Starting The Year Off Right

A little planning at the beginning of school can pay big dividends as you go through the coming school year. Getting started on the right foot can make all the difference.

Here are some things to consider as you plan for the months ahead:

Build relationships.
Be courteous to all school staff. Get involved in school activities and school staff functions.

Give your classroom some class.
Try decorating your classroom in a manner that will catch the eyes of your students and give them something to think about at the same time.

Introduce yourself.
Try having the teachers in your building write a biographical sketch of themselves to post outside their classrooms. You never know when a student may find he or she has something in common with a teacher and is able to strike up a relationship that could be a positive learning experience.

Establish the rules.
If you want discipline to work during the year, start off by establishing class rules right at the beginning. (They probably should number no more than five.) Let the students have a role in establishing them. If the kids feel a part of them, they will have more of a tendency to follow the rules. Rules should be written and posted in the classroom.

Check school policy.
If you intend to teach subject matter that borders on controversy, be sure you are within board policy. Keep your personal views on religion and politics to yourself.

Get organized.
Start off the year by getting your personal papers organized. You never know when you may have to produce a document related to your job.

Keep records.
During the year, you may have expenditures that could be deductions on your income tax. Now is the time to set aside a place for keeping tax records and to start keeping track of them.

Improve yourself.
Set your sights on improving your professional ability in at least one area during the coming year. Decide how best to go about doing so.

Set a class goal.
You can develop some spirit among class members if you have a project you are working toward. Perhaps a holiday project to help a needy family, a class trip or a class party at the end of the year. Start your planning early in the fall to build enthusiasm.

Build class spirit.
If you teach elementary youngsters, you might try giving your class a name such as the "Bumblebees from Room Three."

Play the name game.
One way to get everyone, including yourself, to know everyone else in the room quickly is to play the name game. The first person in row one says, "I'm John." The second person says, "That's John and I'm Mary." The third person: "That's John and Mary and I'm Susan." Continue around the room until every one has called off everyone else's name.

Develop resources.
Develop your own sources of information and your resource list. Know where to get help when you need it. How can you deal with the lack of instructional materials offered by the district? Keep your eyes open for free and inexpensive materials such as those published in Action. Determine what materials you want students to collect from home and when you will need them.

Look for some hope.
Give yourself a lift toward getting into a positive frame of mind by watching for something hopeful. It may be the student who comes up to you and gives you an indication he or she learned something within the first week of school. Maybe it's the child who speaks to you in the parking lot and uses your correct name!

Be realistic.
Don't let your sincere concern for each child turn into a depressing experience through a fear of failure. You will not win the battle with every student.

Be prepared for special students.
You may have students with special learning problems or physical handicaps. Don't expect those problems to work themselves out. Plan from the beginning how you will deal with them in the best interests of the student, yourself and the rest of the class.

Think about health.
Make an early determination about how you will handle students with special health problems. Do you know what to do if you have a student subject to epileptic seizures? Be sure to know the school's policy on administering medicine to students.

Don't overlook the gifted.
Once you determine you have a student in your class who could be considered gifted, don't delay in making arrangements to meet his/her specific abilities.

Find a shoulder.
Every teacher needs a colleague to turn to for special advice or simply to unburden themselves about a special classroom challenge. If you don't have a buddy, get one.

Get parents involved.
Determine how you will involve parents in your students' education during the coming year. Is there any special way to approach parent-teacher conferences? Are there any special messages you want to send home to parents? How will you deal with parents who want to help their students learn?

Do your best.
Determine from previous experience what factors keep you from doing your job during the school year. Then figure out a way to work around them. For example: How will you work with too many students in your class? How will you deal with parents who want to help their students learn?

Communicate with parents.
If you teach primary grades, send a note home early informing parents that you need time to get to know pupils before you can comment on them. Let them know that you are available, however, and list the process and times for getting in touch with you. For parents of older students, you might want to introduce yourself and include your policy on homework.

Know your rights.
Read or reread your contract so that you will know your rights.

Plan lessons.
Develop your lessons on the basis of what you think your students need to know and then determine the best way of teaching those things.

Support your association.
Join your local education association for the moral support of people who understand the difficulty of your job.

Make a good impression.
Whatever else you do, give the class the impression from the beginning that you are well organized. Your students must get the feeling right off that you are prepared and know what you are doing.

Build an attitude.
You have the opportunity from the first day forward to help your students determine whether school is drudgery or a serious undertaking that can have its fun moments as well. If you for one moment give the impression that being in class is a chore for you, that attitude will be reflected by your students.

Foster curiosity.
Keep in mind that if you want your students to be curious, you have to create an atmosphere that encourages curiosity and doesn't stifle it.

Start off slowly.
Go over your material slowly during the first grading period so that most students can find some success while the material is not too difficult.

Set a positive tone.
Send a positive note home with every student at some time during the year. Catch the kids being good!

Keep the principal informed.
If you plan to do anything new or unusual this year, make certain you mention it to your building administrator in advance.

Brief your students.
At the high school level particularly, let your students know early exactly what you expect of them in your course. Most students will rise to the teacher's expectations.

And finally...
Keep these three qualities of good teaching in mind: be flexible, be patient and have a sense of humor.

Questions to ask during your first days of school.