I thought I was prepared. I've done this before. I've got this.
I remember the start of my 2nd year of teaching vividly—I stepped into my 6th grade science classroom with great confidence. After a VERY rough start to my first year, I learned a ton and made a lot of changes.
After a much better 2nd semester, I thought I was ready for the new year.
At first, everything looked great. I was more confident and in control, class ran smoothly, and students were on track.
Six weeks in, though, cracks started to show. “First-year-teacher” problems started to reappear. I was pulling my hair out:
Why are transitions taking so long? Why are they forgetting the directions as soon as we start a lab? Why are their assignments a mess?
When your class is falling apart, it's easy to look at students and think “I'm doing what I did last year, only better…so it must be their fault.”
But we know that's not the case. We know we need to look at our own practices as educators.
I struggled through, and we had a decent year, but it wasn't the year it could have been for my 6th graders.
What Went Wrong?
Looking back more than a decade later, I know what happened. You probably do, too.
I knew what I wanted to happen in my classroom, and I taught students those expectations…but I stopped too soon. What was clear in my mind wasn't clear—and wasn't yet a habit—to my students.
You have teachers—experienced as well as new—who are going to encounter the same situation in this new school year. No matter how much we may claim to already “know” how to start the year right, thousands of teachers working with millions of students will start building their classroom community but…
Stop. Too. Soon.
And they'll fail to create the smooth-running culture of learning they've been striving for.
My colleague Steve Reifman makes 4 priorities crystal clear in our new course The First Month of School:
- Establishing Routines, Procedures, & Expectations
- Building a Cooperative Classroom Culture
- Establishing a Sense of Purpose
- Communicating with Students’ Families
￼If we achieve these 4 priorities in the first 4-6 weeks, we'll have a great year. If we don't, things will start to fall apart about 6 weeks in.
“Yeah, I already know all that.”
But try talking to your teachers about this, and they'll say “Oh, thanks, I already know that.” Send them the list above, and they'll dismiss it within a few seconds.
That's why Steve's perspective is so valuable. As a National Board-Certified Teacher, Steve has experience and deep expertise. And he has a gift for communicating in a way that casts new light on the familiar.
Steve shows us not just what to do, but how to do it, with specific culture-building activities that every teacher can use to get their class on track for the year.
I want to ask you to do one or both of the following:
- Think about how you're going to help all of your teachers—especially those who are in the “danger zone” I was in when I started my 2nd year of teaching—to start the year right.
What can you do, 1:1, in teams, and in whole-staff gatherings, to help keep the wheels from falling off when the “new car smell” wears off, a month into the new year? You can leave a comment below to share your ideas.
- Take a look at Steve's course The First Month of School and consider whether $39/teacher is an investment you need to make this year.
If you have teachers who need this, you'll know. You can sign up a small group or your whole staff, and we'll get them started immediately (teachers can start the course any time, ideally right before or as school is starting).