Teaching Regular Math Students – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Teaching math has given me so much joy and so much stress over my career. Out of my 35 years of experience, I would say 75% of the time I was teaching regular students. When I use the word “regular”, I’m referring to students not in a Pre-AP, accelerated or honors math class. I’m not going to lie… it has not been easy. If I had to describe to a new teacher my experience over the years, I think I would describe it as GOOD, BAD and UGLY!

Side Note: I’m a Clint Eastwood fan. I have a picture of him on my wall in my living room so I’d say I’m a pretty big fan. One of his most popular westerns, was The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. You can’t think about that film without hearing the music that plays constantly throughout it. If you’ve never watched the movie or heard the music, you should do it. Here’s the music. Play it softly while you are reading. You’ll enjoy it.

The Good: Of course the good part about teaching regular students are the students! The kids are mostly awesome. You get a turd (pardon me) in there every once in a while, but for the most part, the kids are awesome. If you will take the time to make connections and get to know them, you will find out how wonderful they can be.

How do you make connections? First of all, don’t be their best friend. You are the adult. It’s ok to listen to them tell you about their bad day, but it’s not ok to take them to Sonic and have a drink. Don’t be THAT teacher! Make connections by finding out about their hobbies. Ask questions about their past math experiences. Ask them how they learn best. Go watch their school football or volleyball games. It’s great for the students to see that you care about them, but be super smart about your actions.

Students that act out in class are not bad kids. If they talk too much, or sleep during class, there is a reason. Try to get to the bottom of the issue. You can remedy problems very quickly if you can get to the root cause. Ask them questions like:

  • “I notice that you sleep during class, do you have a job that keeps you up late?”
  • “How have you done in past math classes?”
  • “Do you get along with everyone in this class?”

The kids themselves are not the issue in regular classes. There is much more to this! Keep reading!

The Bad: One bad thing about teaching these classes will be the size of your class. The majority of students are in regular classes, so it makes sense that these classes will be bigger. That’s bad because how do you help these students individually? It’s tough, but one solution is to let them help each other as much as possible. I like to do lots of partner work and group work which can be good and bad. You have to train the students how to act. Give them specific directions on duties and protocols. Be consistent and it will get better. If you keep them in rows and stand and talk at the front of the room all day, they will not learn a thing. Trust me on this one. I’ve been THAT teacher.

One of my favorite things to do in groups is group tests/quizzes. The strategy is to get everyone engaged and learning from each other. To learn more about my group quiz strategy, go here.

Organization can be a booger too! Here are a few things to make your classes run smoothly:

  • DON’T grade everything.
  • Keep a seating chart at all times. This saves so many headaches! Students see you have an expectation of where they will sit. This shows them that you are organized.
  • Make use of a hall pass and keep a tardy log.
  • DO use every ounce of time in class to work. Free time is not good with this type of student…which leads me to the next paragraph…

Many of these types of students do not know how to self start, so you will need to guide them in this. Motivation levels in regular students are not always the best either. How do you teach them to be motivated and be a self starter? First of all, have procedures. Students need to know exactly what you expect when they walk in the door. Phones are put away and the spiral notebooks come out! Figure out what is best for your classroom. The motivation comes over time if students are not bored, see value in what they are learning and gain some confidence.

The Ugly: The ugliest part about teaching regular math students is the wide variety of abilities. This presents a huge challenge. Is differentiation the answer? You can differentiate all day long but when you have 170 students, 11 of them are SPED, several students are dyslexic, and 59 are ESL, then it gets ugly. How can I differentiate? Differentiation does not have to be create a brand new lesson that is specialized for each person. Here are some ideas to differentiate in a math class:

  • Reducing the number of problems by looking at a worksheet and deciding which ones are tougher and taking those off. Another way of reducing work and letting the student feel like they are playing a role is to tell them to do any 5 out of 10 problems.
  • Choose between a digital or paper and pencil.
  • Choose between preferred learning style…worksheet vs. kinesthetic.
  • Create their own problems and work them.
  • Record their explanation instead of writing it.
  • Let them redo the work many times until they understand. Don’t recreate the wheel… Boom Learning is perfect for this as well as Easel activities from TpT. (These links send you to my stores on both sites. The Easel activities can be created using any PDF. If you see something you would like for me to change into an Easel activity for you, just email me: lisa.hamiter@timefliesedu.com )
  • Working with a partner or a group.

