Those innocent words said by one of my ed. professors set our class off in tear-jerking laughter. But introducing us to this book might have been the best thing any professor had ever done for us. Before I started my third and last practicum, I read The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong twice, took notes, highlighted, and tabbed pages. It was only June, but I was determined to start the year off right as my first day of student teaching began the same day as all other teachers returned to the classroom. I tried to follow the book as closely as I could and although it did do wonders for me, it didn’t always turn out as I had pictured it in my mind. Let me share an example with you.
The book urges teachers to greet their students individually on the first day of school with a handshake and a smile while standing at the door. Well if I had been teaching grade 3 with a class of fifteen students, that might have been possible. Unfortunately, mine was a grade 10 class of thirty-five boisterous and humungous (I’m only 5’4″) teenagers. Right before the bell rang, I stood outside the door prepared to greet and shake their hands. I had imagined saying: “Bienvenidos/Buenos Días!” (it was a Spanish class) with an extended hand while the student would smile back in return. I laugh thinking about it now. What a preposterous idea. What actually happened was before I could even open my mouth, students swarmed into the classroom five or six at a time squeezing themselves through the door frame and then scrambling to find a seat. I knew at that point that I would have to adjust a lot of my preconceived ideas in the next four months.
On the other hand, what Harry Wong suggested for teachers was to get students immediately to work as soon as they entered the classroom so that no time would be wasted. It sounds like a 19th century school master’s thinking, but trust me – it’s so true. The idea is to have a short assignment posted on the board (the same place everyday) that students will begin as the classroom begins to fill and I do teacher-like things such as taking attendance or handing back assignments. It works like a dream. I call it “Bellwork”. These assignments are not arbitrary either. They usually follow-up on the previous lesson and act sort of like review or practice. So this is an example of what my students might see on the board each day and do at the beginning of class:
Bellwork: Please conjugate the following verbs to the correct pronoun.
– Marie _______ (vouloir) acheter une chemise.
– Nous _______ (être) vraiment tristes aujourd’hui.
– Je _______ (aller) boire du café.
You get the idea. So picture this, the bell rings, students enter the classroom, open their notebooks automatically and start working. The noise level is at a minimum, those who are finished help their neighbours or read quietly. I take attendance and hand back any assignments, walk around the classroom to help students with the bellwork. Finally, when I see everyone is ready to start the day, I greet the class and we go over the assignment together. It works! You’ve got instant order and students are able review and practice what they have learned earlier.
One more thing I learned from The First Days of School. Have any of your students ever whined and asked you that dreaded question, “Why do we have to learn this?” Well try this! Before handing out any assignment, write at the very top of your handout the learning objective straight from the curriculum. So right away students are aware of why they are doing this assignment and what they are learning. Here’s an Example taken directly from one of my handouts.
So thank you Harry and Rosemary Wong, and best of luck to all you teachers preparing for the new school year! Go knock ’em dead!