Monday, August 15, 2011

First Days of School

Most of the people close to the teacher side of me would probably agree that classroom management is my biggest struggle.  Notice, I didn't say biggest "problem" because struggle is a better word for trials, failures, and successes I've found in my first 9 years of teaching.

In my ideal world, students respect me because they admire my content knowledge.  They are studious students because they want to attain knowledge.  Instead, I've learned that students respect me when I show concern and respect for them and build relationships.  But building relationships is such a broad topic, that I'll focus first on the things I can do or avoid doing during the first days of school.

Keep kids busy from bell to bell at the beginning.  Show them that we've got things to accomplish.  I saw great success with a class when, for the first week or two, they came in to find materials already on their desks.  They knew I meant business.
Use your personal sense of humor.  If that includes sarcasm, go for it, as long as students aren't the target of the humor.
Call out behaviors in front of the whole class.  Kneel down to address them, or take them to the hall if necessary.
Joke around with the jokesters.  It blurs the line so that neither of you know when the relationship got out of hand.
Poke fun at students.  Instead, poke fun at yourself.

I was once told by a principal that I needed to sit down with the class and establish a list of norms.  I tried and it failed miserably.  As I tried to find out what "setting norms" looks like, most techniques seemed to elementary, too artificial, and (worst of all) could probably be taken to a level of manipulation and terrorizing by students inclined to do so.  I did an opening activity with 8th graders once where they brainstormed what the teacher should/shouldn't do and what students should/shouldn't do.  Possible reasons for the chaos and failure that ensued?  Handing over power to 8th graders before any relationship had been established?  Whatever the reason, I found the following article, and it sounded much more like my style.

Are Classroom Rules Needed?
  • I love that the author spends the first weeks forming relationships and building a team atmosphere.  He actually makes more headway on the curriculum than the teachers who raise an eyebrow at the beginning.  A good class really does learn more and has fewer distractions.
  • He doesn't make a list of classroom rules.  He tells his students "I only create rules if we need to have them. We only have them in my classes if students can’t respect one another and me."
  • Once you know your students, you can address problems with questions like "“I know you’re better than this” or “I know you aren’t really acting like yourself".  You can't ask questions like that if you don't know your students.
  • When it is time for the "Come to Jesus" talk with a student, it may go like this:
Me: Why are you here?
Student: Because I have to take this class.
Me: Why do you have to take this class?
Student: ‘Cause it’s required to graduate.
Me: Why do you want to graduate?
Student: ‘Cause I want to get a good job.
Me: Why do you want a good job?
Student: ‘Cause I want to make money.
Me: Why do you want to make money?
Student: ‘Cause I want to buy stuff, and I want and to take care of my family.
Me: That’s your goal. That’s the dream. This class is not what you’re after — it’s the family and money. This is just a step on the way. What happens if you don’t complete this step?
Student: I don’t get to my goal.
Me: That’s your motivation. Close your eyes and picture the dream and think about that while you’re here. You don’t have to like me or the class, but you do want to reach your dream. Let’s do it together. I’m here to help you reach your dream, but I need you to help me, too.
  • I often have trouble finding the right wording during these talks, but this sounds like something that would fit in my comfort zone and be believable.

Part of our beginning-of-the-year PD is PBS (Positive Behavior Support).  I'm really hoping that what I hear gives me more ideas for building relationships and handling misbehavior.  I'm nervous that it will be another annoying acronym presented in a theoretical, feel-good way that doesn't transfer to teaching my students.

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