How do you begin your year with your students?
It is a question I have seen quite a bit recently on social media. Some teachers focus on routines & expectations, others do ‘get-to-know-you’ activities, while others simply start teaching. It isn’t an easy question to answer as it depends on many factors.
1. The behaviour of your students
This is probably the most influential aspect of how you begin the school year. If students are compliant and work well, show respect and are generally polite and well behaved, then I would simply just start teaching. I am very lucky at the moment I work in a school where we don’t have many behavioural issues, and what we do have is very easy to deal with. So just start teaching & deal with things as they occur.
If behaviour is a challenge, then it might be useful to start with routines & expectations and drill those before you get in to the more detailed aspects of your lessons. Have plenty of resources ready to go but be flexible and prepared to stop teaching if you need to model expected behaviours. In a previous school I worked at, expectations and routines were taught for at least the first 6-8 weeks of the school year. This meant that the rest of the year went a little smoother & things were a little easier to manage.
2. Your level of experience
I know when I first started teaching, I wasn’t comfortable with just ‘jumping in’ and teaching. I wanted to get to know my students and figure out where my expectations were. It took me a while to build my behaviour management strategies and I did spend some time on general activities including team building and getting to know the students.
After 15 years of teaching I am now comfortable to jump in a begin teaching. This does depend on the students behaviour but even if behaviours are a challenge, time & experience is a benefit for dealing with students.
3. Your current school
If you are new to teaching, or new to a school, ask around! There might be an expectation that teachers spend some time on certain tasks at the beginning of the year so I might be useful to ask a few colleagues how they begin with their students.
4. Your work space
I have had many different roles in different schools including being a classroom teacher, literacy support and of course, languages; and have taught most grades. I have been lucky enough to have my own workspace when teaching Indonesian & Japanese at previous schools and I was able to set up my own space in the way that suited me. At the beginning of the year I would spend some time doing simple tasks and allowing students to become familiar with this workspace. In other schools when teaching languages, I have had to use a trolley to cart my resources from class to class. This was a frustration for me at times, however the benefit was that I could ask students to use resources such as glue sticks, scissors & textas and they would know exactly where these things were. In this situation I would just start teaching.
So as you can see there isn’t a correct way of starting the year & that is one of the things that I love about teaching – we are free to make decisions that are best for us & our students.
When beginning the year with a subject such as languages, I usually stick to a few basic topics such as colours (for younger students), numbers & greetings for the first few lessons and then move on to other topics. I keep the lessons simple while getting to know my students, however, I no longer do specific ‘get-to-know-you’ activities. One task I do in the first lesson of each year is for students to make their own name labels which I then laminate & ensure they have these next to where they are working. It helps me as a specialist teacher to get to know their names quickly.
How do you begin?