Thursday, August 21, 2008

Teach the Second Day

"Summer is short. But summer school is long."
--Brian, former summer school student

"July is a month of Saturdays. August is a month of Sundays."
-- qtd. by my boss

Two weeks ago, my summer school job ended. One week ago, I was vacationing on Cape Cod. And one week from now, I'll be right back in school.

Kind of depressing, when you put it that way, isn't it?

Before the last drips and drabs of summer officially go down the drain, I thought I would offer some advice to the new teachers, the ones who are fitfully trying to get everything ready before Showtime. My mentor gave me this advice when I first started out, and I still follow it to this day. Here goes.

So, let's say you're a new teacher, and you're thinking about what to do on that very first day of classes. You figure you'll take attendance, probably mangle most of your students' names, and then... what? What do you do with them on that first day?

Now, your instincts may be telling you to go over all the nuts-and-bolts stuff-- you know, the course requirements and the attendance policies and, probably most importantly, your classroom management pronouncements.

And that's a good instinct, because that stuff is essential. It's also boring as all get-out. I mean, drier-than-burnt-dust kind of boring.

It takes a special kind of teacher who can dazzle the students with a review of the syllabus. And if there's ever a day you'll want to dazzle them, it's the first day. That's when you want to grab them. Moreover, that's when you want to impress upon them that your classroom is a place where work gets done.

The fact is, as cliched as it may sound, you really don't ever get a second chance to make a first impression. Does that mean you won't ever get them back if you make an unfavorable first impression? Of course not. You'll definitely get them back. But it's a battle you can avoid if you hit it out of the park on Day One.

So instead of doing all that administrative, nuts-and-bolts stuff on the first day, why not push all that off until the second day? And what do you do on the first day? The second day's lesson.

See, the second day is when you had planned to do some real teaching. For the second day, you've designed a great lesson-- one that's engaging and exciting and thought-provoking. The second day is when you're going to show off your pedagogical chops, when business is really going to pick up.

So why not do that good stuff on the first day? Why not teach the second day first?

Think about it: You go into the first day with all this energy. And, believe it or not, so do the kids. Yeah, everyone's bummed out about the summer being over, but even the students come into the classroom on that first day with an unmistakable enthusiasm, a readiness to get it started. Can't really explain it, and it doesn't really last for long. So why waste all that energy-- both yours and theirs-- by reading over your "drop-the-lowest-quiz" policy?

"Wait," you might be saying, "Won't they eat me alive if I don't review my classroom management rules on that first day?" Oh, you can touch on it. But I'm saying don't spend the whole period on this kind of stuff. Instead, roll out your surefire lesson, one that engages the students so profoundly that they don't even have time to consider goofing off.

I remember, in one of the dippy education courses through which all aspiring teachers must suffer, one of my instructors once said, "The best classroom management tool is a good lesson plan." Now, I'm not sure I always believe this, but as far as the "Teach the second day" philosophy goes, it's pretty sound.

The best part of all this is you don't have to do any extra work: as a new teacher, you already have the second day prepared. You've probably had it prepared since June. So just move it all up a day. And then on the second day, you can take some pressure off yourself and review all the necessary, but nevertheless unthrilling, adminsitrative stuff.

Teach the second day first. Think about it.

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