The first day of school is ever approaching and I can not wait for that day to come.  See, I am one of those rare teachers that hates the 70 day vacation and wished the learning to never stop.  Yet, our American students must help out in the fields to tend to the crops, so the summer stoppage is a necessity and I totally understand.

The reason to love the first day of school is to be different from all the other teachers.  Most make their students sit there while they hash out the names of each new pupil, deliver their 35 minute speech on classroom policies and procedures, and a detailed approach to the teacher’s 101 rules of the classroom.  After this 55 minute monologue, you can tell the student can not wait to come back for Day 2. 

I, however, have come up with a different approach.  While I try and hit out the names of each student personally, I have them fill out a notecard with three questions:

  1. What is something you want me to know about you?
  2. What is something you do not want me to know about you?  (Always gets some laughs and some questioned faces)
  3. What is something you want to know about me?  (I urge them to be really creative on this one – not just “why did you become a teacher?”)

This gives me the five minutes I need to set in stone each student’s name (something which I spend alot of time and energy on in the week leading up to the first day).  I can not tell you the impact it has on a student if you know their name before they ever step foot in your classroom – it tells the student right off the bat that you care about them personally and they have worth in your mind  (and I think this is the last day I truly take any time to take attendance).  Then we proceed to our first lab – get with the person next to you and begin to predict the length, perimeter, area, volume, mass, time, etc. for several things throughout the room.  After about 15 minutes of this, they begin to measure each of these things. 

Usually in the middle of measuring, the bell rings.  “What?”  “The period is done?”  “But Mr. Ayton, we’re not done yet!”  In reassuring them that we will finish the measuring tomorrow, they all walk out the door talking about their measurements and predictions.  And most of them come home to their parents and the obligatory question of – “So how was your first day of school?”  And most will answer – “Eeh, boring…except for Chemistry, that was pretty cool.”

And what did they learn?  The classroom policies?  Possibly – the first and foremost classroom policy is that we are going to learn in this class, and more importantly learn by doing.  The 101 classroom rules?  Well, I don’t have that many rules.  More like 3 rules – respect each other, respect the teacher, and be accountable – so possibly they learned that without ever being told.  And what do you know – they learned some geometry, trigonometry, scientific method, problem solving without ever knowing they did.  And that was Day 1.

But they don’t know how or when to use the bathroom pass?  Big deal.  But they don’t know when they can sharpen their pencil?  They’ll learn.  But they don’t know I’m in charge?  They know its my classroom and they will quickly find out that they are ultimately in charge of the ownership of their learning.

Harry Wong (expert on teacher classroom policies and procedure) – I’m sure you’re good and it makes the teacher become much more relaxed and makes their job easier – but what are your students learning?  How to do a bellwork question everyday or how to problem solve?  How to properly sign out to use the bathroom pass or how to problem solve that they have the bladder of a hummingbird and they should not drink a 64oz soft drink before school?  Harry Wong – dude, you have some good ideas but your class would be boring and I’m not sure how much I would learn.

Take a risk and make each student think, learn, and enjoy learning…

So first day of school, here I come.  Or should I say first day of shcool, here I come.