Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dos and Don'ts of the First Days of School

Funny story about this post.  I've been slowly working on it for a few days because I have a 2 year old and a newborn at home, so I haven't had a chance to just sit down and write for long enough to finish this.  Apparently Blogger wasn't fond of that, so when I went to publish it (after I finally finished), it reverted to an old version, which has been sitting on the internet for a week now.  THIS is now my correct draft.

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Well it's about that time again!  Time to exchange beach towels for backpacks. It's what the French call "la rentree".  Back to school!

This year will be my fifth year of teaching.  It's so hard to believe I'm at this point of my career that I can start considering myself at least a slightly seasoned educator.  As the years progress, I've learned quickly things to do and things not to do in order to start the year off as smoothly as possible.

1. DON'T  go over your rules, syllabus or classroom expectations on the first day of school.  Chances are your students are getting the same speech over and over again on the first day from other teachers and I guarantee you will blend in with everyone else.  Wait until at least day two, if not day three to do these things.

2. DON'T write your names into your grade book until the class change window closes.  I learned this the hard way my first year of teaching.  French 2 and 3 generally don't change simply because they already know they want the class.  But French 1 usually has at least 2-3 students add and 2-3 students drop.  For someone like me who likes a nice and neat grade book, all the crossing off and then students in the wrong order makes me CRAZY.

3. DON'T make a seating chart until at least 4-5 days into the school year.  Part of the reasoning is because of reasons given in #2 above: students come and go a lot as schedules fluctuate.  Another reason is because it is good training for you as the teacher in learning their names.  If you don't have a seating chart to rely on, you really learn their names more quickly!

4. DON'T spend more than one day getting your classroom ready.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE decorating my room and making it awesome.  However, there is no need to spend 20 hours decorating, making bulletin boards, etc.  Keep it simple to start.  You are better off devoting that time to making activities/lessons and preparing for the upcoming weeks.  You will thank yourself later.  I always plan and prep the entire first week before school even starts.

1. DO make a positive impression.  No, I'm not talking about being nice (which... yes... you should still do).  I'm talking about sticking out in a good way.  One thing I like to do with any class of students who have never had me before is let them interview me.  Their first homework assignment on the first night is to write down three questions of something they want to know about me.  Easy five points and easy way to start with an A.  Then I let them interview me.  Rather than just question/answer, I have them use whiteboards to guess my answer to each question.  The person who gets the most guesses right gets a prize.  The kids love it.

2. DO have them use French (or your target language) on the first day of school, even if it's simple "Hello, my name is ______.  What is your name?"

3. DO let them each choose a French name.  I'm always surprised when I get a transfer student from another school who didn't have a French name.  Students LOVE choosing their own names to fit their personalities.  It also gives them a quick first taste into French culture.  I always use it to draw similarities between English and French names, like Peter = Pierre for example.

4. DO devote at least 30-40 minutes to letting the students acclimate themselves to your room on the first day or two.  This can be done via a scavenger hunt, fill in map, or clues.  I always like to ask random questions that can be answered by exploring the room.  For example: What page of the dictionary can you find out how to say "house" in French? This has them locating dictionaries and getting practice in using one.  Another example question may ask what the three folders are labeled on the table.

5. DO create a list of classroom expectations together before giving out your syllabus or going over your expectations.  I have always found that students are more receptive to the rules and being productive when they help come up with the rules.  Every year I like to have students brainstorm things that a good teacher will do and things a good student will do.  Then we compile a list together.  I take each class's list and compile it into one large list that is displayed all year.  Then, when a student is misbehaving, I can ask them, "based on our list, are you being a good student right now?"  By also making teacher expectations (and displaying them by student expectations), they see that I am also serious about being a good teacher and will strive to uphold those traits.

Have any other helpful tips?  Feel free to share below!  I wish you all a great start to a successful school year!

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  1. These are great tips. Keep them coming! Merci!

  2. I love the idea of having the students interview you! I am starting at a new school this year and it's just perfect. Thank you!