PREPARING FOR THE FIRST DAY
We can all agree, ORGANIZATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS. The lesson here, for me, is that no matter how organized I may be, there's still a lot of anxiety I have to manage in the run up to the first day of class.
The best way to manage that anxiety, interestingly enough, is through ORGANIZATION. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are a disheveled mess, you are toast. Snap out of it. You must adopt (Fake It Til You Make It Rule) a Type A Personality when it comes to preparing for the classroom. Do what you want in your 'free time' (insert canned laughter), but you've got to be a laser beam in preparing for and executing your plans in the classroom. If you're a procrastinator, you're going to set yourself up for looking sometimes like you're lost. Your students will pick up on this and some will exploit it, seeing it as a weakness, which it is. Now you've lost some momentum in your lesson plan and you'll begin to lose the respect and control of the class. Everyone is depending on you to control the class and students make the collective excuse that they are too young to be held responsible for their classroom behavior, and they test your boundaries and tolerance for chaos. Then you become mean in your management style.
Not being organized in your approach to teaching leads to this and your efforts begin to suffer really fast.
Good news. It's all preventable simply by being organized.
Taking and adapting a proactive approach to being organized is going to save you headaches and fatigue going forward. 40 weeks is a long time. We've got to start strong and finish strong. Weekends and holidays are your time to recharge. You're going to need that time and you need to prioritize that time when it arrives because, not only is the best teaching an emotionally draining investment, you're working anywhere from 12-18 hour days. Up at 6:00 in the morning, work your fanny off until midnight, that's a typical day for almost any educator.
Start organizating for the next semester at least 6 weeks prior to that first day. If you're in this education business to change young people's lives and to inspire life-long learning in their hearts, then you're always going to be looking to bring excitement into the classroom. Your positive attitude sells it every time.
Amazing resources are truly at our fingertips and there's no excuse not to bring relevant real world experiences and the joy of treasure-hunting for clues, knowledge, analysis, and understanding.
Counting down now to the 7-10 days prior to Day One...
First, you should already know the classes and periods you're teaching, your daily class schedule, and have a school year calendar accessible.
The Importance of Names
Next, get your class lists, the names of the little darlings who'll be eagerly hanging on your every word (Insert canned laughter). In your paper and/or digital roll book, list students names alphabetically, last name, first. Spelling and proper name pronunciation of all your students is imperative. Ask your students to help you on the first day with the correct pronunciations of their names. Also, leave a space underneath each student's name to record their preferred name, perhaps a nickname or a shortened version of their birth name, when you call roll that first day.
Names are very important to our human identities and I don't know anyone without one. And, every student is wondering how long it's going to take before you know their name. Each child's preference needs to be recorded, remembered and respected. When you call roll the first day, you'll ask everyone at the same time to tell you if they have another name they prefer to be called. If they do, you'll record it and use it when addressing them. Until they change their minds. Yeah, they're like that. In middle school, the leopards change their spots. It's a time of big changes and your classroom has to be a safe place to experience those changes. Addressing the emotional brain as part of your intellectually stimulating program of learning will enrich your teaching and your students' learning experience.
There are a some of exceptions for some teachers regarding the name rule.
If you teach and coach physical education, a lot of students don't mind being addressed by their last names only. I remember that when I was in middle school and it felt good to be called by my last name in PE. Professional sports is like that with the names on the back of their jerseys. So, it felt good to be part of a 'team concept.' It helps if the teacher-coach-athletic department is consistent in their approach.
Consistency, next to organization, is another key to success.
Another exception is when you need to address a behavioral issue with a student after class. Then using Ms. or Mr. shows a sign of 'firm respect' and, at the same time, it also signals to the student that the teacher wants to address the issue privately. So, just before you dismiss class (you'll remind your students that you, the teacher, NOT THE BELL, is in charge of dismissal) you'll say "Before you leave, Mr. Smith, could I see you for a moment, please?"
Unless you've decided to address them as Ms. or Mr. and then their last name. My thought is, if you're going to do that, it makes better sense for high school students. Middle school students, in my opinion, are just bigger elementary school kids, and addressing them by their first name in most cases makes the most sense. But, really, it's fine. Again, consistency is the key.
GATHERING PROFILE INFORMATION
Looking inside each student's cumulative record folder will give you insights into their past educational experience. There's a lot of useful information to be found, to be sure, but it has to be viewed judiciously. The danger is prejudgement.
