Site icon Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

Help for a Second-Year Teacher

Last week, I received an email from a teacher about to enter her second year in the classroom. She’ll soon be on a new campus with two new grade levels, and she’s wondering how to manage it all. With her permission and use of a pseudonym, I’m posting our conversation in the hopes that it’ll answer questions you might be having, too:

Hi Laura!
I’m a new teacher and stumbled upon your classroom management series this morning when I was unashamedly scouring YouTube for tips for high school management. It’s my second year coming up this August and I had many challenges my first year, including classroom management. I was especially tickled and even teared up a little when you yelled at dept. chairs in video 10…Oh man, thank you for that!

Last year, I taught all freshmen on a block schedule (90 min. a day). The first semester I had one English 1 class (average students) and two “Literacy Academy” blocks. Every student in the “academy” classes had failed the 8th grade reading test the year before. I had 30 students in each class, 14 on an IEP in one and 12 on an IEP in the other. So when you spoke of criminal vs. chucklehead students in video 9, I was like yes! So many of my kids hated school and hated reading because they simply could not read past a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level. It was hard not to take some of the things they said or did personally, though.

This upcoming year, I am at a new school in the district not due to the kids’ craziness, but the adults’ craziness at my old school! Now that’s neither here nor there, but I have 11th and 12th grade English this year. Wow! I’m nervous about classroom management at this level and also planning.

How much material were you able to get through with your juniors? What lessons/units worked well with the kids? What did not? What can I expect? (I sort of look like a 9th grader myself.) Do you have a draft syllabus for Eng 3 or Eng 4?

Any response would be great and your videos already were incredibly helpful. Thanks for your dedication and tenacity to finish those and better those of us who are struggling. 🙂

Have a beautiful summer day!

Most sincerely,

Hey Sarah,
So glad you found me! First, you need to accept some major props for enduring a really tough first-year assignment. Again, I don’t know why we continue to give the toughest assignments to our newest teachers (that IEP load is so, so wrong), but at least you can know you’re not alone in facing a trial by fire. And look at you – girl, you’re still standing and are coming back for more! Nice.

Okay, your new assignment will actually probably run best with a lot of the same techniques/materials/procedures you used with the regular freshmen last year. I usually teach 9th & 11th grade and I use the same bell-ringer and SSR Friday routine with both levels. The only difference is that I swap out the MUG Shot and Words on Wed. (vocab.) slides to have fresh content because every year two or three juniors also had me as their freshman-level teacher and I don’t want to bore them with the same content. The routine, though? Works like a charm at all four levels, so I stick with it.

Now, the content for the rest of your curriculum should be set by your new English dept., no? Go with whatever they require. Too often, though, I’ve found teachers are given no assistance in this area and told to just make sure they hit all of the standards. Okay, then…if that’s what you’re facing, I’d teach the juniors a chronology of American Lit. because it’ll allow you to hit the standards, but still give you lots of flexibility. I like to take my juniors through these five major movements:
• Colonialism
• Romanticism
• Realism
• Modernism
• Post-Modernism

For each movement, I use a Prezi overview to set the stage, teach a couple of short pieces (a short story or two and a poem), throw in a non-fiction piece either from that time period or from today connecting to something back then, and then a larger unit with a novel or play that’s representative of the era’s philosophy. You can cruise the American Lit. section of my shop to get an idea of titles that might work for you.

I’d definitely stick with low-hanging fruit – you know, those works that you’ve already read/studied yourself in high school or college. As best as you can, avoid prepping a large unfamiliar work this upcoming year. You can fold that into your life in Year 3 or 4 when you have more bandwidth. For this year, I’d focus more on getting my classroom management and routines nailed down and figuring how to fit into the campus culture of the new school.

If you don’t want to do the American Lit. path, aren’t allowed to do so, or still need a different course for those seniors, I’d consider a path like this:
1st Qtr.: Welcome/establish routines; how to email; basics of writing/MLA style/plagiarism/etc.; narrative writing (will help you get to know the kids and won’t be as stressful for them as some of the heavier writing modes/could also be used to help with the college application essay process); public speaking and use TED Talk stuff; short stories
2nd Qtr.: Literary analysis writing; a full-length novel
3rd Qtr.: Poetry unit; a full-length play; informational/explanatory writing
4th Qtr.: Logical fallacies; argument writing; SAT-style rhetoric deconstruction; another novel if you want or more small pieces, depending on what you think will work best for your kids/what’s available in the book room

Throughout the year, I’d sprinkle in relevant, high-interest non-fiction and occasional fun things like micro-fiction and thesaurus abuse. Also, really consider using the Quarter Trio system, which my kids LOVED this year, and if you’re feeling good in January and have a solid classroom community that’s earned your trust, you could even fold in 20Time to run for 10 or 12 weeks in the spring semester. That might, though, be a lot to manage in your first year with the upperclassmen and seniors can be a mess with poor attendance/lack of focus in the last quarter, so just follow your gut.

Also, some good news is you can double-dip curriculum this year, just know that you’ll definitely need to swap the senior-level materials in the following school year if you have any returning students. Otherwise, I’d enjoy a lower-prep year by using the same materials with the junior and senior classes this year, if that’s allowed.

Really, the fact that it’s only the beginning of July and you’re already putting all of this together speaks volumes about your professionalism and ability to do right by your kids. I hope this is helpful stuff! As the year unfolds, don’t hesitate to drop me a note, just to let me know how things are going or to get more specific advice about anything. I know I’ve rambled quite a bit here.

Okay, enough of the laptop. It’s time to go back outside and soak up some of that summertime sunshine!

Happy July,
🙂 Laura

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