A blog about teaching and learning in a maths classroom.

To a new teacher…

Tuesday, 18 January 2011 | 12 Comments

A quote:

Learning math is like learning to play the piano. First menial arithmetic and endless scales, but then Chopin and one’s imagination. @mathematicsprof

Having done both (learn maths and learn the piano) I love this quote. I hated scales when learning the piano. It wasn’t till I had got through my many years of formal piano lessons that I understood how fundamental learning scales was to everything I can do on the piano. As teachers of maths, we face that same kid, trying to convince them that what they are learning now will bring them greater understanding later.

It’s a tough job. As Dan Meyer says:

I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it. I mean, that’s kind of — it’s just a losing proposition. Math class needs a makeover.

The following is a fairly practical (I think) list of advice and questions that I would share with a new teacher. Please, share yours in the comments.

Rules / Expectations – whatever you want to call them

What are your 4-6 expectations for how everyone will operate in the classroom? You need to be consistent with these, so choose well.

Teaching essentials

There’s a lot said in tertiary teacher training, education journals and on the web about how you should teach. People telling you best practice are often no longer teachers (I have noticed that in just 5 years, what I have to do in the classroom has changed from when I started) and they might be talking from the experience at the end of their classroom career when their practice was at it’s peak.

Makes me sound cynical (which I am), but I’m not discouraging you from listening and considering a variety of opinions. Just make sure that you remember there are a lot of factors (often invisible) that contribute to your classroom and you are only in your first year. This is not an excuse for not endeavouring to be risky and innovative, however, hearing the success of others should also not be a source of guilt.

Your first year is about classroom and behaviour management, teaching is a part of that, but there are so many other elements (consistency, expectations, rapport, survival). My opinion for a first year, would be to have very structured lessons, explicit, teacher-centred. Whilst this goes against what you may think, the reality is you need your class with you to do any of those better things. It’s easier to gradually “relax” and move the focus to more creative learning later than to try and toughen up if you go in too soft.

I think this ten-level scale of “the working atmosphere in the classroom” is an excellent basis for reflection on how things are going.


How will you structure your (maths) lessons?

The tried and true maths model – quiz, notes, examples, exercises, check – would be frowned upon by “those in the know”, yet I suspect most maths teachers use it and use it successfully. To me, this is a core structure from which you can adapt and expand as you develop your skills. Nailing this simple structure will make you a competent teacher, excellence will come with experience, taking risks, learning for yourself and being innovative.

Don’t underestimate the power of ten quick questions at the start of the lesson. This simple technique gives me a stable start of the lesson every lesson.


How will you stay organised? Some teachers love their “Teacher’s Diary”. I dumped mine in my first year, found that it was getting clogged with all sorts of stuff and wasn’t really keeping me organised.

I am known as Mr Organised and other less polite names in my staffroom. I can find that piece of paper handed out in a staff meeting 2 years ago. I know what time the next bell rings. I am “Mr Organised” because being organised keeps me sane and in control in a hectic and often seemingly out of control profession.

Some things I do…

  • Keep a list of my lessons in Excel. Each lesson has a Topic, Title and Description – and I get Excel to make a “code” to identify that lesson. See Organising Lessons, 24 January 2013.
  • I have another Excel sheet in which I register all the lessons I am teaching. I can look at this at the start of the day to see what’s ahead, I use this to plan out usually a week ahead and from this I can print out my end of term registrations for my Head Teacher.
  • I have a calendar for School weeks and activities in my Google Calendar.
  • I rely heavily on Backpack (affiliate link) as my to-do list and place to keep notes and ideas. Updated: It’s hard to see but there is a tiny link for a “Free Plan” on the Plans and Pricing page.
  • I sync all my files from my computer to a USB Hard Drive so I have everything at school. I also take a USB stick for my electronic roll and lesson register.
  • I have small folders at school for each class in which I keep lesson plans (I cycle these out to/from home).
  • I have a set of clear document envelopes (specifically Marbig Clear Cases). A different colour for each class (when I have more than 5 classes, I share), enough for 2 weeks worth of lessons (we have a fortnightly timetable). As I get photocopying done, I put sheets into these and store on my staffroom desk. Start of the day, I can just pull out lesson plan folders and the envelopes for the day and head to my classroom.

