Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

Those First Few Days

Blog reader Stephanie will transfer this fall from elementary to high school (Can you even imagine?) and recently asked what the first day of school looks like in my classroom, so let’s unlock the door to good ol’ Room H-9 and take a look.

Lots of teachers have lots of different ways of launching, but I’ve found that by the time kids are in high school the human scavenger hunts and two-truths-and-a-lie games feel pretty tired. You gotta remember that they’ve had dozens and dozens of first-day-hey-kids-let’s-get-to-know-each-other ice breakers over the years and they might even have had five other ones in our first day together with other teachers on my campus. Everyone’s pretty much over it by the time they get to me. Also, I teach in a rather in-it-to-win-it community, so I feel the need to get going with the academics pretty quickly. The first week, as you’ll see on the calendar below, is mostly about setting routines and expectations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a little fun, too. For example, here’s a PDF of the memes I use on the first day as I give the class policies overview. You may want to personalize some of your own slides, which you can read more about here.

When the kids walk in the door, a welcome slide is already being projected and I invite them to find their assigned seat and make a name card, which they post on their desks. I’ve never been a fan of the “Don’t smile ‘til Christmas” philosophy. Instead, I smile and crack jokes before that first bell even rings. I figure if I have to be there, you can be sure I’m going to have some fun.

Name tags on the desks (the bigger, the better so everyone can see them) are vital because the more quickly you can memorize all of those names (34 per class X 5 classes = Jell-O brain) the more quickly you can control the room and start to make connections. Since I’m a visual learner, I try to take mental pictures of the kids while they are doing desk work or reading SSR books. Just try to be sly about it. No one likes a creeper.

Expect the troublemaker to reveal himself (herself?) sometime during the first week. Be ready. This previous post will give you a script to help handle the leader of the brat pack, but I also keep my ears perked for any subtle snide comments. Don’t let those things slide. Instead, address the inevitable crunchy moments with grace and humor. Kids are looking to see how you handle things and they all want to feel respected and safe, especially the ones who seem to cause the most trouble.

Finally, give a small homework assignment that first night, maybe to just print and complete a questionnaire sheet or submit a getting-to-know-you Google form. That way, you can quickly tell which students are disorganized, which ones don’t have the internet, who might not have a parent at home at night, etc. I also think a bit of first-night homework sets a tone of high academic expectations, something I definitely want.

Here’s a more detailed look at my first few weeks (click on the calendar image and zoom in to make it more readable):

Notes of explanation:
• Due to licensing agreements and copyright law, I am not able to post my full calendars in this open forum because they are packed with links and downloads to things I am prohibited from distributing outside of my direct students. This is just a screenshot of my first month’s calendar, but at least it’ll give a glimpse of the pacing.
• The blue text lines are links to video content and downloads. I’ve “flipped” my grammar, lit. term, and vocabulary bell ringers and made them short homework assignments. Obviously, the links won’t work on this screenshot.
• My classes have summer work and, yes, I’ll be grading essays over the Labor Day holiday. (And so it begins…) If we didn’t have summer work, I’d just swoop straight into the personal narrative writing lessons.
• You might notice that there are two rounds of essays (the summer reading base-line essay and the personal narrative essay) in this first month of school. I don’t usually assign such a heavy writing load, but I want to set a studious tone and find out students’ writing skill levels. The writing pace slows a bit when we get into the literature.
• Because I work with the World’s Greatest Librarian, our campus is hosting a TED Talk event on Sept. 17. To take advantage of this teachable moment, my classes will take a pause in personal narrative writing that week and I’ll highlight TED Talks and public speaking skills. Normally, those lessons would fall later in the semester.
• After this first month of school, my class will move on to our short story unit and then John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which will conclude with a full literary analysis essay.

Stephanie (and anyone else who’s still reading at this point), I hope this info. is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to check in and let us know how the year is going. I guarantee it’ll be a wild ride!

Teach on, everyone!

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