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Archive for the ‘First Day’ Category

I woke up early this morning (my first back in the U.S.) thinking about school. I have been out of the country for the past month, and now have a little over a week until a new year starts with all the joys and challenges that brings.

What was on my mind this morning was actually an incident from last year. I had an incredible class last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of them after the summer. There are very few years as a teacher when you have a class in which there is NO student that you don’t like. Last year was one of those years for me: No one that annoyed me, no one I hoped would be absent, back teaching a subject I love, just an incredible year. While that is an amazing thing, it makes preparing for this year a lot harder. It’s true that I’ve heard every year from at least one 7th grade teacher, “This is the worst class to come through the system!”, but by the time they get to us as 8th graders, they’re usually not bad (except the traditional 5 to 10.) The class coming up has mixed reviews (Some teachers loved them; most had a few challenges.) Still, going from the best class you’ve had in 10 years at the school to the unknown is bound to be rough.

So, what was on my mind this morning was an incident from the last week of school. I was in the midst of writing my traditional “end of the year” letters for my students, and when I wrote one particular student’s, I started crying (and I’m not usually a crier). So you understand, I put a lot of thought and prayer into the letters and try to say what I feel each child needs to hear. The kid that made me cry was a rough kid. He had had a hard life–more difficult than most of our kids who have hard lives. But, in the course of the year, he had shared bits and pieces of his story with me, and on a few occasions, I was able to see through the chink in his armor to the little boy he was hiding with the “tough guy” exterior.

When I read the letters to my students the next day, a number of students cried over their own letter, but his was the only one I’ve ever read that made someone other than the person it belonged to cry. I had warned him that his letter had made me cry, but he let me read it anyway (and I cried again, as did many others in the class.) When other classes came in later in the day, I heard the same statement, “I heard you’re going to make us cry.” I explained that some students do and others don’t, and that more people had cried in the previous class because I had when I was reading someone’s. They immediately guessed the student, so word had gotten out (as things do in a small school.) A student asked me, “Why did you cry over (student’s name)?” The answer I gave surprised even me. I said, “I don’t know. Maybe because no one else ever has.” The truth of that hit me like a ton of bricks. If even part of the stories I’ve pieced together about this student are true, his dad has never cried, his mom can’t stand him, and his siblings beat him up. So, in all likelihood, no one has ever looked at his life and loved him enough to cry for the things he’s suffered and the wrongs that he’s experienced. No one has watched him make bad choices and grieved for him. Whatever way he’s made, he’s made most of it himself. To me, that’s not how it should be. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten a huge heart for this kid without realizing it until I started typing.

As I gear up for a new year, I know some of the kids I will have are students that have caused a lot of problems for other teachers. I already know them by reputation or discipline reports, or from having to write them up in the hallway. And yet, if I keep in mind this situation from last year, I will remember that this kid was a student who had gotten in trouble, and who, from the exterior, made others assume he was trouble, and yet, I had seen a side of him no one else had. If I approach each student (remembering that looks can be deceiving), searching for that chink in the armor that will let me see what’s really going on with them–if I look beyond the external to the heart of a child, I will have no problem loving each one. And when a child knows you care, it’s amazing what kind of a year you can have!

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Today was our first day of school. I thought it went fairly well. Kids were generally well behaved, impressed with my room and my candor, and predominantly friendly and open. Ahh, the bliss of being a veteran teacher. Then, I got the parent phone call. Here’s the conversation:

“Miss Brailey?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, this is (Name). I’m Matt’s mother. Did you tell Matt you wouldn’t call him Matt and would only call him Matthew because he was rude and obnoxious?”

“WHAT?!? No!”

“So you deny this happened?”

(Dawning realization….)”No, I told students when I called roll to tell me if they wanted to be called by something other than the name I had. Matt said he wanted to be called Matt. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll only call you Matthew IF you’re in trouble or annoying…As in Matt…Matt…MATTHEW! I’m so glad you called me…”

“OOOOHHHH, I do that to get his attention too…”

She went on to explain that he is very respectful and an honor student and was crushed to think I thought he was rude and annoying on the first day of school. I offered to speak to him to clear the matter up, but she said she’d explain it. Because and If–who knew subordinating conjunctions could be so important…

A fun side note: While I was preparing to publish this, another parent facebooked me: Hi, Miss Brailey. If you have any problem out of (Student), just kick his butt, okay?

Aaahhh, parents…One of the many joys of teaching.

