I wish I had this information when I started teaching so many years ago. Those first few years of teaching are busy ones. There will be times when you're in the middle of a lesson, and you'll remember that you forgot some imporant component of your lesson preparation or you'll not have made enough copies, etc. Here are some tips that I've learned to make your life as a teacher a little bit easier.
The Small Stuff - Make the copies, get the colored pencils out, put the instructions on the board, etc. Before the activity, think of everything you can that has to be done, and get it ready. Once the activity starts, you won't be able to teach AND do the set up. A little preparation will save you a lot of time and stress.
20 Minute Blocks - Students, especially students in middle school, can't maintain their attention on one activity one lecture for more than 20 minutes. Break up your lessons into blocks of 15-20 minutes each.
Worksheet Magic - Make sure you're using a worksheet to enter grades. Don't make the mistake of entering your grades directly into the computer. Computers crash. Documents get deleted. Print out a roster of each of your classes, and enter the grades there first. Then when it's time to input them into the computer, you'll be able to use the keypad to enter the grades alphabetically. Not only does it save time, but it also gives you a back up set of grades just in case the computer dies.
The Collector - Even though I end up making new lessons every year, I save a lot of time by pulling out an old worksheet or test that I created years ago and modifying it to serve a new purpose. Modifying takes a lot less time than creating something from scratch. I started back before they had personal computers, and I still have folders filled with old worksheets I created. Now, I save everything digitally. Time is too valuable to spend recreating the wheel.
The Slow Clock - Always have an extra 10 minute lesson up your sleeve. You will find every now and then that you’ll finish with your lesson, and the clock shows an extra ten minutes. It’s good to have a short lesson to fill that time. Students with nothing to do will find something to do, and normally it’s not what you prefer them to do.
Scratch Paper - Have a supply of small pieces of scratch paper- You are going to need scratch paper for writing passes or for making notations about students who are absent or other tasks that you can't do at the moment. I just cut up old worksheets into fours and have a stack by my whiteboard.
Student Speaking - There will be those moments when you're in the middle of a great lecture. The kids are on the edge of their seats. You're just about to come to the main point of the lesson, when...the phone rings. I hate it when that happens. I learned early on to teach the student nearest to the phone how to answer when the phone rings. This isn't as easy as it appears. The student can't just say, "Hello." It may be the principal calling. I teach them to say, "Mr. Rangel's class, student speaking." Most of the time, someone in the office wants to pull a student from my class to go home or to see an administrator, and the student answering the phone can handle that. It is really rare that someone actually has to speak to me. This saves me a lot of time, and keeps the class from focus.
Activities List - Make a list of your activities - Anytime you create an activity, make sure you write it down somewhere and keep that list somewhere safe where you can refer to it in future years. Even the lessons that didn't work one year can be modified to work later.
Half Sheet Homework - Put the homework assignment on a half sheet of paper, even though you have explained it to the class. There will always be those students who were absent or who just weren’t paying attention, and instead of having to explain the instructions all over again, you can have them just read the half sheet. Make sure the instructions are clear.
What’s Your Color? - If you have different groups of students like I do, it's best to color code the classes or give them other identifiers like college mascots or famous inventors, etc. If you don't, what inevitably happens is that they become identified by their ability level - the honors class or the low class or the loud class, etc. You don't want that.
When Does the Bell Ring? - Have a bell schedule posted - This is something that is essential. Make sure that somewhere in your room, you have the bell schedule posted. You will forget or you will miscalculate then ending time of the class, and that can be bad.
Let’s Get the Project Started - Put Possible Topics on Board – When you're having the students create a project on their own, you will have those students who will have that creative mind and will come up with great topic by themselves. Some students will get stuck on that first step. They'll find it a challenge to think of a topic on their own, so to get them started, always have some possible topics ready to go on the board. Tell them they can come up with their own topics or use one of the ones listed on the board. All some students need is some help on the first step. The rest they can do on their own.
Project Collection – When I collect big projects, I want to know who did it and who didn’t. If I don’t check, then I won’t know until after I grade all the projects, and by that time it may be too late to get on the kids for not having their project in. It’s an easy way for a student to fall through the cracks. So what I do is tell the kids to get their project on their desk. Then I call their names using my grade book. I ask them to show me their project. The students will show me their poster or flash drive (where their PowerPoint is stored) or whatever their project is. I write down in the grade book exactly what they have – a poster, a PowerPoint, a game board, a scrapbook, whatever they chose to do for the project. It gives me a chance to scold the ones who don’t have anything, and it protects me from a student coming and saying that they turned it in, but I lost it. (Yes, it happens.)
Quick Grading - Create a grading sheet with common responses, and just check off what you want the students to know about their work—great job, need more effort, check spelling better, neater, etc. Include positive and negative comments. Leave a space for extra notes.