Part 1: Four things to keep in mind for a new school year

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Last week, I sent a child into the hallway for making chirping, bird-like noises, found a student in the wrong class (after he'd missed the first 45 minutes of mine, of course), and rearranged desks four times. Did I mention last week was also the first week of school?

Welcome back, teachers! 

As I embark on a new school year (my sixth year of full time teaching), I always keep four things at the front of my mind. I’m working on being my authentic self, getting clear about where I’m taking my students, building relationships with my students, and setting clear learning expectations. I'll explain the first two - be on the lookout for Part 2 of this post for the others!

#1: Being My Authentic Self

My best memory of sixth grade resides in the precious moments right after lunch. We'd come up from the playground, sweaty from running. Mrs. Shadle would enter the room, fresh from the teacher's lounge. She would re-apply her lipstick, turn out the lights, settle in front of the classroom with a book, and read. Every day. My head resting on the cool desk, I listened to her soft voice recite Tuck Everlasting. It was my best year. I'm sure we learned a bunch of stuff with her; I vaguely recall some grammar exercises. But the main thing I remember is Mrs. Shadle’s voice, reading.

I teach sixth grade now, in that same school. And I never let that memory of Mrs. Shadle go. Every day I turn out the lights, kick off my shoes, and read, just for the pleasure of it. We stop occasionally and discuss amazing imagery and make predictions... but mostly? We just read. We read because it’s important for kids to be read to. We read aloud because if my kids remember anything, this is what I want them to remember. Not the never-ending assessments, definitely not the OAA, and not the many rounds of structured observations my principal is required to do. My sixth graders? They don’t care about that stuff. And during reading time, neither do I. When I bring my authentic self into the classroom, kids know that. They love our reading time.

And when we do get to the hard work, they work hard for me, because they know I’m real.

How are you bringing your authentic self to the classroom?

#2: Getting Clear About Where I'm Taking My Students

I take the long-view of teaching. That is, while I’m privileged to teach eleven and twelve year olds, I’m not just working on getting them through middle school. I don’t even really focus on high school as a goal. I want them to go to college, and thrive in today’s flat world. Tony Wagner has been a huge inspiration to me in thinking about the fact that I’m teaching future innovators. He encourages helping kids find passion, purpose, and play. Later in the year, we will spend a lot of time reading complex informational text (a big shift in the Common Core State Standards) based on the kids' own individual interests; in this way, I hope to nurture their passions and sense of purpose. Now, at the beginning of the year, I am helping them find the main ideas in texts and immersing them in more complex informational text in preparation for our later studies. I know I need to lay the foundational groundwork in order for us to meet and exceed these goals later in the year.

What are your long-term goals and how are you setting your students up for success now?

Share your practices in the comments below!