Preparing for the First Day of School
excerpt from Fantastic First Year
by Jan Zeiger
Are you getting ready for the first day of school? I think the best advice I could give you is to BE PREPARED! The following is a list that will help you get started...
I urge you to become familiar with the state standards for your grade level before school starts. Please note that I did not say become familiar with your textbooks. Many first year teachers go directly to their textbooks for curriculum information. I encourage you to use your textbooks as a resource---not the curriculum. Make sure that you are familiar with state, district, and school-specific standards and policies. Often times, the state standards can be found at the department of education website for your state. Also, make sure to find out if there are mandatory reading, writing, and math programs. Find out what you have to do their way, and do the rest your way. Donít be afraid to ask questions over the summer. It shows the administration that you are thinking ahead. However, donít want to fill up your principalís email box with questions! Just think of the most important questions that you have, and email them in one letter to you one of your administrators or your team leader.
Behavior Management Plan:
Before the first day of school, I suggest that you have a formal behavior management plan completed. Many college programs require this, so you might only have to do some tweaking. However, some of you may need to start from scratch. You want to create a professional looking plan. You maybe required to turn it in to your administration, and you will need to include this plan in your sub folder. Many people feel that they need to choose one of the "programs" that are out there; I disagree. I feel that you should do research on several different types of behavior plans online and in person. When you did your student teaching, you were doing "research" even if you didnít realize it at the time. Every time you looked across the hall at that teacher thinking, "I canít believe she does that," you were putting something on your "What Doesnít Work" list. During your placements, you also probably noticed some things that other teachers did that you liked. During your college years, you formed your own educational philosophy, even if you havenít put it down on paper yet.
When you design your own behavior management plan, consider your answers to the following questions:
- What role should teachers play in the learning process?
- What role should students play in the learning process?
- Are extrinsic rewards such as candy and toys good motivators for children?
- Should children be required to sit quietly at their desks for most of the day?
- Should children be allowed to collaborate with their peers on a daily basis?
- How does a positive classroom environment enhance student learning?
- Which teachers had a positive impact on you as a student and why?
As you consider your answers, also think about other classrooms that you have observed. Think about books and articles that you have read. Your goal is to pull all of this together to design the plan that works for you. Of course, since it is your first year, you will probably make slight changes throughout the year. That is to be expected!
Your students are going to want to know about homework on the very first day. Once again, think about all that you have seen other teachers do and what you have read about homework. What worked and what didnít? What did you like? What did you hate? What is a worthwhile homework assignment? Use all of this information to devise your own system for homework. Remember that you will probably make adjustments during the year as you learn more about teaching and more about your students.
In order to use the "Lunch Bunch" management procedure, you need to let your students sit in groups. Some teachers are concerned about this arrangement because they like to have all students facing them when they stand in front of the room. First of all, when your teaching philosophy is constructivism, you spend very little time standing up at the chalkboard or overhead. Secondly, when your children sit in groups, you teach them routines about whole-group lessons. My children sit in teams, but they know that they are to turn their chairs around to face me when I am addressing the whole group. I wonít begin a whole-group lesson or announcement until all eyes are on me. Lastly, I do much of my whole-group instruction on the floor. For example, when it is math time, my students bring their math notebooks, books, and pencils to the carpet. We sit close to each other, and I am able to see every student easily. The consequence for misbehaving during carpet activities is very simple: those who misbehave go back to their seats. This works because they donít want to be sent back to their desks. This is especially effective when we are doing oral practice in math. If they canít follow the rules as we practice together on the floor, then they can go back to their seats and do the problems on their own (on paper). Of course, when a child has a choice, he/she will usually choose the oral practice rather than the written.
If your children arenít used to sitting in groups, it may take them a week or so to understand your expectations for group work and individual work. I suggest that you teach this explicitly by discussing the following questions with your students:
- Does working together mean sharing answers?
- How can you "help" a team member figure out a question?
- What does it mean to work independently?
- What does "ask three before me" mean in this classroom?
- What is the difference between "school talk" and "conversation?"
- When the music is on, is it time for group work or independent work?
Because my students sit in teams and work in groups, I realized that I needed a signal to let them know when it was time for independent work. I considered having them pull their desks apart, but I didnít like the disruption that this caused. Therefore, I told them that I would play music when it was time for independent work. When you do a lot of group work, it is important that you find a way to let your students know when they are expected to work alone. Whenever I had a child who talked during this period, I simply walked over to that child and whispered, "The music is on." Since I give team points, all I have to do is put in the CD and the room becomes quiet immediately. After putting the CD in, I add points to teams that are working quietly. Usually the children are positively influenced by their peers, and as the year goes on, the need for points diminishes.
If you are like me, then you believe that children learn best when they feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. I work hard to help my students feel comfortable by giving my room a "homey" feel. I have a classroom library with some pillows, teddy bears, and a bean bag. I also have a futon that they can sit on during independent work. I try not to decorate the room too much before they get there. I want it to be "our" room---not mine. In addition to making the students feel at home, you also want to remember that you will be spending a lot of time in your classroom before and after school. Try to make it a positive place that is comfortable for you and your students.
