Without a doubt the first few days of school are the most critical ones in helping to create the foundation of good human relationships with your students. Even the most skilled teacher in the pedagogical sciences of education will be less than effective if the kids don't "like" them, yes, I said, "like them". Now I am not talking about making lots of young friends but I am talking about creating a relationship with your students that is built on mutual respect and a kinship, a kinship that forms your stove of learning. So here are six tips, teachertips, to build a strong, effective stove of learning for your classroom.
1. Please don't go over the syllabus on day one. I know, it's expected, and that is exactly the reason I strongly advise against doing it. Your first impression, is just that, your first and only first impression, you get no do-overs, so make it magnificent. I am not here to tell you what to do on day one, you can go google that, but if you see your first day as the first blind date into a forced marriage, it takes on a more powerful significance. I used to start a video project on day one, a DV quilt, where all the students were responsible for coming up with a finish to the sentence, "America is __________" and one visual. We then patched them together for a class film that we could analyze and use to springboard ourselves into a discussion of the nation. It wasn't the tech or the fancy final product that made them want to come back for more, it was the engagement. So ENGAGE them, make them want to be in the forced marriage, otherwise you may be on the road to a difficult and long, painful divorce. If you are interested in developing your own DV quilt, check out the tutorial below to start marinating.
2. Use the magic word. What is the magic word? It's their name of course! I understand it's a difficult task, especially if you teach secondary, there literally could be 150 names or more. But the point is not to memorize all of their names quickly, it's to convey the message to your kids, that their name is important, it's important to you. Make it a point in the beginning of the year that you are on a mission to learn their names, I would make a bet that if I didn't know their name in two weeks I would give them a point on their next test. It was this act, this act of good faith, that I believe, earned the respect from my students. You may make mistakes, no, you will make mistakes, but make no mistake about it, one's own name is truly the most magical word in the human language. So learn them and use them to make magic in your classroom of learning.
3. Never answer to Misses or Mister. The standard reason why, as it is usually conveyed, is because they need to respect us, they need to use our name, why?, that's why! And then we begin to give up and we start recognizing students who use the cattle call to get out attention. My reason why we shouldn't answer those calls? Because it's disrespectful to the student! By responding to a non-name, we are telling that kid that we don't care that we don't have the kind of relationship with them where they use our name. Looking into their eyes and telling them how important it is to you that they use your name can be a powerful experience and not only will it stop the barrage of Misters and Misses that will bombard your ears throughout the year but it will help to form the type of relationship that you want with another human being that you are trying to engage in the art of learning.
4. Tell them why you teach. We all seem to tell them how we teach, we explain our methods and policies, but rarely do we explain to our students the motivating factor for why we are standing in front of them. So why do you teach? Think about it and make sure on day one you tell your kids why they are being forced into a marriage with you and why you are so extremely pleased about it. Below is my own explanation as to why I teach.
5. Hallway Interactions. I would love to go to every student chess tournament, junior varsity basketball game, African-American quiz bowl, band concerts and gay/lesbian alliance meeting in order to get to know my kids but frankly I have another life. I also recognize that knowing my kids, knowing their likes, dislikes and quirks is critical data which I need to be able to be the best facilitator of learning experiences that I can be. Therefore, we need to take advantage of when we do see our kids outside of our class and in many cases that will be the few moments we see them in the hall. If a student and their teacher walk by each other in the hall and don't recognize each other in some small way, I would see that a sign of a relationship in need. So make it a point to smile, say hello, notice a new haircut or otherwise acknowledge the presence of that child. It is that acknowledgment that tells that child that they are important, that they count, that you know them in this world. I would make a game of it, walking behind my students and mumbling important class content until they turned around and nodded, not only was this an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with that student but I was also improving my test data!
6. Be a human being because kids don't think you are. Be your real self, be an open book, put out family pics, talk about your own childhood, be vulnerable, say you're sorry when you make a mistake and otherwise show them signs that you in fact are not just a teacher but a real, living breathing person. Kids respect authenticity and they also are quite good at detecting fakery, so whatever "kind" of teacher you are, embrace it and live it out loudly. When kids respect you, they will like you, not because you are trying to get their attention or approval but because human relationships are built on honesty and vulnerability. And if you don't like kids, do it because good teaching and learning requires it.
It is my hope that some of the lessons I learned in my travels can give you some ideas about how you can kick off your school year in the best possible way to create the foundation for a happy forced polygamous marriage with all of your students. Do YOU have any great tips for that critical first week of school? Leave it down in the comments below so we can all slip into our toolbelt of learning and engagement.
And always remember, where attention goes, energy flows.