Monday, September 6, 2010

Setting the Tone

The first day of school is tomorrow here in the Pacific Northwest.  This will be my third year of teaching, albeit half-time.  I'm excited to get the year started.

By the end of last year, I feel like I really had a reliable method for classroom management.  Teachers implemented PBIS school-wide, I had immediately tangible consequences for good and bad behavior, and clear rules and procedures posted in the classroom.  My administrator described the difference as night and day.  More importantly, my students were more attentive, more productive and learning more.

To start with these tools all in place at the beginning of the year is a nice change.  Every year before, I've negotiated rules and expectations with students a week or two into the year.  While this hands ownership to the students, I currently lack either the presence or the experience to maintain decorum for those first weeks.  Consequently, students aren't mindful of what their rules should make the classroom look like.  Maybe in a few years I can move back in that direction.

I have four rules this year.  Directly from my syllabus:

  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Enough said.
  2. Do your best. It is impossible to succeed without trying.
  3. Accept that you will not be treated the same as everyone else1. The teacher cannot watch everyone at the same time, and sometimes will catch one person breaking the rules and not another person. When a student is given a consequence, “so and so did it too” is not an acceptable response. Likewise, students are at all different levels and therefore some students will need harder or easier work. Students should come to class ready to learn more for themselves, not in comparison to their peers.
  4. Bring and use the right tool for the right job. Students can't complete class work without the proper materials. Likewise, using certain materials at the wrong time (like listening to an iPod during a discussion) impedes learning. There may be a time when students can use cell phones and iPods in class, but they should be turned off and out of sight until the teacher asks for them.
In addition, I have five sets of procedures.  Again, from the syllabus:

When reading:
  1. Reading is thinking. It is easier to think when it is silent and there are few distractions. Do not talk when reading.
  2. When you do need to talk to the teacher or a partner, whisper.
  3. Fully focus on reading during silent reading time.
When writing:
  1. Writing is thinking. It is easier to think when it is silent and there are few distractions. Do not talk when writing.
  2. When you do need to talk to the teacher or a partner, whisper.
  3. Use the entire writing time working on writing.
When entering the classroom:
  1. Get your materials from the filing cabinet in the room.
  2. Be seated in your desk before the bell rings.
  3. When the bell rings, immediately begin the warm-up exercise.
When leaving the classroom:
  1. Mr. B will dismiss you, not the bell.
  2. Leave your workspace cleaner than you found it and return all materials to the right place.
  3. When your workspace is clean, sit in your chair and wait to be dismissed.
  4. When dismissed, push your chair in.
  5. Turn in calendars and any other assignments on your way out the door.
During class:
  1. Follow SLATSit up straight, Listen, Ask and answer questions, and Track the speaker.
  2. If you need to use the bathroom, quietly get out one of your bathroom passes and hold it up. I will either sign it or ask you to wait until a better time.
  3. If you need to sharpen a pencil, hold your pencil up in the air and I will trade you for a fresh one.
Rather than have students sit listening to me drone on about all the expectations, I've taken a page from Dan's post on his first day of class and give students this:

Throw in some role play, some enthusiasm, and the first day jitters and I hope to have their attention for the period.  The first week at least will be consumed by setting up and practicing these and other classroom processes.

All this still leaves me with one nagging question.  Do I have enough faith in my already established [overly-bureaucratic?] classroom management that it alone can get me through the first day of school?

On the first day, apparently I've always presented myself as too nice, because every year thus far I end up backpedaling, coming down harder on students the next day or the next week because I didn't get a good enough handle on them in the first hour we met.

I know teachers who intentionally throw a student out of class on the first day just to show they mean business.  That doesn't seem like the answer to me, especially since even with a beard I'm not intimidating to anyone over the age of 10.  I don't want students to fear me; I want them to fear my justice.  I don't want them walking into class on tiptoe, but I do want my expectations clear, my consequences just, quick, and utterly devastating.

Tomorrow, how do I set the tone?

1. All credit for this rule goes to Tom Fuller, who should probably be blogging.  Go back

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