, it is should not come as a surprise that most principal's goals are set in accordance with standardized testing. Chapters 11 and 12 explain these testing mandates in more detail. However, the following is a basic early teaching days understanding. It will help you see where your particular students fit. This is a fine opportunity to be able to coordinate your principal's goals, with your student's expected achievements and apply those to your classroom and/or professional development plans.

Although there are national norm referenced tests, standardized testing today is usually determined from state to state. Your principal will more than likely present data on your school in terms of its relation to other schools in your district and your state. One of the pluses of the No Child Left Behind Act is that it provides ways to set and utilize measurable goals.

When you look at this data and what is expected of you, especially if you are teaching a subject that is addressed by standardized testing you may begin to feel quite a bit of tension. Do not worry, if your goal is the education of your students, facilitating the accomplishment of these goals by your students is a lot easier said than done. There is too much panicking going on in our schools today and not enough focus on learning. In this book you will find plans and activities that will assist you and your students in reaching the standards set forth. So remain calm amidst the storm.

When your principal is presenting data, if a copy of it has not been provided to you, ask for one. Usually that will not be a problem. This will give more than the short time between power point slides to decipher your school's data. Additionally, you may wish to have a copy with you to compare to Chapters 11 and 12. This brings the political and test centered rhetoric home and will create more professional meaning if you can apply it to you and your students. Furthermore, if your school provides assessments throughout the year you may use this data to measure against the data measuring your students' improvements.

In the meantime, the NCLB is a prodigious accountability system. Here are some of the simpler facts you need to know in your early days of teaching.

  • The data your will see is based on statewide tests taken by students towards the end of the school year, usually late March or April. The tests are designed in accordance with the federal guidelines set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act. Titles of these tests vary from State to State: MCAT: Main Comprehensive Assessment Test and CST: California Standards Test.
  • he data will mostly like be compared to other schools in your district and state.
  • There will be an overall score which is determined by variables as mandated by the NCLB. You will be able to note how your overall score compared to that of other schools during your principal's presentation.
  • Scores will then be broken down into separate areas that are tested. Definitely math and reading, and in many states, writing and even science and social studies.
  • The data will be then broken down again into sub-groups. Subgroups can include lower economic level students, often referred to as "receiving free and reduced lunch". Subgroups are broken down even further into African American, Asian, Hispanic and White.
  • Gains are how much each student and group and overall school improved. Your school's gains will determine whether school has met adequate yearly progress as determined by NCLB.
  • Be sure to note the population numbers. For example, an Asian group may show great gains, but if there are on 5 Asian students on a middle school campus of 1300, that is not saying much.

From there, your principal will consider the progress made the previous year and present her expectations for this year. For example, if your school did fairly well overall, but, but Hispanic students showed a decrease in math, you may hear her say, "Our school goal is to have all students improve 5% on reading scores. Hispanic Students will increase their mathematics score by 7%."

Some principals, knowing that teachers are on the frontlines of student improvement, may distribute the data and have teachers break up into department groups, i.e. math, reading, English, and then have the department chairs report back with findings, goals and what the teachers will need to reach their goals.

Finally, a goal will be set for the school year and will be, more than likely included in your school's mission statement. Many others have found that these measurable goals provide more clarity into what should be taught in the classroom. It cannot be stressed enough and it will be brought up in late chapters: these goals have never meant to be set so teachers would be required to teach to a test. Although it is a good idea to spend some review time on standardized test taking strategies, by the time your students have reached middle school they know how to fill in the bubbles. Teach them to the skills need to know to be successful in the world and they will do astonishingly well on their assessment later in the year.

This information may sound foreign. Do not be afraid to ask questions until you understand what is being discussed. If you are uncomfortable asking questions in a faculty meeting, find someone who understands the data and can answer questions you may have.

Please note that a percentage of the revenue received by your school in one way or another comes from the federal government is in relation to achieving the standards set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act. Do not ignore the importance of statistics to your principal as they apply to teaching accomplishments in today's world.


