What needs to exist at the beginning?

There is a joke that floats around that aludes to the idea of making a beautifully organized classroom will make the school year perfect.  As if the children will walk in and think to themselves “ooooh, look at the boarders on that bulletin board!  And the scissors are labeled!  I will do my better than my best to corporate with everything this lovely lady has to say!”  I mean, it’s pretty amusing.  But true to some extent.

I teach ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders at a 9-12 high school.  The tenth and eleventh graders are, more often than not, students who I have already had the pleasure of teaching for at least one year; they know what they are getting into when their schedule declares I am their math teacher.  But the ninth graders, oh the ninth graders, have no idea.  I tell my former students to warn my new students about their upcoming adventures.  Most respond with something along the lines of “I won’t even know how to begin, oh maybe I’ll tell them the story about when you…”  

In the first days of school, we are checking each other out.  What will happen if I do this?!  Students test out behaviors like trying not to read, helping their peers with communicating their thinking, or following me around for more hints.  I test out jumping around, not giving reasonable answers to many questions, and taking students’ words at face value.  Both parties are trying to glean as much information about the other as possible without being painfully obvious.  (I mean, I am probably able to write a best-selling book of student questions (and how I answered them) from days 1 and 2.)

Surely the students are also looking at the environment they will be working in for the next 10 months.  I can’t vouch for students looking carefully at the coordination of the manicured classroom but I know they look to see what sorts of supplies are available and how used/cared for they appear, what sort of wander space is at their disposal, and how clean common spaces are.  

I’ve recently continued to think deeply about the ACTIONS of the first days of school (and not just how I should set up the bookcases).  I am trying to record what I notice (and note) in a variety of mathematical, teambuilding, and building routines activities.  I am thinking deeply about their purpose for me and the students.  Will students be able to make a better estimate of the adventures if we do A versus B?  Will the scholarly routines we want to happen consistently throughout the year (without too much prompting) really be driven home with this modeling or demonstration or discussion?

Unit 0 is just the beginning.  And simultaneously it is a big deal (to set up the culture of our classroom, the school, and mathematics) and not a big deal (so students don’t freak out by day 3).  Oh, Unit 0.  So, I am going to continue to think deeply about the routines, systems, activities, objectives, standards, goals… And attempt to implement.  More adventures to come.  




2 thoughts on “What needs to exist at the beginning?

  1. I have no idea whether my class is noticeably different from other teachers’ classes (at the community college where I teach). Day One, I always plan it way more carefully than other days. For a few years now, I have skipped pointing out the highlights of the syllabus, and jumped right into a math activity, so they’d know that learning math comes first, and is active.

    • I agree! Class should be about the work that will happen for the time together rather than just talking about the work that will happen. I just wonder how my little ones react to my thinking that the work we will be doing is becoming functioning and helpful humans with problem-solving skills rather than just fancy number crunchers.

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