So, you’ve had a few days with your new group of students and things seem to be going well. Well, of course! The first few weeks or so is the honeymoon phase. Most of your students are not showing you their true colors yet. You’re just as guilty. You’ve been so upbeat and positive, but firm and professional. If only the rest of the year could be like these first few days, school wouldn’t feel like, well, school. Let’s talk about ways in which this honeymoon phase can last a little longer, or at the very least, reappear from time to time throughout the year.
First and foremost, let’s understand why the students are so well behaved the first few weeks.
- They don’t know you yet; therefore, they don’t know what buttons of yours they can push.
- You don’t know them; therefore, you are providing them with the benefit of the doubt and being non-judgmental.
- You’re interested in them. You’re asking them questions and trying to get to know them.
- You’ve set the tone of who’s in charge and where the boundaries are.
- You’re holding them accountable and making examples out of behaviors that are less than desirable.
- You’re lesson planning like there’s no tomorrow. You have plans A, B and C. Your organized, with papers and supplies filed in all the right places. Students don’t have a second’s worth of time to be off task or disruptive.
- You’ve got the classroom looking so nice. Everything in its place, nice and clean, supplies labeled.
There’s nothing like the first of the year. Unfortunately, time does go by and we, as teachers, get very bogged down with paperwork, parent phone calls and meetings. Little time is left to keep the classroom clean, papers filed, supplies organized, or to create a plan A, let alone a B or a C. Since your plans are not as tight as they once were, students now have time in class to engage in conversations and get off-task, some even becoming perpetual classroom disruptions. At this point, you’re just trying to keep your head above water and teach your students the standards. Lest not forget there’s standardized testing, curriculum benchmarks and exams that require us to stay on mark with the curriculum pacing. You’re students start to feel your stress. They don’t know how to take your new demeanor. They start to take things personally, as if you don’t like them. Realize you haven’t had much time to socialize with them or continue to get to know more about them. They see it as, “You don’t care about them”. Behavior starts to deteriorate. You’re falling behind in the curriculum. Student’s grades start to slip. You start to lose respect and confidence in the eyes of the students. Keep in mind; I’m estimating things start to feel this way come, oh, say October.
This is a sad situation that happens to many teachers, classrooms and schools across the nation. Not to add more stress to your pot, but it’s time we need to realize who’s at fault for this rapid decline. It’s you, the teacher. That’s simply the hard, cold facts. It’s painful, I know. However, look at it this way. Imagine you’ve just seen into the future. You see how things “could” end. Now, what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?
Somehow, someway, you have to make sure that you keep that momentum in place throughout the year. You must stay consistent with your level of expectations for the students, for your performance as an educator, and for the culture you’ve created in the classroom. Simply doing this will keep a gain you a high level of respect from the students. With this comes respect and loyalty, as well as trust. You’re more than halfway there now!
Other ways to keep the focus on the students is to create a “What’s Happening” board. This of course can be called anything you’d like, but the focus is to capture student successes and learning. This can be achieved by posting high quality student work (keep an eye out for posting the same student’s papers time and time again), or out-of-the-ordinary student achievements. I would not say it this way to the students, but this may be reserved for those students who are below desired level, but makes substantial, but maybe intermittent, gains. This is for students who may struggle with concepts and not catch on to things as quickly as their peers. Celebrating these achievements in a public way creates a nurturing classroom culture that can be very motivating for all students. Finally, post pictures of students in the act of learning, doing a lab or an activity, ones that really capture the positive aspects you were requiring for that task. This is a motivator in and of itself. If students know they are only going to be showcased on the “What’s Happening” board by doing what they’re required to be doing, then you’re job has just become that much easier.
The suggestions above are what make teaching fun. Lesson planning, on the other hand, is not so much fun. Let’s face it. Teachers often times have to teach things they aren’t very interested in. Nonetheless, educators must look beyond a particular section or topic, and look at how to build a nice, solid foundation of knowledge for students. Skipping content does not achieve this. I suggest tapping into your resources to help you plan. The recent buzz word is Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs. These are learning environments within schools and districts that are designed to make teachers work smarter, not harder. Within these communities, teachers need to work together to create common items, be it activities, learning experiences, projects, quizzes or tests. Teachers do have to stop reinventing the wheel. This is such a time waster. Utilize your resources so that you can continue to make your plan A, along with your B and C. Last, but not least, two, three, or more heads are better than one, so put your heads together and create solid lessons to keep the level of learning high and the level of student disruptions low.
By incorporating these things into your daily or weekly routines, you’ll see you’re not falling into the dark abyss most teachers find come the third or fourth month. My final suggestion would be to print, or retype, and post the bulleted items I listed at the beginning of this post. Stick them in a location in the classroom that is highly visible to you. I would even suggest reading these over every Sunday night or Monday morning as you put your mind in focus for the week.
Let me know throughout this semester if you’ve found these ideas helpful. Good luck as you transition out of this honeymoon phase.