“I can’t wait for the first day of school,” commented my ready-for-second-grade niece one day at the end of June.
There are others anticipating the first day too. Some of you are looking forward to starting this new occupation called teaching. Beginning teachers fall into varying categories. You may have dreamed about this day since you were an elementary student. Some of you have not given teaching much prior thought but are willing to take up the challenge God has presented you. Some of you are teaching more because of necessity than because of a dream. Some of you have known for months that you will be teaching come fall. Some of you have only given your consent a month or two before the beginning of the school year. There is one way you are all alike. You are not sure exactly what you may be in for. You can plan and dream but until that first day happens and the first months go by, you cannot know what you will be working with and how you will need to respond to the various challenges thrown your way. Teaching is the same as many other things: with practice it will go better.
To all the beginning teachers, I say, “Welcome!” Welcome to one of the most satisfying careers you could have. Welcome to new relationships. Welcome to new learning. Welcome, also, to new challenges and frustrations. Welcome to times of satisfaction when things are going well and to times of uncertainty when things are not going well. Welcome to a job that should leave you dependent, not upon your own strength and knowledge, but upon God and His direction. It is good to have you as part of this life we call school.
The first day of school is approaching and it is time to start getting ready. But where should you start? Let’s look at some areas of preparation for the new term and think about possible options and priorities.
First of all, know what the expectations of the school are. You don’t want to plan a classroom theme that does not fit in with school policy. You will want to know what the curriculum plan involves to know how to schedule classes. You will want to know if you are responsible to supervise playtimes, if your students clean the school on Fridays or not, and anything else you aren’t clear about. Does your school have a plan of action established for discipline or do you need to make your own set of rules and consequences? Maybe all these decisions are left up to you. Maybe your school has clear expectations they wish to have followed. Find out what your school expects.
Figure out the course of study. Do you know the subjects you are to teach and how much material you are expected to cover? Schools do not all prioritize the subject matter in the same way.
Acquaint yourself with the general ideas contained in the material. If you are teaching Algebra 1 for the first time, you may need to work through the material yourself. To be the most effective, you need to thoroughly understand what you are teaching. Because teaching means covering the material in a way that the students understand while, at the same time, you monitor the classroom and make sure students are engaged. It is difficult to do this if you keep your nose in your teacher guide. If the course material is unfamiliar, request an extra set of student books and work through them yourself. This is more important than having the classroom readied to the nines.
Work out a classroom management plan. Make your rules be few but your procedures and expectations be detailed. Remember, rules require consequences. Rules and procedures will need to be clearly communicated, modeled, and practiced. If you are a new teacher, don’t make the mistake I did the first year I taught. I went over my rules on the first day of school and tacked a small list on the wall and then was frustrated when my first and second graders continued pushing the boundaries. But I hadn’t taught them what I expected. I felt they were being disobedient when they were really just six-year olds being six-year-olds. I wasn’t giving them a clear message of what I expected.
A few rules to consider: follow procedures; talk only with permission; keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself; be on time; leave your seat only with permission.
A few procedures to consider: hand signals for requests for permission to do certain things, line up before dismissals and after recess, how and where you hand in completed assignments, what to do in the mornings upon arrival at school, how to set up papers for assignments, how to participate in class, and so on. Think through your school day and have a working plan for whatever you anticipate doing. Younger students will probably need more detailed procedures but older students will also benefit from group standard procedures.
Rules and procedures can change if they aren’t working. However, if they change, make your expectations clear to your students.
Plan out a weekly and daily schedule. Which days will certain classes or events happen? What time will math class be?
Take care of the record keeping needs. Fill out student names in the grade book. File any student information you receive. Store tests and quizzes until needed. Make sure you have the books and materials you and your students will need. Make a seating plan.
You will want to create a positive atmosphere in your classroom. Be intentional with your attitude toward this. Work toward a team effort where teacher and all the students pull together. You are in charge but you are on the same team, not pulling against the students but with them. Love all your students. Look for the good in each one, especially those who add the bumps to your teaching career. Be aware that incentives can add spice to a school atmosphere but don’t depend on incentives to run your classroom.
Make your walls and bulletin boards work for you. They should not only be pretty decorations. Use them to set the tone of your classroom. A frivolous, cutesy display may say, “Let’s have fun this year.” Displays of interesting facts and learning posters can say, “School is interesting and informative.” Decide what you want your room to communicate to your students and say that with your displays.
As you prepare for those first days of school, talk to other teachers: those you will be teaching with, the teacher you are replacing, and other teachers you meet. Listen to their advice with open ears. Learn from their mistakes. Ideally you will find a mentor you can run ideas past and get their feedback. And then, use what you’ve learned from others and take your place in your classroom.
May you be able to say, “I can’t wait for the first day of school!”