I always joke that if it weren’t for those darn kids at school, I’d get a heck of a lot done. I arrived back in town on August 9 and have been working non-stop to get ready for today. I made cute posters and hung wooden signs. I rearranged my room and cleaned my cabinets. I photocopied and dusted and lesson planned and developed resources and, quite literally, put in twelve-hour days, paid or not, to prepare for today.
And today, the students arrived. I was a mix of nervousness and excitement.
I am not the kind of teacher who goes over the syllabus on the first day of class (go figure). We had a modified schedule and only spent 25 or so minutes with each class, but I don’t believe in doing what everyone else is doing…and everyone else was going over the syllabus, or rules, or some variety thereof.* Instead, I taught my first lesson in a way that I’m sure surprised the crap out of some kids (I could see it on their faces). One girl’s eyes kept darting back and forth around the room like she expected John Quiñones or Allen Funt to jump out of the closet.
Much of my class period included a Q & A session, where I answered questions that students had about my class. Additionally, I gave a quick overview of the room, pointed out my recent name change, explained my daily expectation for something I’m calling a PIA (Private Investigator Assignment, which is a question I will pose each day for students to go home and find out the answer to), and asked students to write an “I am…” poem with a focus on who they are as readers. I can’t quite point out what it is about me that students find “different” because it’s all I’ve ever known about myself as a teacher. Maybe it’s my genuine excitement about reading and teaching and my lack of negative undertones, sarcasm, and prejudging.
I hope most of my students went home tonight and said that they’re looking forward to my class. I hope they didn’t emphasize my comments about not giving much homework and how I won’t “make them” annotate books. Out of context for parents who don’t know me or my teaching style, I could understand them being a little confused, especially for my advanced reading students. So, hello! parents of my students: If any one of you reads this, rest assured that I will do everything I need to do to get your child ready for high school, college, and the real world. I just won’t do it through class novels and worksheets and word searches and quizzes and tests and silly projects and book reports. What I do with the Reading Workshop format ensures that every student will develop as a reader, no matter where he or she is when walking in my door. If I do my job and do it well (and that’s my ultimate goal), you will see the results very soon, in real life, as your child grows as a reader and learns to use books to gain knowledge, reading fluency, vocabulary, metacognition, analysis skills, and so much more. Give me a chance to show you that reading class doesn’t have to be done the way it has always been done.
One more thing, kinda related…
In addition to teaching my six classes today, I spent a considerable amount of time with my twenty-two advisory kiddos. We did the required locker combination hand-outs, attendance, supply collection, and then I had a bunch of time to fill. I did an activity that I encourage all of you to do with all of your students. I didn’t make this up myself, but here’s how it goes: Each student takes out a piece of paper and makes a list of things he/she wants you to know about him/her. I gave the expectation of 25 things on the list, but you can adjust your list based on time. I also made my own list, but, as my curriculum specialist reminded me from Rick Wormeli’s book Day One and Beyond, we shouldn’t tell the kids too much about ourselves for a while. We don’t (and I’m paraphrasing) want the kids to see us say, “This is my classroom; this is who I am and where I live; you are merely visitors to my space.” Instead, we want them to have the ownership and be the focus, and we, the teachers, will make our personal appearance in due time, once the students feel comfortable being the room’s owners, not the room’s visitors.
As I read through my student’s lists tonight, I realized two things. First, I am old and non-trendy. Second, I have incredibly unique kids. And it’s not just MY kids in MY class. It’s ALL kids in ALL classes. I hate hearing teachers say negative things about their students. I want them to think of each student in the same way they want their own child’s teacher to look at their own children. Do you want to know that a teacher said, “He’s lazy and a complete waste. Good luck getting him to do anything” about your own kid? Of course not! Help me break the trend of negativity. Spread positivity wherever you go, to whomever you talk. I’m standing with #18 on Jeremy’s list: “I want to change the world.” No joke. He wrote that. How can I treat him with anything but encouragement? Let’s vow to treat every student like he’s going to change the world.
* Here’s my ten-year-old nephew’s take on going over rules on the first day (he started fifth grade today): “In kinder, you listen carefully to the rules because they’re exciting and you need to know them. In first, you’re a little less excited because you’ve heard them all before. In second, you’re bored. In third, you’re not paying attention. And in fourth, you’re sleeping. C’mon! It’s fifth grade! Haven’t we had enough already?”