Grit and Growth Mindset

Edutopia published an article about teaching grit and growth mindset – two things I will most certainly teach (or at least start teaching) within the first few days of school.

At this point, I’m basically just re-blogging from the original source, but one of these days I’ll have actual lesson plans to post. I hope.

The First Day

I’ve been planning out my first day of teaching in my mind for a few years now. I suppose I got it into my head through various media that the first day is meant to grab students so that they want to learn and that the first impression is everything. The first day is THE day to get the class under control so kids aren’t crazy and disrespectful as in “To Sir, With Love.” Again, thanks, media. All that I really worked out for that first day is to ask students “Why are you here?” They’ll answer: parents make them, it’s the law, to get a job eventually…etc. Then I’d make some lesson about showing them why school (with an emphasis on my subjects, whatever they may be) is important. Why? To teach about REAL LIFE and to learn skills that apply, get this, to REAL LIFE.

Luckily, Mr. Rubinstein slapped a bit of sense into me about the first day.

He argues that veteran teachers are never enthusiastic or set out to “wow” students on the first day, so if you are a new teacher trying to impress the students, they’ll know you aren’t a seasoned teacher. That is bad, he argues, because students want to learn and put more faith (rightly so, I believe) in teachers with experience.

Students also want the first day to be predictable. Meet the teachers, get the books, meet classmates. And really, how much can be taught on the first day when class periods are probably shorter than usual? All sorts of crazy happens on the first day that teachers can do nothing about, so it seems that playing it cool and taking it easy on the first day is better than trying to impress and win over the students.

Here’s what Gary does on the first day: get students into assigned seats, give them an index card to fill out with contact information (and other questions like if they have a computer – more info about surveys in the books Fires in the Bathroom), and give them an assessment.

Things to not do:

  • An icebreaker
    The metaphorical ice helps the kids respect you more, and I need all the respect I can get because I am 5 feet all and look like I’m 12. No joke.
  • Behavior contract
    “If they’re going to ignore your rules, they’re going to ignore your behavior contract.” I’m still working out the ways to talk about rules, though. Or, rather, expectations.
  • Reveal that you’re a new teacher
    Kids will assume that you’re not going to be able to control them, the class will be chaos for the year, and they won’t learn anything. Would it be lying to say you’re not a “new” teacher if you’ve student-taught and taught, say, practicum lessons? And it’s not your “first” year if you’ve been preparing to teach (and indeed doing some teaching) for years and years, right? Gary suggests that if you don’t lie, admit you’re a new teacher but say it with a tone that says “and what’s it to you?”
  • Let students make the rules (if it’s your first year)
    It takes away the teacher’s authority. Apparently. I mean, I see where he’s coming from in that it’s best to play it safe, especially during the first few days of your first year when you’d be making the rules. Plus, first year teachers don’t really have enough experience to know what rules are “good” or “bad” so they need the authority to make and change the rules as they see fit. Then next year or so, they will be more prepared to guide students in making rules that are realistic.

So what will I do on the first day? Probably whatever my cooperating teacher does when I student-teach. Then I’ll probably follow Mr. Rubinstein’s advice to give students a survey and assessment. On day two, it’s business time.