Welcome Letter to Parents:
Have your welcome letter ready to send home on the first day of school or at "Meet the Teacher" night. You may want to attach your behavior plan, homework policy, and other information to send home along with the letter. You will find the welcome letter that I send home in the resources section of this book.
As soon as you get your lunch/specials schedule from your administration, you can begin mapping out your schedule for the day. Because my units are integrated, I include a science/social studies block, a math block, and a language block each day. If you are teaching using literature, your subjects will run together, and that is a good thing. However, you do need to map out your subject areas and times because you will have children who are leaving the room for various reasons such as Speech and SLD classes throughout the day. (See appendix for my class schedule.)
Try to keep your schedule as predictable as possible. Children thrive in a predictable (but not boring) environment. Also, make time for students to share with each other. Even in third grade, I allow five minutes a day for "share time." This occurs right after lunch. Immediately after share time I read aloud, and the children know that when I close the book, they need to be ready to work. Try to alternate active and quiet activities throughout the day. Also, as you plan your schedule, think about the fact that your kids will probably have a harder time paying attention at the end of the day. I teach math last because the children are usually excited about using manipulatives and working with their partners. Make sure to post your schedule on a large poster with text that is easy to read. This helps you and your students. It helps you by giving you something to refer to when you forget what time you are supposed to be where. It helps your students by making them feel comfortable because they know what is next on the agenda. Later in the term, you will be able to flip-flop subjects to meet your needs, but I suggest that you stick to the schedule at all times during the first few weeks. This will give you and your students a chance to internalize the daily schedule.
In my opinion, you have two main goals during the first week of school: build community and teach routines. One explanation of a particular routine will not be enough. Be prepared to go over them all the first day by making a list of the routines for your class. (Remember, routines are not the same as rules.) Teach these routines on the first day, and teach them again on the second day. You will have to review as needed during the rest of the week. You will be glad you took the time to teach routines when your class runs smoothly later in the year. In general, children will work to meet your expectations. We run into trouble when our expectations seem foggy or unnecessary to children. Make sure that your expectations for class routines are clear, and make sure they understand why those routines are so important. Recognize students who follow the correct procedures during the first week. They will learn quickly that they will gain your attention (and team points) for following classroom procedures.
Make sure that you have morning procedures and dismissal procedures posted. At first, it will look like you have a lot of posters in your room. I like using big, laminated posters, and taking them down is a class ritual. Last year, we worked for two nine weeks on the dismissal procedures before we could finally take the poster down. (When we "master" a poster, it is removed from the wall because we no longer need that reminder.) I number the steps on my posters. This makes it easier to teach class routines because I can look at a child and say, "Did you do number 4?" This reminds the child to refer to the poster as a reference. Within the first week, I began to notice the children referring to the posters in the morning and during clean up. They like knowing whatís expected of them. They also like seeing them come down.
Morning procedures should involve sharpening pencils and getting settled. Many teachers do Daily Oral Language and Daily Oral Math during this time, but I do math centers. I encourage my children to interact during these first few minutes of the day. Since I encourage them to form relationships, I understand that they want to say "HI" to each other when they walk in the door just like we say "HELLO" to our colleagues when we get to work. I think that expecting them to be silent during this time is unnatural. When the school announcements come on, my students know that it is time to clean up and go to their desks. When students donít follow the procedures, they lose the privilege of doing math centers. Itís that simple. Note: I do not begin math centers in the morning until the second week of school.
During the first few weeks of school, children have a problem with any of your procedures, make a poster! Remember, it can always come down later. As I stated above, making a poster puts the responsibility on your students. Instead of saying, "Donít you remember when you are supposed to sharpen your pencil?" you simply say, "Please read the poster on pencil sharpening procedures." This also helps new teachers STICK to their procedures instead of being "wishy-washy" when children donít follow routines. Putting it on paper is like signing it into law. As a side note, I just want to say that I tape small, individual signs on desks to remind students who constantly "forget" about certain procedures.
In my classroom, every child has a class job at all times. Many teachers have five or six jobs that they rotate among students, but I feel that having a job all the time helps to teach responsibility. I have a job poster that has pockets for each job. All of my students have index cards with their names on them, and I simply put the cards in the pockets and rotate them each week. I have found that the students need to have their jobs for a week instead of just one day. For example, if Bobby is the door holder on Monday, he knows that he will be expected to hold the door for the entire week. He can look at the job board to see what job he will have next because I rotate them in order. The key to creating jobs for every student is that you must have jobs that they like in addition to the ones that they canít stand. Some of the jobs are "powerful" jobs that the children really enjoy doing. As you read through the list, you will realize that some of the jobs need to be done throughout the day while others are only done at the beginning or the end. This is a fair system because every child will have every job at least once. My classroom jobs include the following: sink supervisor, electrician (lights), floor inspector, desk monitor, librarian, TV technician, zoo keeper, and noise monitor. Note: Students can and will be fired if they neglect their job. If they are fired, their card is removed from the job poster. (Nobody wants to be fired because then they would miss the fun jobs such as floor inspector and zoo keeper.)