To support your principal will be assistant principals. The number of these administrators will depend on the size of your school. Find out how the chain of commands among these administrators works. In smaller schools where there is a principal and assistant principal, they are often a team covering all the tasks necessary to keep your middle school running smoothly. On the other hand, in larger middle schools require more assistant principals may be assigned to a whole grade level or by task. For example, there may be a 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade assistant principals to handle discipline according to their respective grade level. Most importantly, it will probably be an assistant principal who does most of your observations your first year. It may be the assistant principal assigned to your grade level or it may be an assistant principal assigned to support new teachers.

Find out who your administrator is and ask her if there is anything in addition to those listed in the faculty handbook that you should know about her expectations. Will you be working on a professional development plan together? If she seems open to conversation and willing to help do not hesitate to ask her what kinds of things helped her in first year of teaching. Knowing who she is and what she expects will not only aid you on your reviews but will also support your growth as an educator.

It is rare, but you may run across administrators, for reasons of lack of time, to chain of command, who would prefer not to have to deal with new teacher whoas. Hopefully, and they most certainly should have assigned you to a mentor. If not seek one out. Find a veteran teacher who has been employed at that particular school for some time and is willing to answer your questions. Usually the faculty who have been around for awhile can guide you in understanding what's expected from the administration. Just make sure your questions do not turn into gossip sessions about your administrator as they easily may.

Again, finding an administrator who is not willing to be of assistance is rare. In fact they have often been new teachers themselves and should completely understand and welcome your willingness to learn and grow. As the year goes They mostly like have a solution for many rookie predicaments.

Dealing With Difficult Administration

They are rare, but they exist. New teachers will invariably hear chilling tales of administration preferably avoided. Demanding, micromanaging, malevolent, unmotivating nightmares who do not hesitate to throw their screaming-for-mercy new teachers to a den of fanged, PTO panther parents. Or perhaps the anarchy creating assistant principal who allows their disrespectful student "peeps" to run hellaciously through the hallways creating mayhem and insolence instead of order and respect. First let it be said that these stories are usually exaggerated. The old adage that there is good in the worst of us and bad in the best of us holds true for principals too. They are human beings human beings with children and grand children, husbands, and brothers and sisters. They just may not have developed a leadership style that works for many teachers.

The good news is often if principals cannot lead a school to higher performance each year they are eventually replaced. Sometimes moved, sometimes never to be heard of again. Principals are under as much if not more pressure to keep their schools well managed behaviorally and the scores of all students making gains on the continuum of assessment testing. This usually requires fairly competent educational supervisiory skills. Principals who do not have those abilities will be replaced.

However, since there has yet to be an obnoxious bosses 101 course offered among most colleges and universities, they are sometimes a fact of life so here arehelpful hints to help new teachers stay motivated and successful.

Firstly, new teachers on who are currently considering where to work and have not already accepted a position, should do their best to avoid landing in a school where there may be problem administrations. Calling the local teachers union and finding out which schools have the highest turnover is a telling sign of the teacher satisfaction. If turnover is significantly higher than other schools it is therein that you will probably find the den of the mythical, malevolent administrator who has been the topic of discrete discussions among the faculty lunches previously mentioned. Avoid her like the plague. There are too many teaching positions that will open with supportive and effective administrative leadership.

Should a new teacher decide to pay his or her dues at a school with a less than administrative friendly atmosphere, or if somehow one has unwittingly landed at in a similar school structure all a new teacher may simply do their best to do their jobs. As previously stated, find out what your principals expects and follow those guidelines. When a new teacher becomes unsure If they are seemingly impossibly seek out the ones that best serve your students. and seek and do not panic

Faculty Hand Book

An excellent resource for teachers getting acclimated to the leadership expectations at their school will find information first hand in their faculty handbook. Everything from school rules, consequences, dress code, drill procedures etc., personal days and are all spelled out. Read it and refer to it. There's nothing more annoying for a principal who is dealing with the daily deluge of the parent, students and paperwork parade around and across their desk then a new teacher asking what measures need to be taken to get a personal day.

