Are you overwhelmed? Excited? Terrified? Maybe you’re all of these things! It is my hope that after reading this blog post, you will feel prepared and confident to meet your new 5th graders!
This year, I am starting my twelfth year of teaching. For eight of those years, I have had the honor of being a 5th grade teacher. Seriously, 5th grade is the best and most fun grade to teach! Here are three insider tips about 5th graders to start us off:
- 5th graders are social creatures. To save your sanity, just accept this fact and use it to your advantage. Plan activities that require some amount of talking and interaction.
- If you don’t establish yourself as the authority in the classroom, they will take over. Teaching 5th grade is not for the faint of heart!
- 5th graders are genuine. They can see right through someone who is being insincere or “fake” with them.
Before School Starts:
- Set up your classroom to allow interaction and movement. You don’t want traffic jams when students are moving around because this will lead to unnecessary talking and noise. Do you notice how my desks are clustered for interaction but far enough apart to allow free movement? Another tip for you, place desks in such a way that no students have their backs to you. It’s ok if they are facing to the side, but you don’t want to teach in the front of the room and see students’ backs, that’s just asking for off-task behavior.
- Plan your first couple weeks of welcome activities and curriculum. If you teach social studies or science, these resources might help you: SOCIAL STUDIES or SCIENCE. Sit down with your standards or curriculum and plan the first few weeks of lessons and activities. You will feel so much more confident and prepared if you do this! The first three days of school, at a minimum, should be used to get to know students and build your classroom community. Find icebreakers and welcome activities that will be fun and interactive for students. These are the activities that I use in my classroom at the very beginning of the school year:
- Make a plan to teach procedures. I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase a million times, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” If you don’t set up your classroom procedures, your 5th graders will set them up for you! Sit down in your empty classroom with a notepad. Decide how you want students to enter your classroom in the morning. Think about what you want them to do when they need to sharpen their pencils. Is it ok for more than one student to be out of his/her seat at a time? How and where do you want your students to turn in their work? Think of your classroom days and how you want your classroom to run. I cannot stress enough to you how crucial it is to ESTABLISH your PROCEDURES!
The First Week of School:
- Stand at your door to greet students. This will help your students to know that you are interested in them and that you’re glad they came to school. You will also be able to catch that hallway behavior before it becomes a problem!
- TEACH your PROCEDURES! Don’t just tell the kids what your procedures are…Make them practice. For example, when I tell my students about morning procedure, I make them stand a group at a time, gather their backpacks, and stand in the hallway. I open the door and allow them to enter the room and practice morning procedure. The rest of the class watches and then claps for them when they get it right. For me, morning procedure is most important because it sets the tone for the entire day.
- Be consistent and firm! If you watched The Sound of Music 10,000 times as a child, like me, you may remember Maria singing her fear away as she travels to the Von Trapps’ home for the first time. In the song, she tells herself, “I will be FIRM but KIND.” Use this attitude with your 5th graders. Be kind and sincere but also be firm and consistent. Do you hear a student talking while you are giving instructions? Stop your instructions and give your class a reminder about listening while you are speaking. Did Jeff blow off the steps of your morning procedure on the third day of school? Call him on it! My rule of thumb is that students get away with NOTHING but perfect behavior the first month of school. Yes, it’s exhausting, but you will enjoy the rest of the year so much more if you’ve taken the time to consistently enforce procedures early on. Trust me!
Set the Tone for your Classroom! As a teacher who loves 5th graders and knows how to handle them, this comes naturally to me. However, it’s not easy for new teachers. I want you to take this phrase to heart: “You teach people how to treat you.” This is a big deal at the beginning of the school year. Maybe your students are coming from home backgrounds where disrespect is the norm. Maybe your students’ 4th grade teachers didn’t establish a standard of respect in their classrooms. It’s up to you, new 5th grade teacher, to set the tone in YOUR classroom. Here are my best tips:
- Speak to students with respect at all times. Leave the sarcasm at the door. (This is really hard for some of us but it’s worth it!) Yes, as a teacher, you deserve respect at all times. However, with a lot of kids, you have to give that respect first to get it in return.
- Maintain a professional relationship with your students’ parents. Whether it’s right or wrong, parents talk about you in front of their children. How their parents feel about you will have a lot to do with how students view you and feel about you.
- 5th graders are going to test you and try their limits. Don’t get frustrated or angry! It’s part of adolescence to find out how far they can push authority figures. One day, usually the second week of school, you’re going to have a student pipe up and give you some attitude or backtalk. A hush will fall over the classroom as students look from the offending student to you to find out how you’re going to handle the situation and to see if they can get away with it too. Put on your best poker face and stay calm! You can handle this! Let the student know, firmly, that you will only be spoken to with a respectful tone and with respectful words. My go-to phrase is, “I’m so sorry but I absolutely will not accept that tone of voice, attitude, etc. in my classroom. You will speak to me and your classmates with respect. If you have a problem with this, please see me privately after class.” Congratulations, teacher, you just sent a firm message without humiliating, belittling, or punishing your student! You can be sure that your other students noticed too!
Take Care of Yourself! It is so easy to get bogged down in school stuff those first few weeks. Take a step back and think about yourself for awhile. Go to the movies with family or friends. Take walks in the evenings. Don’t spend your evenings at school and definitely don’t spend all weekend working on your lesson plans or grading! This will lead to frustration and burn-out. My first couple years of teaching, I was staying at school nearly every night until 7 or 8 p.m. and taking home huge stacks of work every evening and on the weekends. This got old really quickly and I felt like I was no longer being an effective teacher because I was so stressed. My best advice is to do as much as you can during school hours (Yes, shut your door during planning time) and walk out the door as soon as your contract day is over. There will be times when you need to catch up and take things home but don’t make a habit of it. You deserve a break too!