The first week of school has come and gone, and here I find myself in a daze. I thought I was ready, but now I see just how unprepared I was. Six years in college teaching programs, and I realize just how much they never really taught us…
1) How do you start the first week of school?
Most of my practicum observations and student teaching took place mid-year in January. I was placed right in the middle of the hub-bub, but now I realize it was a disservice because I was unable to see how experienced teachers introduce classroom expectations, lay out rules and consequences, and establish a classroom community. At my school, we staff members were asked to hold off on teaching until next week and work on building relationships.
I distributed a one-page two-sided student information survey, a class syllabus, and lined up several activities such as the Identity Bag (paper brown bag with words, pictures, and 3 items that describe me), Biography Bingo, NASA Survival on the Moon challenge, and Mystery photos. My goal was to see individual and group dynamics, and assess students’ observation skills for segueing into lessons about observations and inferences for the first unit. Some of these activities worked, but for the most part, students were overwhelmed with the amount of writing and bored with the activities.
If I could do it over again, I would start right away on the first day with a discrepant event demonstration to grab students’ attention. I would also not wait until the second week to distribute textbooks and set up interactive notebooks, so I can be ready to start lessons right away.
2) How do you establish classroom management?
I introduced three expectations in the class syllabus, because methods class told me I shouldn’t overwhelm students with too many rules. The staff agreed on five common classroom procedures such as warm-up tasks, focus questions, agenda lists, and homework on the board. We also agreed on the “Give Me 5” method to get students’ attention quickly.
I have found that not all classes respond to “Give Me 5”. Students just kept right on talking! I’ve tried proximity, giving them points (part of a school-wide merit/demerit program), stopping instruction and waiting for them (big no-no!), and also asking them for their suggestions on what works for them. Most gave feedback. I practiced several times with the students, but we all need to work on consistency.
If I were to do this over again, I would have written more specific rules, and no more than five. “Treat yourself, each other, and your spaces with kindness and respect” sounds like a great idea but it is too vague for 5th and 6th graders. Though we as a class discussed what it looks like for each part, I think we are better off sticking with short and distinct rules such as “Raise Your Hand When You Want To Speak”. I also would have arranged seating set up, because allowing students to pick their seats first made getting to know names quick very hard.
3) How do you organize everything?
As a 5th and 6th Grade Science Teacher, I have double the amount of students than other staff members. I used in/out folders in designated boxes for each grade and periods. The unique layout of our building, however, makes it a bit difficult for me to prepare materials for each class. There are three floors and on any given day I may teach a class on each floor. We staff members do not have a designated classroom like traditional schools, so we have teacher carts to move our laptops, supplies, and student textbooks and notebooks with us. This is a very tough challenge, and one I am trying to still figure out.
We have 1 day a week in a regular classroom and 2 days a week in the laboratory. I may have to designate the 1-day as textbook days and keep the lab days for hands-on activities with the interactive notebooks. However, what if I need to directly instruct on those 2 days too?
Each period are on different ability levels so I cannot expect them all to be on the same page with the same lesson. After reading the students’ information surveys, I learned that many of them learn from teacher-directed styles but crave hands-on and minds-on lessons and activities. Differentiating also adds to my limited teacher cart space for supplies and materials. I teach classes straight, and will have no opportunity to dash into my office or other rooms to get what I need.
I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, but I should not forget that I also did some good things on my first week as a first year teacher. I connected with students during advisory and hallway transitions; I took iPhoto Booth photos of the entire 5th grade to help me memorize names more quickly (I forgot to do 6th grade, but will try next week); I called some parents to introduce myself and gave a positive message about their student; and I tried collecting materials ahead for some experiments.
Next week, it is not too late to assert myself. I know that classroom management is something I must continue to work on all year. I’ve looked at the Whole Brain Teaching website, and plan to try it this week. I also need to make the lessons more interactive with the students. That might be tough as some of our lab equipment are still not in, and I have to order consummables, but I have to make it work. That is my mantra this month! As Tim Gunn says, MAKE IT WORK!