School has started! A blessed, joyous, exhausting two and a half days have passed, and while I am totally elated at my wonderful new classes, I am also running on fumes and can’t wait for the weekend. This post was written two weeks ago and I’m just now publishing it, but I’ll try to catch up soon – it’s been so busy. A few highlights from the first week:
– I almost have learned all my students’ names. On the first day, they write their name on one side of an index card and then draw something they enjoy doing on the back. I then go through and attempt to interpret their stick-figure drawings, learning something about them and saying their name about six times in the process. I am a visual learner; I told them they couldn’t change seats because I learn their names based on the geography of the room. They could choose their seats this first week. As I’ve noticed in the past, the same sort of people sit in the same seats from class period to period. About halfway through, I make a note that one boy’s stick figure is playing soccer…”Naked.” My fourteen-year-olds especially think that’s hilarious. I continue to use the name cards to cold call throughout the year, so if there’s a student I still don’t know, I just pull their card and they magically answer, solving my conundrum.
– I have basically the entire freshman football team in one of my freshman English classes. It’s pretty fun. When they were chatty, I reminded them I was friends with the coach. They told me he already threatened to make them do the worm for 45 yards. I responded, “I can make it 90.” To which I hear one young man say, “I don’t think she could do the worm that far.”
– My AP class’s bell work one day was an article from the Onion called, “Girl Moved to Tears by ‘Of Mice and Men’ Cliffs Notes.” I told them one of the most important skills they could learn was how to read. They will always be assigned more reading than they can do. They need to learn how much they need to do to come prepared for class discussion. This may involve using the Spark Notes for a reading if that is their only option time-wise or they just don’t get it; I’d rather they know the characters or the claim of an author, rather than sit in class and get nothing because they don’t know anything about the assigned reading. This shocked them; no one has ever given them permission to cut corners before. I get this reaction ever year I assign this Onion article. Kudos to this new batch of kids, however; they recognized the satire aspect right away.
– I’ve adopted a new attendance ritual from a teacher at my last school. When I first started teaching there, the beautiful speech coach who had taught there for more than three decades did this with her students. She would say good morning to the first kid in the alphabet, who would turn to say good morning to the next student on the list, until the last kid in the alphabet would turn back to her and tell her she looked beautiful that day. This beautiful lady suddenly passed away from brain cancer before the end of the school year, but this tradition has always stuck with me and I’ve always wanted to try it. I taught my yearbook class and my two freshman classes this, and it works beautifully. We practiced the whole first day, and now I start it sometime while they are working on the first activity. It takes less than 40 seconds, and I get the nicest (and sometimes strangest) compliments: I like your eyebrows, Mrs. H. Your shoes match your shirt, Mrs. H. Thank you for your smile, Mrs. H. Best decision I’ve made so far this year.
– I explained my DEAR day to students – Drop Everything And Read all class period, every Monday, all year. It was funny; of everything I presented, this was the thing my students were most excited about. Students read lots at the elementary school level, but it gets dropped in high school because there’s just not time. A wonderful book suggested by my last department head called Reading Reasons: Motivational Lessons for Middle and High School, has several rules to make reading time effective: I can’t make them write a book report. I have to (get to!) read with them. I must talk about what I am reading and ask them about what they are reading. At Back to School night, parent after parent came up and told me either how excited their kids were for this (“Between marching band and homework, she never has any time on her own!”) or thanked me for including this. It was extremely affirming. One parent asked me how I found the time for it in the schedule. After reflecting on her question, I think my answer is that I don’t really have the time – but it’s important, so I make the time.
The first week was extremely overwhelming, especially in the yearbook department (more on that later!), but my colleagues are incredibly supportive, my students are intelligent and energized, my whiteboard goes on for miles, and for the first time, I’m teaching in a Christian school with constant reminders that what I am doing is part of God’s plan. That’s a great thing to hear any busy school day.