Set Your Expectations High From Day 1

Where do I sit?  Will I like this teacher?  Do I have any friends in this class?  Is this class going to be hard?  Will I have a lot of homework?  These are all questions swimming around in the brain of a middle school student on the first day of school and it is your job to answer these questions and put the insecurities to rest.

Your students need to know a little bit about you and have a chance to bond with their classmates in a fun, relaxed environment because those personal connections and relationships are what will keep the positive momentum and mutual respect going throughout the year.  But, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do during the first week of school is establish very clear, high expectations and be consistent with them.  Students need to know what to expect when they enter your room every day.

During my first year of teaching, a veteran teacher told me "Don't let them see you smile until Christmas."  Not the best advice I've ever received, but I think I understood her intentions (or at least I morphed her advice into an interpretation that worked better for my spunky personality).  Being consistent at the beginning of the school year isn't always fun (for you or your students).  But I promise, if you stick to your high expectations and don't let anything slide in the beginning of the year, those middle school students will know that you are the kind of teacher that is consistent and fair in how you run your classroom and they will grow to appreciate it as the year continues.  Besides... deep down, every child wants to be challenged and needs to grow, although you will rarely catch a middle school student utter those words.  A lot of students come from homes that are lacking in structure, clear expectations, and consistency, so it may be a struggle in the beginning, but you will see the rewards by the end of the year.

The expectations you set as a teacher will greatly influence the success of your students in both your classroom and in their lives.  So why not expect more and raise the bar higher?  Spend some time thinking about some procedures that will occur most often in your classroom (entering the classroom, working in groups or with partners, turning in homework, turning in classwork, turning in tests/quizzes, turning in late work, conducting lab investigations, eating/drinking in class, supplies that are available to students, etc...)  Think of everything you possibly can and make sure you have a plan for each procedure.  These expectations and procedures need to be in place before school starts because they begin on day 1.

Suggested Day 1:
  • Greet your students at the door.  Introduce yourself, make sure they are in the right place, and give them an assigned seat.  (For some seating tips and free seat labels, check out this FREEBIE.)  During the first week or so of school I seat my students alphabetically.  It helps me learn names more quickly and makes passing out/collecting all of the paperwork easier.  If I notice any "bad combinations," I can make an easy move, but for the most part I like to keep everything alphabetical.  I think this seating method also sets the tone that the expectation is that you, the teacher, will regulate everything in YOUR classroom.  I have found that if I give middle school students the power, even on something so small, so early in the year, they end up running with it... and eventually thinking they have more control than they actually do.
  • Have something for your students to get started on while you continue to greet students at the door.  This could be some basic paperwork (Get to Know You, Facebook profile, Interest Questionnaire, etc...)  or some sort of quick challenge activity like THIS or THIS.  The biggest thing is you don't want a lot of down time.  Down time with middle school students = chaos in the classroom = stress on the teacher = no bueno.
  • Introduce yourself to the entire class and tell them a little about your life.  Show pictures, tell a quick story (they LOVE to hear stories about your family, children, and life in general).
  • On the first day, briefly let them know about your class, but don't make it the main focal point.  That will come in the next few days.  For now, just go over the big picture (how they will be graded, supplies needed, some basic policies, etc..)  Don't spend more than 5 minutes on it, if you can.  Send home a parent letter or other form of communication that will introduce you to the family and go over your basic classroom guide, like THIS brochure I have my students take home, get signed, return, and glue into their Interactive Notebook.  
    • NOTE:  Later in the first week (day 2 or 3) I send home a Parent Letter.  But to help mine stand out from the other 4-6 parent letters that have gone home in every other class, I created a tri-fold brochure.  Check it out HERE.
  • Lastly, end with some sort of Get To Know You Whole Class Activity or Team Building Exercise.  I like to do a Back-to-School BINGO activity because it is a chance for students to mingle, get to know each other and myself at the same time.  It isn't too serious and I actually go out of my way to make it fun and goofy.
Suggested Day 2:
  • Continue to greet your students at the door on a daily basis.  This is a great time to kindly remind them of your expectations when they enter your room.  I like to use this a time to remind my students to read the Daily Agenda Board, start a warm-up, cut out a foldable, turn in their homework, etc... (depending on the day and what I have scheduled).  Bottom line, always have something for them to start doing upon entering your room.  They need to know that the expectation is that they enter your room and begin to work; not come in, hang out and socialize.  Time is precious and every minute needs to count.  And because these are middle schoolers, you may find yourself "reminding" them (kindly and not so kindly) of your expectations up until December, but you will be the teacher relaxing at the end of the year because your students respect you and know the expectation, while your neighboring teacher may be pulling out his/her hair at the end of the year because their students are out of control by that point.    
  • Now, it's time to start getting into the "meat" of it.  How should you start presenting these expectations and procedures to your students?  Over the years I have tried several methods, but my favorite has been the classroom scavenger hunt.  I found it to be most effective because it allows students to walk around the room, finding task cards and checking out the classroom in general.  They work with a partner, so there is a chance to discuss or have some assistance if needed.  And the best part, you ask?  The teacher doesn't do all of the talking!  For several years in a row, I had NO voice by the end of the 3rd or 4th day of school.  I was talking WAY too much and I needed to make a big change.  To check out my Expectations and Procedures Scavenger Hunt, click HERE or to read my blog post about it, click HERE.  

I can't wait to continue sharing ideas on setting high expectations in your classroom.  Just remember:  This is YOUR classroom and your students need to leave you at the end of the year knowing more content, being more confident, and appreciating the growth and successes that they have achieved because of you and your consistently high standards.  No one said teaching was easy...especially in the middle grades!

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