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Start the Year Off Right: Ideas for Creating a Happy Classroom

My two favorite times of the academic year are the beginning and the ending, and one of the best things about working in education is that we get all summer to recharge. As I gear up to start a new school year, I've been thinking quite a bit about beginnings.

Dennis Potthoff, a colleague of mine, created the following list for teachers to refer to when beginning the new school year:

  • Before the year starts, get ideas for your curriculum by reviewing lessons from past terms.
  • Establish classroom norms, expectations, and procedures.
  • When the year starts, just jump right into the curriculum.
  • Motivate and excite students -- "sell" the class, the curriculum, and the teacher.
  • Work on relationship building (student-to-teacher and/or student-to-student).
  • Preassess your students to gauge their current knowledge, skills, or dispositions.

In the past, I've followed the second, third, and fourth ideas by discussing with the class my goals for the year, sharing my enthusiasm with the students to pique their interest, and jumping into the lessons and activities for the term.

As I share Potthoff's list with you now, I wonder how these ideas sound from the students' viewpoint. For example, would students prefer to work more on relationship building and the reviewing of previous class material? Would additional preassessments help me understand more about where my students stand in the learning process?

What do you think of these ideas? Which ideas would you use, and why? Do you have other ideas to add to this list? I'd like to hear from you!

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Teacher in Florida's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I hope I can be some help. I really like organization, so here are some of my thoughts. Start by color coordinating the two high schools in separate big containers. Then start by separating the content areas, grade levels, assessments, worksheets, and any teacher guides. I make binders for all my master copies in each subject along with the standards and the assessments. Label each binder along with each container and life should be easier. Good Luck - it gets better every year !

Wendy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a first year teacher in Florida. I didn't have a chance to be there in the summer to get my classroom set up the way I wanted it. I also found when I got there that they do testing on the material in the first week. I only get my 4th graders for 3 and a half hours a day. I did not even have time to do the "get to know you" activities that I had planned. I now find that the students are taking my teaching time to get to know each other. I am thinking of taking a day and try and get the activities in, but then I will be a day or two behind. Any advice?

Chris Y's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The beginning of the year is challenging and exciting. I agree with setting up a "democratic" classroom. I use the community classroom model for discipline. This model uses a sense of community and allows students to problem solve and to set the classroom up for learning together. We come up with rules together and decide how many marbles we will get for following each rule. They also decide how many fines they will get for not following each rule. For example, listening and following directions is worth three marbles or three fines. The students want to earn marbles so they follow the rules and model good behavior. This also gave background information for my social studies class, which begins by disscussing the community. I like the list for getting ready to begin the school year. Many people think teachers work to just get the summer off. I think we need to recharge and take time research and examine what we taught the previous year. I use the summer to reflect and to come up with new ideas for the next school year.

Alisha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with "selling" your class. I teach 2nd grade in a low socio-economic school. My class theme is "Super-Stars". On the 1st day of school, I tell my students they were hand picked to be in my classroom of stars. Each of them were picked because they are special. My students totally buy in to this idea and want to perform for me. We discuss how a Super-Star acts and behaves. It is part of my classroom management plan and thus far has been successful.

Amy L.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! This is my first time blogging. I found this topic of interest. I am also in my second year teaching and I agree that I was unable to "jump right into the curriculum." I teach first grade and it took about two weeks to teach just the basics. It is a big adjustment moving from Kindergarten to first grade. The students are seated at their own desks and procedures are different. Students must be taught everything! I spent the first 2 weeks reviewing some Kindergarten lessons and focusing on the classroom environment. I will say though, that I taught third grade as a long term substitute and we jumped right into the curriculum. We worked on classroom management as well, but the curriculum began immediately. Perhaps this idea depends on your students and grade level?

Tina McGran's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an experienced teacher, I find that organization is a key element in remaining successful. I teach 2 sessions of kindergarten and although I remain in the same classroom, my biggest concern is managing the two separate classes in an organized and efficient manner. I have issues with enough space for student's personal belongings, places to put wet paint projects, boards for center rotations, and charts for fluid grouping. I concur with our colleague that color coding is a simple and effective way to keep organized. In addition, I cut off the right corners of my afternoon student's papers to quickly indicate which class these documents are from. This strategy might help you as well. With experience, you too will find ways to keep organized.

Kevin McNulty's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I start the year in a similar way. I tell all my students that they are starting the year off with a 100% in all classes. I tell them that they need to work hard to keep their grade up at a high level, rather than work your way up from zero. It amazes me that they don't believe me at first. I tell them they are all capable of working hard to keep these high marks and that I expect them to do so. Eventually they believe what I say and the majority of them work hard and constantly ask how they are doing. Those who are not working as hard, I remind them that they are hurting themselves because their grade is beginning to drop a bit. Any comments or ideas as to why this concept seems to shock students?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you have all the basics of your classroom management working in just two weeks, kudos to you! I've been teaching first grade for many years and often it takes 4 weeks, at least, for the students to independently work in Centers and other aspects of the daily routine.

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have not done this, but I love the idea of telling the students they start the year off with a 100%! I think this is a fantastic idea and a good way to show students that those who work hard will keep their grades up. I think students don't believe they start out with a 100%, because a lot of them think they start at zero and have to work their way up to 100%. Thanks for this new idea!

Jessica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the idea of establishing classroom expectations, norms, and proceedures from day one. I teach fifth grade, and routine is extremely important with the group of students that I teach. If students know what to expect from the beginning, and consequences are followed through with from the start, then students will hopefully realize that I am serious about creating a safe and productive classroom environment.

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