When I went from high school to middle school teacher, I found out really quickly that there were quite a few classroom strategies I needed to rethink. It took me the whole year to perfect the craft of a pencil system, to create a bathroom pass that they hate, and to keep them engaged with social pressure. Here’s what I learned that I hope will help you too!
Hack #1: Throw it Back to the 90’s and Invest in a Fanny Pack
My must have classroom fashion accessory carried pencils, tardy slips, and the occasional confiscated student phone (“You’d better put that phone away or it’s going for a ride in my fanny pack!”) With the fanny pack, pencil trade became easy business. Need a pencil? I’ll take your school ID and put it in the pack. Then, I get my pencil back at the end of class when they realize they are ID-less (a major crime in middle school hallways) and I always know right where it is! Fanny Packs are super nerdy, but middle school is a gloriously awkward place for its inhabitants so it’s kinda fun to embrace the weird and jump on that train with them!
Hack #2: Make a Bathroom Pass They’ll Never Want to Use
The bathroom is a pretty popular place in middle school. Every period there were always various desperate dramatic pleas for a bathroom pass. In search of a pass that would deter students, I scoured Pinterest for ideas and even bought a set of punny passes on Teachers Pay Teachers, but nothing ever worked. Until…I had an idea! First, I found a giant outdated college textbook on my bookshelf (I’m talking a thousand pages of goodness). Then, I duct taped the heck out of it, so it could NOT be opened (no bathroom reading on my watch!). Finally, I taped a post-it with my name and room number to the cover. Ta-da! A free brick-like (but not weapon) bathroom pass they won’t want to carry across campus. This one simple hack reduced bathroom usage in my class by 1000% (*not real data—but a close estimation!).
Hack #3: Keep ‘em on Their Toes with the Popsicle Sticks App:
Equity sticks and formative assessment are nothing new, but hey, “there’s an app for that!”. The Popsicle Sticks app will rock your world because it can be programmed with all your student’s names in every period, randomly choose a student from a class list, and even track discussion points! I used to let a superstar student be the “picker” and they got to have my phone on their desk during the discussion and hit the “Random Name” button. I’d say that at $2.99, this app is an amazing purchase and well worth the money in return for some student engagement (and public speaking fear).
The three hacks above helped me solve some of my problems, but I saved my best classroom practice for last. Even worse than the above problems, my students came into my classroom like bulls in a china shop. Trash on the floor, cursing, hanging out the windows…had no one taught these kids manners? The answer was mostly, “no”. So, I created these manners advisory lessons. They help my students learn manners such as how to introduce themselves to others, how to respond in social situations politely, and of course how to act in my classroom. I made them the lessons funny and interactive and they are perfect for advisory lessons, back to school expectations, or times when you have 15 mins to spare.
I solved my very biggest classroom problem with a fanny pack. What hacks are you using in your classroom?
May your teacher heart be full and happy,