First Day Procedures

Other important information that will be presented by either the principal or assistant principal will be the first day procedures. New teachers should take notes and be sure to listen. You will receive information from bus duty posts to blood board pathogen instructions. Keep all first day procedure notes and paperwork separate from all other information. Teachers should put together a file or small binder and label it "First Day Procedures", then review and organize it a day or two before big event. New teachers may also want to do a walk through the day before. For example, often times sixth grade students will be picked up at certain area such as the cafeteria and escorted to their classrooms by their teachers since the first day may be frightfully bewildering to them. Bringing a file and keeping all first day procedure papers together will assist in allowing a first day of joy and excitement rather than stress and confusion.

There will definitely be a list of forms to be sent home and signed by mom. Keep a check list of your homeroom and period rosters like the example below. Mark the date you distributed the form. Collect the forms at the beginning of each class period and then simply check off each form as they are returned. To ensure that forms are returned in a timely manner it is helpful to offer students incentive. Such as if the forms are returned by such and such a date, students will received 100% for their first assignment grade. (As discussed later in the chapter on grading, assignments are usually a smaller percentage of students grades than quizzes, tests and projects. This will help you check papers off as they go out and come in.

Often, for the first days or week, the attendance procedure may vary from the norm so your principal can get accurate numbers of the students who will attend.

Take note that blood born pathogen safety procedures are usually presented by your principal or assistant principal during these meetings. Many illnesses today including the HIV virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, mainly blood. Your administration will want you to know how to handle a situation that falls under this heading from the first minute the students enter campus. They will also provide all teachers with or tell them where to find blood born pathogens kit. These are simply kits with safety measure materials such as plastic gloves, gauze and hand sanitizer. If your some odd reason your school does not do this, make sure you make your own kit. Teachers go for years never having to touch a student who is bleeding. Most teachers truly want to be there for a student if they need help, and this most certainly can be done without putting one's own life at risk.

Chapter 2 Teaching Relationships and Your Go-To Crew

Knowing where to go for guidance in one's first year as an educator will make the seemingly infinite tasks of a middle school teacher remarkable more manageable. From custodians to positive relationships with support staff you can establish a network that will continuously contribute to your lean, mean, educational classroom machine. But remember these individuals serve an entire faculty and often other staff members. The I-am-the center-of-the-universe-bull-dog-approach will gets teachers nothing but ignored. Being considerate of other's feelings and time constraints is much more effective. This does not mean that have to remember everyone's anniversary and the date of their first born child. This chapter will give you a basic understanding of who is who in middle school support staff and how to establish effective relationships with them.

Understanding Your Schools Departmental Structure

As discussed in the previous section on Administrators, frequently a school's personnel numbers in any given department may vary. Factors range from the size of the school to district mandates. But in the majority of middle schools, you will find department chairs and sometimes specialists in the subject area you teach who are there to help you with strategies and resources.

Department Heads

Often there is a veteran teacher in your department who is in charge of various duties, primarily the care and tracking of text books, and bringing information from the principal or district back to you at regularly scheduled department meetings. In some schools they may also be in charge of the supplies at for the teachers in your subject area. This person is known as the department head or department chair.

Keep in mind that these individuals are teachers along with their departmental duties. They are incredibly busy the first days of school accommodating teachers and preparing their classrooms. However, they are also paid and extra stipend for this position, so if you need something ask. Early in your classroom preparation days, check that you have enough textbooks and a teacher edition for each one. If the department head is in charge of supplies check what you need, also. This way, you can give yourself plenty of time to let your department head know that you understand they are busy, and would like to go to the bookroom or supply room to get what you need at their convenience.


Today, many special needs students who were confined to a classroom with other students considered disabled are able to attend school in a mainstreamed. That means in a regular class. However, some may still need assistance in one form or another Therefore, to assist you in educating the special needs child you may be working with a specialist in your classroom. This will vary from a Teacher's Assistant with an associates degree, to a PhD expert in ESE. It may be someone who signs for a deaf student, a "shadow", or a teacher who specializes in working with students with physical disabilities. Regardless of their degree, or specialization, they will be there to help your student(s) succeed.