(See… Mr Over Organised…)

Classroom Procedures

How do students enter and exit the classroom?
How will your desks be organised?
Will you use a seating plan?
How do you send them to the toilet?
Do they get laptops out straight away?


How will you track your classes? Maybe your school has a system for recording class attendance (mine doesn’t). What about homework, forgetting equipment, behaviour? I used to make a roll book, in 2010 I started doing the same thing but on a computer.

Lesson Plans

Are they necessary? Absolutely, if your supervisor is not insisting on them I would be writing them anyway. A lesson plan is a valuable future resource, a means for recording reflections and a basis for improving in the future.

Classroom Materials

Do the students at your school bring the correct equipment? Do you need a collection of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, paper? Hit the back-to-school sales.
I do pen bags in my classroom – a large zip lock bag with blue pen, red pen and ruler. Saves handing out individual items, improves returnability and makes it a little annoying to not bring the correct equipment – but most importantly, it allows students to get on with learning not borrowing pens.

Some handy things to have, even if your school won’t pay for them:

  • twist crayons $2 shops sell them, and they work fine
  • permanent black markers – good for outlining designs
  • liquid paper – unless you’re happy for the one kid who brings it to be sharing it around the room via air mail
  • canister pencil sharpeners – so they don’t have to stand over the bin
  • scrap paper for you to keep notes and leave a sign on the door when you move classrooms

Graph Paper – we don’t buy pads of graph paper, but photocopy as required. There are lots of sources on the web of graph paper, see MathsKit and I’ve made some here including lined paper.


For some reason, many teachers don’t share their resources. Not sure why. Personally, I would be giving a new teacher all my stuff and simply asking that as they develop and improve upon it to share it with me.

Taking on extra stuff

New teachers often get asked to take on extra things (sport, musical etc). Being enthusiastic, new teachers often jump at the opportunity… and thne later regret it. There’s a lot to do in your 1st year, like teach. In NSW it’s also necessary to complete accreditation which requires some time. Leave yourself space.

What have I missed?

What advice would you give to a new teacher? Maybe you’re a head teacher and have done this a few times and could share your wisdom. You might be a classroom teacher and wish you had been given some more insight before walking in to the classroom for the first time.

Are you a new teacher in 2011? Do you have any questions that you can’t get an answer to?

Posted in • AdminClassroom ManagementReflection | Short URL:


Nordin Zuber on  18 January 11  at  08:07 AM #
Thanks so much for this posting - and very timely! Also gives me a little confidence knowing I've dealt with many of these topics in my planning - and been warned severely about not 'over-volunteering' in my first year - I got a bit carried away on my internship 😊 A few very practical questions: * So do you have one Marbig clear plastic envelopes per lesson for the two week period? ie: so around 40 folders? * Would it be feasible to ask something in return from students who need to use your pen bags? I was thinking they pay it back by helping with some simple class chore later in the term. * Do you have a huge stash of pre-printed lesson plans at home? Or just electronic copies? I got the impression you put printed copies in your Marbig plastic envelopes. * Curious how detailed your lesson plans are now - do you try to keep to one page? Mind putting a sample lesson plan on the blog to see? Thanks again for this!


