Starting the school year is exciting. It is also stressful. I understand the student anxiety really well because I have the same fears: “What if no one likes me”, “What happens if I am bullied”, “What if I don’t know anyone”. Yes, I have those same thoughts and I have been in school—for one reason or another- for over half my life.
So if I am still stressed and worried at my age, imagine how young students feel—whether you have elementary students or high school. Here are 6 ways to get the year started successfully and if you are struggling with class behavior—start the year over again midstream to make it better.
1) SMILE. Yes this is easy, or should be. I am smiling all the time, but students have a different perception of what smiling looks like. The upturn of lips, the sparkle of eyes does not count. Unless you are showing teeth—yes the full mouth of teeth- students do not think you are smiling. Students continually told me one year the first couple of weeks to smile. I kept checking myself in the mirror –I WAS SMILING! But one student explained that I did look happy, I never showed any teeth. Now, before every class I tell myself a funny joke so I laugh really hard, and am still smiling (with teeth) when they come in.
2) Explain your rules. Explain what they are and why you have them. It doesn’t matter if the teacher down the hall has different rules. You need to have logical rules to follow and be clear. I also do this when we come back from winter break and spring break. It is a great reminder about the rules, and after long school breaks I have the students list the rules on the board. I follow the school rules: Be on Time, No phones visible in class, No food or drink (except water), Be respectful and Kind, Do Your Assigned Work.
3) Routines and Procedures. We all have them, I need this more than students. I get myself into trouble here because I dislike routine and get a little lazy about procedures. But students learn this about me much later in the year, at the beginning I am the poster child for routines and procedures. Discuss : a) how students turn work in b) how they head their papers c) how they enter the room d) where they sit (assigned seating or variable) e) if there is a daily warm up-do they need a special paper and where do they get it f) when absent, how do they get missing work. Brainstorm all the things that you do to make your classroom run smoothly and then decide what format you will use to teach them.
You can put them in a PowerPoint, you can print them, you can act them out, quiz them, do a scavenger hunt…..or do all of these. Because you will need to repeat this at least 50 times(or 500). Students do not remember easily, or say they don’t. If they forget, stop what you are doing and practice procedures again. Practice until you feel like screaming, but keep smiling.
4) Consequences. What are the consequences of violating your rules? Some schools make it easy and have a behavior “matrix” of consequences and how to follow. Some teachers have their own. For me, it depends on the rule. When students are tardy to my class, I warn them two times and the third time they have an hour detention with me after school. I explain that the 3 minutes they decided to be late will now cost them 1 hour. I also have a private conversation about why they are tardy. If they continue to be tardy, I get the counselor and parents involved. But then, I have never been late to school, so I model that rule myself. When phones are out, I take them. It is disrespectful to me and my teaching to have someone on their phone checking their social media when I am working to help them. But again, I model this because I do not check messages on my phone either. It is rude.
As a side note, I feel the same way about this in my personal life. Be honest, if you are out to lunch with a friend (or on a date) and they pull out their cell phone to check messages—don’t you find that rude? Being in the moment is important. Make sure the consequences are fairly applied. Don’t apply the rules to one student and let another slide. Students talk, they will tell, everyone will know. And you will look dishonest.
5) Be prepared. Have something to do that will get them up and moving around. Over the years, I have used a variety of different activities that will have students talk to each other, find out something about their classmates or me. They will be sitting most of the day, so be different and require them to get out of their desks and move. I used to play a game of scoot the first couple of days that emphasized my rules and gave students a chance to talk, move and relax. Or play a human bingo.
6) Have Fun. Laugh, play a game. Tell a funny story. Tell a story about yourself. Make a power point and show pictures of your family or your pets or places you have been. Show students projects made in your class the prior year by students just like them. Show a picture of yourself at their age (ok, this is a scary one). I usually show a cartoon of myself and tell them that I am so old, cameras had not been invented. I cannot emphasize this enough. Laugh, Laugh, Laugh. Find something funny out of everything and enjoy every day. Life is tough for some students and they need positive role models. They need adults who laugh, who care and can smile (with teeth showing).