The First Day


An October Sunrise

Mid-October—One week after the interview, I find myself eagerly planning to meet students and immerse myself back into the rhythm of school.

I revise a previous Q & A fact sheet that includes information about me, my expectations, and three simple classroom rules that would help all students be successful. In addition, I plan a quick jumpstart task that would serve as an icebreaker for the students and me. It would also act an ease of establishing a classroom routine. Routine is a part of who I am. Students would come to expect a daily jumpstart and a planned task-filled agenda structured with times.

After a comprehensive planning session tonight, I feel ready for whatever the first day will bring.

Preschool Hours

I leave home early enough to arrive on campus well before school starts for my first day with students. My goal is to retrieve my schedule and room assignments, map out class locations, and find restrooms before walkways become crowded with students. The school’s printed map helps tremendously. However, the locations of some areas require that I inquire. When asked, the friendly morning faces point, explain, and in some cases offer to walk with me to assist in my search. Because I have mapped out my travel for the day, I am less anxious and in place waiting for students to arrive for the first two classes.

Periods 1 & 2

I stand at the door smiling, welcoming students to the 1st day of the second quarter, and handing each one a card. Each student reciprocates the smile. Students in the first two class periods follow directions and engage in discussions that move smoothly from one planned task to the next. Afterwards, they bid me a nice farewell for the day before leaving me to my reflective thoughts. These were two great classes, I thought. I am not sure if authentic student engagement occurred, or if ritual compliance resulted because of students’ sleepwalking through school at this 7 a.m. hour. Either way, this positive start to the school day that left me with optimistic thoughts.

I enjoy the pleasantly cool October breeze as I walk to the next class.

Period 3

Once I reach my next assigned classroom, I stand at the door smiling, welcoming students to the 1st day of the second quarter, and handing each one a card. This time the difference is that some students reciprocate my smile and greeting; whereas, others hardly notice as they rush past me without pausing or acknowledging my presence. Eager students, I think. This will be fun! That is until I hear what sounds like desks turning over and sliding across the floor. I peek my head inside the classroom to give my “What is going on” look. A couple of students pointed in the direction of two students who begin to rearrange the toppled desks. I plant myself halfway in the class and halfway out—one foot in and one foot outside of the class just to keep an eye on things.

The tardy bell rings.

I walk in after the tardy bell rings to hear talking, laughing, and jumpstart cards tossed to the side and some on the floor. I also notice that half of the seats in the class are empty. I wonder if there is an absentee issue for this class. Nonetheless, I carry on with instructions about today’s jumpstart.

Then it happens.

The door opens. One student swaggers in with earbuds dangling from the top of his ears. The music coming from the earbuds plays so loud that his classmates recognize the song. I hand him a card and request that he turns the music off and puts his ear buds away.…

Not even thirty seconds later, the door opens again. This time two girls enter engaged in an intense conversation about an incident that took place during class change. Of course, the incident intrigues others in the class. The class’s attention quickly shifts from me and my directions to what happened.

“Ladies and gentleman.” I boldly interrupt. “Please make sure you find your seat and direct your attention to the card I handed you, the screen upfront, and listen as I clarify instructions for today’s jumpstart.”

The class settles. Then the door opens again, and a student bolts in with two of his classmates running behind him. This unruliness ignites more disturbance, and the chaos seems to spread like wildfire.

By this time, the top of my head burns with annoyance at the lack of respect displayed for the learning environment.

I quickly walk over to the group of three, firmly plant a stance right in front of them, ensure that each one of them observes (in slow motion) how my pleasant smile changes into a scowl that is complemented by an intense five-second stare into each student’s eyes. Apparently, each of them seem to get the message from that silent conversation. They quickly and quietly move to their seats after accepting the jumpstart card. For the fourth time, I repeat “Please make sure you have found your seat and direct your attention…”  As I say these words, I, the English teacher, think to myself, This ain’t working.

A huge part of jumpstart time had be lost to getting students settled so that their attention would be focused on printed and posted directions for the task.

An expert teacher assesses each situation in the classroom and makes on-the-spot adjustments.

The adjustment has to be to my approach. This situation requires me to shift from my participant-learner approach to my K12-reluctant learner approach. The K12 approach for this particular situation must quickly command each student’s attention, give clear and concise instructions as to how the remainder of the class period would look and sound, and welcome each student’s presence but denounce behavior that would interfere with our learning experience.

Shift of approach immediately results in less distractions, more order, and progress through tasks for the class period. A consistent no-nonsense tone immediately follows the approach to reinforce expectations.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much mental and physical energy it takes to acknowledge and appreciate acceptable behavior while addressing inappropriate behavior within minutes. Though not as easily as the first two class periods, we make it through third period, and I muster enough energy to move my wobbly legs in the direction of the next assigned classroom.

Periods 4-7

For the remainder of the First Day, I travel from one classroom to the next, and carry each approach with me. Depending on the circumstance, my approach is either the casual one used for the first two class periods or the direct, no-nonsense one used for third period. I must admit that the revelation to differentiate approaches based on needs of each class has served me well today.

At some point within each class a student would ask, “So you must be a real teacher, huh?”

Each of my responses would be a smile and a confidently spoken, “Yes, I am.”

That moment for students in each class marked a new day—one that there would be a pending culture shift for each classroom environment.