Today was the day my students returned from their summer break. It was interesting to see how they reacted to being back in school–here are my impressions:
Kids love school.
I know this seems like a huge lie to some, and I know that it may not always be the case, but I can honestly say that most of the students I saw today seemed genuinely happy to be back at school with their friends and favorite teachers. It was like a family reunion–lots of hugs, catching up and just a warm fuzzy feeling of getting back to our familiar routine. Like old friends, my former students and I related to each other like no time had passed between today and the end of last May. New faces added to the excitement and mystery of the year to come.
Kids want to work…on the first day!
I know this may sound crazy too, but I saw it with my own eyes. I began today’s class by having my students get into groups with a card-matching activity. The way it works is that each student is given a card with a number or math problem on it. My past students struggled with fractions, so a typical question was “1 – 1/3 = “. The students then formed groups based on whose card had a value or solution equal to his or hers. It’s as easy as taking a marker and some index cards (or your business cards– I used my outdated ones) and creating sets of equivalent values. You can make groups as big or as small as you want, and you can do it for a variety of topics or subjects. Of course, I had students sighing and complaining that they didn’t remember how to do the problems, but eventually they settled down and got the work done with my help and guidance. What I liked the most was the kid who said “Why can’t you be a regular teacher and just tell us about our grades and the rules and stuff?” Then, later in the class when I actually went over the syllabus and rules, a kid next to him said: “I’d rather be doing MATH!” At this point I realized that although kids take a certain routine for granted on the first day: reviewing the rules, listening to us drone on about tardies, absences, and grades, and so forth, they really just want to see who you are as a teacher and dig into some school work. For the first time in a long time, I did a full-blown lesson on the first day of school. I usually do rules and team building activities at this time, but today, I squeezed in a fifteen-minute lesson between the syllabus and other housekeeping tasks. It went really well. Some teachers say “don’t smile until Christmas”; my new back-to-school motto is: “start teaching content on DAY ONE!”
Teach behavior BEFORE content
Although I did get into the curriculum today, I was sure not to start a lesson before letting the kids know what my expectations were. I always have and still do believe that you cannot work with a group of students if they do not know how you expect them to behave. I am very explicit about how I “roll” before I get into a lesson. They know I cannot stand sleeping, texting, or talking when I am speaking. They know that I give respect and expect to receive it. They know there are no do-overs–if they do not handle business throughout the semester, they cannot make up a bunch of work at the end of grading period. They also know that we use a lot of technology and that it will be a lot of hard work and a lot of fun! I believe that this is critical before I teach content. For this reason, my first-day content lesson will always be preceded with a first-day behavior lesson.
Go BIG or go home!
There are sooooo many reasons for teachers to embrace this philosophy in this day and age. Firstly, for many of us, our jobs are on the line!
With cutbacks, and district/school takeovers becoming the norm, I believe that you have to do SOMETHING to make yourself stand out. I look at it like this: if your principal has to lay off a percentage of his or her staff, why would he or she keep YOU?
I also remember that at my last job, my principal started the year telling us teachers very little about discipline, schedules or any of the typical stuff you hear when you go back to school in August. Her primary message/ concern was: “blow them (the kids) away the first week!” As simple as it seems, this is still my goal at the beginning of every school year. Blow them away! Hit them with so much cool math, that they can’t resist. Show them that learning is fun, and that it’s a good thing–something they want to keep doing, even after they leave high school. I think that getting off to this type of start, with kids that are intrigued, and waiting to see what’s next, is a great way to start the school year. Wait ’til they see what we do tomorrow!!!