Charlotte Danielson’s Four Domains give me a headache starting with Domain 1. By the time I get to the word “pedagogy,” I’m starting to raise my eyebrows and look at the ceiling. Images of the quintessential teacher summer vacation start to prevail in my head. So how can teachers plan and prepare to take on the school year?
Start by making your classroom a welcoming place. For yourself. Haha! What? You need to be happy there. It would be impossible for all of your students to love your decor choices and room arrangement. So, make sure that it’s a place you are happy to be in and happy to call home. However, you do need to take your students into consideration. I’ve heard that before each show taping, Dr. Phil sits in each audience member seat and considers that specific view of the stage. You may also want to sit in each seat to visualize what that student will experience.
Familiarize yourself with the curriculum. Different districts will be at different points in curriculum creation, so don’t ever expect it to be complete. I’ve literally never gone into a building where they handed me a complete curriculum and said, “Here ya go! Here’s what we do!” So, be prepared to hear things more like, “We are so sorry this is a work-in-progress . . . you’re walking into a baptism by fire!” Education is notoriously a build the plane while you fly it field. None of that scares me. I will pore through what is available and start gathering ideas to write stellar lesson plans.
Spend a day researching your student roster. Hopefully you get this well before the first day teaching, but, again, remember build the plane while you fly it? Yeah, you might not get it ahead of time. But if you do, study it. Start to memorize names, look at pictures, start organizing any data you have available to help identify possible strengths or needs in each class group. You’ll want to look for any individual concerns that students may have in regards to seating or other accommodations (think IEPs, 504s, previous standardized test scores, SRI, CDT scores). Make seating charts. Hand-write their names (it helps to learn them!).
Start an email list with parents. This needs to happen yesterday! Yes, email. Not a Facebook group or Remind or Class DoJo. You can also offer Remind/Dojo/Something like that, but do start an email list for regular communication. Email is the most effective form of communication with parents. If you have a few who don’t prefer email, find out what they prefer. Use it. Use it often.
Speaking of collaborating: Get together with teachers in your department/grade level. Learn from them. What are they doing? What’s their rationale? This isn’t a time to be shy. Ask questions, offer your expertise, find out if they have any tips or tricks that will help you work smarter not harder with your particular class schedule. The school just might have access to a resource or two which you’ve never used before. (Smart boards, laminator, printing/publishing lab, unlimited field trips--haha, just kidding, that can’t possibly be the case, or can it?)
Have you ever heard, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care”? Repeat that to yourself a few hundred times, then get to know your students. It will pay off exponentially. You can plan better lessons, classroom management will be easier, and your grouping strategies will be more powerful when you play off of the varying skills represented in your class. Did you know that one of your students actually owns and breeds specific types of rabbits with his family business? This kid is an expert in Punnett Squares and can share life experience about it. Do you think you can use that kiddo’s experience in the classroom? Absolutely! But that might not come up right away in your English class curriculum specifically. (That actually happened to me, by the way.)
Oh dear, it seems as though my version of “Planning & Preparation” surprisingly aligns with Charlotte Danielson after all. I just didn’t use the word “pedagogy.”
Last but not least, make a list of all your accomplishments. If you need help, call your mother. She’s been keeping track. Well, that ought to encourage you. You’re ready now. Good luck and have a fantastic year!