A response to Mark Barnes…

In a very succinct article Barnes outlines 10 things NOT to do on the first day of class. Several of his points make good sense: but only with adjustments. Others seem counterintuitive. 

In Letterman fashion, here’s his list with my comments. 

10 – Do NOT Denigrate a colleague: 100% agree. Whether the past years’ teacher taught something or not, most kids forget. So when I hear the ‘we never did this last year’ I use my standard ‘yup, you did, because Mr X is a good teacher. You just don’t remember it yet.’ Anything else is asking to be written up by your Union for unprofessional conduct. And it’s unprofessional. 

9. Do NOT Use sarcasm. Again 100% agree. Anxious kids are especially sensitive to ‘how you say things’ in the first few days. And students may not be able yet to tell when you are ‘being funny’ and ‘being scary.’ Sarcasm has no place in an elementary classroom, unless you’re teaching about it in literature or writing. 

8 – Do NOT say you’ll need weeks to learn your students’ names: true. However, you will mess up. Not everyone can learn 130 names in a few classes. This is where a seating plan for the first week helps so much (more on this later). And when you make mistakes, it’s only because you are human.  So model for students how to help you politely when you make a perfectly acceptable mistake. Just as you will help them when they make inevitable errors. 

7 – Do NOT Talk about “The Test”: While it’s true that not too many of us are big fans of standardized tests, many kids (and parents) are morbidly anxious about them. It can be helpful to allay those fears on the first day by letting kids know that yes, this is a testing year, but that we’re just going to focus on learning what we can. 

6 – Do NOT hand out textbooks. I 100% disagree. Some kids are excited to learn new material, and those big thick books are exciting for them. And most teachers don’t have a textbook storage room, so we need to get them into desks and lockers to get them off our own desk. But that doesn’t mean you’re sending them home — just passing them out and recording which student has which text. 

5 – Do NOT Seat students in rows. 100% agree. I always prefer flexible groupings and collaborative opportunities. Rows always feel rigid and forced to me. 

4. Do not assign seats. 100% disagree. First, in many k-8 schools having a seating plan is required for the school safety binder, so you can identify medically fragile kids, students with behaviour plans, and students with specific needs. Second, assigned seats help with learning names. Third, planning mixed ability groups from the beginning is essential to building a supportive classroom.  I teach one of three 7/8 splits in my school, and each year we retain our sevens. This means that my incoming 8s know my routines and expectations.  As a logical consequence, I want my 8s scattered throughout my room to mentor the 7s.  And I want to know I have my strongest leaders beside my most anxious new kids. This ensures that everyone has a place, nobody is left out, and I control those first few days of interaction. 

3 – Do NOT Distribute a syllabus. True. But handing out a quick one page note with your contact info, expectations, and a term overview helps ease the stress for many students and parents. 

2 – Do NOT Discuss classroom rules. I respectfully 100% disagree.  I’m a firm believer in clearing up any confusion on day 1 by making my expectations clear. You will undoubtedly run your room differently than Mr. X, so it’s a benefit to your kids if you can quickly and succinctly explain how your room is different, and build in some flexibility to reflect student suggestions as well. It’s fine to have the ‘respect is supreme’ philosophy, but with most kids learning procedures is key to success. For example, can students relocate to a more casual learning space? Can they eat in class? So you want them to leave at the bell or leave when you dismiss them? True — it’s all about respect — but most kids need specifics to be successful. 

1 – Do NOT Read from the student handbook. Read verbatim? No. But explicitly go over expectations for entry and dismissal, dress code, your tech policy, etc.? Most definitely. We can’t  hold students to high expectations if we haven’t taken the opportunity to explicitly teach those expectations. So cover those key issues, discuss anything that comes up, and send it home to be seen by the family. Then students will have the information they need to explain those expectations to their parents. 

That’s just my $0.02 worth. 
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