Based on their past performance, you NEVER want to prejudge a child's potential for succeeding in your class. You're going to be the one that lights the spark in your students. Past grades are past grades. These students have never had YOU as a teacher, so whatever has happened in grades leading up to this one, view carefully and don't prejudge. Also, talk with other teachers about your incoming students, especially if they've taught them before.
Find out what you can find out. Most importantly, understand that whatever the other teachers have said about your incoming students needs to be taken with a grain of salt. What I mean by that is, they've never had you as a teacher. What other teachers say about each student should NEVER prejudice you either for or against a student beforehand, before you've even had a chance to teach him or her. Students are very intuitive and can tell when a teacher is being genuine or whether or not they're simply going through the motions. All students seek a connection. They may be exhausted in a sense because few of their previous teachers have had the time to connect with them. Most all student-learners are reachable, I believe. There are some students, of course, that feel they've never had a good teacher, that school is for losers, nobody hears me anyway, the subjects are boring and unrelatable, the teachers suck. Never stop trying, of course, but there are students you're not going to reach. But I have a plan to help crack even the most ardent self-defeaters. This is where your knowledge of the importance of emotional intelligence comes into play. These children are the ones who are emotionally overwhelmed and shutdown at the same time, so much so that they've given up on themselves. They are our most challenging of course, but, as I mentioned, the first week will go far in setting the tone for academic and social achievement in your classroom. Hopefully, you will end up being their favorite teacher of all time because you cared enough to try. Children are generally resilient, and in a nurturing classroom environment they can thrive. Be the one who cracks their inner code. Addressing emotional intelligence in the classroom environment will go far to unlocking every student-leaner's potential.
THE FIRST DAY ARRIVES RULE NUMBER 1: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT
That's right. Never let the little darlings know how freaking nervous you might be that first day. Wear an undershirt or pit pads with deoderant that works under pressure. PROJECT confidence. Fake It Til You Make It.
This is especially true for new teachers or teachers in a new school. There is plenty of reason to freak out. Many teachers are torn between thoughts of 'I hope they like me', 'Please don't misbehave', 'Please let me have a good class' 'Please pay attention' 'Please don't fail', you know, things like that. I say, "Fuggedaboutit."
Compartmentalize those feelings of insecurity so you can put up a good front.
RULE NUMBER 2: ORGANIZATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
This rule is why you're not going to be sweating too much. The week or two prior to school's first day, you are an organizing machine. You've gotten your lists for each of your classes, you know your schedule, you know what content you'll be covering and the entire scope and sequence of units and activities for the year. You'll know the sequence, goals and objectives, quiz and test dates, projects and their due dates, and you'll be able to illucidate the entire course to your students, beginning that first day.
RULE NUMBER 3: TEACHERS, THIS IS YOUR CLASSROOM
Teachers, this is your classroom. Period. No student is going to be allowed at any time to hijack your classroom. As a matter of fact, one of the things you'll cover is this: Students are responsible to you and in helping to maintain the classroom environment. There are consequences for good as well as disruptive behavior.
One of the things I remind students of is this:
RULE NUMBER 4: NO STUDENT IS ALLOWED TO STEAL VALUABLE LEARNING TIME AWAY FROM THEIR PEERS.
Learning should be fun, but serious fun. Distractions, detours and derailments can be minimized by reinforcing this frame: That when a student is willfully disruptive in class, they are deliberately, purposefully, and willfully stealing valuable learning time from their peers. This thought, by its nature, empowers students to take responsibility for their learning community and that they have an important, unyielding stake in that.
This rule reinforces a pillar of leaning: We are all here together to share an amazing learning experience and we take our precious learning time seriously. No one is going to prevent me from learning and I, as a student, shall do my best to maintain that positive learning environment.
Student-learners want a structured, firm, and organized hand running the class. That's you. You're their leader, guiding them into areas of knowledge and insights previously unknown to them. To keep learning a positive adventure, framing disruptive behavior BEFORE it happens is a positive and proactive approach to minimizing or preventing the disruptions in the first place.
Setting the emotional and academic tone for this is imperative. In reality, all teachers do both anyway. I'm just advocating that it be a willful act with targeted objectives in mind, open not closed. It's a school-teaching-enhancement-survival skill, in my opinion, and I credit that approach to my successes.
Along with your obviously strong leadership, your class will take greater responsibility for maintaining and reinforcing a positive learning environment. Naturally, the little darlings are a collective work in progress. With the connections made, you and your students are going to have an amazing year of growth!