11 Helpful Tips for Taking Over for Another Teacher Midyear
Have you ever been in this situation?
You’re excited about your new teaching position. You arrive midyear to take over for another middle or high school teacher. Level two, three, and four students are missing foundational vocabulary and language.
We don’t understand you! Speak English!
What’s a conjugation? What’s a verb? What’s an infinitive?
And the student behavior is appalling.
Why does the teacher keep talking? She’s interrupting our social time.
Not the ideal situation, right? Not having your own classes from the start of the school year is enough to discourage one from a teaching career.
TIPS FOR TAKING OVER A CLASSROOM MIDYEAR
The above scenario happened to me so I thought others could benefit from my experience. In this blog post I’ll discuss the challenges of taking over for another teacher midyear, what I did, and a few things I realize I should have done.
FOR ALL LEVELS
1. KEEP STANDARDS HIGH AND DON’T BUDGE.
Both times I replaced another teacher midyear, I was plopped right into the middle of a group of students whose inappropriate behavior made teaching difficult. I had to establish my rules and procedures as if it were the beginning of the school year. I had to start over.
Of course, there was significant pushback. Students were used to talking freely, getting out of their seats, enjoying their social time. And I wasn’t going to ruin it for them.
I treat student resistance to standards the same way I treat the “No English after the prescribed time” rule. I stand my ground.
This is the standard. This is the consequence. This is the standard. This is the consequence.
Patience is required.
In a start-from-day-one classroom, it takes about three exhausting weeks before students conform, realize you mean business, and a smooth run-by-itself classroom emerges.
In this situation, it can take one or two months. But students eventually come around. Don’t buckle. Because you can’t teach if students aren’t listening. And they will not be listening if you haven’t established a good learning environment.
HERE ARE MY CLASSROOM RULES:
- Treat everyone with respect.
- Raise your hand to speak.
- Enter the classroom quietly.
- Be in seat during all exercises.
- Attend class every day.
- Remain in class unless given permission to leave. Four bathroom passes will be given per term. Therefore, they should only be used for emergencies. Any unused pass is worth four points on the final. Please alert teacher of any medical exceptions by writing a note for your student.
- Do not eat or drink anything during class including gum
- Have materials in class to participate in class.
- Do not use devices during class including cell phones unless given permission for the purpose of instruction or for certain activities pertaining to the lesson.
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY PROCEDURES:
- Students put homework in homework basket upon entering.
- Students put cell phone in cell pouch upon entering.
- Student helpers hand out and return papers, write the date, erase the board, hand out points/tickets.
- Students paste in the interactive notebook pages during bell work.
2. ESTABLISH A SYSTEM OF CONSEQUENCES AND REWARDS
Rules are meaningless unless they are enforced. EVERY. TIME. Students will test you to see if you mean it. If your rule says, “Raise your hand before speaking,” but you allow students to ask or answer questions without raising their hands, that is not your rule. That is just something you’ve written on your poster.
“You didn’t raise your hand. Warning.”
“You didn’t raise your hand again. Detention.”
Students will act like you’re the bad teacher. You are not supposed to be their good friend. Ignore the protests. Hold your ground.
A great way to establish a good classroom atmosphere and promote positive behaviors is to consistently reward those behaviors. I gave points for student participation and PAT time (Fred Jones Tools for Teaching Strategy)
3. COMMUNICATE WITH PARENTS.
This is what I SHOULD HAVE DONE but didn’t. It’s always a good idea to get parents on your side right from the beginning (BEFORE students and admin complain).
I should have sent home a letter to parents. This is what I would have included:
- Some personal information about myself, my education and qualifications for teaching this class
- My philosophy of teaching (I would use this link, for example, to explain the need for comprehensible input)
- Research-based evidence to explain my philosophy and why and how I use comprehensible input
- Challenges students may initially face with the new approach (Being proactive preempts teacher blaming for student failures.)
- My contact information
Once, when I replaced a teacher midyear, I had a HUGE furniture challenge. There was actually a low WALL separating the teacher’s desk from the students’ desks. There were other barriers as well over which I had no control. I felt like I had to teach with my hands tied behind my back.
