We aren’t their supervisors but we are the leader of the classroom. Instructional Assistants (sometimes referred to as IAs or Paras) can at first seem like just another thing to manage. But if I do a little work up front, these educators can help me capitalize on the little time I have with students. Most IAs welcome the direction and are happy to have a clear purpose in the classroom.
Here’s what I do:
1. Brainstorm ways I think my IA can help me or my students. Before doing this step, it is important to talk to the special ed, ELL or other department leader who assigned the IA to my class. A lot of clarity and direction can come from one conversation with this leader on the intention of the IA placement.
2. Schedule a meeting with my IA.
3. Create a document for my IA detailing their roles and responsibilities. I place mine on a clipboard in an easy location for the IA to grab.
4. Schedule regular check-ins with my IAs and put these on my calendar.
Want examples of what some of this might look like? IA and Para Management
Teaching is a never ending to-do list. I know that it is impossible to get everything done. There are days where I just need more time. But when I can’t have more time, I need to decide what is the most important.
A super smart teacher I know revolutionized my thinking around lists. 5 total. No more. The limit to 5 forces me to prioritize. 5 is manageable. When my day ends so does my to-do list. ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️
The essays were due back in October. It is now December in my first year of teaching. Report cards already went home. Yet, the towering pile remains. I haven’t read a single one, and there are more recent assignments that need my attention. What do I do with these forgotten essays that make me feel like a bad teacher while collecting dust on my desk?
I walk down the hall to confess my negligence to a wise veteran teacher. She listens well; recognizing my dilemma and affirming my feelings. Then she says, “Recycle them all. They’re too old to be relevant. You’ll feel better.”
Sometimes I need to be OK with the fact that I didn’t finish something I started. Sometimes I just need to recycle them all and start fresh.
If we only talk about problems, life gets depressing real quick. I am in this profession because I find it rewarding, funny, uplifting, and challenging. I try to disengage with the chatter that involves blaming the principal, the vice principal, the district, Common Core, parents, the system. Talk like this wastes my time. The autonomy I have in my classroom day in and day out is overwhelmingly powerful. Change and opportunity are at my fingertips. If I can see the sky as limitless instead of falling down, I am a happier teacher and my students benefit.
I have been fortunate to be a member of productive PLCs with thoughtful people. PLC meetings make me a better teacher if we are doing these three things:
- We agree on an agenda at least 2 full days before the meeting.
- Our agenda focuses on student work or student behavior.
- We all come prepared and leave with an action item.
I didn’t figure out how to efficiently contact home until year 4. I integrate phone calls into my classroom management plan. If students are seen behaving in an expected or leader-like way, I acknowledge them in front of the class and tell them I will be calling home to say how awesome they are. I keep a simple log: name, date, who I talked to or if I left a message, and a plus sign to symbolize that I called for a positive reason. My original thoughts about calls home were that they were too time-consuming. But 2-3 calls can be achieved in 5-10 minutes. I really do try to keep them as short as possible. The purpose is to quickly praise their student. If a phone number I have doesn’t work, I try email or send home a hand-written note. I love ending my day thinking about how awesome kids are.
The first time I got an email from a parent with a pointed concern, my internal temperature rose and I immediately got defensive. I spent well over an hour crafting the perfect email back.What a waste of time! I never even sent that email. Eventually I developed this template for all parent emails, and it has proved the ultimate time saver. parent-email-template
(Insert student name) is (describe positive characteristics you’ve noticed about their student). He/She is a wonderful addition to our classroom community.
(Address concern, question, or other comment here in 2-5 sentences – keep it brief!)
(Insert student name) is lucky to have a parent that cares about him/her and his/her education.
Thank you for your support,
Back-to-school night has the tendency to cause lots of stress. Here are some ideas that help me feel prepared:
- Put your students to work. I turn on some music at the end of each period and have them help me tidy up or organize. I also ask for volunteers to help me with some organizing/set up after school (I bribe them with the sweet promise of a sucker).
- Have some 3X5 note cards available. On one side, parents write a strength they see in their student and on the other side they write an opportunity for more learning, a question, a hope, etc.
- Prepare a presentation. I include the following in mine:
- Who I am, where I come from/my background, and why I teach
- What students will know by the end of the year (it’s OK if this is vague)
- Communication, tech, grading, and homework information
- Directions for note cards with an example for clarification