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Tomorrow is the first day of another school year. I have spent the last week spending most of every day at school preparing on for “the big event.” Before I get bogged down in the reasons it’s hard being a teacher, I want to focus on the things I love about my job, and why I’m looking forward to it.

1. I love my fellow staff members. Many of us have been into school every day the last two weeks. While much of that time has been spent in our own rooms, a great deal has also been spent in the hallway or other teachers’ rooms just catching up with each other. I remember when I had first gotten a job here and my parents were helping me move into my classroom, my mom commented, “People here seem friendly and happy to be here. That’s important.” It is indeed. Students come and go, but most faculty changes only slightly over the years. Additionally, we have had faculty battle cancer, have major health problems, lose family members, be in lawsuits, get married and have babies. Through each of these events, our staff has rallied behind each other. When my dad died, other teachers covered my classes and arranged my time out. I got cards from faculty and custodians, flowers from the school, and many kinds words of support. I’ve seen teachers give up their sick days for one another, teach for one another, visit each other in the hospital, and go to each others’ family funerals. We truly have an unparalleled staff.

2. I love my students. I was walking out to my car yesterday, carrying a small shelf, and one of my students came up beside me and said, “Here, let me carry that for you.” Wow. I loved that! And it happens all the time with our students. From opening doors, to hugs in the hallway, to carrying things, our students genuinely care about us and invest in us as people. We’re not “the enemy” or the bad guys. They treat us respectfully (if we’re not jerks), write notes of encouragement, and help us out when we need it.

3. I love our administration. That is not to say I always like them, agree with them, or like what they have us do. But, just today, I sat in a room for an hour and a half with 4 fellow teachers and our new administrator who took the time not only to listen to our concerns about a new program we were adopting, but to affirm each of us as teachers, explain issues until we understood them, offer support to help us be successful, and never make us feel like there was somewhere else she’d rather be. When push comes to shove, every administrator from the superintendant down has been there for me–Multiple times.

I understand that my experience is not the one every teacher has, but I think it is something new teachers should consider before they take a job. When I interviewed at my school, I came from an interview at a wealthier, less diverse, and higher paying school. The contrast could not have been more stark: Huge, white, successful, wealthy school versus small, mostly Hispanic, on probation, 75% free and reduced lunch school. But when I walked into the first interview, the principal was arrogant and condescending, while at mine, the principal asked to have the department head sit in on the meeting because, “He’s the expert and I’m not, so I value his opinion.” That fact alone made my decision. And I haven’t looked back since except to thank God I didn’t accept the first school. Maybe I’d have more money, but it would never equal the treasure I have where I’m at.

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Yesterday, I spent some time at school in what has become my annual ritual: Praying over my building. A lot of parents and churches take time to pray for their schools, but it’s different having an “inside scoop.”

See, unlike those members of the community, I have the almighty key fob, which lets me in the building almost any time. Additionally, I know the faculty and stuff personally. So, I go in on a weekend when no one is there. I walk around the building, stopping at each door to pray by name for the teacher who teaches there. As I know their families and lives, I can pray over areas where they struggle as well. Also, I pray at each entrance, bathroom, and locker room for safety and protection (A number of our fights occur there since there are no cameras.) Finally, I pray over my eighth graders’ lockers and their seats in my room. The process takes about an hour.

While I realize not everyone believes in God like I do, I’ve found it’s a lot harder to be a jerk to someone if I’ve spent time praying for them. I’ve also seen teachers have breakthrough in the very areas I’ve been praying for (Ex. One teacher who’d been separated from her husband reconciled their marriage, as I’d prayed for her the beginning of the year.) It’s a true statement indeed that where your treasure is, your heart follows. And when you invest in the place you spend every day, you can’t help but be blessed in return!

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I decided today as I was anticipating the start of school with students tomorrow (We had the first day with teachers today) that starting school has all the emotions of going on a blind date.  Think about it–all the same questions run through your mind:

Will I like them?

Will they like me?

What if I hate it?

Can’t I just hide in the bathroom until they go away?

Additionally, I think if you approach the first day of school with a similar mindset, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.  First, recognize that you’re going to feel nervous and awkward–and so will the students.  Everyone has hopes that the experience won’t be that bad.  And everyone knows, regardless of the experience, that it has a definite ending time.   So, laugh a little, and enjoy the ride while it lasts.  And as I tell my students on the first day of school:  Congratulations, you made it!  Only 35 more Tuesdays to go! 

