At the start of a new school year I like to recall a key phrase my friend and team teaching partner of eight years, Lindsay used to say as we got our middle school programs up and running. "Make haste slowly'', was his reminder that in a system that annually reconfigures and juggles pre-adolescent kids into groups of thirty, taking the time to let them settle as a new group, establish routines and expectations is more important than launching head first into meeting explicit curriculum goals. Of course, an innovative teacher can subtly combine the two elements but it's a big mistake to think that getting a spelling program or unit of mathematics started is a bigger priority than working on the classroom agreement, personal goal setting for the year and generally scoping out the social and learning dynamics of the new classroom.
So, after Parent/Teacher interviews, helping to set up two days on student leadership, type up a class newsletter, initial testing, establishing class meeting procedures, negotiating an Agreement about class rules and formulating a class vision and setting up numerous other little tasks that add up to a chunk of time, I sincerely hope that I don't continue to work at this pace for the remainder of 2009. It's one thing to be working hard and feeling ke you're getting somewhere towards the top of the pile but when every piece of "spare time" goes towards this constant state of re-invention instead of watching the occasional television program (I did get to see the first episode of Underbelly on Friday after recording it on Monday), reading a book (Here Comes Everybody would be better titled Here Comes Nobody as it languishes on the bedside table) or even responding to some of my favourite edubloggers. As I remarked to my tandem teaching partner, Kim and next door co-planning buddy, Maria, "I hope we find some sort of rhythm soon or we're gonna be stuffed by Easter."
Anyway, I'd better get ready for my CEGSA meeting which will be followed by an appearance at my school's Governing Council's AGM. Although after one meeting after school and a quick dash to my youngest son's school to meet his teacher, I'm not sure when this slowdown is going to occur!
P.S. Turns out my CEGSA meeting is not for another week. Shame I didn't work this out earlier - building Speed Racer Lego vehicles with my youngest would have been a more enjoyable option.
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Graham, this sounds like a post I could have written. I was just saying to my teaching colleague after school that I would have very little to report back to a parent at the moment, at least regarding academic skills. However, I so feel that the time spent in establishing relationships, building our agreements together etc has gone a long way. Being in a new school this has been an essential process. But I must get my head around some planning now, especially in the IB areas.
I am a student studying Education to be a teacher someday. I appreciated your article because it proclaims truth. Even though you do not feel like you accomplished much or had not moved forward, the foundation that you were establishing was integral to how the rest of your year would go with the students. Establishing leadership and rules, consequences, rewards, and building relationships is something that my prof has been emphasizing lately.
@Joanne. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I do think it is really important to lay solid foundations at the start of the school year but it is easy to feel pressure from other sources (parents, leadership) to be launching into the curriculum properly and get things like homework up and running. Sometimes, the eagerness to get to “business as usual” in the classroom can overlook important things like an agreed culture of learning between the students. Get that right early and they work together for each other – I’d never want to be the teacher that has the class working only to please me. They would never become life long learners that way.