Simon Job on  19 January 11  at  12:13 AM #
To answer: * Yes, 40 folders. One for each lesson in the fortnight. The distribution across classes at my school is uneven, i.e. Yr 8 has more lessons in a fortnight than Yr 7. These envelopes are for worksheets etc. * Maybe. At times it would be unpractical. Currently pen bags are as good as it gets. * My lesson plans are electronic. But, printed copies and associated resources (e.g. worksheets) are kept in ring binders for each course/year. These bigger ring binders live at home, and I take a topic at a time (or whatever I plan ahead) into school for the smaller ring binders I take with me to class. Below is a lesson plan and associated resources for a Yr 7 lesson reviewing subtraction. "Lesson Plan": "Worksheet": and "Answers": "Game": On my computer I have a Lesson Plans folder: [img][/img] And a resources/worksheets folder: [img][/img]


Simon Job on  19 January 11  at  12:20 AM #
Oh, and Mr _Over_ Organised gives each lesson plan a code. In the example above it's *7_number-operations_02_subtraction* Here is how I create them in Excel: [url=][/url]
Nordin Zuber on  19 January 11  at  12:32 AM #
Wow - thanks again. I really don't think you can be over organised - school is just too chaotic. And especially overwhelming when you are new!
Malyn on  19 January 11  at  11:19 AM #
Mr Over Organised scares me. Seriously, this is a fantastic post to help new teachers. Not that you've missed these but these are handy tips: - Be kind to yourself. - Be true to yourself. Find your own voice and style - and that may mean experimenting a little. - Ask questions. - Build a PLN - use Twitter. - Blog - reflect and learn. Blog excerpts can also be used as evidence in NSWIT accreditation cheers, Malyn


Simon Job on  19 January 11  at  12:44 PM #
Thanks for your additions Malyn.
Karen on  21 January 11  at  12:46 AM #
Although not a new teacher, I will be teaching a year 7 bottom class for both English (usual subject) and Maths (no experience, except as an accountant for 25 yrs). I have been told not to expect to be able to cover everything due to their low ability, however being inexperienced in Maths teaching I am wondering how to determine what content is essential. Any suggestions gratefully accepted.


Simon Job on  21 January 11  at  11:19 AM #
Karen, In Year 7 schools will cover different things, whilst the aim is to complete Stage 4 by the end of Yr 8, how you get there is up to your school. So, some schools would cover Stg 3 again in Yr 7, others will only touch Stage 4. Do you have access to a Yr 7 program? If you could share the topics for the year, I could make some suggestions where I'd be getting up to? With a low ability Year 7 class, your friend is going to be maths games and lots of hands on activities. Maths Games: * "20 Best Math Games and Puzzles": * "MathSphere": I've emailed you, feel free to discuss further.
Belinda on  06 January 15  at  02:46 AM #
As a new NSW teacher (Science) last year I was given the additional roll of Year advisor and told it went with job. It nearly killed me but I did it and survived. You're right about the nativity of new teachers. Got another year's work out of it though (mostly bottom classes). Teaching Maths (not qualified) and Science to same low ability Year 7 class. I've been given a Maths program but no idea how to deliver it. Thanks for the puzzles/games links and your digital organisation strategy looks great, wish I saw it last year.


Simon Job on  06 January 15  at  03:05 AM #
It is little wonder that there is a high attrition rate. That sort of thing should just not happen. There are lots of teaching ideas on this blog, also from the navigation at the top, check out links for lots of online resources, faculty for some ready-made resources and starters for, well, starters.
Deb Hogg on  06 January 15  at  07:34 AM #
Oh man! Year advisor as a brand new teacher? Sheesh! That is wrong on so many levels! I don't mean to imply disrespect for what new teachers bring to the job, but the Year Advisor role requires deep knowledge of how schools are administered e.g. how reports are written within policy, how subjects are timetabled within curriculum frameworks etc etc. To be completely frank, if I was a parent in the school then I'd be expecting an explanation for why a brand new teacher was expected to fill this role... what are the more experienced staff doing around the place? Unbelievable! Best wishes for 2015! Game on! Cheers, Deb @debhoggoz
Gayle on  06 January 15  at  10:14 AM #
Simon, thanks for the great blog. I love how organised you are. This is my goal for 2015, New school- new habits, Gayle

Post a comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

New  Subscribe to the …

email newsletter

Get updates…

Twitter   Facebook   Pinterest


Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
MathsClass is about teaching and learning in a maths classroom. more→


by date

by category


updates via @mathslinks

Recently read/found.

View All | RSS