So in honor of my first day tomorrow, I decided to write a little poem to commemorate the solemnity of the occasion.  Here goes:

                                     ‘ Twas the Night Before School Starts           

‘Twas the night before school starts

And all through my mind

Thoughts chased each other

Twelve at a time

The children were nestled–

What would they be like?

Would I love them forever

Those dear little tykes

Or would, in my classroom,

They make such a clatter

with their pushing and shoving

And incessant chatter?

How could someone do this?

Their nerves must be steel!

With the first say tomorrow,

Tell me how should I feel?

If being too strict

May lead me to folly

And woe to the teacher

Appearing too jolly

What if I get up there

And forget what to say?

Can’t we postpone this

Just one more day?

And the names parents choose

Tell me how they could do it!

Khalid? Laquisha?

Who’d NOT stumble through it?

Whatever my worries

Most surely they’ll keep

Now if only I’d manage

To just fall asleep

Despite what my day’s like

Whether good or a bummer

I have to remember

Only nine months til summer!

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Lie #4: Rules can govern every aspect

of student behavior

While a great deal of press has been given to The 55 Essentials, I would encourage you that unless you are that particular teacher of the year, much fewer will probably be sufficient. When trying to write rules, several teachers I know have tried to cover every aspect of student behavior. They think of all their own personal pet peeves and the things that students traditionally do wrong, compiling them into one monstrous list. There is one major problem with this: Students are varied and seemingly eternally creative.

You doubt? A demonstration, then. In one of my early years of teaching, I had three rules, conveniently starting with the same letter: Responsibility, Relationship, and Respect. I had explained to my students that these were to govern our time together. I expected them to be responsible: bringing supplies to class, doing their homework, and being punctual. Then, I pointed out that there were certain things that were necessary merely because we were in relationship with each other, explaining that there were things I couldn’t let one student do because not everyone could do them. Finally, I explained that I expected them to act respectfully towards themselves, their classmates, and me. These three rules could be applied to every situation. If, however, I had made the typical rules like “Don’t chew gum,” “Bring two #2 pencils to class,” etc., this situation would have been allowed:

It was the year of the Winter Olympics, so many of my junior high students were watching the events. As I was enthralling my class with tales from history, I looked over, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but one of my students in his seat with his knees under his chin, calculatingly moving from side to side. “What are you doing, Nate?” I inquired.

“I’m bobsledding.” He replied, most innocently.

Never would my rules have naturally included things like, “Do not participate in Olympic Sports using your desk as equipment,” “Don’t practice invisible instruments in class,” “Don’t make sound effects for imaginary animals,” “Do not light matches and stick them on your person,” or “Do not lay on your stomach and spin on the library tables.” [Note: I have said all of these to students.] So, you see, less is really more. Pick a few rules which address character (I currently use the Code of Chivalry, as my classroom is now decorated like a Medieval Castle) and apply these to the situations in your class. (Note: As I am predominately a middle and high school teacher, I will say that little ones may need more specifics. Just please don’t insult your seniors’ intelligence with “hands to yourself” type rules.)

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Many people wonder how to handle the first day of school.  My student teacher was actually asked this question in her interview, and as she had started in the Spring, she had no idea.  Hopefully, this advice will remedy the nerves of others in her shoes.  So, this is for you, Kristina!

A few things to remember about the first day of school:

1.  Spend a few days before school starts talking the whole day.  This gets your voice used to lots of talking.  I talk more the first day of school than any other time of the year.  It is a strain on your voice, so you need to build up lest you spend the second day whispering.

2.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”     This quote has been attributed to many people (including my mother, which is where I heard it.), but it is true, so I want to touch on it.  When students walk in your classroom on the first day of school, they will make a myriad of judgements. Here are a few suggestions: 

      A.  Dress professionally.  Let me define that term.  Look attractive without wearing anything too tight, low cut, high, etc.  Survey yourself from all sides.  I’ll speak specifically to ladies.  Stand in from of a mirror and bend towards it.  This is the view for any student you are leaning over to help.  Turn around in the same position and check your backside.  Also the view you present a class.  Sit in front of a mirror and see how far up your skirt you can see.  This is also a view you are presenting.  If you are unsure of your own judgement, ask someone you trust.

     B.  Arrive early.  Whatever your attendance policy, beat it.  If you are racing in at the same time as the students, you will not have an opportunity to collect yourself, and they won’t think punctuality is important.

