Here I am sitting on the couch at 5:40 on a Sunday morning. For some reason I have been wide awake since just after 4:00. As I get ready for my second cup of coffee, I’ve been reflecting back on the start of the school year. Tomorrow starts week number 3-the first full, 5 day week of the school year for my students.
Things have started off quite well. I am adjusting to a new schedule that includes day care drop off which means getting to school with only about 15 minutes before class starts then teaching 3 straight classes before I finally get a break. My classes so far have been a joy as each class presents its own, different personality. We have only had 2 weeks of classes, and yet we are in full swing. In fact, my juniors had their first quiz this past week.
You see, I am a huge believer in establish a positive culture in the first few weeks of school. In fact, I chair our school culture committee because I believe so strongly in this. I have developed a presentation for our new teachers built on the idea that a positive culture in your classroom will prevent many management issues. I read vociferously anything I come across in relation to classroom culture. I take pride in the fact that I can name almost all my students on the second day and then force them to learn and use each other’s names. I feel very strongly that students need to feel welcomed in the class to learn.
Establishing a positive, student centered, learning focused community is a big deal to me. But I don’t play name games. I don’t do ice breakers. I teach content on day 1.
In fact, it bothers me greatly that many teachers spend the first few days or even weeks doing nothing but what have been dubbed “culture building activities.” Doing this does your students a great disservice as far as I am concerned. Students attend school for 180 days; it quickly becomes monotonous. The start of the school year is the rare moment in which students haven’t been jaded by the monotony of the school year. For a week or two we have a captive audience. It is such a short amount of time before students fall into a lull of complacency. I refuse to waste this time.
Culture and community are hugely important, but don’t sacrifice the first few weeks of content to it. Build your classroom culture and set expectations as you teach your content. For example, I build a number of opportunities for group work into the start of the school year. Then I choose the groups, mixing it up each time, and their first instruction is to make sure they know the names of everyone in their group. As discussions ensue, I stop students and tell them that they need to respond to each other by name. My wife the Spanish teacher forces students to use the target language in their getting to know you games. There are so many ways to build the culture you want beyond so called “culture building activities.”
Yes, please focus on your classroom culture, but also focus on your content.