In your early days of school new teachers should seek out whoever they will be working with and Find out who they are with whom they will be working. If it is a physically disabled student, perhaps they may need the child's desk close to the door. Ask them if they have the students Education Plan, a document stating the accommodations that must be met for the student (See Chapter 7). Maybe a desk with the chair attached will not be suitable and you will need to find one with the detached chair. They may need to be seated by the door or near the front of the room. Perhaps the specialist would appreciate a chair placed near the student(s) so they may sit and work with them closely. Not only will the specialist appreciate your forethought, it will save you from scrambling to provide appropriate accommodations for one student while 28 others look on.

A word to the wise, middle schoolers do not look on for long -if there's not something going on specifically engaging them, they will create it. Do everything you can including making sure all your students are appropriately accommodated beginning the very first day.


Middle School Guidance counselors' responsibilities vary from district to district and school to school. But in a nutshell, they have the distinct challenge of acting as a confident and consultant to an age group of individuals who are growing faster physically, emotionally and hormonally than any other time in their lives. They see more drama in their offices then Cecil B. DeMille would if he directed Days of Our Lives. The act as mediators, brawl interventionists, social workers, and the list goes on and on.

Guidance will support a classroom teacher in many ways. Among the most important of those roles are keeping teachers up to speed on those students who may be facing challenges that affect their academics or classroom behavior and as a liaison in parent/teacher conferences. Guidance counselors are up on the social and educational services that are offered for the children in your county and often will refer those students in need. They can assist in presenting instructor's concerns to parents including anything from excessive absences to lack of homework completion to signs of depression.

Guidance counselors must document all interactions with students and parents. Staying on top of your daily paperwork will assist them. For example, if a student is missing more than the average days of school, and the teacher is not keep accurate attendance records, the task of contacting and investigating the issue becomes more time consuming as the counselor will have head out in pursuit of the information she should already have on her desk.

Media Specialist

What was once known as the library is now the Media Center. It is not only filled with books, but computers and other digital equipment. The media specialist is the gate keeper to all of these valuable educational goodies. These days some teachers seem to forget it's still a library.

The media center is for research, checking out books, computer testing if terminals are not available in the teacher's classroom. It is not a student dumping ground. Teachers need to find out from the Media Specialist how many students is acceptable to send at one time. Perhaps the media specialist would like

If students have not already learned how to behave in a media center they need to learn now. It is a place for concentration and students who concentration should not be running around, goofing off and talking loudly. Although elementary school is the time for students to learn what a "library" voice is, teachers may have to remind them in the early days of school, before they attend the media either individually or as a class. If you feel your students need assistance in further understanding the media center and its function, most media specialists are happy to help.

Keep in mind that teachers are in responsible for the students in their class whether they are physically in the classroom or not. It is important to be sure that students are monitered at all times. A media center visit is not time to bone up on one's reading.

Information Technology Advisor i.e. the I.T. Guy

The amount of digital technology in your school is equal to the amount of funds your district is willing to put into it. However, all schools today have technology of some sort or another and there is usually an IT person who can help you out with everything from serious crashes to simple password losses. A middle school may have a full time IT person, a part time person who covers more than one school or it may be another teacher who has an added stipend and an extra planning period to get the job done.

Regardless, the IT person usually has to be in more than one place at a time. Making sure that the IT guy only gets called when absolutely necessary. There is nothing more maddening for a middle school IT guy to have to take time out of his day to go to your classroom for a crashed computer, only to find it is not plugged in. If teachers are not familiar with the basics of computer hookups and the software they'll be using than they need to learn. If teachers use the media center guy for every blip or beep, they may be put on the bottom of the IT guys list when there's a true digital emergency.

