The Top Five Start-of-School Myths

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Because of the somewhat mythical nature of the first weeks of school, there exist many “old wives’ tales” and bits of wisdom that are constantly recycled by veteran teachers, instructional books, and (worst of all) pre-service workshops taught by Master Teachers.

These stories and suggestions give new teachers the idea that there is one recipe for success in the classroom.  I see too many teachers with tremendous potential leave the profession because this half-baked recipe didn’t work for them.

In the interest of clearing up misconceptions and righting some wrongs, I’m busting the top five myths about the first days of school:

Myth #1: Don’t smile until Christmas.

This myth has been around much longer than me, and I am at a loss to understand why.  In theory, being too friendly with your students can create a climate of disrespect and blur the line between the authority figure and students learning self-discipline in some instances.  But, in reality, if you can avoid cracking a smile day in and day out until the half-way point of the year, you’re probably not the type to smile at all. You’re probably not the kind of person who would enjoy teaching at the primary and secondary level, either.  And you’re also probably not building the kinds of classroom connections that facilitate engagement in your classroom.


Myth #2: Plan out the classroom rules before the first day. 

My opinion on this one is likely to meet with some dissent from perfectly reasonable and highly skilled teachers.  I understand and appreciate the reasons that many have for creating fixed rules from day one.  I have tried it. There is some security in knowing that you can sit back and simply enforce the rules the same way on Day 180 as on Day 1.  To me, the bigger issue is whether you are building a structured environment that happens to have children in it or building an interactive community of developing minds.  The latter requires the individuals in the class to have ownership over the community conventions, and must be able to adapt to the changing needs of a group.  In order to get your students on the same page regarding the purpose of the rules, a teacher has to let them help write the ones being used for the year.


Myth #3: Don’t give homework on the first day. 

Lest you believe that I am one of those teachers who never gives work and allows his students to run all over him, my homework philosophy will prove otherwise. I firmly believe that the biggest change in the nature of my students over the past decade is a decreasing intrinsic motivation and a disappearing work ethic.  We can sit around all day and blame teachers, parents, society, global warming, etc, but the point is that students need to learn the value of a job completed.  By assigning work on the first day of school, I try to instill in them the idea that everyday they will be expected to show up and get something done.  The sooner that expectation sets in, the sooner they start rising to the challenge.

Also, by making the first assignment something simple, such as getting a permission slip signed by a parent or completing an “All About Me” worksheet with their families, I give each student a taste for success.  I want their first experience in my class to be a positive one.


Myth #4: Don’t share personal information with your students. 

I am not suggesting that you should give out your cell phone number (although some educators have given their personal information to students with success) or regale your classes with details of your intimate life, but I feel strongly that you can only build a classroom community (see Myth #2) and properly engage your students if they feel that you are invested in it with them.  You need to be a part of the community for all of this to work.  To that end, I often share funny anecdotes about my own kids or my opinion about the most recent exile from American Idol during “down time” in class.  Part of this is just a facet of my personality and my teaching style, but I don’t think that you can connect with children (see Myth #1) without allowing them to connect with you.


Myth #5: A noisy classroom is a disorganized one. 

Of course, this myth applies equally to every day of the school year, but I thought that it made sense to mention here because a teacher sets the tone for the rest of the year from that first bell.  As tempting as it might be for the average adult to want a classroom to be quiet and peaceful (and how many adults have told you that they couldn’t be a teacher and deal with all of the energy and chaos of kids?), it is downright selfish to expect learning to happen in the type of atmosphere that 20-, 30-, or 40-somethings would prefer.  The simple fact is that kids learn by doing and talking. It is hypocritical of adults to profess an interest in preparing our students for an increasing collaborative workplace without practicing those skills in a structured way on a daily basis.


Clearly, these are the opinions and advice of one young, if accomplished, teacher.  Your mileage may vary, but the key is keeping an open mind and finding the style that works for you.

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