The One-Month Mark: Where Your Class Needs to Be
The beginning of the school year is a “getting-to-know-you” sort of time, but you need to start shifting gears by the end of the first month.
The first few weeks are when the children become attuned to your personality and class expectations, while you get to know them as people and learners. Yet you can’t wait too long to move beyond this stage and get into the real work to be done.
Where should your class be at the one-month mark? Here’s how to figure that out:
Student differences should be more obvious
During the busy and tumultuous start of a school year, students may appear (at least at the beginning) to be the same person. Yes, they’re all different people, but there is so much new information to digest, so many names to learn and so many things to organize that telling your students apart can be difficult.
By the end of the first month, however, you should have a growing understanding of their differences — whether a child needs extra encouragement, works fine alone or struggles with a challenging home situation — and adjust your teaching accordingly. Offering a child an individualized classroom experience tells them you value them as a person.
Downtime should be cut to a minimum
Classroom downtime is a killer for student work. Losing a few minutes of instruction each time your students transition to a new subject or activity has an overall compounding effect that becomes a significant drain on what you can do during class.
The first month of school needs to be devoted to improving the flow of the class and establishing that you expect students to move quickly from one activity to another. All of your low-level expectations (e.g., how to ask permission to use the bathroom or when homework is submitted) should be set by this point.
These expectations roll into student behavior. After all, a class that is unstructured is a class that struggles. Work on the little issues, and the big issues will never come to life.
Assessments should be bearing fruit
Students paint a picture of who they are by how they act and how they perform on assessments. By the end of the first month, you should have a variety of age- and development-appropriate assessments that reveal student strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t just collect for the sake of collecting. Rather, gather information that will reveal how you need to adjust your approach to their learning. A writing piece may show that you need to go deeper on how words can be used to convey ideas, or a group project may show how you need to work on interpersonal skills between students.
Regardless of what you do, you should have performance data to help guide your lesson-planning decisions.
Struggling students’ needs can be reviewed
Nothing beats a fresh start. Students who struggled last year need you to give them the opportunity to be a different student this time. At the end of the first month, review your students’ cumulative record folders. Look for grades and comments from the previous years and make mental note of their blind spots and strengths.
Use this information when working individually with the children, and let them know that you are aware of how they did before. Reassuring students that you know them as individuals is key to getting them to connect well with your teaching.
You’re ready to call parents at home
After a month you need to pick up the phone. In my teaching days, I would call the homes of my highest performers to compliment them and thank their parents for sending us such strong students. I would then call the homes of my lowest performers and ask them what we can do together to turn things around.
Phone calls send a strong message about how important the children are to you — they are not soon forgotten. The goal is to connect with parents and let them know you’re present in their child’s learning and that you’re prepared to help them as necessary.