Support Staff

In Florida schools bonus dollars, otherwise known as A+ money, is awarded to schools who perform well on standardized testing. How the funds are distributed is voted on by staff. If, by a certain date an agreement cannot be met, the entire amount goes to the teachers. It is unfortunate, but it happens that in some Florida schools the teachers will, or many would like to get the entire amount. Rationales are based mainly around "we did all the work".

Even books and websites on teaching rarely consider support staff. If you want to know just how important they are to you, just take a look around your classroom. Someone made sure it was clean. Someone made sure your students had enough desks and moved them in the classroom for you. Someone made sure you had keys to your room. Someone has entered the information from your W2 form into the district payroll department's ledger. Someone is holding the parents at bay at the front desk so you can prepare your classroom before getting stampeded with questions and concerns for their child's new teacher. Especially if you are teaching 6th grade.. Someone made sure you received the correct class rosters with your students on it and not someone else's. Someone made sure you received a copy of the faculty handbook so you do not make a complete ninkumpoop out of yourself at the next meeting. Someone made sure that you are entered in the districts list of global e-mail addresses, some is requisitioning for the supplies you need. There list goes on and this is only in the first week of school before the students have even arrived.

Teaching is not a solo gig. However, because our job is often quite challenging we overlook the encumbrance of others and do not give the kind of recognition our support staff so often deserves. The individuals we work with outside of the classroom are often the power behind our success in the class and a simple hello, smile or even some doughnuts goes a long way. At the very least, make your requests polite. Even you think you are underpaid. Try working for the school board as support staff.

A valuable life lesson can be learned here. Sometimes, life is not about what we can get out of it but we can give.

Front Office Staff

On some days the front counter is more aptly described as the front lines. At any typical moment during the school day there phones are ringing, teachers are buzzing for attention on the intercom, substitutes are waiting to see where they need to go next, while parents are impatiently glaring. In many middle schools the school nurse has been done away with and the front office clerks also have the responsibility of acting as emergency medical techs.

They are often charged with getting work orders for repairs and other requests to the district and seeing that they are addressed in a time fashion. Timely fashion: if your heater blows in the middle of the winter, bring your parka. Most districts move according to the slow and steady wins the race rule. As front office staff are often the go between the teacher and the district in these matters they often get blasted from both corners.

Creating mutually positive feelings with the person at the front desk is relatively simple. As you will learn how to effectively manage your classroom in Chapter 5, calling to the front office to have unruly students removed by administrators will be particularly unusual. Therefore, if you do have a matter that needs to be addressed and it can wait, do not buzz the front office. Send an e-mail or note with a student so they can address your concern when they have put out the fires and the ambers are down to a slight glow.

A simple smile and pleasant good morning when enter your school each day will be more of help than you think. Like with all other individuals, thoughtful kindnesses such as picking up a coffee cake when you do your grocery shopping for the secretarial staff to enjoy or a thank you note for getting the district to fix your air conditioning before the next millennium will go a long way.


The bookkeeper in your middle school is your new best friend. The records of every cent you spend or receive will go through her office. Whether it be requisitioning for classroom supplies or turning in collected field trip funds, bookkeepers own the gambit of responsibility for keep accurate records on school finances. They are in charge of accounts receivable, accounts payable and may be in charge of entering your payroll. She is the debt collector for parental bounced checks and accountant for all your school's organizations, clubs and sport teams.

To make a bookkeepers life a little easier, make sure she has your accurate contact information and all your forms are correctly filled out. Often bookkeepers will have their policy for submitting funds such as monies collected in the faculty handbook. Save her sometime having to explain the school's bookkeeping procedures and yourself some embarrassment after making a mistake by reading up your schools bookkeeping policies and procedures.