     C.  Feel at home.  Decorate your classroom in a way that makes you feel comfortable.  Mine is decorated like a medieval castle with quotes on the walls lots of art work.  I realize I have more freedom than most, but I get countless comments from teachers and students alike about how much they love being in my room.  This is the attitude you want.  Additionally, it communicates to the students “I care about this place and am willing to invest in it.”  It also communicates a sense of longevity:  “I’m planning to stick around!”

     D.  Be organized:  Have all the materials (rules, agendas, handouts) within arm’s length of wherever you stand most often.  That way, you don’t have to fumble around trying to get something.

     E.  Walk around your room before the students get there.  Make sure you can easily navigate the aisles and walkways.  I have my room arranged in a semi circle for that reason (And the fact that I can see everyone, and no one can hide.)

2.  Communicate Expectations:  Obviously, rules will be a part of your first day discussion.  But you should realize, it’s part of EVERYONE’s first day instructions, so your kids will hear them many times.  Make yours stand out, or they will tune you out.  I use the Code of Chivalry for mine.  I also address GENERAL behavior.  Kids, regardless of their age, will always out-think you.  Some examples:  I have in the past witnessed students bobsled using their desks for equipment, play invisible instruments, talk to imaginary pets, light themselves on fire, attempt to pole dance, and a myriad of other interesting stories.  (I teach junior high mostly.)  These instances would NEVER be covered in the standard “Use blue or black ink” and “Keep your hands to yourself” type rules.    Therefore, use general rules which can be applied to specific instances.  I use Responsibility, Relationship, and Respect.  I define carefully what each of those include, and I can apply them to any situation, including the ones listed above.   Decide what you’re willing to put up with and what you’re not.  For a more detailed explanation of how to create rules, check out the post:  Taming the Natives.

3.  Stress Self Control:  A key I’ve only recently learned is that it’s not my job to control students.  “WHAT???”  You may ask.  Let me explain.  I have control over one person in my classroom:  Myself.  I determine how I’m going to act.  If I could control my students, they would always do their homework, never speak unless spoken to, and then only to communicate a fount of wisdom, and always be kind to each other.  But I don’t control them.  Moreover, I CAN’T.  And what’s more important:  It’s not my job to.  It IS my job to control the environment in which my students find themselves.  It is my students’ responsibility to control themselves. 

      I spend the first day explaining this to students.  I explain very specifically what self-control looks like.  I also explain to them that there may be days when they are unable to control themselves.   I explain that in real life (with which my students are VERY familiar), people who do not choose to contol themselves are placed in facilities where all their choices are made for them.  They receive a lovely orange uniform and someone else decides what they eat, when they get up, etc.  In the same way, in class, if they are incapable of managing themselves appropriately in this environment, their freedoms begin to be limited.  First, they are warned.  If they cannot bring themselves under control, they are moved to a seat of their choice, away from whomever they are distracted by–this allows them to think through “Where will I be able to act like I should?”  I tell my sudents:  “First move, your choice, second move, office.”  In the past several years, no one, I repeat, NO ONE, has made it to the office.  If you empower your kids, they will learn to accept responsibility–and not just when you’re watching.

4.  Don’t let things slide just because it’s the first day.  If you let it pass the first day, you will have a hard time correcting it in future.  Address tardiness, extraneous talking, and disrespect immediately.  Kids are usually the best behaved they will be all year on the first day.  If you let behavior slide then, you’ve accepted it for the future.

5.  Learn Names.  I always start and end my day with my students telling me something about themselves or answering a question.  I do this everyday for the first week of school.  By the end of the week, I know every student’s name, and have learned a great many things about them already.  (Just so you know, I average 120 students.)  This let’s them know I care about them and their interests.

6.  Have fun!  One of my favorite quotes is by Danny Silk who said, “I’m going to have fun because there’s nothing worse than me being bored while you watch.”  Enjoy yourself.  If you’re not having fun, and you enjoy your subject, you can guarantee the kids aren’t.

7.  Be a real person.  Take time to communicate yourself to the students.  I end the first day of school allowing students to ask me any question they want to know, and I answer it (As long as it’s school appropriate.)  This sets the tone of our relationship as open and establishes me as someone who is honest and trustworthy.  Not a bad way to start the year.

8.  Realize:  if you don’t get it all right today, there’s always tomorrow.  And 178 days after that.  Don’t let an initial failure wreck your outlook for the year.  Learn from mistakes and move on.

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