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by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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August 2002

How to Start School Successfully


 

Welcome back to school.

Clueless may be the best way to explain the plight of many neophyte teachers. It conjures up an image of a person sitting at life's crossroads with a suitcase full of information, but no idea how to use it. Their bags are brimming with a five- or six- or seven-step lesson plan, boxes of activities, the state performance appraisal instrument, five interpretations of educational foundations, nine theories of child development, conflicting advice from a plethora of educational specialists, and a collection of buzzwords and current educational fads. But they have no clue as to what to do in the first days and weeks of school.

I do not remember this teacher's name, but had it not been for her, I never would have made it this far. Bless her! Something happened to me before the first day of school when I began teaching 26 years ago in Los Angeles.

I was standing in the teacher's lounge when this experienced teacher came to me and said, "You don't know how to start, eh?"

I said, "How can you tell?" If you can only start my class for me and get them rolling I'll be able to carry on."

No one had taught me how to start the first day of school.

Gail Sutton

Portland, Oregon (from The First Days of School, page 15)

A First Day of School Action Plan

Imagine starting the first day of school with a specific action plan. So often we hear from people who tell us that their college classes in education offered nothing practical, concrete, or applicable. This was not the case with Sarah Jones, who we talked about in our September, 2001, column https://teachers.net/wong/SEP01/

At Western Kentucky University, where Sarah Jones was a student, they help their preservice teachers "get it all together" just before they go out to teach. As part of her classroom management class Sarah Jones prepared a First Day of School Action Plan. This one-inch thick binder proved to be a Godsend as she began her teaching career.

This is what her Action Plan contained.

Table of Contents

  1. Academic Expectations
  2. Time Frame For Components of Plan
  3. Lesson Plans & Activities
    • "Places To Go!"
    • "Numerous Number"
    • "Cultures Camp Out"
    • First Day of School Activities
    • Motivational Activities
    • Books To Use During The First Days of School
  4. Preparation of Classroom Before The First Day of School
    • Be Prepared Sheet
    • Preparation Checklist
    • Getting 0rganized
    • Cooperative Classroom Dry-Erase Board
    • Student Contract For Classroom Materials
    • "Our Class Fits Like A Puzzle" Bulletin Board
    • Classroom Door Decoration
    • "Brag About Me Board" Bulletin Board
    • All About Me" Bulletin Board
    • Room Arrangement
  5. Collaboration With Students & Parents
    • Letter to Students
    • Open House Activities
    • Substitute Teacher Handbook
    • New Student Folder
    • Parent Letter
    • Homework Policy
    • Homework Tip List
    • Transportation Checklist
    • "Any Beautiful Collectible" Wish List
    • Rules, Consequences, Rewards
    • Volunteer Sheet
  6. Classroom Schedules
    • First Day of School Schedule
    • General Daily Schedule
  7. Maintaining A Learning Climate
    • Reasons for the Management Plan
    • Rules, Consequences, Rewards
    • Procedures
    • First Morning Greeting & Seating Arrangement
    • Housekeeping Idea
    • "Duty Wheel"- Student Jobs
    • Intervention Plan Packet
    • Socio-Gram
    • Form Used to Create a Socio-Gram
  8. Notes of Encouragement
    • Student Postcard
    • "Special News About A Very Special Student" Certificate
    • "Super Job-Way To Go-Great Day" Letter Form
  9. IX. Documentation & Evaluation
    • Documentation of Student Work
    • Contract For Learning Centers
    • Teacher Evaluation
  10. Parent Calls & Conference
    • "Welcoming Phone Call" Planning Sheet
    • "Welcoming Phone Call (to parents of potential problem students)" Planning Sheet
    • "Positive Phone Call Form"
    • Parent Conferences Outline

Sarah Jones' First Day of School Action Plan has been shared with you so that you can develop your own Action Plan. With such a plan she was so effective that a parent shared:

I loved volunteering in Ms. Jones' classroom because this gave me an opportunity to see how well organized she was and how well behaved were the students. She had her policies, daily assignments, and classroom procedures posted. Her conduct was extremely professional, from how she dressed, to how she communicated with the parents. My daughter was truly blessed by having such a wonderful teacher.

