Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on the First Few Weeks

Our school starts next week and yesterday, I spent some time with new teachers reviewing curriculum and workshop teaching. Our district runs a three day new teacher orientation where new teachers receive information on everything from curriculum to benefits to union information. Their agenda is huge and it is all  important and since they probably weren't sufficiently overwhelmed (I'm joking...), here are a few more additions:

  • Have some go-to phrases for academic management. "What did you notice?" is a powerful phrase to get students thinking about the process. You can learn a lot about their thinking when they talk about what they notice. "Say more about that" is another one that works well when you want to push students' thinking.
  • Have some go-to phrases for classroom and behavior management. I have always liked providing information--if Katy is talking when she is supposed to be listening, often times saying "Katy, you're talking" is enough to make the talking stop. I loved a recent post by Ruth Ayres where the go-to line was "What are you hoping to get from this behavior?" This post is a powerful one to read and think about! 
  • Know how you want your classroom to look. It may not look that way in the first few weeks but have a vision and steer in that direction. This is the bullet under which I would say put the energy into establishing routines and systems for everything--unpacking bags, lining up, sharpening pencils, using bookmarks, putting tops back on markers.  This is also the bullet where I would say that less is frequently more during this time of year and there is the law of diminishing returns. Learning is exhausting and your students (and you) have a lot to figure out. Pay attention to the glazed over faces if they show up in your room and allow for some quiet time.
  • Know the difference between an open-ended question and a closed-ended question and work hard to use open-ended ones in your teaching. How do you think the character was feeling? will give you much more information than Do you think Jake is angry?
  • Establish a mentor who you trust--someone with whom you can wonder, analyze, wonder again, re-analyze... And have those wonderings be more than just wondering where to get more chart paper. Establish a relationship where you can wonder about the work you are doing with students and process what's working, what's not working and why so that you can make some intentional changes.
  • The amount of information and resources for teachers is infinite. Between district curriculum, the internet, twitter, pinterest, blogs, and more, there are millions of free ways to supplement your teaching. Know where you can go for information and ideas but don't try to do it all at once. Just as your students need time to integrate knowledge, routines, and information, so do you. Take time to eat and exercise and honor your personal relationships. Don't under-estimate the importance of personal happiness and joy in your teaching.

Haim G. Ginott

Haim Ginott's quote hung on my bulletin board in my first classroom.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

So true, isn't it?

Enjoy your first weeks of teaching. Your work is so important.

Oh! And as always--if anyone out there have other bullets to add, please share them!

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