The second and third weeks of school are usually pretty good. Routines have been established, school supplies are abundant, and any student who came to class crying those first few days has stopped. However, get to the end of the first month, and things can get interesting.
The honeymoon is over. The newness of the school year has worn off and students have become comfortable in class and with their peers; and are beginning to show their true colors. For some, coming out of one’s shell may be in the form of participating in class discussions without being prompted while others may trying on the “Class Clown” suit for the first time.
Just like a marriage, a class of students requires nurturing, upkeep, and a bit of variety to spice things up a little. Here are some things to do if you notice things are getting rocky.
Don’t Wait for a Problem to Fix Itself – If you notice a change in the climate of the classroom, and it’s a change you aren’t fond of, don’t wait to see if things fix themselves. It’s pretty likely they won’t. One of the easiest things to do is to take a few moments and review class procedures, routines, and expectations. Once these are reviewed, take a few minutes and contact your parents via email or group call to let them know class procedures were reviewed, and to discuss with their students this evening. If you have access to a class website or group page, post any materials you may use or display pertaining to procedures, routines and expectations. This way you can refer to them throughout the school year.
Check In With Your Students – By now, you should be on your way to establishing relationships with your students. You should have a general idea of what kind of day they are going to have when they walk in the door. While you should be greeting each by name as they come in each day you don’t always have time to “chat up” each of your students every day. That being said, it’s a good idea to do a bit of an extended check in with a few of your students each day on a rotating basis. You will also learn there will be some students you will need to check in with on a daily basis. These may become students who may benefit from some sort of “check in, check out” routine where you and the child, their parent, and ideally another staff member the student has a good relationship with sit down to draw up a point sheet for certain times of the day. You can then also determine some sort of reward system as incentive for the student completing the checklist on a regular basis. Your school may already have a system like this In place, so be sure to check with colleagues, your school counselor, or your administrator.
Change Doesn’t Need An Invitation – When you teach something and the students in your class just don’t get it, what do you do? You make a change and teach it another way. However, teachers often don’t attempt to change procedures supportive of a positive classroom climate. Don’t be afraid to move desks around, incorporate brain breaks into the day, or adjust your expectations. What sounded like a great idea at the beginning of the school year may not be working the way you expected. Cutting bait and moving on isn’t always a bad thing, as long as there is a method and rationale to your planned change.
Remember, teaching should never be a practice done completely in isolation. You are in a building full of colleagues with a TON of ideas and experiences to draw from. If something isn’t going the way you think it should, talk to someone. Have them come visit your classroom, give some feedback. See if you can visit their classroom too! Teaching isn’t just the process of helping students learn; its also about being a lifelong learner yourself.
Guess, what? You have made it through your first month of teaching. Give yourself a pat on the back! In that amount of time, you have probably done at least one of these things:
Chose between making copies or using the bathroom
Eaten while standing up
Skipped a meal entirely
Walked out of the building at the end of the day only to find your car was the last in the parking lot
Shared a story with a friend or family member which left them in disbelief
Cancelled plans with friends
Put your phone, coffee cup, computer, stack of copies down someplace and forgot what you did with them
Cried a little
While it would be nice to think none of these things will never happen to you (or will never happen again), that just isn’t the reality of teaching. Thankfully there have probably been some events which have brightened your day as well:
You got some really valuable advice from a colleague
Shared the workload among your teammates
Received a compliment from a student
Got excited about wearing jeans to school
Found free food in the teacher’s lounge
Saw a child’s face light up when they FINALLY understood a concept you were trying to teach
Found a friend in a colleague
While no one in your teacher preparation classes told you this was going to be an easy one. It’s likely you’ve come across some things no one in your teacher preparation classes taught you. Remember this: Teaching, like law or medicine, is a practice; and that makes you a practitioner. You are not expected to know everything coming out of school. You will never be expected to know everything. However, if you experienced any of the above events (good or bad); you gained knowledge. That knowledge is want will make you a better teacher!
A brief reminder. Kids LOVE stickers. I’m not just talking about Kindergartners or 1st Graders. 8th graders love them too. They just may not be as vocal about it. If your students turn in things electronically more than anything else, don’t forget about the digital badges out there…on Edmodo for example. Common Sense Education also has a whole PAGE dedicated to student badges. TeachwithICT also has some great ideas regarding digital badges. Have fun, be creative with this!
At times, teaching can feel like an endurance race more than a job. Research says there are two teacher traits which can measure the effectiveness of a teacher. They have nothing to do with years of experience, or how many degrees a person holds.
These two traits? Teacher Self-Efficacy, and the intrinsic Belief Students can learn.
Teacher self-efficacy has to do with capacity. Are you qualified to do your job? Well, you wouldn’t have been hired if you didn’t have the skills. You were hired because of the skills you have, and your philosophy on education. You are capable, you just need to make sure you express the confidence which goes along with capability.
You may have been asked the following question in your interview: ‘Do you believe all students can learn?’. You are in your position because you answered yes, and because the person who hired you thought you meant it. To say that all students can learn is one thing, but meaning it is completely different. When you have a strong belief in something, it often helps you in an adverse situation. Consider the Little Engine Who Could… “I think I can, I think I can…” There are going to be students who challenge your beliefs. Unfortunately, there are also going to be other adults in your building who are going to challenge them too some will be outright adamant this just isn’t true. Don’t let them change your thinking. Kids will know when you give up on them.
So the next time you are confronted by a parent questioning your credentials, or a student asking how old you are, remember this: YOU ARE QUALIFIED! You have the skills needed to get the job done, and you have a plan to do it! You believe in yourself, and most importantly, you believe those students you work alongside on a daily basis can too.