You will find that these jobs do more than teach responsibility; they also help your class run smoothly by making sure that important tasks are completed each day. At the end of the day, the vice president is in charge of checking the jobs. He/she gives them a warning, and if they donít respond to that warning, the VP reports to me. The president does not check individual class jobs; he/she is in charge of checking for "neat teams" and is also expected to report to me if problems arise. These officers are elected by their peers and serve one month terms. (See chapter on building classroom community for more information.)
Before school starts, you should set up some kind of filing system. You will probably make changes once you realize what you really need, so I will just describe some of the folders that I have in my filing system:
- Individual student folders for work samples (writing, math tests, etc.)
- Individual student folders for documentation (forms, notes from home, etc.)
- Thursday Folders for sending home student work (laminated)
- Folders for each unit of study (your system will depend on your teaching style)
- Folders for each day of the week
- Folders for conference forms, detention forms, discipline referrals, etc.
- "To Do Today" folder
- "Turn in to Office" folder
When you start teaching, you will devise a system of your own to meet your needs as an educator. However, in the meantime, make sure that you have the basics that I mentioned above, and donít be afraid to ask other teachers if you can sneek a peek at their filing systems.
Make sure that you have extras of all the school forms you could possibly need filed away for safe-keeping before school starts. Youíll be glad you did.
Become familiar with school policies and procedures before school starts.
Does your school require a specific planbook? A specific format? Must your plans be turned in every week? Are there specific components that all teachers must include in their plans? Must the state standards be noted for each lesson? What is the grading policy? Get the answers to these and any other questions that you might have before school starts.
When you anticipate missing a day of work, I am sure you will gather materials and write detailed plans for your sub. However, you must be prepared for the day when something prevents you from getting to school. One of my colleagues, Sabrina Hoops, has what she calls a "sub crate" that is filled with extra work and games in case of an emergency. (See appendix for a list of items included in this crate.) This is just another thing that you can get out of the way before you even meet your students.
I recommend nametags for you and the children on the first day of school. Make sure that you have them ready for them to put on as they walk in the room. Also, if you are using textbooks, you will need to decide on inventory system that will work for you. Many teachers like to give each student a "student number" for the entire year. These numbers can be used to keep track of textbooks, and they can also be used to identify papers rather than names.
Wong and Wong:
I recommend that you read The First Days of School by Wong and Wong. The book is very informative, and I suggest that you take the time to read it before school starts.
Many new teachers spend a lot of time surfing the internet looking at teacher sites. Please donít forget to familiarize yourself with the websites that are available for children. If you have more than one computer in your classroom, I suggest that you upload your favorite sites into browsers on each of your computers. This way, the bookmarks will be the same on all of your computers. The last thing that you want is for your elementary students to be "surfing" the internet in your classroom. You want to be sure that the sites they are accessing are safe, and creating bookmark folders is a great way to do this. (You can also create a class webpage with teacher-approved sites.) The following is a list of the steps that I suggest for gathering and uploading your bookmarks:
- Surf the web for sites that you want your students to access in your classroom.
- Create folders in your bookmarks for the subject areas. (math, science, social studies, spelling, reading, writing, art, research sites, sites with everything, etc.)
- As you find a site, donít just bookmark it. Add it to the appropriate folder.
- Your goal is to have at least three websites in each folder. When you have a good collection of sites, save the bookmarks file to a floppy disk.
- Take your floppy disk to school and upload those bookmarks onto your student computers. (The folders will remain intact.)
- Teach your students how to use the bookmarks, and make it clear that they are only to access the websites that you have bookmarked. (You will have about 30 bookmarks on each computer, so you donít have to worry about them running out of sites.)
The really great thing about this is that your students are getting to use the web, but you know that the sites they are accessing is safe, You might be asking yourself, "But what about the kids who donít listen and go to sites that I donít have bookmarked?" Thatís simple. They lose all computer privileges for a week. Tell them ahead of time, and then when the first one tests you, follow through. I never had a problem with my students going to unbookmarked sites because there was a variety available to them.
Another advantage of having filed bookmarks is that you can use many of these sites for remediation. For example, say Tara asks to go online because she has some extra time. You remember that she has been having a lot of trouble with math, so you say, "Sure, but you need to choose something from the math folder." This bookmark system works well for teachers who havenít had a chance to create class pages. In my classroom, my students know that they can only go to links that are included on my student page. I used the bookmark system before I had the webpage set up.
Note: If you don't have time, feel free to let your kids use my page, Mrs. Zeiger's Zany Links - http://www.geocities.com/
This is the fun part! You need to go shopping for your professional yet comfortable wardrobe! You will also want to hit your local teaching stores, but donít go overboard. Wait until after school starts because then you will have a better idea of what will be provided by the school and what will be coming out of your own pocket. (Try not to spend too much of your paycheck on your classroom!)