Promoting Student Success, Pt. 5: Reestablishing Expectations After Winter Break

The fifth part in the ongoing series about how I can encourage success and not set students (and myself) up for failure.

As a teacher who only sees each class once or twice a week, I try to make my expectations simple and easy to remember. I have a whole speech about why students should be quiet, how their brains are wired to try to understand messages, and about being respectful, but it usually does a better job of putting students to sleep than opening their minds to the benefits of respectful participation.

As the New Year begins, I am reminding the students of the expectations I have of them and I am also reminding them of what they can expect of me.

My Expectations of the Students

I have used Mr. Mike Peto’s classroom expectations throughout the year and I have made a few modifications based on my own personality and the suggestions students have made.

Here are the expectations as stated on the PowerPoint presentation that I show at the beginning of class when I am discussing expectations:

Pay Attention:

  • Tryto understand
  • Make Eye Contact
  • Listen when others speak
  • Neither distract nor disrupt
  • NO Blurting Out
  • NO Side Conversations

Contribute:

  • Answer Out Loud
  • Use “I don’t understand” signal
  • Supportothers when they signal
  • Suggest Ridiculousand Respectful answers
  • Only use Spanish during the story

While discussing this, I like to show examples of how NOT to meet the expectations. This is a pretty common idea in the world of classroom management and I find it to be effective. It also has the added benefit of breaking up the monotony of discussing rules and procedures. For example, when talking about blurting out, I make sure students understand what blurting means; the students get quiet and after a few silent seconds, I make some silly non-sequitur about something in the class or about something on TV (“Can you believe that person won X Factor???” said really loud and with a silly voice).

This continues throughout the presentation. After I finish, I make sure to condense the procedures into just a few that are easy to remember. Most of my classes have big breaks between meetings (4-5 days between classes for some), so I need to make the rules and regulations and procedures really easy for everyone to understand:

Rules (general rules for all the time, regardless of what we’re doing in or outside of class):

  1. Be Nice
  2. Don’t Interrupt
  3. Listen to the story

Procedures (what the students should be doing when I am asking a story):

  1. Eyes on me
  2. No talking
  3. Be nice to each other
  4. Let me know if you don’t understand

It is easy to see why lengthy discussions about rules and procedures need to be pared down to the bare essentials. I just wish I had figured it out earlier. I was making myself crazy expecting students to remember lots of intricate and different procedures. I would get mad at every little thing that the students forgot to do or did wrong.

The Students’ Expectations of Me

As I reestablish the expectations that I have of my students, I also let the kids know what to expect from me. When I began with Storytelling, it was rocky because it was a complete departure from what I had been doing before. It caught them off guard. I used to give lectures about grammar and note about verb endings and this year, I started telling silly stories. I tried to let them know what I was going to be doing before I started, but back in August, I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was trying out a new method I had never used before and I didn’t even know if I would keep it. Needless to say, the beginning was filled with some behavior issues, but it was also exciting! The kids bought into TPRS almost immediately and they are still with me. As I went through the first few weeks and developed my skills and method, I figured out what I was doing. Now, I tell them that they can expect the following:

  1. I’m going to talk to you in Spanish
  2. I’m going to make it as understandable as possible
  3. It’ll go slowly, but you’ll be able to communicate soon

Stepping out of my role / Looking at it from the student perspective

One of the most important things that I have learned in the 4.5 years that I have taught Elementary and Middle school Spanish is that the kids are just kids. We all have stories about times when we were kids and we did something that was wrong or against the rules and we got in trouble, even though we didn’t even realize that we were doing something wrong.

The biggest problem was that I have had until now is not remembering how it feels to be a kid. I had only been seeing things from my own perspective. I did that thing that I have accused my own teachers of doing in my youth, which is expecting students to know things that I have taught them once as well as I know them. This is one of the most frustrating things that a student can experience. It is not the students’ fault that the teacher has taught the same lesson to 6 or 7 different classes in one day. In the past (and sometimes in the present, although I don’t like to admit it), I did the same thing: I expected the kids to understand something really well the first time I explained it or presented it. I thought, “I’ve been doing this all day, so I know it like the back of my hand, so it’s obvious what I’m trying to say and the kids should be able to understand with no effort whatsoever. I’ll say it and they’ll remember it forever.” But that isn’t realistic. It’s not realistic to expect that kind of reaction to our best, most engaging lesson. We can hopefor it, but to expect it and then be angry when we don’t get it makes for a very difficult work environment. It’s bad for the kids and it’s bad for our mental health as teachers.

Kids are kids and they always have been and always will be. I see so much now about why teachers got so frustrated with me or my classmates about some things. I see it from their perspective. Now I can combine that perspective with that of a kid who is just trying to make his or her way through 8 periods a day and remember anything that any teacher says.

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