Data Entry/Attendance Clerk

Generally, schools hire a data entry clerk who also deals with the daily attendance record keeping. These clerks are in charge of keeping track of student information. Each day they track student registration and attendance records and keep the district apprised of student comings and goings. There is one well known pet peeve of data entry clerks. That is some teachers do no keep accurate attendance records. Attedance records are legal documents and teachers are required to keep them. . Inaccurate attendance makes life more difficult and time consuming for her and will mean having to answer to worried parents who are looking for children not accurately accounted for, calls from the district inquiring as to why a student attended only one of his classes for during the two weeks he was out with pneumonia. Make attendance a priority and stay off of the attendance clerk's radar. Often this means she will have to answer to a worried parent


Like other middle school departments there is usually a head custodian to lead the crew. Custodians are charged with everything from mowing the lawn to keeping the bathroom sanitary. Obviously, their task is not always a pleasant one.

They appreciate the individuals that make their lives a little easier. After each class take a minute to before the bell to make sure all materials are put away and books are off the floor. Ever tried vacuuming the house when the family, or dog has left their belongings all over the floor? This may sound small but it cannot be imparted enough that it is the little thoughtful kindnesses that will make others respect you and your classroom.

Bus Drivers

People who are stopped at lights next to a bus driver during her afternoon transport of approximately 50 restless, hormonal and emotional middle school students. Then you know there is a special place for them in heaven. Guidance counselors are exposed to extreme daytime drama, bus drivers are exposed to extreme wrestling mania. Somehow they have to safely transport a bus load of clamoring cacophonious students while preventing name calling, paper throwing and the occasional scuffle. Fun. However, because they are so separate from the daily in school routine, they are often rarely thought of and the least thanked. There should be a thank the bus driver day. One idea for middle school teachers to let bus drivers know they appreciate what they do is to teach the students appreciation. Have a Bus driver appreciation day. Language arts teachers encourage students write simple thank you notes, poems or make cards. Students in Life (used to be Home Ec) can bake cookies. You could put Bus Driver Appreciate Day in the school newsletter and have parents join in sending their child. Imagine the bus driver going to a stop or two where children surprise them with a small gift.

Brightening the days of any support staffer at a middle school brightens the atmosphere of the school itself. Remember when considering the individuals you work with and sometimes depend on that they too did not get into education for the for the estate they will be able to acquire with their payroll. There is only small monetary thanks for the colossal jobs each and every school employee does. It is therefore important for everyone's moral to remain thankful to each other.

Chapter 3 Creating a Classroom Conducive to Learning

Your classroom is your own little learning city and as long as you are in accordance with the district, you will decide how it is run. Taking the extra time to create and organize a comfortable atmosphere for you and your students will require efficient record keeping and pleasantly arranging and designing your surroundings. This chapter will help you find the materials you need to successfully complete this mission, give you suggestions on how to organize everything from daily agenda's on white boards to seating arrangements, and coach you on creating files for easy record keeping throughout the school year.

Keep in mind when first setting up your classroom that most districts today regularly provide network software that helps teachers organize their lesson plans, seating charts, and grading all in one. They may even have a program for digital text book and equipment tracking. However, it is still important to keep a hard copy of those records. Firstly, when planning your day or writing your agenda on the board it easier to do when you have your plan in front of you. During your first year you will be observed on several occasions. It shows professionalism when you can hand the administrator doing your observation a copy of your plans along with any aids you may have given your students, so that they may also be engaged in that period's activity. Furthermore if you are out, your substitute teacher will need all three when covering your class (See Chapter 8). Finally, even with hard copies of your work, make sure you back all important information onto a jump drive. Finally, make sure, hard copies or not, you back all important information onto a jump drive. You do not want to loose all the hard work you put into planning and tracking your classroom.

Your Classroom Desk Design

A teacher's desk is the Grand Central Station of their little city. New teachers will want their desks to be the first thing set up before students arrive for their first day. A flood of children, adults and paperwork will visit a teacher's desk during the year. Arranging a system that creates clarity for all of these eliminates the abundance of stress one might experience if trying to find a particular form or lesson plan in a panic while keeping thirty middle school students on task.

It is highly recommended teachers set up their desks long before the students arrive so there is work space to prepare for them. With this in mind, the first priority in situating an instructors desk will be strategically locating it so they are able to see all angles of their classroom, and each and every student.

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