How to Start a Year

The beginning of a school year is an important time for both students and teachers. A time to establish new routines, build new relationships, launch another year of academic pursuits. Get it right, and, as a teacher, you are on your way to an easier time helping students towards a rewarding learning experience. Get it wrong and you are setting yourself up for a struggle for the next nine months. At least, that is what I have been told. I wouldn’t know for sure; I have never done it on my own. So you can imagine I am feeling a little pressure to start things right in my first classroom.

Now obviously I know that flubbing the first day is not an insurmountable mistake. But I am still putting a good deal of thought into how I want to start. How to communicate to my students that I am on their team, that I am there to help them, not antagonize them. How I want to get them excited for Social Studies (no mean feat, as you might assume).

Part of my personal philosophy is that honesty and transparency breeds trust between teachers and students. So my first inclination is to lay everything out in front of my students and be clear. I want to ask two questions:

  • Why do you think I am here?
  • Why do you think you are here?

My thought is to open the class up with a discussion of these questions. I am inspired by the work of Donalyn Miller, in her book, the Book Whisperer.

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In teaching her students to love reading, she asks them to honestly talk about how they pick books, and eventually it leads to a discussion on how to be a good reader, what to do when a book is boring, and so on. At first, her students are a little hesitant, but faced with her honesty (yes, some books are boring, and yes, sometimes she just quits a book in the middle), her students begin to open up.

In the same way, I want my students to be able to be honest with me, and I with them. Sometimes they might feel like I am there to antagonize them. Sometimes I might get frustrated by something that they do (or more likely, don’t so). I want to be able to have a discussion about what we should do when that kind of thing happens. Likewise, I want to let them know my true goal: to help equip them with the skills they need for the rest of their adult lives.

I also want them to know what is expected of me as a social studies teacher. I have standards that I am expected to follow. I have a contract that I signed. I have a curriculum to follow, more or less. But even more than what is expected of me, I hope they can own what is expected of them. Maybe by having an honest conversation about that would help build trust between them and me.

Obviously, I will be putting more thought into this in the coming weeks. If any of you have thought to contribute, I would be happy to hear them.

 

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