No matter what you hear from your colleagues, no matter how far they say they’ve gotten into the curriculum, or how they’re already working in groups or rotating students through centers, avoid the temptation to join them.
Avoid rushing to catch up. Avoid pushing your students along too fast. Avoid comparing yourself or judging yourself or stressing out over what anyone else is doing.
Because in just a few short weeks, when your fellow teachers are complaining about the pressure and the stress, about the misbehavior and how far they’ve fallen behind, you’ll be singing a different tune.
It pays, you see, to get it right the first time around. It pays to take a deliberate approach, to teach the details, the ins and outs, and the A to Zs of being a polite, successful, and contributing member of your classroom.
In the beginning your students’ eagerness to do well can mask the reality that they’re unprepared to hit the ground running, unprepared to fully transition to their new grade level, and unprepared for your Everest-like expectations.
This is why, even if you teach, model, and rehearse your routines thoroughly, they can surprise you with how poorly they put them into practice.
For example, let’s say you’re walking your students to lunch. You leave your room in a calm, brisk moving line. As you approach sight of the lunchroom, your students are rolling along—precisely as modeled. You couldn’t be happier with how well they’re performing the routine.
But then, unexpectedly, other classes join you in the hallway. The line backs up. All heck breaks loose.
You watch aghast as your students begin stepping out of line to goof and jostle with their friends, shout out to little brothers or big sisters, and disrupt the working classrooms lining the hallway. If you’re to be honest, their behavior is, in a word, embarrassing.
It’s easy in such situations to get discouraged, to overreact, and to question both your classroom management ability and the potential of your new class.
But you would be wrong on both counts.
Because early in the school year an occasional breakdown in behavior is expected. No teacher escapes the first few weeks without being tested or tried or disappointed. How you handle it is what separates exceptional teachers from the rest.
So when something like this happens, when you have a bad moment while on your way to lunch or the wheels fall off during read aloud or every last one of your students runs on the way out to recess, it isn’t the end of the world.
It doesn’t mean you have a bad class. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good teacher. And it doesn’t mean that you should forgo your expectations of excellence or lower the bar on what you know is best for them and their future.
Rather, when your students take a misstep—or flat out ignore your directives—it’s an opportunity to show them that you really do mean what you say. It’s an opportunity to prove to them that you’re a leader worth following. It’s an opportunity to back up, slow down, take a deep breath, and get it right.
Once you convince your class that when you say it they can take it to the bank, everything becomes much, much easier.
So slow down. Take your time. Show them what a good student looks like. Show them how you expect them to listen to instruction, dismiss to recess, turn in work, partner talk, meet in groups, ask a question, line up for lunch, and even how to have fun.
And if you have a bad moment, if your students fail to meet your standards, keep your cool, observe closely, and wait until you can be alone with your class before addressing what you saw and how it strayed from your teaching.
Hold them to it and they’ll learn. Take them back to the scene of the crime and give them a chance to fix it and they will. Accept nothing less than their best . . .
And they’ll give it to you.
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