It’s so easy to get overwhelmed as a new teacher.
And it’s so easy to think you have to get everything right your first couple of weeks. Great teaching books like Harry Wong’s The First Days of School emphasize how important a strong start to the year can be. My favorite Teach Like a Champion has 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. Version 2.0 has 62.
So new teachers are often tempted to think they have to get everything right at the beginning of the year – or at least implement an overwhelming number of teaching techniques.
But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to get everything right. You don’t have to start off with 62 techniques. You don’t even have to start off with half of that.
You can start with 2.
I wish someone had told me, when I was a first year teacher, the 2 most essential things I needed to be able to teach my kids so I could focus on those things instead of obsessing over the overload of advice I felt like I was getting. I mean, I had been educated at Notre Dame’s ACE program…
Apart from the most important thing – which is to love your kids – there are only two things you really need to start teaching. Obviously other things will help you. But you can start with these two and start becoming an effective teacher right away:
1) Create an Entrance Routine
2) Create An Attention Procedure
If you can teach your kids how to walk in your classroom every day so that you have their attention from the get-go, and if you can teach your kids how to give you back their attention every time you ask for it, you can teach.
The best part is, if you mess up your first couple of weeks of school, you can always reteach those two things and practice them with your kids until they get it right.
What is an entrance routine? It’s the specific way your kids start class every single day. Whether you have your own classroom or you are a “floater” and borrow other classrooms, you can have an entrance routine. The idea is that you want to START class with the kids’ attention, not try to get it after class has begun. If you start with the kids’ attention every day, you’re already a long way towards being an effective teacher.
1) Here’s how I teach an entrance routine at the beginning of the year.
I don’t allow kids into my room. I have them line up outside my door. After the bell rings and other kids leave the hallways, I say, “Period 2, welcome! As you come in, I will give you your seating chart and your Do Now. Find your seat silently and start your Do Now without talking.”
And I shake the first kid’s hand. I give him his seating chart and point him towards his desk. I remind him of the directions.
I make the kid behind him wait until that first kid has begun working.
I repeat the process. It doesn’t matter that it takes a longer time – this is an investment of time that will pay off later.
I pause kids at the door. I make sure I can check the room. I narrate positive behavior to make sure my expectations are clear: “Period 2, I see everybody working on the Do Now silently and without talking. That is the expectation.”
Inevitably, someone will want to say hi to a friend or will have trouble finding her seat. I immediately call the student back and whisper, “Hey, I know you were just [insert innocent violation of expectation here]. But you can’t talk during the Do Now. Go back and try it again.”
Do this every day for the first week of school. Do it longer, if you need to. I’m still doing it with my high school kids and we just finished the second week.
2) Here’s how I teach my attention procedure:
“Ladies and gentlemen, there will be times in class when you will be talking a lot and that is a good thing. However, when I need your attention, I will always ask for it the same way. I will stand here [indicate the spot in the room you will always use] and I will say, ‘Back to me, please.’ That means you need to stop talking, turn and face me with your hands free, and listen silently.”
I make sure my voice is very calm but very firm when I say this.
“Alright, let’s try it. When I say ‘go’ – but wait until I say ‘go’ – you will turn to your partner and talk about [insert Do Now topic or whatever you like]. I will call you back to attention. Okay – go!”
I walk around and listen as they talk. Slowly I go back to the front of the room. Some kids might pause in their talking as they see me do this and that is okay.
With a firm but calm voice I say, “Back to me, please.”
Usually the first time goes well, but to enforce high expectations I always say, “Pretty good. But I think we can do better. Let’s practice again. This time, when I say ‘go’, talk to your partner about ______. Ready – go!”
And we practice again.
I make sure to practice this at LEAST two times every class period for the first week of school.
Your Entrance Routine and your Attention Procedure do not have to be the same as mine by any means. But you need to have them.
So, new teachers: don’t give in to the temptation of being overwhelmed by procedures. If you teach your kids an entrance routine and an attention procedure, you will have enough classroom management to get some real teaching done throughout the year.
All teachers: are there any other procedures you believe are essential?