Yay! I got a job; I’m so excited. Oh my goodness. In just a few days, I’m going to be standing in front of a bunch of teenagers and I’m going to be the one in charge. I’m not even a decade older than some of them! They all know each other, they’ve been in school together all year, and I’m going to be the new one.
This was my mindset when I got my first teaching job immediately after getting my teaching credential. I happened to graduate in December, which means I got a job in January. I was 23 years old and had just gotten an offer to teach special education classes for Jr. High students. Starting my first teaching job with an age group I had never previously taught halfway through the school year was a challenge. To complicate matters, the students had had a variety of subs all school year and they were lacking consistency. Strong leadership was needed. What do you do when you’re starting the school year in the middle? Here’s the article I wish I had had back then.
- Get as much information as possible. When you start in the middle of the school year, you usually don’t get a formal orientation. The first thing you want to do is get your hands on a student handbook and a teacher handbook. You can often find student handbooks online. This can give you an idea of the school’s discipline system, the dress code, and other policies you will need to know. Make notes about anything you’re unclear about so you can ask an administrator for details as soon as possible. It’s important to know safety procedures first and foremost. Where do you take your class during a fire drill? How do you take attendance? Where do you send a sick student? How do you get a hold of an administrator in an emergency?
- Find a mentor. Luckily, at my Jr. High, each department had a chairperson. My special education chairperson helped guide me a lot in the early days. Some secondary schools have different department chairs and some elementary schools have a teacher who is the head of all the teachers in a certain grade level. Find out who this person is. If your school doesn’t have such a system, ask your administrator if there is a teacher who would be willing to answer your questions and help you out. Your administrator should know teacher personalities well enough to know who would be both willing and knowledgeable.
- Set up your own plan. This was some great advice I was given the day or two before I started teaching. I was advised to come in like this was the first day of school. I did find out what the previous teacher had been doing and took a few elements of her homework and schoolwork policy, as I wanted to be respectful of the syllabus the students had been given in the beginning of the year. However, I brought in my own discipline plan and taught it the first day of school. I started implementing it immediately as well. If a student made a comment like, “But Mrs. Smith did it this way..” I would respond, “I understand that, but while I am in the classroom, we are going to do it like this.” It’s important to have a plan that you feel confident in. Don’t feel pressured to do things exactly the way the previous teacher did if it doesn’t work for you.
- Get to know the curriculum. This is a very important reminder for teaching: You only need to be one day ahead of the students! When you start midway through the school year, you won’t be an immediate curriculum expert. You may want to start the first day with a structured review game (or various review activities if you are teaching elementary school). It’s a good way to get an idea of how well the students know what has already been taught and an opportunity for the students to practice following your directions. Just make sure it is still structured and educational, so the students know what to expect from you. Find out what format the previous lessons were in. Do the students have notes on what they’ve done so far? What format are the tests in? When should the next test be given? If you have other teachers in your department or grade level, ask if you can see their lesson plans and find out where you should be in the curriculum. I still remember bringing home a giant stack of teacher and student curriculum the night before my first day and trying to make lesson plans. I wish I had started with having the students review previous lessons and not put so much pressure on myself to teach all-new material on the first day. If you need ideas for review activities, check out the article "7 Review Games that Won't Waste Your Time."
- Make parental contact. I sent a letter home the first week I was in the classroom to the parents to let them know I would be taking over for the remainder of the school year, telling them a little about myself, briefly outlining my policies, and giving them my contact information. In my case, a syllabus had already been sent home in the beginning of the year, so I just included the things that would be changing in my brief letter. I also made a point of making positive contact with parents as soon as I could. My favorite way to do this was mailing home a positive postcard where I wrote a few words about what a student had done well.
Starting a teaching job in the middle of the school year has some added complications. Teachers often get overwhelmed trying to figure out how to begin, whether or not to change current classroom procedures, and how to “catch up” on what has already happened in the classroom. These steps can give you a place to begin!
for more in-depth help
If you need more advice about creating your classroom management plan, check out Classroom Management 101. You can even skip to the “back to school” module to quickly learn the basics you need to know and how to make your plan for the first day of school (even if it's not the students’ first day of school!).
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