I don’t want to sugar coat what it’s like to be a teacher of regular math students. It’s hard, but there are ways to make it work and make it better. I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to use to help make your teacher life more doable. Be positive and treat yourself with grace. This is a tough job, but it can be rewarding. If you have any questions, please email me. Have a great year!


10 Simple Teacher Tips For Less Stress at School

Over the years I have tried many things to make teaching a little less stressful. Some people thrive on chaos, but I don’t. I can’t think straight when my environment is chaotic. I like order (even though I’m not the most organized person). I want a system in place so that I can teach and not worry about other things. Here’s a list of things that I do to keep me sane. I hope you can get at least one idea that will help you!

Tip #1: KEEP ALL ANSWER KEYS IN ONE SPOT – Seems simple but I did not start doing this until several years ago. I was constantly searching for my answer keys. I now keep every answer key in the same folder in my top drawer. I empty the folder each 6 weeks. This was super helpful the years that I taught 3 subjects. I would still put all the answer keys from different subjects together because then I did not have to wonder where they were. I could go straight to my answer keys and not waste time on making a new one or searching for the one I already had. When a student is absent or I get a late paper, I know exactly where the answer key is and I can grade it quickly.

Tip #2: PREPARING FOR THE NEXT DAY – Do not leave school until you know exactly what you are doing the next day and you have all your copies made and you are ready to go. (Please don’t stay long hours after school doing this. Ideally, get it done during your planning. Decide on an activity and prepare it and be done! Dwelling on what to do will get you no where and will waste your precious home time.) Technically, you should have a broad plan for the year or at least a plan for a six weeks. I get it though. Sometimes you go into survival mode and you end up planning a day ahead or even the day of. I’ve been there and I still have those days occasionally. I feel so much better when I leave school knowing that I’m ready for the next day. I do not like the feeling of scrambling at the last minute. If you are prepared, then you can handle anything that comes your way…even those unexpected things that can happen. Try not to “wing it” very often.

Tip #3: KEEP AN INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOK – You know all of those papers you get at meetings? Put them all in one place. Every meeting that I go to, I tape in the papers that I receive at that meeting. If I don’t, it will go into a pile and I’ll never see the papers again. I’ve had administrators come to me to ask for something that they handed out to the teachers but couldn’t find it themselves. (Oy Vey)

Tip #4: KEEP CERTAIN THINGS IN VIEW – Tape your school bell schedule and school calendar in an easy to see place in your room. It’s for you and your students. Trust me, it makes life much easier if you don’t have to search for these items when you need them.

Tip #5: SEATING CHARTS ARE A MUST – Make a seating chart from day 1 and keep it handy! As you rearrange the room, be sure to keep your chart updated. Yes, students need a seating chart…EVEN IN HIGH SCHOOL. You don’t want to learn things the hard way on this one! I number my desks and that helps too! The more you can control what’s happening in your room, the better.

Tip #6: BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR – Exchange phone numbers with your fellow teachers that are on either side of you. If you are running late, you can get one of these teachers to help watch students until you get there. This has saved me on many occasions.

Also, think about how loud your classroom is. You do not want it to affect the classes around you. If you know you have a loud activity coming or you will be playing a video, warn your neighbors and see if they have a test planned or something you need to know.

Tip #7: “NO” > “YES” – Don’t be afraid to say no. As a matter of fact, say NO more than you say YES. You do not have to be on every committee. Don’t take on a task when you know you don’t have time! It gets easier to say no the more you do it.

