Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rocking and rolling

One full week (plus two days) of school is in the can!  As Emeril Lagasse would say back in the '90s, "BAM!"

My students for the most part seem bright, personable, and eager to learn.  As an extraordinary bonus, there are only 21 of them (for now) -- by far the smallest class I have ever had.  Every time we line up to go someplace I experience a brief moment of panic where I think, "Where are the rest of them?!" until I realize that I do in fact have my entire class in front of me. 

I have been frank about how nervous I was starting off this school year.  I was brutally honest with myself in admitting that last year my co-teacher and I both made a lot of mistakes in the first few weeks of school that set the tone for the rest of the school year, errors that I obviously didn't want to repeat.  At my former school, first period was first period: we gave our classes about ten seconds to unpack and then it was on to the academics of the day.  My current school is more progressive in terms of the expectation that you conduct a "morning meeting" and build your classroom community, and one of the things I really wanted to nail in the first week of school was a sense of routine at the beginning and the end of the day.  As part of our morning meeting, we're checking the weather and doing a brief math activity, and we've been able to jump into shared reading right from morning meeting every day, so that has been a success. 

Another area where I can declare "so far, so good" is behavior management.  My behavior chart looks like this one (only my students have numbers on our chart so it's not instantly like, "Look at Julio always on red again"), and I built in an escape clause for those students who turn their behavior around.  At the end of the day, they use crayons to color in the day's square on the calendar; a week of greens earns a reward.   I'm trying (and this is going to make me sound like Mean Teacher again) not to be too soft, or at least not to set consequences where I don't follow through (...actually, I guess that's not really the same thing).  Our first consequence is a "friendly reminder," so instead of issuing a warning/threat like, "If this continues I will ask you to move your card," I just ask them to move their cards.  More often than not the offending behavior stops and the student is back on green by the end of the day. 

There are some teachers who warn you not to smile until December, and there are other teachers who will tell you that's baloney and you should be yourself from the beginning.  I have to confess, after my students last year openly worried about how I would fare in a classroom "by myself" because they insisted I was "too nice" (I felt like an evil dragon lady from hell, but apparently my co-teacher was the "strict one"), I'm in the first camp.  That doesn't mean I don't say funny things to my students or that I'm mean to them or that I'm unsympathetic when someone is hurt or sick or needs to use the restroom; it doesn't even mean I'm not nice.  But in the past I've let far too many behavioral issues turn into negotiations or power struggles.  As a recent article put it (I can't remember where I read this): "You're the only adult in the room. You've already won."  So I'm trying to be gentle in my reminders but firm in my expectations. And so far, knock wood, I haven't raised my voice or felt my blood pressure shooting through the roof. 

I'm not sure whether I've gotten more efficient at planning or whether it's the good fortune of having a relatively low-key class (again, so far! knock wood!), or more likely a combination of both, but during the first week of school I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to accomplish, which is both rare and awesome.  I'm fortunate enough to have tons of technology available to me (I have a SMART Board, a document camera and an iPad), which has also made the beginning of the year much smoother; no more hours spent writing up mock drafts on huge chart paper, now I can just model with the document camera.  I'm even able to do running records on the iPad, which cuts down tremendously on paper and printer ink...and considering that my toner is already low and the cartridge costs an astounding $400, is amazing.

I swore I was going to be better about blogging regularly and more thematically this year and this post is pretty much a mess, but there you have it: We all survived the first week of school.


Nacho Lover said...

What a great start to the year! I think you're exactly right about the importance of being firm but not mean. I like that behavior system too--easy to see and understand, and students must be happy that you allow them to return to "good" by correcting their behavior.

Ooh, that's wonderful about all that technology, especially the document camera!

Leonie Haimson said...

Lots of research shows that there are fewer behavior problems in smaller classes, because students are more engaged and on task; and don't have to act out to get the teacher's attention.

mcaitlin said...

just wanted to say: YAY!

wow gold said...

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