In schools, the days surrounding Halloween will feel like Christmas, especially with it being on a Tuesday night this year. Kids will have spent the weekend getting excited and some may have even attended a Halloween party or fall festival. This will carry over into Monday when the candy begins to show up in the lunchbox. The excitement will continue through Tuesday afternoon as thoughts of dressing up cloud all academic thinking. There will be a little lull Wednesday morning – Prepare for irritability due to late bed times, followed by a sugar buzz around lunch time, which will continue through the rest of the day as students sneak candy they transferred from their lunchboxes to their pockets, pencil pouches, or binders. Student brains will continue to malfunction due to the lack of protein. You will experience papers smeared with chocolate, sticky computer keys, and an aversion to work requiring any degree of focus. Hands-on activities requiring collaboration will be your best friends during this time!
This week will feel like you’ve been through a battle, especially if you haven’t nailed down those procedures and routines. You do have an ally in this fight, though…the reminder to students report cards will be coming soon, and parent-teacher conferences are just around the corner. Stand firm, stay positive, and use your resources!
So, in just a few short weeks, the marking period will end and report cards will go home. This happens right around the time parent teacher conferences are scheduled. Unless you are a parent, your experiences with parent teacher conferences are probably fairly limited. Sometimes, parent teacher conferences can be scary; especially when the “Apple” didn’t fall far from the tree…
The trick to having a successful parent conference comes down to one thing:
PARENT TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT SHOULD NEVER BE THE FIRST TIME YOU ARE COMMUNICATING WITH A PARENT.
Yes, that sentence is in all caps and bolded for a reason. It truly takes a village to raise a child. This goes beyond simply keeping your gradebook up to date, or sending mass emails or phone calls home. In this day and age, these are baseline forms of communication.
Millennial parents especially demand personalized experiences for them and their child (think lattes, Netflix, iTunes). The relationship with you is no different. The key word for you is RELATIONSHIP! At this point in the year, you should have reached out to each of your parents, even if it was through a personal phone call home to introduce yourself. Emails are OK (not great) as long as you know the email belongs to the parent and you get a response.
When its getting close to conference time, your school, or at least your grade level or department should have some sort of system for setting up conferences, especially in environments when parents need to talk with more than one teacher. Don’t wait until the last minute to find out about this in case you need to schedule conferences on your own.
If that’s the case, don’t rely on a piece of paper going home to invite parents to a conference. Use your mass emails, phone calls, and even perhaps an online system like “Sign-Up” genius to get them on the schedule. If you can’t get them to come in, consider a phone conference instead. Whatever you do, never give up on communicating with the parent.
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!