High Five the First Days is a series of blog posts aimed at new teachers, or teachers just looking for ideas or reminders. The purpose is to help in the establishment of a solid foundation on which you can build an awesome school year. This is by no means a definitive list. The best way to fully prepare for the year ahead is read as much as possible, open your mind, commit to the idea of change, and to proactively seek out experienced colleagues willing to share their best practices. Hopefully, the ideas below will be one of the steps on your road to awesomeness! Hi 5!
The school year is long. And, to avoid problems later in the year, take the time – especially in the first few days of the year – to establish your classroom routines, procedures and expectations.
Some teachers feel like content is king and are reluctant to sacrifice much class time for establishing class expectations and procedures. I totally disagree. I have always felt that if you don’t take the time to establish your expectations, students will happily establish them for you. Remember: fixing problems always take more time and energy than starting with a good foundation from the beginning.
Anyhow, here are some things I share with students in the first few days of school:
Bathroom procedures – have a procedure ready to roll. I prefer that students ask to go with as little interruption as possible. There is nothing more frustrating than having a great class discussion going and then a student raises their hand to ask to go to the bathroom. Major sidetrack! But, that’s just me. Whatever you expect, work it out in advance and communicate it clearly to students.
How to ask a question during class – I prefer students raise their hands when they have a question. Blurting out questions, at least for me, can be disruptive. Again, think about what you want and then share it with your students.
Acceptable ways to interact with peers – I HATE it when students laugh/make fun of their peers. Nothing kills participation faster than fear of laughter/abuse. I make sure, from day one, that all students feel safe in my room.
Tardiness – I HATE tardiness. It’s like telling me that my class doesn’t matter. So, to combat tardiness, I ensure that I begin all of my classes with a graded (and silent) activity. This communicates that we get to business right away, and that if you are late, you miss out on some handy review and (somewhat) easy grades.
Going to the nurse – does your school have a nurse? We do and trips to the nurse’s office can sometimes be abused. Students can use the privilege to avoid tests/assessment or simply to meet up with friends. I believe that a teacher cannot realistically stand in the way of a student who says they require medical attention. However, if something is serious enough to warrant a nurse visit, it is possibly serious enough to mean calling your parents and going home. Anyhow, I insist that students return their nurse passes to me upon return from the nurse office. I can then share them with my colleagues (to spot frequent nurse visitors) or review them to spot any patterns of concern.
How to submit work – if there is a lack of clarity about how work is to be submitted, you can bet that some students will use that uncertainty as an excuse for late work.
What happens when you can’t submit work on time? – sometimes, despite the best of intentions, students might not be able to submit work on time. Assure students that there is no need to fret, that you are reasonable and alternatives can be arranged. It’s important to let students know that you have firm expectations, but you are realistic as well.
How class begins and how it ends – when I discuss this with students, I always accompany the talk with a projected image of a stampeding herd of elephants. This may be just me talking here, but I hate when students burst into my room and I do not allow them to charge out of the room at the sound of the bell. I take time on day one to help students understand that, bell or no bell, I control the start and end times of our class.
Your teaching/life philosophy – I work in an overseas international school where the majority of the students are culturally very different from me. I find it necessary to help students understand where I am coming from – that my quirks are grounded in generations of geographic and cultural influences. I am not a random!
Course outline – I don’t spend too much time on this. Mostly I give students a brief outline and then show them where to go online (my class Moodle page) to find more details.
Seating plan – I create the seating plan to suit learning needs, not student social needs. I find it necessary to remind students why they are sitting where they are and when/how changes will occur. This should (but no guarantees!) curtail the regular requests for seat changes.
How to behave for a guest – this may come across as a little obvious, but I like to remind students that I expect them to behave the same way for a guest (substitute teacher, guest speaker, etc.) as they would for me. Having a guest is not a vacation.
How we travel as a group to another location (library, etc.) – this may seem a bit over-the-top, but it doesn’t hurt to let your students know what is acceptable and unacceptable when we travel through the hallways as a group. Peeking into other classes is a no-no, as is banging on doors or being disruptive. I like my students to know that, for me, the expectations inside the classroom are the same as those when we are outside the classroom.
Some may think that this list is too long, that it is a little too micro-managementy. Well, if you don’t lead on these kind of issues, the students sure will. And you may not like where they go!
And, make sure you have worked out all the details in advance. Don’t make up your rules/expectations on the fly. Students are sharp and can pick up any uncertainty and will certainly take steps to help you change your mind and/or whine incessantly until you cave. Be clear and be firm on day one and you will have less to worry about on day two.