Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First Week of School Part One

Planning for a successful first week of school can be challenging even for experienced teachers. You can plan every last detail, activity, and lesson only to find your plan goes to hell in a handbag the minute it encounters 150 teenagers and a schizophrenic administration that decides to change bell schedules, call impromptu class meetings, or otherwise generally disrupt the learning process. The paperwork and record keeping that goes along with the first week can be overwhelming when you are busy trying to learn names, and organize your own classes. The best we can do is decide what our goals are for the first week of school, plan more activities than you'll really need, and then hope/pray for the best.

One of the most effective things that I did last year was send a document home on the first day called "Algebra I First Assignment". This document outlined my expectations for the class to parents and students. The front had a portion for the parents to fill out and the back has a portion for the students to fill out. The wording is rather strong as I lay out my expectations for the students, but at them same time I try to convey what I will do to help students to be successful in my class.

At the end of the year, many of my students come up to me and say that they were so scared of me the first day of school and thought I was going to be a really "mean" teacher (mean to them means strict). They said that they were surprised to find out how much they enjoyed my class and they wished they could have me again for Geometry.

I really think that setting up very high expectations for behaviour and work during the first week and then being consistent and brave enough to follow through with your policies, leads to an environment where learning can take place everyday. I am not saying my classes are perfect every single day, but they know I will deal with disruptions swiftly and fairly.

If your school allows it, having a policy for late work and sticking to it can really cut down on your stress levels at the end of the grading period. In the old days, I never accepted late work in math class. Nowadays, most schools would never allow this. Our district policy says we must take late work up to two days late, but most teachers will accept any work from that grading period up to the last day of the term. I strictly stand by the no more than two days late policy. It is hard for some students who are used to putting off all their work until the 11th hour, but after they fail that first term, they usually see that I mean business. While my colleagues are struggling under mountains of grading during the last week of the term, I am able to eat lunch, relax, and leave as soon as the school day ends without taking home extra work. I do not spend hours gathering up "missing" work for students who are failing. I simply tell them that it is too late for me to take their late work and the only thing they can do to bring up their grade is to retake any quiz or test they failed.

If you'd like a copy of the assignment I send home of the first day of school, I will upload it here. Please feel free to use it or change it to meet your needs.

Algebra I First Assignment

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