Jul 072014

First Day of SchoolThe most valuable lesson that I learned from all of my classroom management strategies last year was that none of them are as important as what a teacher does on the first day of school.  This did not come as a surprise to me. As a first year teacher, I was told countless times by numerous, experienced teachers, principals, and trusted family members, that the first day of school is the most critical time for establishing effective Classroom Management. There is even a  very popular book written with the title,  First Days of School, by Harry Wong. While I took this advice seriously, it rings more true to me now than ever. Now that I have had a year to reflect on my effectiveness at managing the behavior of two fourth-grade classes, I can see how my classroom management plan was rather vague, at best. I am not disappointed in myself for a lack of effort or for not taking the message and topic seriously enough. On the contrary, I took all of this information very seriously and did everything possible to put a classroom management plan in place for the first day of school. Now, I can see, only one thing was lacking: experience.  The reason that virtually all first-year teachers struggle to manage behavior effectively is that there is no substitute for experience.  There is nothing wrong with the advice I got as a first year teacher. I simply lacked the experienced vision to design an effective classroom management plan.

My First Day of School

Prior to the first day of school, I was not familiar with the environment of my own work-place. Consequently, I learned the every-day routines, procedures, and transitions right along with my students for the first-time. It is impossible to have a plan in place for the unknown. Most of the advice we new teachers receive doesn’t come in the form of such specific details. As a first-year teacher, I had no idea what questions to even ask of my school and principal. I remember the work and detail I put into classroom management prior to my first day of school. I put together a blueprint for how kids were expected to behave in the hallways, classroom and at lunch. I put together a behavior plan with a golden rule at the very top of the chart that said, Serve God. I explained to the students that serving God is the most important thing we can do each and every day and by following this rule we could do no wrong. Obeying the golden rule includes a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts. Some of the don’ts include, talking while teacher is talking,  talking while another student is talking, blurting-out answers. Some of the do’s are, raising your hand to be called-on, silence in the hallways, addressing the principal and priest politely, and appropriately, and treating other classmates with respect.  I also made it clear that when I raise my hand with five fingers, there needs to be complete silence in the room. While we practiced implementing our golden rule on the first days and week of school, I soon learned that my classroom behavior plan was not nearly specific enough about addressing specific events, situations and circumstances of the typical school day. I came to realize that my own initial expectations fell well short of  reality. The biggest mistake I made, however, was how I allowed kids to enter the room on the very first day of school. Later, as I watched videos of other effective teachers on the first day of school, I began to see a very amusing, if not fitting,  analogy:  A teachers is like the conductor of an orchestra. Continue reading »