Tip #8: DON’T GRADE EVERYTHING – Some items can be graded on completion. Have students hold up their paper and show you both sides. If they’ve done most of it, it’s a 100. If they haven’t, you can be the judge on what you want to do. You could give them a 50 until it’s done or whatever seems best for you and your class. I don’t take up many papers anymore. I don’t want to touch them for one thing. I have students tape them in their journal. I usually let them use their journal on quizzes or even tests. I want them to see the value in doing their work and keeping it. Everything is not about the grade, but it IS about the knowledge!

Tip #9: ROUTINES – Make sure you have a beginning of the class routine and an end of the class routine. At the start of class, students need to know they sit down and start the bell work. (Put phones away, get materials out and start.) Have a paper that they pull out or something on the board for them to do. With 5 minutes left at the end of class, have students clean up after themselves, put materials away and prepare to leave. If you don’t do this, your room will be a wreck. If you don’t want them to stand up until the bell rings, then let each row leave one at a time. I know this sounds elementary, but it doesn’t hurt especially if you have a rowdy group. I’ll say, “I’m letting the cleanest, straightest, quietest row go first. This works so well. If one kid is messing it up for his row, then I hold the one kid back.

Tip #10: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! – Do not hesitate to lock your door between classes and run to the restroom or to fill your water bottle. Make sure to keep snacks in your desk or extra money to get that caffeine fix when you need it. Put some Advil or Tylenol, Tums, gum, air freshener, hand sanitizer, deodorant, lip balm and a mirror in your desk. During your planning period, get the calming music going and try to relax for a few minutes before working. Don’t skip lunch. Try not to plan things during lunch. For some teachers, lunch is the only break all day! If this is you, then make sure you take time for yourself and get your mind off of school for a few minutes.

I hope you can take at least one tip and use it to your advantage. It’s important to make your school life more enjoyable. Teacher burnout is real. Set up systems ahead of time and keep a routine as well as you can. Some days will be chaotic no matter what, but the more you can think ahead for yourself, the better.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you have a need, then go see if you can find it in my store. If you can’t find it, email me. I probably have something that you can use. I’m just an email away: lisa.hamiter@timefliesedu.com

Small Group Quizzes in Math

I love small group quizzes for so many reasons! Its a win win situation. I cannot say enough about this type of strategy. I’ve done group quizzes for many years, but with the help of my peers, I’ve figured out the way that works best for me. I’ve also discovered that it will evolve the more you do it. You’ll get an idea to try something new or you’ll stop doing something else that’s not working the way you want.

What are group quizzes? Group quizzes are collaborative quizzes that give students a chance to deepen their learning through discussions. Imagine awesome engagement and conversations. Imagine all levels of abilities working together and activating growth. THAT’s what happens during a well constructed small group quiz.

I have 2 ways of doing these quizzes:

  1. Students are put into groups of 4. Each student will receive their own version of the quiz. Yes, this means you need at least 4 versions of the same quiz. Students work together through discussions to complete their own quiz. THE DISCUSSIONS ARE AMAZING! I do not allow students to grab each other’s papers and copy straight from them. That is a big no no…(so you do have to walk around a bit, but I can still get so much done while the kids are working together it’s not even funny.)
  2. Students are put into groups of  3, 4 or 5. All students in the group have the same quiz. Assign each student a letter or a number. They write that letter or number beside their name in INK!  The students work together to complete the quiz. (Again, they cannot grab someone’s paper and copy it.) At the end of the allotted time, the teacher will spin a spinner, roll some dice or use some sort of number or letter picker to decide whose paper will be the one graded for the group. The person that is selected will put their paper on top of the group pile with everyone else’s paper below. The quizzes are paperclipped and turned in. I usually grade the top paper only, but I’ll flip through the pile to make sure everyone was successful. I tell the students ahead of time what will happen at the end of the time. Throughout the quiz I give reminders to not allow anyone to sit and do nothing since their paper might be the one graded for the group. A little peer pressure is ok. I don’t allow anyone to be mean, but I’ve never found that to be the case. If I see that someone actually could hurt the group, then I’ll do something creative so that person doesn’t cause any issues.

