Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 1 v. Day 1- It Gets Better

Today was the first day of school. At the end of the day I was left wondering what happened. My classes in the morning did absolutely everything I told them to do. My class in the afternoon did very nearly everything I asked- far better than almost every single class period I had last year.

Last year was a completely different story. Here are some excerpts I wrote in my journal:

I survived the first week. It was more difficult than I had ever imagined. On the first day, my second class went about as poorly as a class can... Upon entering the room, a student picked up my pile of handouts (three piles, about 60 copies apiece) and tossed them into the air. I watched in disbelief as the they floated back to the ground, the air filling with giggles from the other 37 students assigned to the class were slowly taking their seats and settling in to ignore me completely for about twenty minutes...

I asked a para(educator) at the back of the room to help take care of a student who was taking it upon himself to throw every object that was not nailed down across the room. When the para stepped away from the student he was monitoring, that student grabbed my briefcase and hurled it against the back wall of the classroom, the contents spilling all over the floor- joining my handouts.

At the end of the first day I sat in total exhaustion and disbelief, trying to make sense of what had happened and seriously wondering if six years of college, a year of successful student teaching , attendance at national conferences, hundreds of hours of what I thought was meaningful contemplation of what real education was, living and working in New York the previous summer and using every last dime I had to move to the city to teach these students specifically had let me down entirely.

The journal entry keeps going from there. To say the least, my first day was a rough one last year, as was the first week and to be quite honest, most of the year. The important thing to remember, however, was that it got better. I survived. If day one of your first year is terrible; if week one is horrific, if month one is the absolute worse, give it some time and keep putting in the effort. It will get better.

While Day 1 this year was the polar opposite to Day 1 last year, I got the picture enough last year to know that students often times put on the "Sunday Best" for the first day of school. They come in and take a good look at you to see what boundaries to start testing the following day. Just because today went well certainly doesn't mean I'll be lax tomorrow.

To the First Years and Ed Students
Here are a couple of things that helped me this year with Day 1:
  1. I lined up my students before they came into the classroom. They were not allowed in before they were silent and they did not pick their seats- I had numbered the desks and then handed each students an index card with a number on it directing them to a seat. I shuffled these so that when two friends were hanging out in line they wouldn't be seated next to each other.
  2. The "Do Now," or "Brain Starter" was done right on that card- no other supplies necessary- and it was writing things they knew (name, contact info, etc.)
  3. I made it very clear how the class was to get quiet.
  4. I made reading the syllabus a fill-in-the-blank activity, so they would read it and so they'd be able to handle sitting through it.
  5. I was confident and made sure they knew that with things such as speaking with an even tone, wearing a suit and not reacting to a single thing they wanted me to react to.
  6. Firmness was key. Smiling is a nice thing to do in public- not on the first day of school. No loss of temper, no stressing out and absolutely no jokes. Be cordial and polite.
Any questions about other reasons this went well? It would be helpful to me, as I'm still wondering myself. I'm sure there are other ways to get it to go even smoother.

Today's Wine: Goats do Roam Red 2007 from South Africa. I picked this one up at Trader Joe's a couple of weeks ago not really based on anything but the label, which is a highly-criticized way to pick a wine, but in my opinion is perfectly legitimate. It really boiled down to the fact that some adolescent vein in me thought the name was hilarious. And it was a decent drink. I had it with some really dark chocolate and could taste the "spiciness" they describe it to have.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me so very happy to read, Nick.

    I remember the first Friday of last year. I was rounding up people to head to Howl, and two members of the SS team and one administrator stopped me and said, "Hey, you going to Howl?" I replied in the affirmative. "You want to come?" They all shook their heads, but said, almost in unison, "Go get Nick. He needs it." I did, if you remember. And you came out. I think we were both glad that you did.

    Tomorrow's the first Friday of the new year, and you're already looking in and among our coworkers to see who else might need that leg up at the end of week 1. It's a genuine pleasure to see how far you've come in that very aspect alone. And to be your colleague.

    Remember this feeling. Keep it going. It's wonderful.