On the Verge

August 30, 2016 by Bill Ivey

There’s so much I don’t know yet. Oh, I’ve exchanged emails with my new Humanities 7 students, whom I ask to choose a book they’ve read this summer and tell me about it and what they thought of it. As they signed off, many of them added that they’re excited for the new year, some of them going further to acknowledge “Not that I want the summer to end just yet.”

For the record, I was right there with them on both counts!

With so many teachers connecting on social media, back-to-school almost becomes a season in itself. On #resiliencechat last night, one week out from my own True First Day, one teacher was flabbergasted to learn more schools weren’t back yet - she was in her third week already! That means our profession has roughly a month of back-to-school posts (some humorous, some heartfelt, some practical and pragmatic) about setting up classrooms and opening faculty meetings, about general thoughts and best wishes and… nervousness.

Tom Rademacher said it well: “A few days until I have kids in my classroom. I'm absolutely sure (again) that I have completely forgotten how to teach.” I wrote back, “I know the feeling well. So far, it's always melted away when actual kids are in the classroom. Trust it will again this year.”

I've seen it suggested that teachers not create lesson plans per se but rather goals and resources. That’s actually very similar to what I do. I know the general directions I expect students to take with the day’s learning, I bring everything to class I need to enable it to happen, I have a probable sequence in my mind (and even written up on the white board) - and then I get a read on the room and reevaluate my plan before I even start, perhaps after conversing with the kids to get their own read on the room. And even then, discussions can take such unexpected directions - or at least, they can when you listen and follow, keeping the focus on respect for all, ready to inject a probing question if you think it would help move the discussion along. Really, I’m revising my “lesson plan” constantly, and only once the class is over is the whole thing written in stone.

And that’s after I get to know the students really well.

So when I walk in on the first day, for an 85-minute double period, the longest first-day class I’ve had since the Founding Year of the Middle School (2004-2005), I’ll know my goals. I want the kids to start to get a sense of who each other is and who I am. I want them to start to get a sense of how the class works, and why. I want them to know that, as much as is possible when I am 45 years older than they are (and, let’s be honest, when I am the one person whose actual job is to make sure learning happens), we are all equal partners in creating, building, maintaining, and deepening a learning community.

I’ll start with the ritual reading of the jazz poem Hip Cat and ask them what they think of it. We might do some relaxation/meditation together. We’ll do a think-pair-share on “What a good teacher does” and I’ll tell them I’ll use items from their final list each time they evaluate me. I’ll tell them a little bit about how the course works, help them get their planners set up and write in their first-ever SBMS homework assignment (“Make sure you’ve chosen an independent reading book and start reading it.”), perhaps help them learn how to use Google Classroom.

Come to think of it (here's me already revising my lesson plan!), maybe l’ll leave some time for free reading at the end - I’ll have a moment at the opening middle school meeting to ask them to bring in a book the next day, and they might appreciate the chance to relax. I don’t normally plan to do full class (and small) group work for 85 minutes, even with the glorious 1’45” class periods I normally have. Most classes are best off with at least 30 minutes of individual “choice time” to end up the class. I imagine this year’s kids will be the same.

Some years, on the first day, they are bursting with ideas and questions and each of the above activities takes forever. Other years, they are still somewhat hesitant to speak up, and we fly through what needs to be done. I have no idea how that will go this year. We’ll see.

There’s so much I don’t know yet. But I do know this. They are my kids, and that means by definition they are special. Like most teachers, that means by definition I love them.


Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: Middle School, first day of school, Education