Yesterday I attended a small workshop, given by three members of my faculty, on classroom practices and strategies. It was an informal round-table discussion, in which each speaker spent about twenty minutes talking about some of the things they do to make their classroom a productive learning space.
There were a lot of suggestions that I will tuck into my bag of tools (making the final text in the course one that the student chooses from an approved list, for example, or concluding each class with individual writing and conferencing, or making the main point of each lesson clear to oneself and one’s students), but the points that immediately drew questions from the workshop participants concerned discipline.
In MEd classes, discipline is always a magnet topic as well. It seems that every teacher wants a chance to air their feelings about the things that go wrong in their classroom, and to have someone tell them something, anything, that they can do to make the problems stop.
Both speakers who discussed discipline emphasized the importance of the first days, perhaps the first two weeks, of the semester. They are both teachers who are known, by both faculty and students, to be positive, motivating, caring and inspiring. Nevertheless, they affirmed that during the first two weeks, they are stern and, in one case, mostly unsmiling. If a student is chatting in the back during the first class, that student hears about it immediately, and in front of the other students (none of this pulling people aside and gently reminding them of the rules of etiquette.) One speaker described his motive as being the setting of a “professional and disciplined mood.” When he eventually does relax, the tone of the class has been set, and it is a tone of respect.
Now, throughout my career I have heard this rule reiterated (“mean ‘til Hallowe’en” is my favorite formulation.) And I can’t quite tell how I feel about it. I’m giving a lot of thought to how I want to come across on my very first day with each of my classes. One of the workshop speakers described how he “makes his presence felt” from the moment he walks into the room on the first day, and the other described those first couple of weeks as a rather excruciating performance, because his natural tendency is to be relaxed and jokey. And of course, everyone emphasized over and over that every teacher is different, and we each have to present ourselves in our own individual way.
Tell me your thoughts. How do you approach your classroom on the first day of class? What kind of tone do you try to set? What do you do to set it?