Friday, July 23, 2010

First Day of School Vol. 2 - The Name Game

It was the first day of a new semester, and I did not know where to go. I was taking education classes towards my credential, and I stopped at the reception desk to ask where the class met. There was a man in a sports coat standing nearby, and he said, "You must be Bradley. I'll walk with you to class."

At first, I was stunned. Then, when he introduced himself and told me that he was the professor of the class, I was amazed. When he later told the class how he already knew everyone's names, I was sold.

First, he explained how knowing students' names on the first day of class is incredibly useful. On one hand, it shows that you care about the students as individuals. They are important enough that you already know who they are. On the other hand, it puts them on notice that you are prepared, and you don't mess around. It sets a tone that time is important, and the first day should not be wasted with introductions.

Learning the students' names immediately shows the students that you are nurturing and no-nonsense at the same time.

My professor knew my name because he had memorized everyone's name before class started. He used a mnemonic device. He paired something he knew well, in this case his favorite golf course, with something he did not know, the students' names. It worked well since there were roughly 18 students in the class and 18 holes on the course. He recommend that we pair the known and unknown in a memorable, even silly way. For instance, hole #4 has many sand traps which reminds him of Sandra, or he always plays hole #12 badly which reminds him of the name Bradley. And how did he know my name at the reception desk having never met me? There were only two men in the course, and I did not look like I would be names "Carlos."

So what can you do, especially if you have a lot me students than 18? Make a seating chart for the first day. Don't put the students in alphabetical order, though. Every other teacher does that, and the kids at the end of the alphabet are tired of sitting together in the back. But do make a pattern that you makes sense to you, like shorter names on the left of the room, or names that rhyme nearby. Hint: don't put students with the same name next to each other because it will be hard to call on one and not the other. Study the list of names before the first day of class. It will impress the students when you ask them by name about their day, or you say, "It is time to start, but we seem to be missing Rachel. Has anyone seen her?"

Two more tips: get a copy of last year's yearbook and try to match faces to names. You can even xerox the pages, cut out the faces, and place them on your seating chart. Secondly, don't ask last year's teachers about your new students. If a student earned a bad reputation in the previous class, give him or her a chance to grow up over the summer and have a fresh start. Besides, you'll know who the trouble-makers are in the first two days.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First Day of School Vol. 1 - Self-Assessment

Teaching is an unforgiving profession; mistakes made at the beginning of the year can take months to undo. We need to be thoughtful and deliberate about the impression we give on the first day.

Even though we are in the middle of summer, it is not too early to prepare for school. In fact, if you have some new, exciting things to try, you are going to look forward to school starting again instead of dreading the end of vacation.

First, spend some time thinking about the impression you want to give on the first day. When you students go home, what will they say when their folks ask, "What is your teacher like?" There is not one right answer: you need to match your first impression to your strengths. If you are more professional and no-nonsense, it would not be helpful to seem nurturing and casual on day one. If you have a big heart unlimited patience for your students, don't let anyone tell you, "No smiling until winter break." You and your students will have a miserable Fall.

Before I share any of the lessons I learned from your 14 first days of school, ask yourself how you stand on these topics:

Love 'em up, their just kids.....................................................Tough, no-nonsense

Students are responsible for themselves...................................Strict daily routine

There's more to education.........................................................Time is short, we have a
than getting through the textbook                                             lot to learn to get to our goal

It will mean more if they discover it                         I know what lies ahead, and I want to prepare them

There are great teachers at both ends of the spectrum, and many of us try to live in the middle and get the best of each. Give yourself an honest assessment and build a classroom that plays to your strengths and lets the students develop their strengths as well.

By the way, if you have never seen Harry Wong, you are missing out. He is the master at creating a happy, healthy, productive classroom. We watched his video series at a staff in-service, and he really inspired every teacher in the room, especially me.