Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations. — George Bernard Shaw, playwright and Nobel Prize winner
To get ideas for a blog on how new and veteran teachers can successfully prepare for a new school year, I spent an hour on the Internet and discovered a rich source of advice and suggestions for teachers. The range of information includes ideas on how to arrange your classroom, 50 ways of getting through the first week and 101 ways for handling stress throughout the school year.
So, what is left for me to say? Very little, except some personal observations for what they are worth and maybe a smile or two because I’ve touched on experiences that you have had or heard about.
I begin with a reminder. Your students have had three months off. That means they have lost three months of learning, and some people may blame you for this loss.
By now you may have spent some of your own money on school supplies and your own non-paid time getting your classroom ready — arranging the desks, adding decorations, finding out if the equipment works, hanging posters, counting textbooks, and enjoying the quietness of preparation. You probably have the photocopying machine humming because you know — or have heard — that the best way to quiet a classroom of unfocused, talkative students is to give them a packet of worksheets.
You also know that during that first week of school you have to over plan because when kids have nothing to do, things happen. Some educational specialist will tell you to greet each student — shake hands, maybe give a hug or two (Careful here. Check the school policy on hugging), and look them straight in the eye when doing this.
The experts also suggest that you to get to know your students names as soon as possible — no nicknames until the second semester. All agree that you must review your classroom rules as soon as possible, generally the first hour. It’s best to post them. Kids have a tendency to forget “rules” at school and at home. The experts also suggest that you “get to it,” start teaching content, impress the students with your knowledge and make it look like they might learn something.
Some specialists recommend that you send a letter or email to parents during the first week of school There are all kinds of sample letters on the Internet so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Be sure to tell the parents how much you look forward to teaching their son/daughter this year. The rule is that you have to tell parents this tale even though you don’t know their child, yet, or you have had less than positive reports about their child from another teacher.
Another big thing, from what I read, is your statement of “expectations.” If my kids were in your class, I would warn you not to expect too much. I wouldn’t want to contribute to your frustrations without a warning. In your communication with parents it would be best to also talk about behavior, homework and how you grade. Now, this is really important. Your letter or email to parents should require them to sign a “contract.” I checked with a lawyer; it doesn’t mean much, but it is symbolic. My question: What happens to parents who refuse to sign the contract?
I was once told that it is a good idea to end a blog with bullet points. Here are a few:
- Do not go into the teachers’ room during the first month. You may hear things that will destroy your enthusiasm for teaching the rest of the year.
- Develop a sense of humor –quickly. Your students’ behaviors will contribute to this. Humor is going to help you stay healthy mentally.
- In many cases, teaching can be and often is stressful. There are days when you will be angry, frustrated, anxious, and emotional. Do something about it. Take a break, write about your feelings in a journal, go to the movies, the theater, etc. Most importantly, do something physical, try yoga, take a long walk, jog, or work in your yard. Also, be flexible, set your own comfortable pace/schedule, and work on developing a positive attitude about things.
- Teaching can be a lonely experience. Don’t let it be. Collaborate! Cooperate! Be a leader and team player! Get involved in school and community activities. Take a professional development course. Also, go online, there are a number of teacher blogs and forums that offer advice for dealing with stress, for invigorating your teaching, and for inspiring you to keep going. A positive relationship is to your mental health as location is to real estate.
Ed DeRoche is a former teacher, administrator, school board member, and dean. He has written several books and articles on character education. Currently he is the director of the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego and teaches in-class and online courses on instructional strategies, curriculum and programs, and character-based classroom management. Join the party.