Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dampening Creativity and Excitement

learningI remember that the first couple of days of the school year start out in meetings where the administration practically reads the teacher handbook to us (to protect them from lawsuits). Then you have meetings about things that really don’t pertain to you (but the district wants everyone in on these meetings). This is not something new and I know it has been going on for more than 30 years that I’ve been in education. I wish that districts would let you work in your classrooms for these 2 days and then have one meeting with information that you need to get started. But what do I know, I’m just a teacher! But no, they need to cover themselves from the teachers who will refuse to follow the rules and do the right things.

I am filled with anticipation and excitement. I have all these great ideas and don’t know where to start. I can’t wait to set up my classroom and prepare for the school year!

Then after the first week, the red tape and paperwork wear me down. All the reports and the deadlines which take priority over the needs of the students call my name. I have to push my great ideas and plans and excitements behind me and attend to all the mundane, bureaucratic craziness that is part of my job. By the end of the day, I feel exhausted. I don’t care about creativity and my excitement has flown away.

What I don’t understand is that this happens every year (at least for the 30 years that I taught in public school). Everyone complains about this every year. Many of the teachers eventually rise into administration positions so I know they understand what teachers feel like. I don’t understand why they continue to dampen teacher’s creativity like this. Surely there must be a better way to start the school year for teachers.

Then I think about my classroom and the way I used to do things. Do I do the same thing to my students? By the time they get to my class, I hear that every teacher before them has handed them an index card to write their personal info and schedule on it. Then I proceed to read over the class rules and requirements. They might have been excited about attending my class but have I ruined it for them? Surely after all these years of teaching, there needs to be a better way! After reading them the riot act, they feel discouraged and their open minds have shut down.

I need to change my starting act. Instead I start the class by being at the door and shaking each student’s hand as they come in. Many hesitate and wonder what I’m up to. Others are in awe that a teacher started out by showing them respect. I then share with them about how excited I am to be there with them and share some of the exciting things in store for them. I ask them to introduce themselves and tell something interesting about themselves. Sometimes I ask questions like how many children in their families and where they are in that (oldest, middle, youngest). I may have them share about their summer. Then I ask them to tell me some things they want to learn in my class. I think it helps when the students start out telling me things instead of me telling them things. I save the last 15 minutes of class to go over the class rules and requirements. By that time, they are settled in my class and willing to listen. I hope this helps to keep up their enthusiasm for learning.

What are successful strategies you use for the first day of class? Please share.

Image: 'Happy Girl Hopscotch in Strawberry Free Creative+Commons'
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1 comment:

Kobus van Wyk said...

I love your approach ... the bureaucracy tends to dehumanize the classroom experience, and we have to do whatever we can to counteract that.