Maria Silva, parent of Laura Silva

The effective teacher plans, then plans some more, and finally over plans. This is no different from a pilot who has a flight plan, a coach who has a game plan, and a businessperson who has a business plan. The ineffective teacher goes from day to day, wondering what to teach the next day, often looking for busy work to keep the students quiet and docile.

On the first day of school, Sarah Jones states her expectations.

Academic Expectations (Sarah Jones)

I can promise that I will provide the best school year ever to every student.

My academic expectations of my class are simple and straight forward. I expect every student to try their best and do their best work. I expect each of my students to make great strides in their academic success during the school year. Every student has the right and the potential to be successful.

On the first day of school, Christine Neilson, who teaches at Holy Name of Jesus Middle School in Indialantic, Florida, communicates her expectations to her students and parents in the following manner.

Academic Expectations (Christine M. Neilson)

One item that I found to so helpful during this current school year is that when I sent out letters to parents this year advising them of our expectations for their students, I sent two copies - one for the parent to keep and one to send back signed, to me. I added a space for an email address and 149 out of 150 students have a parent with an email address! I keep all on file and email parents rather than calling. The response time so much quicker and parents seem to enjoy this type of correspondence.

Las Vegas Wants You To Have a Great Beginning

Clark County, Nevada, where Las Vegas is located, is the fastest growing school district in America. They hire some 1500 new teachers each year. Their website is www.ccsd.net/jobs if you might be interested in looking for a job opportunity here. The Clark County Schools have an induction program.

Remember the difference between an induction program and mentoring. As important as is a mentor, that's all a mentor is -- a buddy or support person. An induction program is an organized, sustained, multiyear process with many activities designed to help you succeed. One facet of the Clark County Induction Program is how they begin with a Welcome Center. The center is staffed with people who will help you find housing, arrange for telephone and utility service, introduce you to important people who can answer your questions, and even have socials for you to meet people from your home area or academic area.

There will be workshops, mentors, and monthly newsletters. Each new teacher is given a big binder of materials, called Great Beginnings, to help you succeed. Just think how much more likely it is that you will succeed if you had An Action Plan from your university, coupled with an Induction Program with materials and people supplied by a school district to help you succeed.

Before you begin your first day of school, the people in the Clark County Induction Program will teach you how to do the following:

Top Dozen To-Do
Before School Starts

  1. Plan seating assignments (i.e. random, numbered, alphabetical).
  2. Determine essential procedures for a smooth-running classroom.
  3. Over plan!
  4. Gather lots of teambuilding activities to be used early during the year.
  5. Post your discipline plan, including rules and consequences.
  6. Identify a location in your classroom to post your daily agenda.
  7. Create a daily routine for the first five minutes of class.
  8. Anticipate and prepare all supplies needed (dry erase markers, corridor passes, stapler, etc.).
  9. Organize and prepare your classroom so it is ready for learning.
  10. Think of ways to learn your student's names quickly (i.e. mnemonics, pictures, etc.).
  11. Introduce yourself to the teachers next door and across the hail.
  12. Commit to connecting with each student on a daily basis (eye contact, greetings, acknowledgements, quick notes, high fives).

Building on the Clark County School District's new teacher induction program, Bridget Phillips, has her own induction program at her school. In the past six years she has had a zero attrition rate. To find out about her induction program, please go to our column of January 2002 https://teachers.net/wong/JAN02/.

Signing Bonus or Success?

Would you rather have up to $5000 or the knowledge and skills that you need to succeed as a teacher?

In April, 2002, an article appeared in the Times Picayune, the local newspaper of New Orleans. It said that the New Orleans school district was looking for business donations of $5000 to $2500, which they would match to use as signing bonuses for teachers, with a condition to stay for three years. The help these teachers would receive would be some evening classes. Yes, evening classes.

What good is an extra $2000 to $3000 if you leave teaching after one to three years, which is typical of nearly all new teachers. You've wasted three years of your life -- for $2000? You've also wasted years of preparation and tens of thousands of dollars invested in your education. Add on the nagging thought of your self-worth and the image that you failed at something. Your success at what you do with your life is far more important than some signing bonus. Therefore, it is much more important when you go for an interview, ask the interviewer if the district has a new teacher induction program.