If you’ve never tried a group quiz or think that your students are too rowdy for this, then think again. Try it! You will need to put some thought into your groups ahead of time. I like to make sure that I have some high abilities with some strugglers. I try to put some quiet people with the loud people. I never let them pick their own groups. I do not ever put all strugglers together or all high abilities together. I usually go by grades in the gradebook and then I think about who gets along. I use my name plates (we make these at the beginning of the year and it is mentioned in the post: 1st Week of Math Class Ideas) to put people in their groups. I will not let kids enter the room until I’ve place the names plates on the desks.

Hopefully, I have you motivated to try this strategy. If you need some quizzes to use, I have started creating some. I will be making more throughout the year, so please check often. Each set has 4 versions of the same quiz, so you can use either of my two strategies that I mention above. If you will follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, you will know when I upload new resources. They are always 50% off for 24 hours.

Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links in which I will get a commission if you decide to buy something using the link I provided.

1st Week of Math Class Ideas

You may wonder what should take place in a math classroom the first week of school. I’m sure you have visions of making everything perfect and you know how important it is to establish procedures and start the year on a good note. Since I’ve been doing this for a long time, I thought I would tell you what I usually do, so here goes!

Secondary Math – 1st Week of School

I recommend that new teachers follow a PowerPoint the first day and make sure you give your students all the important rules and procedures. Many teachers have read Harry Wong’s First Days of School. This book has many great thoughts and tips to prepare teachers for the first weeks of school. If you are more established, then you may not want to go over the PowerPoint all in one day and instead do bits and pieces of it throughout the week.

I like to give students an “About Me” page as bell work on the first day. This gives them something to do and it give me time to make sure all is well before I start.

With the “About Me” page, I will also give the students an index card. The index card gets folded in half long ways and students write their name on it. They set the name plate on their desk so that I can start learning names. I use these name plates throughout the year for various reasons.

I keep all name plates for each class on a clip as shown above.

The other thing I like to do during the first days in my math class are activities from YouCubed. The items I focus on are in the Week of Inspirational Math(s). I’ll give more specifics in my weekly plan.

I am on a block schedule and I see my students three times a week. I have Mon/Wed/ Friday classes and Tue/Thur/Friday classes. Classes are 90 minutes except on Friday they are about 45 minutes. Here is what a sample first week would look like in my math class.

  • Mon/Tue Classes – Bell Work (About Me Activity), Name Plate, First Day PowerPoint and Scavenger Hunt. The scavenger hunt helps students become familiar with the syllabus and our online platform. I use Canvas. I put the material needed on this platform and teach them how to find the syllabus, scavenger hunt and the online parent contact form. All are digital, so it’s nice not to take up any paper copies of things.
  • Wed/Thu Classes – Name Plates are handed out. Wrap up anything that was not finished from the previous class. Do the 4 4’s Activity from YouCubed. If time allows, I’ll start the Collatz conjecture (Oh Hail the Elephant.)
  • Friday – I like to finish the Collatz conjecture and then do one more activity or watch other videos from YouCubed. (Be sure to look through the Week of Inspirational Math(s). Another good one that I like to do is building shapes. You can see a demo in the first picture on this post where students are making shapes using string.) I remind students about the materials they need to bring to class on Monday so they can ask their parents to get them over the weekend. I also remind students to complete any paperwork over the weekend.

Take a look at my 1st Week of School for the Secondary Educator in my TpT Store.

I hope you got some good ideas from the lesson plan above. It’s nice to see what other people are doing. Ask your fellow teachers at your school what they do. Collaborate with your peers on other ideas. Most teachers do not start their curriculum until the 2nd or 3rd week of school these days.

Have a great year!

Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links in which I will get a commission if you decide to buy something using the link I provided.