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Teacher, Writer, and Artist


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It’s my first day of being a substitute teacher at the school near where I live for kids who have learning, behavior, and emotional disorders. It’s my first day of being a substitute teacher anywhere.

At this school they also have a school-within-a-school for about fifty 7th to 12th grade kids who have a whole lot more learning, behavior, and emotional disorders than the other kids on campus. The school’s principal, Pam, walked me to a social studies classroom. Her ancient little dog followed us down there; his gross toenails clicked on the floor. Pam said his name was Bodeep and he was dead but he just didn’t know it yet. The dog looked like Winston Churchill.

At this school, I was told, the students get to call the teachers and principals and school dogs by their first names, and even by their nicknames.

Right before Pam shut the door behind me she said sort of funny … Good luck ... and run down the hall if you need anything.

Bodeep yawned. It was hideous.

To get things started, I thought it would be a super great idea to ask the kids where they lived. Break the ice. Get them talking to the new substitute teacher. I really thought it was a super great idea.

I got to a super serious kid named Karl. I asked Karl where he lived.

He said he couldn’t tell me.

I said why.

Karl said he couldn’t tell me because he didn’t want to get ________ and ________.

Rebecca Alber's post is

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Rebecca Alber's post is useful as a reminder. Presumably education courses and student teaching opportunities equip teachers for the first days of school. I would like to add a few ideas that I believe teachers might overlook in the process of starting things off. First and hugely important throughout the school year (but often unspoken) is safety. I think it's important to discuss safety and equip students to anticipate the unexpected, reviewing escape plans, for instance, so that they become ordinary and natural. With this segue, a teacher can lead a discussion about those important guidelines so that they invest themselves in positive principles that make sense--not just dictates from the teacher or the school (although those should be reviewed so that children do not get in trouble). Finally, I would add that teachers should not just plan for every minute (very sage advice) but should get started preparing thoughtful, higher order thinking questions (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) that can engage students and get their brains stimulated from the first day. In my experience it is really important to set a tone of deep thinking from the beginning. (And I do recognize that not all schools are easy to work in, especially not on the first day.) Good luck and Happy New Year.

Sorry, my comment seemed to

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Sorry, my comment seemed to get posted twice. I tried to eliminate one response.

High School English teacher from Brooklyn, NY

The importance of learning names...

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Great post! One trick I have is to use the kids' names as many times as possible during that first day of class. If I have my rosters in advance (a luxury in some districts, I know) I look up their yearbook pics and put names to faces BEFORE the kids come in. That way, when they walk in, I know many of them by name...The kids feel special. I feel a little more prepared.

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