This week’s contribution comes from Kansas Council for the Social Studies secretary Lori Rice. She teaches 4th grade at Wamego West Elementary school and is the 2018-19 KSDE Social Studies Teacher of the Year.
The time between the end of December and beginning of January is magical for teachers as schools across the state shut down for “WINTER BREAK”!! The alarms are shut off. The coffee is hot! And you may have even read a book that was simply for your own enjoyment or caught up on that Netflix/Hulu series you love. As with all good things, winter break must come to an end.
Over the next week, classes are starting back for teachers and students. Alarms are ringing, coffee is cooling and the responsibilities are mounting again. In classrooms, it is generally back to business as usual. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you gear up for the second semester:
Classroom Management—while you established your rules, routines, and expectations at the beginning of the year, everyone has been on a break. For some students this transition back into the classroom environment is seamless; they were home with support and food and a (fairly) consistent schedule. But for other students who were underfed, helping families earn money, staying up too late and spending too much time on technology as a babysitter, a little practice will help smooth the process. Review your classroom management system no matter what works for you. If you use a clip chart, assertive discipline, natural consequences, or a reward system, remind students what success looks and feel like. Review your community goals and expectations. Review rules together and explain consequences. Have an open discussion about what is working in the classroom and what students feel needs adjusted. Give gentle reminders as you get back to work in the new semester. This time spent in review will set up success for the remainder of your year.
Use your resources—in our day of technology we have resources at our finger tips. Time is the most underutilized resource teachers have and the one we complain the most about lacking. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you work on a grade level team you divide and conquer. Have one person put together the resource, Google Slide, Adobe Spark for students/teacher use and another person organize the resources/project rubric students will use to show mastery. Split your curriculum and find and share activities. Stanford History Education Group https://sheg.stanford.edu/, National Archives https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons, Writing Fix http://writingfix.com/index.htm, and Scholastic http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plans/free-lesson-plans are all great places to start.
Get Connected—you are not in this journey alone. Find teachers in your building who are leaders, have a positive attitude, and are the problem solvers. Join groups online or on Facebook/Twitter like Kansas Council for Social Studies. Check out my article for more resources to connect with educators. http://theeducatorsroom.com/2013/12/expanding-teaching-circle-networking/ Having others to ask questions, bounce ideas, and share frustrations with will provide you a much needed support group thorough this journey the remainder of the year.
Don’t Assume Anything—your students are each individuals. They have different experiences, knowledge bases, home lives, and strengths. Reflect from last semester. We all have students that fit the mold and thrive no matter how we are teaching. But we also each have students that force us to think outside the box to meet their needs. Remember what you learned about them the first semester or get to know them if they are a new group, reflect on what worked and where/when things were successful. Ask your students what they need to be successful in your classroom. Connect with them, respect them, and help them find what works. It takes work and effort, but figuring out each student and how they interact with their environment and other learners will make classroom management easier and learning the focus in your room.
Have Fun—smile, laugh, take a dance break or brain break and have fun with your class. Be silly, be weird, be crazy. Getting back into the groove after break is hard for teachers and students. Don’t forget the importance of getting up and moving, being silly, and having fun. Always remember why you started this important path; it’s all about the kids. You are here for them!
The beginning of the year is a time for reflection, setting goals and self-evaluation. What do you want to accomplish this semester? What do you want students to take away from your classroom? I always remember why I started this path 28 years ago when I decided to enroll in education at Kansas State University. I wanted to work with kids. I wanted to go to work each day and do something I love. I wanted to teach.
I hope the second half of your school year is full of adventure, learning, and pleasant surprises. I hope you get to know each of your students and value them as individuals. I hope you find and get connected with a supportive group of positive teachers. I hope you continue your own learning journey and learn something new. And most of all, I hope you have fun!