Monday, August 25, 2014

The Honeymoon Period is Over

I've said a few times that this is my third year teaching.  While I'm still a newbie, by teacher standards, I have done this whole back to school thing a couple of times... and I've picked up on a few things to watch out for.

One of those things is "The Honeymoon Period".  

It's usually the first week back to school, when the kiddos are all absolute angels.  They are quiet, shy, they follow directions, and do just about anything I ask them to do.  And, then week two rolls along, and I get to see them break out of their shell just a little and I start to get to see the real them emerge.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and doesn't mean that during week two I have a bunch of kids show their true colors and end up being the complete opposite to the angels I had during week one.  It simply means they tend to not be so quiet and shy, they've started to acclimate themselves to my expectations, and they are starting to understand some of the procedures and routines.

In fact, over the past two years, I've been quite lucky once the honeymoon period is over.  I've ended up with the majority of the kids staying little angels that work hard, follow directions, and do what they can to please me.  But, there's always that one or two or five that want to start testing the boundaries, which is completely normal for this age group. They want to see how much I will tolerate.  They want to see how much I'll let them get away with.  And it's not usually long in to week two that I have to start getting a little firmer than I usually am and proving that there isn't much wiggle room when it comes to the expectations in my classroom.

For the past two years, my first week has consisted of a rigid demeanor.  One that emanates all work and no pleasure.  Sure, we spent the first couple of days playing "get to know you" activities, but as soon as the first week started, all games were gone.  I have been compared to a drill sergeant during my first week, repeating rules over and over and over again.  My classroom management routine during the first week definitely set the bar when it came to "daring them" to test my boundaries... but it didn't mean I didn't have kids that tried.  

This year, however, I went for a different approach.  I have so many kids that doubt themselves and are scared silly, not of me, but of fourth grade in general.  This was new to me.  The past two years, the kids were scared of me, but not fourth grade.  So, this year I decided to opt for a softer, warmer persona.  My first week was still spent going over and over rules and procedures, but in a nicer way.  I "reminded" students about my procedures by giving them friendly reminders, either in a fun, upbeat chant or by joking around with them in some way.  I have started using the Nike Swoosh as a way of getting kids to "Just Do It".  Meaning, instead of asking a bunch of questions before they even try... they just have to do it and see what they can do on their own.  And, I'm happy to report that I've already started seeing an improvement in their self-esteem, and they've even started speeding up already and not sitting there and stressing so much.

That's a lot of accomplish during the first week, and my hopes are that this week I am starting a new protocol for "The Honeymoon Period".  Meaning, that I won't have a few kids that try their best to do the exact opposite of everything I tell them to do, but instead have a bunch of kids that spent their first week unsure about everything they did move in to a more comfortable mindset of trusting themselves a little more.  

I will say that after my first week of teaching both my first and second years, I was able to pinpoint exactly what kids I'd have to keep an eye on.  Not because they were bad, or gave off a bad vibe, but I was able to identify which kids would try and test my boundaries because they really needed a lot of attention and I had to be the one to show them that negative attention doesn't have to be the only way of getting attention.  And, I feel that I succeeded with that, for the most part.  My first year, the kids were all fantastically behaved, hard workers, and I was able to have a LOT of fun with them.  The second year, I had one or two kids that no matter what I did, they just never caught on to the fact that I was only mean when I had to be.. and that if they'd just try some of the things I suggested, their year would have been a lot more fun and productive.  But, both years were great for learning my strengths and weaknesses, and I think both years have helped carve the way for the year I'll have this year.

This year, I can honestly say that there isn't a single kiddo in my class that has risen that "must keep my eye out" flag.  I have a strong feeling that this year, my only obstacles will be getting a few kids to either slow down and not rush through their work, or stop questioning everything they do and to trust themselves more.  And those are two obstacles I will gladly work my way through.  

For the first time EVER, I had all but one student turn in a spelling contract during the first week of school.  OK, in fairness, I've never given out a spelling contract the first week of school... just because they require a lot a modeling and explaining.  I usually ease in to them over the first few weeks.  But, I thought I'd throw caution to the wind, give them a contract by only explaining the bare minimum, and seeing how they do with that kind of challenge.  I figured it'd be a great way to get an idea on how the rest of the year will all these kids did spelling contracts in 3rd grade.  Mine is just a little more vigorous.  There wasn't a single week last school year were all but one student turned in a spelling contract.  NOT ONE.  And here I am, first week of school, getting all but one... and the only reason I didn't get the last one is because he left it at home.  I know he did most of it, because he showed me each day.  I told him he could turn it in to me today, because that's a big part of the nicer, softer me emerging.  

If these kids can complete a spelling contract that's pretty hard and confusing the first week, with little explanation and guidance from me, then I can already tell that I'm going to have a FANTASTIC year.  They are at least going to try their best at overcoming the obstacles I throw their way, and that's all I can ask for.  

It's downright amazing to me that during the first two days of school, I had so many kids that wouldn't write a word without checking with me that they were doing it right and then those same kids complete a spelling contract by just going with their gut and my friendly "Just Do It" reminder.  That's the most progress I've ever seen during the first week of school.  Not just that, but during the first couple of days I had to wait about 10-15 minutes while the kids wrote a sentence, and I'm not exaggerating at all.  By Friday, those kids were completing five written response questions (that require complete sentence answers) in about 20-30 minutes.  

Yep, this year is going to be amazing.  And even though the honeymoon period is technically over.. I'm not worried in the slightest.  I have a great feeling that these kiddos are just going to keep blowing me away with their growth, their desire to learn, and their desire to improve.  

Their honeymoon period may be over, but mine is just beginning.  And I think my honeymoon period is going to last all year long.

Have a great Monday, everyone!!


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