Setting the Tone for the Year

I know, I know… It’s been 11 months to the day since I last posted, but I feel inspired tonight.  Today marked the first day of my 8th year of teaching, and I’m feeling quite reflective and pumped!

My first few years of teaching, I made sooooooo many mistakes and over the years learned the value of setting the tone in the classroom.  The last few years I have paid particular attention to what I do in the beginning that makes things run smoothly the rest of year.

While I am a Spanish teacher, I have never felt that teaching Spanish was my only responsibility to my students.  I feel it is my duty to help them learn to be good people.  I try to incorporate life lessons and model appropriate ways to deal with various situations.  Last week during in-service, I had the pleasure of hearing Patrick Briggs speak, and one thing that stood out to me was the importance of relationships with students.  It has always bothered me when teachers say, “I don’t care if my students like me.”  I’ll be honest, I’ve even said that in the hopes of convincing myself that I really meant it when it seemed like that was what you were supposed to say to stay off the radar.  But it’s just not true.  I care so much more than that and a wonderful mentor administrator (who by the way, came off as a SCARY, GRUFF person–Ed are you reading this?) made me realize that perhaps my true feelings would lead me to success with my students.  I thought he was scary, but he cared more about his staff and students than any administrator I’ve ever met while being able to keep us all in line so to speak.

I 100% admit it, I want my students to like me, I want them to like my class.  That being said, my number one priority as their teacher is for them to learn Spanish.  I felt like over the years I had to learn to balance.  At first, I sacrificed the relationship aspect, then at times the learning.  While I’m no where near perfect, I feel like I have had quite a few consecutive years of success in this area.

So what do I do?

Well, to be honest, there’s a lot of work that goes into this.  First of all, the number one idea is not new.  It’s not revolutionary, but it’s very important: consistency.  I follow-through on everything from the beginning.  It’s not a threat, it’s a promise.  While the inevitable tears of the poor, sweet girl who has never gotten a detention in her life (or better yet, the boy who cries) REALLY tugs at my heartstrings, I do what I say I’m going to do.  If I tell a student that I need him/her to stop talking or detention, I follow through if s/he doesn’t stop.  Yes, my initial reaction is to give them a second chance, but years of experience has taught me that in the end they will like and respect me more when they realize they can trust me.  Consistency is really all about trust.  They learn that when I speak, I speak the truth.  When we as teachers do not follow through, they learn to doubt us and to not trust us.  Let’s not forget something else that goes along with consistency–fairness.  I do not let one kid off and punish another.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a student I had last year and who feels more at ease with my class the second time around.  You got the warning, you ignored it, now you get the consequence.

Another thing that I feel is CRUCIAL to my success: I handle issues with the individual.  When I ask a student to be quiet, I go up and say it to where s/he can barely hear it; if s/he is sitting, I get down to his/her eye level.  When I need to issue a detention, I quietly ask the student to see me at the end of class.  I do not embarrass or humiliate the kid.  I do not show anger.  I make it clear that one action caused a reaction–a reaction of which the student was forewarned.

When I discuss the detention with the student, I have him/her write out the explanation on the detention.  If I am dissatisfied with his/her rationale, s/he redoes it.  (I got this idea from an amazing colleague, Edith).  I want them to take as much ownership for their actions and resulting consequences as possible.

When we have the detention, we talk.  We process what happened–I feel like a shrink trying to get the answers sometimes–and I help guide the student to figure out why the behavior was problematic and how to proceed.  I also make it clear that I don’t hold grudges, and that I plan to move forward.

Most importantly, I work the room for weeks on end.  Whenever the students are working in groups/partners/independently I am EVERYWHERE.  I am visible and make it clear that I am going to be all up in their business so their business better be Spanish.  It is tiring at times, but I put in all this effort up front so that when I’m really tired in May, I can sit down for awhile if I need to and be able to trust my students to stay on task.

Finally, I show my quirks.  I ramble on and digress in Spanish (yes they get a little lost, heck, I get a little lost in my own thoughts too), but I am me. I share tidbits about my kids, my hobbies.  They get to know a piece of my life which shows them that I trust them enough to be myself.

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