& What to do instead
In some parts of the world, school has already started. The first day has passed. Eager teachers welcomed students into their classrooms. Nervous students began their year in a new environment. Whether you have already started your new school year or you are about to launch it soon, you might find these 3 mistakes familiar. Over the years, here's what I've learned about how to make the best of the first day with my English Learners (and frankly all students) so that the rest of the year can by successful.
Mistake #1 Focusing on rules
Yes, rules are important. But focusing on them on the first day of school tends to build a wall of anxiety between the students and the teacher. Some students, especially English Learners, tend to feel stressed by strict rules before they understand that the teacher cares for them and truly wants them to learn. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying don't have rules. Instead I would suggest making rules as a class AFTER building relationships and comfort. So before we start discussing what we expect in our classroom, we would get to know one another.
Consider even changing the name from RULES to a SOCIAL CONTRACT. I learned from Capturing Kids' Hearts that creating a social contract as a class is highly effective. When students feel they are part of the process of creating the "rules", they take ownership of them. If you are on Twitter, search social contract or Capturing Kids' Hearts. My friend, Carol Salva, even wrote about how she used a Social Contract in her secondary classroom with Newcomer EL students. Click here to visit her blog about it!
Mistake #2 Putting up a Firm front
I remember as a first year teacher, I was given advice from a more seasoned teacher who said, "Be sure to put up a firm front on the first week of school. Don't smile." Thank goodness I did not take that advice. Scaring students never helps them to feel comfortable enough to learn. Who wants to come to a classroom where their teacher is not going to smile? This is even more important for our English Learners who are learning content AND language simultaneously. Their workload is VERY heavy. Instead, the least we can do is provide them with non-verbals that are inviting and approachable. Even when our students can't speak English they can sense when their teacher truly cares for them just by the body language that we provide. Our goal on the first day and the first few days is to make sure our kids want to come back. They need to feel comfortable, loved and appreciated.
Mistake #3 Taking Control of Everything
If we want our students to take ownership of their learning, we have to give them ownership of the learning environment. This means that the walls of the classroom don't have to be completely covered come the first day of school. That's right. Don't put your energy into covering the walls in charts and posters before your students arrive. Chances are, if students aren't involved in creating the charts and posters, then they are just wallpaper.
Instead let kids know that this classroom belongs to all of us and will reflect everyone. Let the students be part of the process. Create the charts with the class. Even word walls can become interactive and engaging when we let our students take charge of them. Let students create the words and draw pictures to go along with the words. And if you are worried about the walls being empty on day one (Meet the Teacher Night), see this poem. You can put that up so that parents will understand why the walls are bare.
There are certainly other mistakes I've made along the way, but these are the top 3. Feel free to share yours below in the comments. We can learn so much from one another!