One of the best ways to prepare to transition into a new class at a new school is to set up your classroom for an optimum learning environment. I try to arrange furniture for optimum student engagement and for maximum teacher-student proximity. I don’t want the furniture to be a barrier between my students and me. I also want to be able to reach every student as rapidly as possible. “Working the crowd,” is one of my favorite classroom management strategies. Nonverbal communication is key for effective classroom management.
The first thing I would do when taking over a classroom midyear is to arrange the classroom for optimum learning and classroom management. If you would like more information on how to set up your classroom, click on the following link: How to Set Up Your Classroom for World Language Success.
5. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
You are going to be the bad guy right off the bat if your classroom management style is stricter than that of the former teacher. A way to thaw the ice and get students on your side is to work on building relationships.
I made a conscious effort to build a personal connection with students by giving them a survey so I could get to know them. Here is the survey: INTEREST INVENTORY
I put it in a binder and checked it from time to time so I could incorporate students’ interests into my lesson plans or ask questions based on their interests. Unfortunately, I rarely had time to check it.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE DONE
I recommend having students answer digitally and putting the answers on your desktop for quick access.
6. BUILD CLASS COMMUNITY
I have found that consistently employed classroom management policies foster a good learning environment, which allows me the freedom to assign engaging, fun classroom activities. I love to put students in pairs and groups during competitions. I usually divide the class in half so that Team A and Team B work cooperatively to win. As they help each other, they develop feelings of belonging and, because they are having fun, they view the class, and the new teacher, in a more positive manner.
My go-to team competition is assigning a number to each student, asking the question or saying the prompt, waiting, then calling on a number. The students with that number stand and answer the question orally or in writing and the first one to answer correctly wins the point.
I also do entire team competitions in which everyone in the team must act at the same time. For example, I will give a command. The team in which all students obey first wins the point.
I often use white boards for team competitions, but I also use them for paired games. I will say or write the question or prompt, and students will answer. They keep track of who gets the most points.
TAKING OVER A CLASSROOM WHEN TEACHING LEVELS TWO, THREE, AND ABOVE
1. I GAVE A DIAGNOSTIC TEST:
Before I could teach, I needed to identify the proficiency levels of my students. It would be a mistake to assume students are at a particular level. For example, if I began teaching 90-100% in the target language, but students didn’t understand most of what I was saying, they would mutiny and I would never establish the necessary rapport with the class to create an optimal learning environment.
Once I determined what students need to learn, I began writing a list of learning targets and a rudimentary outline for future lesson plans.
2. SET STUDENTS UP WITH TUTORS
Since I couldn’t reteach the previous level material, I had to find a way to support students who would not succeed without intervention. I identified students who achieved below a C on the diagnostic test. I paired them with a tutor to improve their proficiency.
WHERE DO I FIND TUTORS?
I solicited tutors from my advanced-level classes. I only accepted A students. I offered the current minimum wage (which parents pay). I trained the tutors by modeling how to work with the students using the target language and the relevant questions and vocabulary. For more details on this process, read “The Challenges of Teaching Spanish Two.”
3. CALL PARENTS
It is imperative to get parents on the same page. Parents need to know immediately that students need help to succeed in the class (particularly since they will be paying for that help.) If I wait until students are failing to communicate with the parent, it is too late, and I am likely to be blamed. If parents know, from the beginning, that their child performed poorly on a diagnostic test he/she should have easily passed in the previous level class, and is missing basic skills, they will join forces with you to help their child succeed.
Once I identified the concepts that needed to be reviewed, I reviewed for A MONTH! I taught on the block schedule. On the regular schedule, that is a month and a half of review. That may seem like a lot, but it’s necessary for student success. It’s not about what we’re teaching; It’s about what they’re learning. If they are hearing L+100, their minds will not acquire the language. The mind can only acquire L+1, i.e., only slightly more than they already know.
I almost always reviewed the same material as students tend to be weak in the same areas.
5. IDENTIFY CONCEPTS YOU CAN SKIP
I’m almost always forced to pare down items from my learning targets.
“Hmmm. I guess students will live if they don’t learn the sports vocabulary. Most of the words are cognates anyway.”
You’d think I was cutting off my arm. NOOOO! But it must be done.
I looked at the learning targets for the current level and those that would be taught the following year. If I didn’t have time, I omitted a concept that would be repeated in the next level. And students survived. And most became proficient.
I hope these tips will be useful to you if you find yourself in the position of taking over for another teacher midyear.
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