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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Brittanie Brown
Brittanie Brown
7 years ago

This is really helpful! This will be my first year teaching 10th and 12th graders (when I’ve only done Student Teaching and Practicum with middle school students). Any advice for a 22 year old teaching seniors (when I look their age)?

7 years ago

Good luck, Sarah! Laura’s products are top notch and she’s given you good guidance about how to proceed. Just keep swimming! ?

Sarah Abent
Sarah Abent
7 years ago

Laura, you are just so awesome. When I emailed you about my struggles with 20Time, you got back to me right away and gave me enough valuable information to make me feel confident in my decisions for my students with this project.

I want to publicly thank you for doing so much for us newbies (and veterans, I’m sure). I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m the only English teacher at my school. I’m going into my third year, and while I’m oodles more comfortable with my role, I still struggle with content-related issues I cannot talk about with my team, as they don’t understand how difficult it can be to teach something like Gatsby to 17 year olds with second grade reading levels.

That’s where you come in. I’ve dubbed you my Superstar Mentor because I go to you for advice more than any other teacher (because I generally don’t have anyone else!) and man, you always come through for me. We’ve communicated a handful of times, and whenever you respond, I feel like I’m interacting with a celebrity. Dorky, but true.

I cannot thank you enough. You. are. a rockstar.

7 years ago

Thanks for always giving such great advice, Laura! I definitely agree about the low-hanging fruit: keep it simple and don’t make the lessons too complicated until you are able to catch your breath and get to know your students.

Good luck, Sarah, with your new classes. Have a great summer!

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Hi Brittanie,
Thanks for checking in with me! I think much of the same holds true for your new assignment. To command respect among a group of students when you don’t look that much beyond high school yourself, I suggest you dress just a bit more professionally than the other teachers in your hallway. It’s amazing how a blazer can make you feel more grown-up and that confidence certainly transmits to your audience in lots of unspoken ways. Also, you’ll want to have a solid classroom management plan in place before the year begins and don’t let the little stuff slide. You might want to try this approach with the early outlier kid who grabs your negative attention:

By the third month of school, you should be able to relax the reins a bit, but this first quarter will set the tone for the whole year. The kids will test you, so be ready and keep your sense of humor. I think it’s a good idea to acknowledge the elephant in room – yes, this is your first class and, yes, you look youthful. Follow that up with the fact that you’re a highly trained educator who graduated from ABC university and who is a wealth of resources for those seniors because you’ve walked their college application path so recently. Instant credibility!

No matter what happens, I can guarantee that this year is going to a wild, exhausting ride. Enjoy it!

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Hi MrsTurnerBlog,
Thanks for giving Sarah a boost. We’re all in this together!
🙂 Laura

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Thanks, Sarah! I LOVE talkin’ shop and am so happy to know that our chats are useful. I had a handful of wonderful mentors in my early years who helped keep me afloat and the blog feels like I’m paying all of that goodness forward.

Also while I love the idea of teachers being thought of as rock stars, I’m really just your colleague just down the digital hallway. Here when you need me.

Hope you’re having a fun, restful summer,

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago

Absolutely, Michelle! “Keep it simple, Sarah.” That should be her mantra this year. Thanks, as always, for commenting! 🙂

7 years ago

Wow! This is good stuff! I am teaching 8th grade Language Arts this school year 2016-2017 and wanted to know if you had any pointers for me. This will be my first year and I am extremely nervous!

Laura Randazzo
7 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

Welcome to the other side of the desk, Crystal! Glad to have you here. First, the fact that you’re nervous is actually a good sign – it shows that you care a lot about this job. Even after all these years, I still feel nervous right before school starts, and it’s not a proper August if I don’t have one or two chaos-in-the-classroom nightmares that wake me at 3 a.m. I’m right there with you. 🙂

As for advice, I’d say you should definitely work through the video series that Sarah mentioned at the top of her note. Keep your sense of humor when challenges pop up (and, yes, they will definitely arrive, usually at the worst possible moment) and don’t hesitate to let me know if specific questions arise as you start rolling through your year. The blog community is here when you need us.

Have a great 16-17!

Timi Meyer
Timi Meyer
7 years ago

Hello Laura,
I have used some of your TpT products in the past but just tonight I found your website/blog!! I teach at a residential facility which encompasses 7 through 12th grade and all of the major subjects. Most of my kiddos are so far behind it is hard to actually teach to their grade level. I usually gear my lessons around the 10th grade level and move up and down from there. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us and at a very reasonable rate!


Laura Randazzo
7 years ago
Reply to  Timi Meyer

Thanks for checking in with me. I’m so glad you found the blog! With so many kids and so many different levels/needs, I imagine you’re just about wrung dry. I’m hopeful you’ll be able to find lots of little seeds of inspiration as you work through the blog posts. Keep that chin up! 🙂

Lacie Koford
Lacie Koford
5 years ago

I’m also a second year teacher this year teaching mostly 8th grade ELA, with one 7th grade honors ELA class. I’m feeling so nervous this year, more so than my first year! Maybe because I know more of what to expect?! I struggle so much with classroom management and getting kids attention when I need it. I don’t naturally have a very strict, aggressive nature, so when I hear ” be tough at the beginning of the year and relax a little by Christmas to gain kids respect and cooperation” I have a hard time picturing myself being tough and wonder if and how I can do that?

I’d love to watch the video series that Sarah refers to, can you direct me to what that’s called and where to find it?

Lastly, I just bought your bell ringers for the year and just gave my first mug shots today. I’m wondering if you have made a video or an explanation that tells us how exactly you introduce these lessons daily and what you say, like what does that 10 minute bell ringer time actually look like start to finish? Specifically I’m concerned I’m not sure how to present the lit terms Tuesday and vocabulary stuff the way it was intended to be presented? Any advice would be much appreciated in any and all of the areas I’ve addressed! Thanks for being a legit go-to for help!

Laura Randazzo
5 years ago
Reply to  Lacie Koford

Hi Lacie,
Happy to help. Those new year jitters are incredibly common, so please know that you’re not alone. The classroom management series is located here:

Thanks, too, for your purchase of the bell-ringers. Starting each class with a specific routine is a great way to thwart some of the nonsense that sometimes occurs while kids settle in because we’re working from before the ring of the tardy bell. Finally, here’s a model of the MUG shot in action:

Hope these tools are helpful! 🙂

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