As a new teacher, my professional development focused on being student-centered. I wanted to make the students in my classroom as self-sufficient as possible, so after hearing my principal talk about the importance of group work, collaboration, and instructional strategies to use in the classroom, I decided to put these ideas into practice on the first day of school. I had the brilliant plan to make the reading of the student handbook fun and exciting by putting students into groups to read part of the handbook, discuss it together, and then present it to the class. It was a disaster. Even with the best intentions, I could have put these strategies to work much more effectively had I taken some time to get my footing in between Institute and my first day. You don’t have to make the mistakes I did. Here are six things you can do to prepare to teach on the first day of school.
I wanted nothing more than to go home and spend time with my family before officially moving to my new home in Arkansas. I missed them, but I ultimately decided that logistics wouldn’t work in my favor, and making it home would be nearly impossible. It was the best decision I made. Instead of going home, I was able to move into my new house, get to know my roommates, and drive around my new city to learn about everything it had to offer.
Many 2015 Teach For America corps members have just finished their summer training and are likely thinking, “now what?” We thought it was a great time to revisit one of our favorite posts from the archives by 2011 alum Katelyn Wilhemi. Read her sound advice for getting your personal life in order after Institute.
Real life is here, and you may be feeling a lot of things: nervous, excited, scared, stressed, overwhelmed, uncertain, happy…you get the picture. The point is people leave Institute in various stages of emotional and mental stability.
Teaching to the test seems to be a necessary evil sometimes. Since I teach ELA, I often feel like pulling out old ‘Released Items’ from previous years’ state tests is considered to be the best – and only – way to prepare students for success. When we have mandates from higher up administrators, it’s difficult to find ways around the system to keep reading and writing authentic for students.
I believe there is a better way, and I’m trying to navigate it right now. Some things I’m trying:
January isn’t the easiest time to be happy. Maybe you’re not where you want to be right now in your teaching journey. Maybe you’re not happy living in the middle of nowhere with very few friends and family close by, and maybe you feel like you’re not making a difference in the lives of your students. Maybe your New Year’s resolutions have already puttered out.
You are not alone. Your happiness is important, and will help make you the best teacher you can be. (As my MTLD always says, ‘A happy teacher is a good teacher.’) The key to happiness is finding what MAKES YOU HAPPY. Not your roommate happy, not your principal happy, not even your students happy. YOU.
So before you go banging your head against the wall stressing over how you’re going to get your tracker up to snuff by June, take a minute and think about where you find your happiness. We are responsible for ‘pulling our own happiness wagon,’ and sometimes that means going on a wild goose chase to find it. Sometimes it means we have to leave our comfort zones to find out what else is out there, and what else can bring us joy. Sometimes this joy comes from outside the four walls of our school and classroom.
Here are a few suggestions to try out that make me happy in close-to-the-middle-of-nowhere, USA:
Remember that ‘vision’ you wrote waaaaay back in July that gave the nitty-gritty details of what your classroom was going to look like, how your students were going to act, and how you were going to transform the lives of each of your 30 or 130 students? Yeah, I don’t either. That’s the tricky part about visions: they are created with a ‘perfect world’ mentality in mind, but the world is just not perfect, and our classrooms are no exception. The additional catch-22 of our visions is that they are created with very little knowledge of the contexts of our communities and students, and before we have ever tried to manage and control a classroom all on our own.
Despite these perceived setbacks, the beauty of a vision still shines through because the vision is never set in stone, and can always be drawn upon to reflect, change, adapt, modify and adjust as our needs and wants as teachers change and grow.
The start of the second semester is a great time to go back to your vision that you wrote in July, and make a concrete plan for what you will incorporate into your classroom second semester.
Vision and goal-setting are probably the most important work we do as teachers during the summer months. The lessons learned from the previous year are fresh in our memories, but the promise of new beginnings of the next year are top of mind.
I love thinking about vision because it allows me to picture my classroom in a best-case-scenario kind of way. It is perfection. For me, that’s a happy, positive, motivating place where students are excited to learn, know the high expectations set for them, and feel empowered to go out and make positive impacts in the world.
In reality, of course, our visions are not always consistently seen in the day-to-day grind, after it is presented to students. Sometimes we may lose our own motivation to follow through and keep the vision alive, and sometimes our students have a bad day (or week), leaving you down and out about the state of the world.
What I wrestle with most is striking the balance between pushing myself and my students to achieve to the highest and most rigorous standards, while also realizing and admitting that sometimes we can’t work miracles. It’s one thing to hold high expectations, but it’s another to give up when the going gets tough…which it inevitably does at some point. This leads me to the Modern Family quote about dreamers and realists:
“There are dreamers and there are realists in this world. You’d think that the dreamers would find the dreamers and the realists would find the realists, but more often than not, the opposite is true. You see the dreamers need the realists to keep them from soaring too close to the sun. And the realists? Well without the dreamers…they might never get off the ground.”
Rule to the wise: Do not put your 7th grade students in full-fledged group work the first day of school. This may seem obvious, and I’m sorry if I insult anyone, but this is something I did and actually thought was a good idea. Wrong. Here was the result: screaming children, noises heard from down the hallway, confusion, mass chaos and general disarray. Not a great way to start the year. Learn from my mistakes, start your first day of the year on a strong note and leave your kids wanting to come back for more.
These lists come from my own personal experiences and school situation, so here are a few thoughts on the dos and don’ts for the first day of school: