Fall is here, and another school year is upon us.
This is my fourth year at my particular before and after school site, and I like to think in general I have a good idea of what’s going on. I’ve ironed out our daily routine, I know our kids well enough to have supports built in to overcome our most common challenges, and I’ve given the “welcome back to school” speech so many times that some of my older kiddos could probably quote it back to me.
But, each year, regardless of my preparedness, I always walk away from the first few weeks feeling like I could’ve done more, or at least presented information in a way that would resonate with our students more.
While I’m reminding students to ask a teacher before they leave a space or go to the bathroom, little Johnny is reconnecting with friends from last year, Darla is crying over a lost toy, and Debbie is anxiously awaiting snack. Walking 90 K-5 kiddos through expectations those first few days is one of the hardest things to plan… because honestly, there’s no foolproof way to do it. One year I even attempted to have my staff put on a skit to showcase expectations, much to their dismay (FYI, it didn’t work). Most years I could have a full band singing our expectations or a puppet show on stage and the kids would still only be focused on what’s coming next… “when does the fun start?”
When I was in the classroom instead of the before and after school setting, we always talked about the “honeymoon period” at the beginning of the year. That time before kiddos reveal all of themselves to you.
When you spend time getting to know each other, doing collaborative activities, and setting up routines that will help students to be successful in their academics during the school year. Depending on the year, your “honeymoon period” could range from one hour to one day to one week, maybe two weeks if you were lucky.
Perhaps, this idea of a “honeymoon period” is best described in the article entitled The Secret Teacher: Don’t be fooled by the honeymoon period*:
Don’t be fooled by the first two weeks of term. They are a honeymoon period in every sense of the word. All is glorious about teaching: students are clean and looking smart in new, if ill-fitting, uniforms; they come fully equipped with pens, pencils, and rulers; your planner is pristine and your class lists and seating plans look great. You have had six weeks to plan and prepare the first week’s lessons and your displays are fit for Ofsted.
The kids also get a little Stepford. A new teacher changes everything for them. They are sussing you out, and they have a specific list of questions that need answering: what can or can’t I get away with? Can I be cheeky? Will they check my work closely? Do I have to answer questions in class?
All this means you can breeze home at the end of the day marveling at your newfound classroom management. Maybe all those years of experience are paying off; yes, your mere presence can now inspire awe.
Better still, your time management has improved. You leave at 4 pm, your bag is empty, tomorrow’s lessons are sorted. You spend the evening enjoying a leisurely meal, time with your children, flicking through the paper and the TV schedules. You are the definition of work-life balance – all you needed was a break.
Does this definition make you smile as much as I did? Oh man, how I want that! (And sometimes I think I even convince myself that that’s how the school year starts). But the truth is, the moment my kiddos burst into my room on day one of programming, the honeymoon period is over. They know me! They don’t need to spend time “sussing out” anything and instead jump in like no time at all has passed.
So, this year I’m reminding myself to do four things. These four things aren’t new ideas by any means, but they are working to ground me and to give me perspective in these first few weeks.
- Breathe: The first few days of programming are always so BUSY. You’ll be pulled in a hundred different directions… helping kiddos find art supplies, helping staff solve student problems, teaching new staff and students routines, checking in with returning parents and getting to know new ones. The list could go on and on! But no one benefits from you not being on your A game. Take a deep breath, prioritize what you need to do, and remain calm! It’s week one, no one expects you to have it all figured out right away.
- Teach: Teach your staff how to handle kiddo problems: what language to use, what strategies they can use to teach new behaviors, what constitutes a behavior that needs to be talked about with a parent. Teach your staff how to actively supervise kiddos… inside, outside, and everywhere in between. And, teach your staff of their own importance! A well-trained staff can make a difficult week much easier!
- Reconnect: Take time to reconnect with your students. This one is harder for me during the busy first few weeks, but I’m trying to be more intentional about checking in on the kiddos I care for and catching up on their summers/lives. Kids can change so drastically during their few months away.
- Remember: Remember that having a relationship with your kiddos that continues year after year can be a wonderful blessing. Classroom teachers say goodbye and welcome new students each fall, while YOU are in the position to form deep relationships with kiddos that span perhaps their whole elementary (or middle school) lives. That’s worth not having a “honeymoon period.”
I don’t know the perfect way to go over expectations at the beginning of the year in light of my lack of a “honeymoon period” with my kiddos (and if you do, please share!). But for now, we’re sticking to the basics and teaching on the go! Hopefully, my many years reminding kiddos daily of expectations will be just as beneficial as it would be to have all 90 kiddos giving me their full attention at once while we come up with program expectations (but wouldn’t that be amazing?!).
What’s your plan for the beginning of the school year?
For breakfast, I had coffee. Always coffee.
* The Secret Teacher: Don’t be fooled by the honeymoon period. The Guardian. (2013, September 21). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/sep/21/secret-teacher-honeymoon-period