To a social studies teacher, the introduction of themselves and their class is an important moment. Teachers of other disciplines also need to set a good tone and establish their parameters, but a social studies teacher has to do that and encourage student that their class will be a safe place to discuss societies most contentious issues. What’s more, as teachers of topics with multiple perspectives and opinions, we must encourage students to express their own views and help them build an identity. My first few days in class attempt to address these conditions.
You SHOULD NOT spend the entire first day going through a rubric/syllabus of your classroom. I have watched many of my mentor teachers, heard of my coworkers, and did it myself for years; spending an entire class period dredging through the most boring part of your classroom will guarantee disengagement within the first few minutes.
Instead, you have to do what my social studies methods teacher told my class during my undergraduate years; “you need to be the biggest badass in the room.” Please pardon his language, he spent time in a metal band in the 80s, and he is absolutely right. Students are drawn to wacky, zany, memorable figures, and aren’t we all? Sometimes this means you charm them with kindness and love, get them to laugh at your mistakes and stories, or inspire them with your incredible passion; I think all these attributes are great together.
I spend 20-25 minutes of my first day in class going over my Presentation of Teacher. A prezi, this presentation shares my highlights: loves, passions, reminders for me to tell anecdotes, and a number of other ways to make myself a memorable figure in these students lives. You might notice that the Prezi is mostly photographs; I fill in the rest with my personality and stories that I have to tell. I believe this first introduction should be around 20 minutes, but I sometimes get long winded and go to 25 minutes. I do my best to involve the group with the presentation, asking them their interest and cracking jokes.
On the same day, I make sure to give students a chance to write about themselves. I use an Identity Questions doc to help guide students. My class was one-to-one, but this could easily be printed or written on the board. Allowing students to write about themselves is a great way to show you are invested in them. You can also go a step further and collect these responses as part of a student portfolio. The curriculum that I developed was meant to be responsive to the individuality of students, and that could only be done through building student identity.
On the second day, I pass out the U.S. History Classroom Syllabus. Students know what is going into a syllabus, they will hear about it five to six more times during the first week, so I brushed over the redundant parts and focus on the aspects that are unique to my class.
The classroom procedures do show my personal beliefs and teaching philosophy; if anyone would like to message about some of my procedures, feel free.
Continuing with the theme of building student identity, I introduce the Issues with the World Discussion. It can be done in multiple ways, but the main idea is to get students to think about the community, social, and political issues that they are interested in studying. The results of this discussion and writing can be placed into the student portfolios. Let students know that these portfolios and writing assignments are meant to help them understand what they are passionate about. This will work even better if you let the results of what students find impact how they learn in your class. If students can choose their own topics, perspectives of interest, and research topics, then they will invest more time in learning about themselves and the issues with the world.
Rule #9 Accept Criticism
“Everyone in the classroom, inclusing Mr. Hamblin, makes mistakes and fails often. Accepting criticism will be an important step to improvement.”
The third day is a culmination of the Identity Questions and Issues with the World Discussion. I do normally spend 5-10 minutes talking about my Classroom Expectations, but I save this for the end because different classes will finish work at different times. If a class is doing a great job reflecting and adding to their portfolio, then I breeze through my expectations, because they are all rules the students have heard before. If a class has finished reflecting and they are getting cagey, I spend more time going into my expectations.
What I have written is not all that I include in my first day lessons, I have back-ups and other ideas I speak about. What I have shared here is how I get my students to recognize me as a caring educator, an engaging figure, and a person who is going to allow their individualism impact their learning. If you would like to see how I map these lessons and others, feel free to look at the Research Part I: How to “Do History”; Finding Student Strengths, Interests, and Desires; Understanding Historical Themes and Concepts. This curriculum map covers my first weeks and sets the stage for the big National History Day project and skill based learning that I teach.