Wednesday marked the 5th day of my role as a 7th Grade Social Studies teacher. After some quality inspiration from my colleagues at #BLC13 in July (see these fantastic videos from Alas Media), some EdCamp inspiration, a little swashbuckling swagger from my favorite pirate, Dave Burgess, and sheer excitement about returning to the classroom as a social studies teacher, I was determined to kick off my year on the right note. I am excited about how it went…I hope my students feel the same way.
A few things I did to start the year:
Welcome my students.
Although it seems like a millennium ago, some of my favorite memories in education are from my first three years of teaching 8th grade American History at the Carroll School in Lincoln, MA. Overwhelming, exhausting and challenging are all words that can describe those years, but despite that I loved every second in the classroom with those kids. I still keep in touch with many of them, and can’t help but bubble with pride when I hear of their successes in life. Above all else, teaching is about kids. Over the past few years I have found myself wondering why some teachers stay in the field when it is clear that they don’t enjoy their students. Well, this is not the case for me. I was extremely excited to meet my students on 8/28 and I was not disappointed. Of course there are the quirky few that I know will challenge my patience, and the handful of shy students who were reticent to share much, but they are mine and I am excited to explore and learn with them this year.
Set expectations for success.
I recognize that it is important to be clear with students how to be successful at the start of course, but I have often questioned if this should be synonymous with a discussion about the percentage breakdown of each grading opportunity that they will see throughout the course of the year. If you set the expectation that success in the class is mastering the grading system, what message does that send to the students? Instead I focused my discussions of success in my class on the behaviors I want to see in my classroom, and the attitude I expect each of them to possess. Sadly by 7th grade the kids are programmed to focus on the grade. I set the expectation that each student in my class was capable of this elusive “A” if they worked hard enough to get it. And most importantly, I shared with them all that my expectation was that they would ALL earn A’s, and that I would do my best to help them achieve it, regardless of whether they are the “smartest” kid in the class or not. I am not certain if this slight shift will create the change in attitude in my class that I hope, but I am fairly confident that it’s better that handing out a list of percentages and a prescribed checklist to follow to secure the grade.
Eliminate the bore…for me and for them.
When I first started teaching a colleague told me that the best gauge for engagement was to check my own level of boredom. Odds are that if I am bored, so are they. He was so right and I think about this every day I teach. The beginning of the year is so important to set the tone for the year, but I am not a believer this is done by being strict and dictatorial. I want students to see how excited I am about being in class with them, and engage them in activities that inspire them to learn. The first few days of school are about building routine, but this doesn’t mean the routine has to be boring.
Taking a page out of Dave Burgess’ book, rather than having them fill out a survey about themselves, or asking them to write anything at all for that matter, I asked them to imagine that they were the recently deceased king or queen of a fictitious land. The students were then asked to construct a monument for themselves of out playdoh. The details I learned about my students’ interest and personalities were immense, and I set the tone from the very beginning that in Room 204 we will create.
We discussed the ideal class environment Notosh style with a very shortened spin through a design thinking exercise. And then because it is a World Geography course, and these kids need to understand the world we live in, I took a break from original plans and reworked them to include a discussion of Syria. Students read this article from the Washington Post and shared facts they learned in small groups. Overheard from one group, “My brother read this with his class high school. She must think we are smart…”
Yes, yes I do. And I believe you should all love to learn as much as I do. And away we go on our global expedition! Looking forward to a great year. Follow us on Twitter! @WMSRoom204