New School Year – Are you ready?
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” (Hale, 1870)
For many educators, the beginning of a new school year can be an overwhelming challenge. Refreshed from a summer away from the classroom, and having had some time to reflect on the successes and failures of the past school year, we teachers generally anticipate the opportunity to create more effective learning experiences with the new students who will fill our classroom this year. Several of us wonder what specifically we can do this year that will make it a successful year for more of the students we teach. Edward Hale, in the quotation above, reminds us that though we cannot do it all, we all can do something. This year, let’s focus on what we can do.
Sometimes the urgency of curriculum demands makes us impatient, and we’ll be tempted to rush right in from day one treating our students like containers into which we can stuff with new information and train to develop better skills. The challenge facing each of us is to take time in the beginning to get to know the students, to patiently establish a nurturing environment in which students are eager to learn, a classroom where they will choose to “fill their own brains”.
Dusting Off the Cobwebs Activity is an interesting way to use a first week class meeting. Distribute a list of concepts students learned the past school year. Leave off specifics titles and authors that new students may not have studied. You want to help integrate them quickly into the new class, so do all you can to help them “fit in” right away. You may include literary terms for fiction and text features and structures for non-fiction. Either list them alphabetically or from general to specific.
Think of the school year in terms of a course to be run. Visualize long distance runners you know or have seen. In order to sustain the energy to make it to the goal, most begin slowly, warming up, checking out the competition, positioning themselves within the group of runners, adjusting to the current environment – whether the feel of the track, the glare of the sun, or the chill in the wind. It is not until several laps around the course or miles into the run that these runners pick up speed and sprint to the goal.
Consider ways you could extend this metaphor to your teaching situation. You have a full school year to achieve your school’s curriculum goals. Take time at the beginning of the year to adjust to the new combinations of students. Work backwards to assure that you design lessons that will help each of you reach both the personal academic and curricular goals. See Chapter One of my book for ideas for “Networking Socially…”
You are on a faculty of teachers – each competing for time in the 168 hours in a week your students have to share. How can you collaborate with colleagues to coordinate lessons so both students and teachers can use some of those same hours on the cross-curricular lessons. See “An Audience of Their Peers” for a cross-curricular teaching unit.
Do you see this earlier blog “Collect Now and Use in Fall“?
Plan now to reserve a day a week for complete rest from school so you can devote attention to it the remaining days. See article on p. 8 of CALIFORNIA ENGLISH about balancing professional and personal lives.
Consider the other demands you and your students have personally. What holidays and special school events change the topography of the calendar, drive up the heat with anxiety relating to arts and athletic performances, create chill winds of resentment that distract and could blow you off course? Plan lessons that build on rather than compete with these demands. See lessons relating to writing about holidays.
Finally, I invite you to surf around the Language Arts Resources tab for ideas to refresh your memory and jump start you planning with alternative ways to meet the challenges of this upcoming school year. Come back regularly; I update the site frequently.