Ten Things Tuesday is doing double-duty today; I’ve got a list here at work and a list at home…
Ten things that happen on the first day of Mrs. Chili’s classes:
1. Syllabi get passed out and carefully reviewed. They contain not only a roadmap of the course, but also a very detailed and clear statement of my grading, attendance and behavior policies. I want everyone to understand the rules at the outset, so there’s no whining later in the term.
2. Students introduce themselves as I check them off of the roster. I tend to not read down the list and ask for students to yell “here;” what fun is that? I go randomly around the room, asking students to tell me who they are, where they come from, what they like and don’t like, and what they hope to learn in my class. A lot of students don’t like my taking the initial attendance this way, but I don’t really care. I’m hoping to develop at least a cursory relationship with these people, and “here” doesn’t tell me anything about them
3. Students write. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in a composition class or a public speaking class or a grammar class – or in any other class that I may teach in the future. I need to know what their writing voices sound like, and I want to know what skills we need to focus on right out of the gate, so everyone writes at least a paragraph or two in the first class and yes, that paragraph is handed in and graded.
4. About grades; for the first two weeks or so, my grading is binary: if the student hands me an assignment, that student receives full credit. It could suck worse than anything they’ve ever done in their lives but that doesn’t matter; they still earn full points for the work. I do this for a couple of reasons: the students need a chance to get into the habit of thinking for school again, they need practice writing, and most of them will need those 100s later in the term when they start tanking.
5. Starting this term, my first lesson is always going to be about email etiquette. I am sick to death of getting emails that look and sound as though they were written by illiterate, retarded Martians with broken keyboards. If you send me an email, I expect you not to open your email to me with “hey,” I expect there to be capital letters, I expect “you” and “see” and “are” to be spelled out, and I expect complete sentences. I may even threaten to grade their emails to me as part of their class participation this term, so tired I am of these abortions of communication.
6. Everyone gets a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. I’m pretty much convinced that one can find every truth in the Universe in Watterston’s work, and some of the comics that he wrote about Calvin’s adventures with language (and homework) are just spot-on. For today’s classes, I’m handing out a strip where, in the first frame, Calvin has the back of his hand over his eyes and is yelling “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! Homework already! I just got back to school!” He then proceeds to gripe about having to write a WHOLE PARAGRAPH about what he did on vacation and whining about how he’ll NEVER be able to write that much and how it’s NOT FAIR! Then he strolls up to the desk where Hobbes is sitting over a piece of paper with a pen in his paw and asks “how’s it coming?” Hobbes responds, “not so good. What did you do besides watch t.v.?”
7. Which brings us to homework. Everyone gets some. Today’s assignment is going to be reading and responding; the grammar class will get a short piece about family from This I Believe, and the speaking classes will get an article, which I stole from a SKY magazine when I was last in an airplane, that has tips for being a good public speaker.
8. I tend to be bitchy in my first classes. I feel the need to establish Alpha status. My friend JRH visited me yesterday, and she’s going to be going on family leave just after her high school classes start. Her plan, as she so eloquently said it, was to go in and pee all over her territory before handing it over to a sub, so there’s NO question in the students’ minds who the boss is. I tend to lighten up after I feel that order has been established, but I’m pretty formal and authoritarian on the first day.
9. My goal is to learn everyone’s name before the end of the second class. I’ll try to call everyone by name in the first class, and I make kind of a game of it. I find that the students who play along are usually the ones I end up liking later in the term.
10. I don’t think a whole lot of learning should happen in the very first class. The first class is really about building a community in the class – about getting to know each other, about figuring out where we fit in the scheme of the class, and about getting ready to start thinking and acting in ways that promote the learning that I have planned. I look forward to the first day, but I have to admit that I’m always a little relieved when it’s over.
Did anyone see Say Anything? Remember, at the very end, when he’s telling her that most problems with airplanes happen in the first few minutes after take-off, and that once the captain turns off the light and you hear a “ding,” you know you’re okay? I feel like that on the first day of classes. Walking out of the first meeting, I swear I can hear a “ding!”