The research has shown that those teachers who are part of a district's induction program are far more likely to succeed and stay in teaching, than those who are just "thrown" into a room to teach.

Set High Expectations On The First Day

There is no beginning too small.

Thoreau

What To Do On The First Day of School

  • Use an opening assignment
  • Establish routines
  • Teach organizational skills
  • Learn students' names
  • Plan your first day down to the minute

The most important thing a teacher can provide a classroom the first week of school is security or consistency (See page 85, The First Days of School). Students do not want nor do they learn well in a disorganized environment. If the furniture is movable, align all the desks on the first day and continue to have them aligned until you change the room arrangement.

A well-organized, uncluttered, and attractive room gives a professional and authoritative image that students respect. It is essential that you have your room ready and inviting before the students come on the first day of school.

Have a bulletin board ready with schedules, rules, procedures, preview of what is to come, a bulletin board area with pictures and information about you, and a big welcome sign that says you are glad they are here in school.

Seen posted on a door

We're a class who
Enjoys working and
Learning together. We
Care for
One another and
Make sure
Everyone feels important.

Mrs. Wharton
Grade 5
Walter Douglas School
Tucson, AZ

Wear clothing that is neat and pressed. As you are dressed, so shall you be perceived. And as you are perceived, so shall you be treated.

Stand when you speak. Speak in short, clear sentences or phrases. The most effective teachers have a firm, but soft voice. When you speak softly, the class responds by speaking softly to hear you.

On the first days of school, do not be afraid to begin many of your sentences with, "You will... (See page 111, The First Days of School)" The first days of school are critical. Your mission on the first few days is to establish student routines and classroom procedures.

When emphasizing, do not point your finger. It's an accusatory signal and resembles a gun. Watch David letterman make a point. He uses his palm.

If you have very young students, place their name on their coat hooks, desks, and cubbyholes. This is a message that you are organized and that you expect them to use the same hook, desk, or cubbyhole every day. Many students like the security of this routine, because many have a great deal of chaos at home.

Set up your own seating plan beforehand, as this helps you to get to know your students fast. Address your students by name as fast as possible. This is not only a friendly gesture, but prevents misbehaving when the students believe, "Oh, oh, I better behave. She knows who I am."

Have your first "bellwork" assignment ready. Make it doable because you want your students to have a sense of accomplishment. Students who fail early will create problems in the classroom by sending out a message of frustrations.

Go to school earlier than normal, even an hour will go by quickly. Use the extra time to double-check everything, making sure that your first day's script (https://teachers.net/wong/JUN00/) is ready. Then, spend a few minutes relaxing, smiling, and self-talking yourself into high expectations for the year. Tell yourself:

  1. I will establish classroom management procedures from the beginning.
  2. I will convey that this class will be business-like, with a firm, competent, and warm teacher.
  3. I will establish work habits in my students first and worry about content later. "You seemingly waste time at the beginning to gain time at the end" (See page 193, The First Days of School).

Be just outside the door when the students arrive. This establishes authority and also conveys that you consider them important enough to be waiting to greet them. If young children are to line up before entering, insist on a straight line. If you pick up your class from another area, don't say: "Follow me" or "Come on." Rather, introduce yourself and then right there indicate what procedure you want followed as they walk to your room (See page 109, The First Days of School).

Do not allow the students to enter the room until you have determined that they are ready to enter a room of academic achievement. This establishes that you are the authority who knows how to conduct a classroom. This tells them that it's your classroom and their classroom, not an area they are going to annex or occupy.

When you talk to your students, refrain from finger pointing, using a frantic voice, and constant jabbering as this will cause the students to imitate your behavior.

When the line is ready, praise them before you welcome them in.

Set High Standards For Yourself

Set high standards for yourself if you want a highly productive environment. There is nothing more damaging than a teacher with low expectations, sloppy dress, disorganized assignments and lessons, and the lack of classroom procedures or routines. You must set high standards for yourself if you expect students to meet high expectations of achievement.

If you do not take responsibility for yourself, no one else will. It's that simple. You make a statement of dignity to yourself and the teaching profession when you acknowledge and accept that you make a difference.

Best wishes as you set forth to make a difference, which is what teaching is all about.

 


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