A Toast to Fresh Starts

Few things are better than a fresh start. To come at something with new eyes, new lessons learned, and a chance to do things differently than before. It’s reinvigorating. And teachers get one every September; a chance to re-imagine everything from how you teach (to some extent), to how to decorate the room. The opportunities can be endless, if you look at the things you hope to do differently with an open mind. Not many professions offer that.

Tomorrow I return to the school I left in June to set up my classroom and start anew. To psych myself up, I spend weeks visualizing the space and how I want to do it differently, make it more efficient, and less of a drag on my psyche (nothing like massive amounts of paper to mar an otherwise good day), etc.

Ever year I have a different kind of class, not just different students, and this really demands that I be open to fresh starts (and some degree of chaos!). Some years it’s been filled with struggling long-term ELLs while other times it’s been filled with newcomers and students with significant gaps in their school history. This coming year, I am starting with nearly 30 students coming out of the bilingual classes, and it will, again, be a bridge class that combines two grades.

Some of what I plan to do differently incorporates what I found to be good practices from previous years as well as from learning from my mistakes or weaknesses, and books I am reading.

For one, rather than class rules, we will create class goals. I feel this allows for more positive discussions each day about whether we are meeting our goals and how to do so better, rather than checking who is following the rules.

Next, being an ESL class, there are two central items that determine it’s success: academic language acquisition and strong partner work. Students need time to talk but they need to know what language is useful to discuss in class. (I will soon post more on this for those who are looking for some guidance on how to do it). They also need to work well together so that sharing and re-teaching is beneficial and not random and haphazard with lots of reminders of how to be nice to each other. I feel projects that require partner work can make or break a class. So, as usual, I am planning daily partner work that incorporates academic language from day one. Set the standards really high and show the students what they are capable of from the get-go. My classes have always been very student-centered, with a lot of time for student talk, and choice, but it has not been as systematic and routinized as I’d like it to be so that it is, ideally, possible for prep teachers to be able to rely on that.

And finally, I’m going even more paperless than before. In addition to keeping my conference notes in google docs, I am going to use planbookedu for my schedule and plans (though I am such a furiously-write-ideas-in-the-margins kind of person, so typing will take getting used to for that). The only problem is I tend to plan on the train often, and it doesn’t have an iphone app, so I will have to do it elsewhere and then add it later. Also, depending on the home Internet access situation of my students, I may use
Engrade. Anyone have experience with that and elementary students?

So, while I am trying to delay the loss of summer, and the priceless time I have been allowed to spend with my new daughter, I am psyched. Ready to meet the new challenges. Re-imagining the mini-world I get to create with my students, and preparing myself mentally for what is always a bumpy, messy ride.


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