Setting the Tone
Mid-October—During my novice teacher days, a mentor once told me to take a firm stance when starting the year with students. In theory it is easier to release a more fixed and definite situation with students than it is to gain control of a chaotic one. A firm stance at the beginning of the school year enables a teacher to avoid the latter.
Some students understand and appreciate a firm start. Deep down, they all crave security of order. Very few students want to attend a class in which they do not know what to expect from one minute to the next. The safety of guidance through ordered tasks within a class period gives students confidence in the learning environment.
Unfortunately, I did not start this school year with students, and substitute rotations has left them with a lack of routines and unsettled mindsets for learning.
A shift in culture is necessary. Moreover, a consistent firm tone must precede the culture shift.
An Understood “What”
After the first day with me, students had only just begun to understand that I am here for the business of guiding them through this year of their education. I say to them, “There will not be another day that a chunk of instructional time is lost because of shenanigans.”
One of the students boldly asks, “So… … …what that mean?”
“You are going to be about your business because I’m definitely going to be about mine,” I reply.
My quick-to-the-point response helps every student in the class arrive at the understood what. The reply’s matter-of-factness asserts my insistence that their direction align with mine. The “what” to be understood, in this case, is that respect and order for the learning environment are non-negotiables. Our work, that is the work of students’ and mine, to achieve this expectation would serve as the foundation for the culture shift.
Fortunately for all of us, I would have to prove that this would be done and that we would do it together. The “show me” nature in students always challenge the best of good intentions. They refuse to believe without proof. Time after time of consistent consequences and positive, praise-worthy reinforcements etch confirmation of my sincerity and dedication in their doubting minds. My attention to their details, including who they are as individuals and what is relevant to their situations, proves that I care about them collectively and that I am there for each one of them.
All of this to set and maintain the tone of a classroom may appear as simple as black and white text on a page.
However. This. Is. Work.
I understand this work requires a level of commitment that will continuously challenge my allegiance to this assignment throughout this school year.
This work to shift culture will be beneficial for all of us. For me, it will not only test my fortitude as an educator, but it will also propel me closer to answering that thought-provoking question of whether or not “kids these days are different.” For students, the work of shifting will build upon the constructive tone which will aid in maintaining an environment conducive to learning. For all of us, we will learn and grow together along the path that leads us to and through our emphatic why’s.