This week was my 29th first week of school. Twenty-nine times I have set up my room, chosen pencils and erasers and bookmarks to give out, cleaned shelves, organized books and greeted a new class of students. Twenty-nine times I have worried through sleepless nights and blank summer days, wondering if this would be the year I would totally lose control of everything. Twenty-nine times I have suffered - yes suffered - through the first week of school, wishing it away quickly so I can really start the year.
But this year, I decided to do things differently and it was the best first week of school ever! So what did I do?
First, I set up my room in a more inviting manner. Usually, I start the year with all desks facing forward. I wait until I can see who is most talkative, who needs more support, who must be close to the front of the room, etc. Then, once I have a good feel for the kids, I will put them into groups. But I always hate the way the class looks and hate having a front of the room. So this year, I started them in groups. I had groups of four, groups of two, groups of six. Desks were pushed together all around the room. I made inviting little corners, fun collaborative groups, and a huge space for my big purple rug right in the center. No more front of the room. No more desks all facing forward. No more acting like I don't trust them from the start to be cooperative.
What response did I get? The kids came in saying they loved the way the room was set up. I heard comments like, "I never saw a classroom like this before," and "Look, it's all boys at this table!" That was a big one. I always sit the kids boy, girl. Not this year. I also confused the children a bit when I started a lesson from the "back" of the room. They didn't know which way to turn.
Second, I decided to start in with my lessons and projects right from day one. Usually, I am very busy the first week of school going over all the rules. I talk and talk and talk. I talk about how to treat books, when to use the bathroom, how important it is to hand in assignments. I talk about lunch rules and outdoor recess. I talk about how desks should be set up and what the rules are for sitting on the carpet. I am getting bored just writing about all the talking I do. So you can imagine how bored the kids always are that first week.
This year I decided to be reactive instead of proactive. Now I know that goes against everything we have ever been taught about teaching. But I chose my lesson times wisely. Instead of doing it all at once, I taught my rules as they came up. First time at the carpet? Let's come up with rules for how we can all fit. First outdoor recess? Let's talk about ways to play fairly. First time in the library? Now we will talk about the care of books. In the meantime, we did math and reading and writing and social studies and science and wrote Hopes and Dreams for the year and worked on Dots for International Dot Day and logged into Google Docs for the first time and created our first blogs. The children even asked if they could work at home this weekend!
And we had fun. So much fun. We laughed, we smiled, we were challenged, and we felt comfortable much earlier than we ever did before. Each day I went home smiling. Each morning I came in looking forward to the day. At the end of the day on Friday, we had a quick share around the room. Each child had to finish the sentence - "Before school began, I worried about ____________ but I'm not worried anymore." I heard kids say they worried about getting too much homework, fifth grade being too hard, not liking the teacher, not knowing any kids, not making friends. No worries now. Then I had them do another quick share. This time the sentence was - "The best part of the week was ______________." These answers brought tears to my eyes. I was expecting to hear recess, gym, and lunch. Instead I heard meeting new friends, meeting all of you, feeling good in class, coming to school each day.
It was such an amazing week, we accomplished so much, and I cannot wait to go back to school tomorrow to keep on working.