New Teacher Help Course Directions from Shannon Holden on Vimeo.

The First Day of School is the most important day of the year! During the first day, the tone is set as to how your classroom is going to run for the rest of the year. On my first day of school, I was not aware of the importance of this day. I can remember the students picking where they wanted to sit, I can remember stumbling through the list of student names, mispronouncing several of them. Students talked, whispered, and passed notes while I called out each student’s name (sometimes I had to do that several times before the student would stop what he/she was doing and answer me).

After that, I had students do a “Getting to Know You” activity that I had learned in one of my methods classes in college. Students filled out a page asking them their likes and dislikes, and on the back of the page they were to draw a picture of themselves. It was great fun! Students were called up to the front to share their information and show everyone their picture they drew of themselves. Some students declined to come to the front, and I was O.K. with that… I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable in my room. I was seen as “cool”, more like an older brother than a father figure to these kids. Little did I know that I was sowing the seeds for one of the most difficult years of my life!

As a result of not “setting the tone” by outlining the rules of the class and making students sit where I wanted them to sit (among other things), students did not consider me the “authority figure” of the room. After a short honeymoon period, discipline issues began to arise. I did not know how to handle them. The issues became more serious and more widespread. By Thanksgiving, I was contemplating early retirement! Luckily, you are taking this course, so you don’t have to learn the hard way like I did.

Your first day will go great because you will establish yourself as the authority figure of the room. On your first day, students will file into your classroom, and sit randomly at desks. After the bell rings, write your name on the board and introduce yourself: “Good morning class, my name is Mr. Davis… And this is Pre-Algebra. Please grab your things and go to the back of the room. I will point to a desk and say a name. The person who’s name I say will sit in the desk.”

Go down each row, calling out student names from your roll sheet in alphabetical order. Give each student a Student Information Sheet and a KWL Chart and let students look at them while you take roll. You should not have to call out student names to take roll, which will make taking roll a lot easier. Students will fill out the Student Information Sheet while you take roll, because the answers to the questions are easy. Fill out your roll sheet (or enter the names in the computer), and move on to your next task.

Tell the class “Your first task is to fill out these two forms for me. In the first column of your KWL Chart, write what you know about Pre-Algebra (or Math), in the second column, write what you want to know about Pre-Algebra (or Math), in the third column, write what you think you will know at the end of the semester about Pre-Algebra (or Math).”
Editor’s note: Substitute your subject area wherever you see Algebra (or Math).

Walk around the room as students fill out the KWL Chart. When students finish filling out the KWL Chart, gather both forms without looking at them. On a normal chart, you would fill out the “L” portion of the chart after a lesson, asking students to list what they learned. In this activity, however, students are just guessing what they will learn.

Why do this? Good question! The Student Information Sheet will be put in a binder to use later. The KWL Charts will be a valuable diagnostic tool to gauge the attitude of your class towards the subject matter you will be teaching. You will notice that students can be classified into three groups based on their KWL answers – The first group will be your motivated students… They will have answers like “Algebra is a type of math that you use to solve word problems”, or “Algebra uses letters instead of numbers”.

Your second set of students will be your cooperators… They may not know much about your subject, but they at least care enough about your feelings to fake it. Examples of answers from cooperators are “This is the first time I have taken Algebra, so I don’t really know for sure what we will be learning.” Another example would be “I would like to know how to do Algebra because my older sister does, and she uses it to act really smart around my parents.”

The third type of answer is from your unmotivated students. They will typically put “Nothing” in all three columns and hand the chart back in. You should take special note of these students! I used to put a red dot next to their name in my grade book. I would also make sure that I have accurate parental contact information from them… I may be needing it later!

After gathering all of the KWL Charts, I distribute a copy of my class syllabus and discipline plan to each student. I go over my discipline plan first (see page 4), then the syllabus.

The following is an explanation of my classroom discipline plan:

1.  Rules – I keep the list of rules short for a reason… You don’t want to overwhelm the class with a huge number of rules. The rules have to be very important to you to be included on this list. If you feel strongly about another rule that you think should be added to the list, add it to the list. This list of rules is not set in stone, but it covers 98% of the situations that you will face. I especially like the one about laughing when someone else is being corrected. You will find that students (if you let them) will say “oooooohhhhhhh”, or laugh when a student is being corrected. I find that irritating and disrespectful, and treat it seriously.

2.  Procedure – You must follow the procedure in a cool, calm fashion every time a student breaks one of your rules. When I was teaching, I would be presenting the lesson when a student blurted out something inappropriate without permission. Without stopping what I was doing (or even slowing down) I would walk over to the board, and write the student’s name on it. Stopping class to make a big deal about someone’s misbehavior is just feeding the person attention (what is causing the disruptive behavior in the first place.) Just so you know, in the beginning of the year, I would have some students question why their name was written on the board. At that point, I would invite the student to stay after class so that I could explain myself to him/her.

3.  Consequences – Staying after class to sign my “Discipline Book” is the catalyst for a hierarchy of progressively harsher disciplinary consequences. By the time a student has signed the discipline book four times in a semester, you have exhausted all of the steps that you can take at the classroom level. It is then time for the student to be sent to the office. Signing the discipline book also provides documentation that the student is not responding to your discipline methods.

4.  Rewards – Every discipline plan should include rewards for good behavior. I have never been a big believer in spending my own money on a “pizza party” or anything resembling that. Also, when showing movies…make sure they are appropriate for your age group! I cover this subject in depth in the section of my website called “Videos in the Classroom”. “Magic Points” can happen if a student is two or three points from a passing grade. Sometimes I add up the points wrong and…. Poof! Passing grade.

5.  Severe Clause – Sometimes, you need an escape hatch… That’s where the Severe Clause comes in. If a student is being verbally or physically abusive, repeatedly insubordinate, threatening others, or in your opinion “out of control”… They are sent directly to the office.

6.  Miscellaneous – I like to keep a “thinking chair” in the back corner of my room for students to reflect before they are welcome back in the main classroom area. I also was not opposed to putting a student out in the hallway from time to time if he/she was excessively belligerent (but not to the point of triggering my severe clause.) This usually happened after I had warned the student verbally, written the student’s name on the board, and circled the name. If the student still persisted with the disruptive behavior, they would be put in the hall for a few minutes. If your administrator questions your choice of the hallway, let him/her know that you only put students in the hall for the amount of minutes equal to their age (which is what the research says is most effective). For example, a 10-year old shouldn’t be in the hall for more than 10 minutes. Don’t be known as the teacher who banishes kids to the hallway for the entire class period.

7.  Forms – I keep two binders…the “Discipline Book” is a binder filled with pages for the student to fill out. This book is kept on my desk, available to be signed at the end of each period by students held after by me for having their name circled on my board. I keep every student’s Student Information Sheet in a binder, locked in my desk. I have the students arranged by period, or in alphabetical order. The binder of Student Information Sheets is kept in a locked drawer, since it contains confidential information. I document every parent contact I make… It comes in handy later!

8.  Discipline Referral – When you write a discipline referral on a student, you will include all of the interventions you have tried with the student…use the back of the referral if you have to! When you include all of the things you have tried (and the list of times that you contacted the parent about their student’s behavior), the administrator will be more likely to remove the student from your class for a longer period of time.

Letting students know about all of these procedures is a way to inform your students that “follow through” is something you believe in (and will do).  This establishes you as someone who is not to be messed with.  Actually, some students will not believe that you will follow through until the time comes for you to follow through… At a time later in the year.  Luckily for you, the foundation has already been built on the “First Day of School.”