September 7, 2012
No matter how many times I’ve come to my first day of school, the butterflies begin to flutter and I excitedly geek out as I revisit my syllabi. Like the pages of a fresh plan book and new pencils, the new year can be anything teachers want it to be. We set the tone by carefully planning the first days, creating rituals in sometimes subtle, yet meaningful ways.
This year I got my class lists early. A week before the first day of classes, I had already sent emails home to my students inviting them to the first day of school.
That’s because I was already well into thinking about the unique opportunity presented by teaching seniors: I’m preparing them for a future they haven’t discovered yet and helping them set their sights on that future. I especially wanted my Advanced Placement students to be prepared for the rigor of the upcoming year and for my newspaper students to be deadline-ready, even with all the exciting changes to this year’s paper.
Making the most of the unique opportunity requires taking a different approach. When weighing how to set the tone in my classes this year, I was struck with the obvious need to establish firm expectations for my students. But I also realized that they would be doing that in every class.
I asked myself, So how can I engage the students in my expectations without explicitly spelling them out? I decided to jump right into the work so the classes can together derive a set of expectations through experience.
So rather than pulling out the syllabi on the first day of school, I pulled out a Victorian poem to get students exploring the Common Core Standards and annotating and making meaning right away.
The strategy has advantages for me because it helps me learn quickly about my students. For my AP students, testing frustration levels informs me as plan the pace and rigor of the class. In my newspaper class, I wanted to find out what students’ skill sets and interests are, allowing me to set up “maestro teams” where students can work through story ideas before the week is done.
But the real benefit is to the students. By sharing some of my real goals for my students right away, I aimed to show students that I am invested in them achieving success during the year. By Monday, my AP students will be getting their first project assignment and my publications/newspaper students will be preparing the first issue of the paper, focused on the events of September and waving goodbye to summer adventures. To me, expectation is best set through example.