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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dear Katie, (Volume 1 No. 2) The Honeymoon Period

From time to time I plan to encourage my niece Katie in her pursuit of being a teacher.  She is currently a Sophomore in college.  These blogs will take the form of a letter.

If any of my teacher friends have any topic you would like be to write about or would like me to paste your own post on here for her or anyone else to read, by all means, please be my guest.

Dear Katie,

This morning I went next door to my neighbors at the General Store to get some coffee.  They asked me how my students were this year, and I told them it was hard to tell.  I have only had them for about a week and they are still in the honeymoon period.  They are sizing up who you are, how much they can get away with, if they are going to enjoy or ignore your class, etc.

After that...you better have a strong idea of what you want your classroom to be or it will be what THEY want it to be.

(I wish I understood that 20 years ago, my first few years would have went smoother)

Since I am a middle school teacher, I do not hand out a laundry list of my rules and expectations.  I establish just two rules with my class:

Do What is Expected of You
Respect Others and their Property

I ask for examples of both ideas in the classroom and appeal to their "maturity" by saying I should not need to have a laundry list; that they're too old for that.  If they were just to ask themselves if they are following these two rules, they would NEVER get in trouble.

From day one, build relationships and get to know your students.  Teaching is not all about the subject you teach, but the students you will get to know.  Who is that kid in your classroom?  What motivates her?  What struggles does he have?  The more they know you want to know them, the more they will want to know what you know.

When you do have to discipline a student be measured in your response.  DO NOT OVERREACT on a small infraction.  

One thing I wish I knew early on, do not raise your voice unless it is absolutely necessary.  A disapproving look can work just as well.

Sending a kid to the office should be your NUCLEAR OPTION, do it when there is no other recourse of action or a major infraction.  It will have a greater impact when you need to do it.  I had an assistant principal once tell a kid I sent to the office, "I know this has to be bad, Mr. Cullen NEVER sends anyone to the office."

However, if you are first starting in student teaching or your first year, you should have a itchy finger in using it.  For example, one day we were talking with friends and the wife was going to begin subbing the next day so she asked me how I handle classroom management, so I shared with her the above ideas.

"So Kevin, you're saying I shouldn't send any kids to the office", she said.

My response,

"Oh no, send the first kid who disrespects you to the office. I can hold off because I have built a rapport with my students over the year, but if I were you as a sub, and your first day at that, send the first problem to the principal and the second kid will wonder if its worth it to act up."

So your first day in the classroom you may have every kid hanging on your every word because your new.  Don't let that fool you, its only the honeymoon.  When the "marriage" passes out of that period and reality sets in, hopefully you have set up structures in your class to get you through your first major "test".

Just My Opinion,

Uncle Kevin


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