Going back to school can be as nerve-wracking for the teacher as it is for the students. You don’t know what your students are going to be like, and their personalities within your classroom roster can make or break your year.
However, there are some easy ways to make sure that your students know that you are in control and they can trust you and enjoy learning.
- Make the first week exciting! First impressions are everything, especially with students. During the first week of school, they are evaluating you and trying to decide where you stand in the hierarchy of teachers that are on their schedule. Are you nice? Are you funny? Are you a safe place? Do you do what you say you will? If your classroom is fun and unpredictable while staying in all of the necessary teacher parameters, they will love it. You know you have done your job when students stop you in the hallways and say, “What are we doing tomorrow? Please tell me!” If you can make them want to come to your class, then half of your battle is over.
Make your class a team. You know you’re a teacher when you watch movies and you can’t wait to use an idea from them in your classroom! Years ago I watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was intrigued that the different houses gained and lost points for the house cup at the end of term for behavior, class participation, and showing effort, so I decided to do something similar. The classroom environment can be tough when you have students who don’t regard the rules or have respect for you and other students. For example, I teach three different sections of English, so each section is a team. They come up with a team name, and they gain or lose team points for the entire nine weeks. These points don’t have anything to do with grades. They are attached to rewards at the end of the nine weeks, just like in the movie that gave me the idea. The trick is, I try to keep the classes close all nine weeks, therefore they are always on their best behavior so that another class doesn’t beat them. This makes them monitor themselves and gives me time to focus on teaching.
- Kids love competition. If you make your class a team, stress that the team is only as strong as its weakest link (obviously don’t point anyone out), and that there will only be one class winner. Not everyone gets a trophy because that isn’t what real life if like. Your weak links may rebel at first and say that it isn’t fair, but eventually they will get on board because they will start to believe that they can win. While you have your big competition going on for the best class of the nine weeks, you can hold small competitions and races in your classroom. Get a timer and some jolly ranchers and start making boring activities timed competitions. The winning team or student gets a jolly rancher or five extra minutes of reading. This will make your class more exciting and students can’t help but get engaged when the pressure is on!
- Follow through with what you promise. If you promise your students a reward, you have to follow through or you will lose all credibility, and they will no longer work hard in your room when promised anything. On the flip side, if you say you are going to punish them for misbehavior, do it. Otherwise they will look at you as a pushover, and they will try to get away with anything they can. In both regards, don’t promise what you cannot deliver and you won’t be disappointed by the result.
- Teach like a politician. After spending time making your lessons fun, and researching corny jokes to tell, you are off to a good start. However, now you have to analyze your students the way a politician might analyze his constituents. This starts from the moment that they walk in the door. There are many methods that you can use to randomly assign them seats for the first week. After the first week, make a seating chart, but spend the first week getting to know them in a random seat. While they search for their new seating assignment, watch them and you will learn who the friends are, who doesn’t like each other, who the shy students are, and who the leaders are who point others to their seats. You will also see students trying to be sneaky and swap seats. The wealth of knowledge you will gain from this exercise is crucial to plan not only your seating chart, but your year. Once you know them a bit more, you must talk to them like a politician. The classroom leaders want to be noticed by you, and those are the students you want most on your side. Make an effort to talk to them and try to get to know them. For example, I said to a leader with a hot temper as she sat down in my room last year, “Oh awesome! I am so excited that I get to teach you. I’ve seen you around school for two years, and I know you are going to be such an asset in my room.” I continued to greet her at the door with a big smile, sometimes saying, “I’m so glad you’re at school today. I just love having you!” This simple interaction gained me credibility with this student all year, and in doing such, handled a lot of disciplinary issues for me before they began. To another leader I said, “How exciting that the basketball star of the school is in my classroom! I hope you help me lead people in this room just like you do on the court. I’m counting on you.” Because I pinpointed these two students, before I had to correct anyone in my classroom, they were already on it, telling their peers to get on task or to be respectful, and their peers generally listened. When you approach the job like a politician, you learn to appeal to all students in whatever way is most meaningful to them, so they are willing to do anything you ask. You also learn to package tasks in an appealing way. For example, I often find myself saying things like, “Okay guys, I know that no one really loves writing essays, but it is just one of those things we have to do. Let’s just get through it, though, and then we can do something fun!” When you package it the way they want to hear it, not only will they do it, but they won’t complain. In addition, you will hear your leaders say things like, “It’s okay. We get to do something fun next!” They bolster your class morale for you, making your job easier and more joyful.
These are just a few tips and tricks to help you get off to a great start of the new school year with the precious students whom you’ve been entrusted. Happy teaching!