Thursday, August 15, 2013

Setting the tone on the first (or second) day of school

 So we had our first day of school....

It was NOT a good day. The students were rude, couldn't/wouldn't follow directions, talked over me and each other. One kid talked over me every. single. time. I spoke. When I asked him to please stop talking,  he mumbled, "I wasn't talking you dumb B****." 

I pulled him aside and told him two things:

1. If he felt  adult enough to speak like that, then he needed to be adult enough to say it out loud and accept the consequences of his actions. 

2. I told him he was starting the year on a blank slate and that HE was in charge of what my first impression would be of him and is that REALLY the impression he wanted to leave with me his first day?

So far I have not had any more issues out of him but REALLY? 

Day freaking ONE this is how it is starting?

I spoke to other teachers to see if I just set the tone wrong this year, but there was a consensus that everyone had the worst first day of school of their career. 

I cried after school, I cried before going to bed, I cried on the way to work, and I cried again in front of the new teacher next door. 

I know that the hate and animosity these kids are throwing at me can't be about me/us the teachers so soon, but still its hard to get yourself up and out of bed each day knowing the firing squad you have to face. 

While I was crying on the way to work I knew I needed to come up with something else to do in class that day to change the tone of my classroom.

I thought about the Post It Mission Statement I saw on Pinterest and decided to adapt part of it for the day. 

When the kids came in I had them place 10 Post It Notes on their desks. 

I then asked them 5 questions (see pictures below) and had them respond on the Post Its. 

Here are some of the things I said when introducing each question:

1. Think about classrooms you have been in in the past... what are some things that the students around you did that helped you learn and stopped you from learning. Try to think of both positive and negative things you and your classmates can do that help and harm one another. 

2. You CANNOT say, "Because we speak it" or "It isn't" Really think about how English will play a role in your life during and after school. 

 3. This can be what college you want to attend, what job you want to have, or just something fun like, "Walk across the USA from East to West!" I told them about the student I taught years ago who wanted to be a mortician when he grew up, which still fascinates me. 

4. We talked about different steps that would need to be taken in order to reach their goal. I used walking across the USA as an example. In order to accomplish this you would need stamina, strong legs, mental strength, and probably some savings!

5. I told them, we have talked about what YOU need to do to help the others around you, now tell me what I need to do in order to help you. 

Next, I had them think about my classroom rules. I told them that I don't just choose rules to be overbearing and annoying. I choose rules carefully based on what is important to me and what I think will help THEM. 

I told them that for each rule I would like them to tell me why this rule might be important or have value. They didn't have to AGREE with my rule, but they needed to tell me why it MIGHT have value or be important. 

I then asked for people to volunteer answers for why each rule could be important and THEN told them  why each role was important to me and why I chose it specifically with them in mind. 

I'll tell you why I chose my rules also:

1. Just because you are inside the room doesn't mean that you are ready to work or not distracting others. I have a short amount of time to be able to give you the information that you need so I need focused on time attention. On top of that I time my bell ringer slides so they switch after 2 minutes, if you are not on time you won't get credit for that bell ringer. PLUS, see how nice I am giving you an EXTRA 10 seconds? ;)

2. This rule might seem strange but I have it for 2 reasons. First, students try to hide and sleep in their hoods. If I can't sleep, you can't sleep. Second, I allow iPods in my classroom during specific times and students try to hid iPod buds with hoods during unspecified Ipod times. I don't stand in front of the room and lecture often so it is unfair to me and to you not to pay attention when I do. ESPECIALLY when I allow iPods in the first place. 

3. I told them this is probably my most important rule. I told them that I talk rudely to my friends all the time. Outside of work we call each other names and say silly stuff all the time and that it is okay because we both know that the other is joking AND it is the appropriate place and time. In the classroom is not that time or place. Save it for the hallways or at lunch, but in the classroom is a safe and kind environment. I told them, "I am not a naturally kind person and I have to work at being kind in the classroom, so we will work at that together." 

4. I told them again that I don't stand and lecture often. In fact, I structure my class in such a way that I talk as little as possible so when I do, I expect respect and attention. Doing this is a violation of rule #3 as well. I'm working kind to be hard to you, be kind to me. 

5. I told them the story of the mouse that was in my classroom last year...that seemed to do the trick!

I am still compiling their answers, but from a first glance they really seemed to have taken it seriously, which I am thrilled about. It also led to a really great class discussion in which everyone (for that time) was really respectful of one another. 

I don't know how the rest of the year will go, but I think doing a lesson this way really helped!

I updated this activity this year so that I can print the questions directly onto post it notes:

If you are interested in using this activity in your classroom click the picture below


  1. I love your idea. I can see the same thing happening next week, to me. These kids come to us with big "problems." I think the way you handled it was professional. I would've done the same thing. I think your lesson idea was great and to the point. It forced them to reflect on the rules and hopefully respect you much more. Tomorrow is a new day. Stay positive and realize it all stems from their home life and unfortunately, lack of attention and authority there.

  2. Wow. I'm speechless. I can see why you cried. I have no idea if it's a demographic thing, but I can honestly say the three years I spent teaching 6th grade in Virginia were my most difficult in terms of attitudes, both from parents and students. It was a harder nut to crack than the four years prior in which I taught at a gang-infested South Texas high school. Crossing my fingers that you have a supportive administration. However, if your experience there is anything like mine was, I already know that answer.

  3. I'm so sorry you had a bad first day. I think that activity was awesome. I am already sensing my 3rd hour is going to have an issue with talking while I'm talking. I can't believe that kid called you a bitch on the FIRST DAY. I mean, damn! Usually that takes a few weeks at least for me!