I have had quite a few student teachers over the years. I feel it is important to share what I have learned in my teaching journey with others to prepare them for the challenges of this job. The job of a teacher has changed greatly over the 20 years I have been in it. I remember when I was first starting out, classroom management was one of those things that principals would ask about in interviews. There were many that felt either a teacher “had it” or they didn’t. I did not know any better, so I agreed. Now, after being in the classroom for as long as I have been, I will say that I have a much different view of classroom management. There may be those that tell you that there are tricks or programs like classroom dojo or class bucks to get students to pay attention and follow the expectations. For me, what I have realized over the years is not so much tools and prizes, but more creating the environment that the students and I will be in together for the school year.
On the first day of school, one of the first things I talk about when it comes to expectations in the classroom is I talk to the kids about how we are a Grade 4/5 class family. We will be spending the next 10 months together, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. I explained that with this there will be times where we will get along or see eye to eye on things, but just like their family at home, we will always treat each other with kindness and respect. This is something I mention over that first week of school multiple times and I even ask the kids “What are we?” (“We are a class family.”) and “How will we treat each other? “(“With kindness and respect”) I also explain that there will be times they may need to remind me of this – there may be days that I might be grumpy or lose it, but I will always treat them with kindness and respect, and if I need to be reminded of that, they should do that.
The other thing I set up that first day of school is what I call our “Class Code” – the set of expectations that we all should follow in our Grade 4/5 classroom. I first talk about what a code is – most of them that are in the gaming world get this right away. So then I put it out to them and ask them what they feel should be part of our code. I explain we don’t need lengthy explanations, just a simple code we all agree to follow. As they start out, they give me a lot “rules” – do not take people’s stuff without asking. So each time they give me something, I turn it around. Instead of a “do not” I explain what we will “do” so I explain that instead of saying don’t take people’s stuff – we will “Be Respectful” of people’s things and space. Each time I turn it around and by the time we are done we have about 5 things we will “BE” I then get volunteers to make a poster of our code and lastly I get all the students to sign it. I explain that by signing this, they are agreeing this is the code they will follow in our class. A question that has been asked by my student teachers is how I handle those that do not sign it. I explain that what I will say to that student (who may be doing this because of wanting attention, is annoyed they didn’t get more of a say), that this was something the class agreed on as a collective whole and just like things work outside the classroom, it will still need to be followed. I might not like having to drive 30 km in a school zone, but it is something that I need to follow and do. Plus I will give them the chance to explain what their issue is and see if there is a resolution or compromise that we can agree on. The most important part is not to force the student to sign because that just defeats the whole purpose.
Class Code for this year. Yes they can up with all the words except “Audacious” they wanted something bigger than awesome so we looked up in the online thesaurus and found this.
The last thing I do on that first day of school is I do a Team challenge. Over the years it has been making a spaghetti Tower, make a bridge that can hold the weight of x amount of textbooks using skewers and gumdrops. I will start off explaining the challenge, give the groups (they get to choose them) and the bag with their materials. Then I turn on the timer and sit back to watch. During the challenge I will not step in, I will just make observations. Things I will notice: who is taking charge, who is being “bossy”, who is sitting back and letting everyone do all the work, who is the team player – helping resolve issues and keep the group working cooperatively, who is the problem solver, who is the one who quits because things aren’t working. These anecdotal moments will give me an idea of who this student is at this point in time and what their working behaviors are. It gives a good idea of those students will be able to handle the challenges they face during the year, who will need a little guidance, and of course the “fires” that I will be challenged to help in a positive way.
For those that wonder if the kids do buy in, I will share the following from letters I received from the kids and from a book we made together called “Advice for the Future 4/5 Class”
“My advice for grade 4/ 5 is to follow the class code. Try to be the best kind of yourself.Do your work as best as you can.Be happy of whatever we are doing. Lastly have fun.”
“I also like that we have a class code and that we all are a class family and we all will always be one.”
“I miss seeing our class family, I also miss learning in our classroom.”
“The last thing I really miss is all the fun memories I have had with our class family.”
So, for those stepping into your very first classroom, hopefully this will give you some ideas. If the students are happy and feel like they belong, it can honestly be a huge step in dealing with the challenges that will come up during the year. By developing a positive, welcoming class environment, the rest of managing your classroom will come together much easier. In my experience, this has made all the difference.