Sep 1, 2009

How To Stand Up on the First Day

Since starting this teaching gig, I've now lived through 5 first days. 5 first days of multiple periods where setting the tone, building community, and giving my students a good first impression of their newest teacher is of the utmost importance. It's common knowledge by now that whatever goes down on that first day can determine the behavior of your students for the remainder of the year.

Though I am privileged enough to be entering my third year, there's still nothing more nerve-racking than the first day you step in front of your new batch of students. Sunday night, I was in bed still wide-eyed at 4am.

Less than 4 hours later, I did the following:
1. Greeted students at the door w/ a smile and a formal introduction.
2. Randomly assigned seats by handing out index cards containing a number matching a desk.
3. Asked students to fill out basic information, then an interest survey.
4. Opened up my speech by throwing the image of Jenga blocks on the board (which I'll explain in a future post)
5. Shared carefully selected parts of my life through a "Mr. G is..." slide.
6. Gave students the opportunity to share their own selves through stand up & sit down*
7. Gave students the opportunity to interact w/ their new classmates through a human scavenger hunt.

*Stand if you agree w/ the statement. Sit if you don't.

Decided to give this a go on the first day with reluctance; now, I'll never go a first day without it. The rules are simple; the results are strong. Through this, students build community on the outset. Take for example:

1. I was born and raised in Oakland.
2. I speak two languages.
3. I want to be a doctor.
4. I was born in the year 1995.
5. I am excited about the school year.
6. I identify as black.
7. I identify as white.
8. I identify as latino/a.
9. I identify as arab.
10. I identify as asian.
11. I identify as other.
It takes a lot of courage to reveal your minority status to peers you've never met. I'm amazed at how steadily students stood when they were the only one who agreed with a statement. Further, mixing in the more intense is done as easily as the lighthearted:
1. I believe racism is real.
2. I, or a member of my family, have been affected by racism.
3. I have lost someone to gun violence.
4. I have seen a gun.
Even as a 3rd year teacher in Oakland and even though you expect it, you're still surprised to see the majority of the class on their feet with each statement.

And lastly, you can't help but feel good inside when you see not one person sitting with statements along the lines of:
1. I want to go to college.
2. I think I can go to college.
3. I think I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it.

I write this post in gratitude to all teachers who've allowed me to beg, borrow, and steal my way to my third year. A good teacher friend of mine shared stand up, sit down enthusiastically. Thus, I gave it a shot.

Paying it forward, I did the same w/ every teacher I walked passed that day. Today, 2 shared that they gave it a go. Appropriately so. Good methods like this should spread like wildfire, and it's only through sharing that they do.


camille said...

welcome back to school to all the sup teachers!

even though i'm not in education, i'm ready to be inspired by all your efforts and stories as the new school year begins!

proud to call y'all my friends...good luck on the 09/10 school year

Kristine Dahl said...

thanks for the e-mail of great ideas. my first day may look a lot like yours.

Joanna said...

I can't wait to beg, borrow and steal from you this next year. Get ready to share more secrets you old vet!

Minka said...

Can't really use this as my situation is different (I know most of m,y students already, besides many of the statements are not applicable), but the idea itself sounds very good. Maybe I can use it as a listening comprehewnsion. Thanks!

I wish you a fabolous school year! :)

Eyawn said...

Camille: thanks for the welcome back!

Kristine: anytime.

Joanna: whenever you're ready, anytime.

Minka: thanks for the wishes! Let me know how it goes if you ever decide to work the idea some other way. I'm curious to hear it!