Monday, February 1, 2010

A Brand New Semester

For the First Years

There are five months left in the school year. By now you should see how important the first two weeks of the school year were. While the next two are not as crucial, they are incredibly important. If you take action you can improve your classroom substantially. If you take no action you are making the decision to allow things to keep going as is. If you're alright with that, OK. Perhaps your classroom has turned around and become a place of incredible learning and growth, but last year at this time I was still struggling to get anything done with my students and even to stay afloat. I wrote a bit about starting over in my post, "The Day After Break," but this is bigger than that. This is not the day after a week-long break. This is the beginning of the second half of your first year in the classroom- what might be the most difficult year of your life. Here are a few things to think about:

Take Action
Treat this week like a new beginning, but do not expect that the students will react immediately. Re-establish the rules, re-establish classroom procedures and make certain that you stick to them. Teach, for goodness sake, but stick to every last thing you say. If you must reduce your lesson plans to teaching completely out of the textbook, do it. If you've not established some kind of normalcy in your classroom, this is the time to get it done.

That said, be careful. I got myself in trouble last year by assuming things would get better if I just followed the easy steps of laying out the rules once more. I expected way too much and then was frustrated when the small gain we'd made in my classroom dissolved into me shouting again. What could have been a better classroom turned into a bitter disappointment. Remember that it is going to take renewed effort and more work, but that it will be worth it.

Review Rules
and Regulations
If you have too many of them, ditch a few. If you have some that you've realized are inconsequential, ditch them too. Simplify your management plan and make it, well, manageable. If you've found you cannot stick to part of it, scrap it. You should know by now that if you do not follow through with what you say, you lose credibility- and quickly.

Don't Expect Miracles
Sticking to your management plan will not magically transform your classroom. It will still be very hard work to get students to where you want them to be. That might not be what you want to hear, but that's reality. Following through will definitely help, however. You have five months and while things probably won't turn into some gloriously progressive, discussion-based classroom situation, there is a lot of potential that things will get better.

Five Months Left
Keep going this marking period. My father always told me that when training for a marathon, if you can run half the distance you can make it through the entire race on race day. As exhausted as you may be and as much as your students might irritate you, they- especially the ones who've listened to everything you've said this year- still deserve everything you can give them. Dig in these next couple of weeks and make the second semester better for you and for your students. Remember that there are students who are on your side and who need your help to be lifted above the madness. It's your duty to help them no matter how few they are.

Today's Wine: Manta Sauvignon Blanc 2009. A dry white I used to cook with. It was just fine otherwise. I'm not as familiar with whites, as I stray away from them generally. Here are a couple different takes on this same bottle: Take One; Take Two.


  1. Your advice is great. Also, even experienced teachers face challenging years. I like the part about teaching from the textbook if you have to because that is one way to establish a routine that the kids can understand.

  2. Establishing routines are one of the most important aspects of the job. In the school of ed most of us developed an aversion to the text book which was a bit misguided. While they're generally watered-down and dull, they can certainly be useful.

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