In YOUR school environment, what is the biggest start-of-the-year challenge? And what do you do to cope with it?
Tara, Science in the City:I think the biggest challenge at my school is getting kids adjusted to the culture of school, and of our particular school. I teach in a very low-achieving, urban district. As such, students’ lives in the summer are DRASTICALLY different. Also, if they have come from other schools in the district (especially new 9th graders) the expectations may be different. I try to deal with this by really spending time early in the year establishing classroom rituals and routines, relationships, and, maybe most importantly, their own sense of confidence and success in ‘doing school.’ For many, that may not be an area in which they have a lot of success in the past.
Kimberly, OC Beach Teacher:I feel pretty good about how our school year begins, but I do get frustrated that our students are called to several assemblies during the first weeks of school. These interrupt the routines and instructional activities that I am establishing at the beginning. Unfortunately, the administration often interferes with the same class period repeatedly. This makes it difficult to keep all of my classes on schedule and at a similar pace. Over the years I’ve developed some generic lessons and activities that help me coordinate my class schedules. For instance, I will have some classes complete a textbook “scavenger hunt.” It’s not an essential lesson but makes good use of extra time!
Jackie, Room 213: Other than dealing with the heat (we have no air conditioning), the biggest challenge for me is dealing with the revolving door as students change schedules. We can never really count on an accurate class list until about the third week of school, so we have to find ways to help latecomers get up to speed. I use baskets that I bought at the dollar store, one for each class, and put daily handouts in the appropriate one. When a newcomer shows up, I can quickly access the handouts s/he may have missed. I also use a class website, so they can check there as well to find out what we have been up to. The picture on the right shows another idea from Pinterest that could help you manage this problem.
Ellen Weber: Students love to earn 2 participation points in each class for meting key tone requirements, and this serves as my attendance taker too. If absent for any reason, I can also see who met standards such as disagreeing with peers while building goodwill even with those who differ. Students are required to state evidence of at least one tone skill used in class – such as affirming others’ ideas before offering their own, and asking two footed questions, such as What if…? as an exit ticket to leave. This participation folder is easy to use once created – since it has rubrics and incomplete chart in one side pocket and the completed evidence forms filed on the other. This method ensures good tone and as a bonus – it records your attendance, without much effort on your part.
Those handles that students bring to our classes – can become key learning opportunities they take away. How might you start with your students, even before you dip into your content in that first week?
Sara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:Currently, at the varying colleges I teach at, the biggest challenge is getting students to understand how my class is set up. Every professor is so different I try very hard to make sure students understand my specific policies. I suppose the same was true when I taught middle and high school. Teaching my procedures was always important yet difficult.
Dawn, Algebra Simplified:Overall teaching through the dog days of August in a school almost devoid of air conditioning is my area’s biggest challenge. Sure breaking in new students to classroom routines, making sure all the technology is up and running again, and getting the classroom back into operational mode are difficult tasks. However, if we could just have a little air, all else would seem easy.
Michelle Brosseau, Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder : One of the biggest challenges I face at the start of the school year is making sure my students are in the correct stream of the course. Here in Ontario, we offer Science courses at the Academic, Applied and Essential level. Students (and often their parents) get to decide which stream they will enroll in and it is not always the best choice for them. It is difficult to ensure that the students are in the right stream, but I do my best by including lots of diagnostic and formative assessment in the first few weeks in the form of quizzes, assignments, binder and homework checks, etc. I’m sure to make the success criteria clear for each expectation and conference with students and parents early. My department also uses a shared document to track our stream recommendations for students from year-to-year.