Let’s begin with some simple math across the curriculum:
Nationwide, the average classroom consists of one teacher and twenty-five students.
I pulled that little doohicky of a fact from the U.S. Department of Education. Personally, I think the Dept of Ed is full of poo as I’ve seen many classrooms with 30+ kids, but maybe I just don’t get into the fancy-pants neighborhoods where schools have classes of twelve so… we’ll work with 25. Point is, my teacher friends, there’s one of you, a lot of them. If you aren’t one organized S.O.B. (or D.O.B. for you ladies), those twenty-five are going to eat you alive. It’s so true it even rhymes.
The one, reigning, ever undeniable Truth in Teaching is that You Must Be The Boss. You’ve got to own your classroom. From day one. And the easiest way to own your classroom is to have routines. With routines, the kids know how the show rolls. You have clear expectations and routines for implementing those expectations. From there, the math is quite simple:
- Clear expectations = less distracted behaviors.
- Less distracted behaviors = reduced discipline issues.
- Reduced discipline = focused work.
- Focused work = saved time.
- Saved time + focused work = You look awesome.
Skip routines, however, and you’ll be that teacher whose classroom I enter in October and think sadly to myself, “Really, now. How do I go about explaining that it’s not okay to have children hanging out of second story windows in October…or…pretty much ever?”
Kids hanging out of windows. That’s the shit that happens when you try to shortcut routines. So in the interest of keeping your learning environment feces-free, I recommend that the first week of school you throw content down the crapper and implement…
The Top 4 Routines Every Teacher Needs
Routine #1. The Oh shit! What do I do now? Routine
What are kids supposed to do upon entering your room?
My classroom? First day, first class, first words I utter: “You are in your seat, working on your Do Now by the time the bell rings. Not after the bell rings, not right as the bell rings. Your squirrely little hind-end is sitting before the bell rings and writing your work. Or you’re late.” And there’s a Do Now greeting them first that basically says the same.
For my sake, I also make damn sure that the Do Now is impossible to complete in less than five minutes. That gives me time to take attendance, do any necessary check-ins and cut them off before they finish. Five minutes of unadulterated time to Get Shit Done. While they’re busy teaching themselves without me. Beautiful.
Figure out your beginning of class routine. Do it on the fist day of class exactly as you want them to do it for the rest of the year. Then do it every single day for the next 189 days.
Routine #2 The We do this shit every day Routine.
What repetitive tasks are you going to have to complete in your classroom every day of your life for the next 9 months? Checking homework? Handing in papers? Test corrections? Getting into groups?
How much of your life do you want to waste doing this?
If you haven’t a clue what you want to teach this year, and have no time constraints or curriculum…no worries! Just say things like “Turn in your papers” and watch the utter chaos of students trying to organize themselves without explicit instructions. However, if your administration expects you to make even basic advances through your curriculum, you’d best get a routine in place for each repetitive task you’ll do throughout the year, then practice it at least once a day for the first two weeks.
Like, for example, getting dictionaries from the bookshelf.
“We do not grab the dictionaries without signing them out. We do not throw the dictionaries at our neighbors’ heads. We do not leave the dictionaries open upside down splitting their spines permanently open to the pages with curse words.” After introducing my students to the basic guidelines of dictionary handling, we give each and every one a name, then I make the kids practice carrying them like a baby back and forth between their desk and the dictionary “crib.”
The students think I’m a total whack job, but I successfully made it through all of last year without having to open my box of brand-new dictionaries. Those little buns are staying in the oven until the old ones give their last dying breath at the hands of teenage abuse and an overwhelming desire to look up the word “ass” in Spanish.
Routine #3 The Nobody gives a shit what you have to say Routine
The kids don’t want to listen to you. They want to flirt with their neighbor, ask how hard the math test was and/or sleep. One direct result of this chatty teenage tendency is one of the most annoying sounds on the planet: an incompetent teacher repeating incessantly, “Guys…hey guys. I need you to be quiet now. Guys…no really, guys…”
Geez. What a tool. If I were the kids, I wouldn’t pay attention to you either.
“Alright, you little boogers. In thirty seconds, I want you to make as much noise as you possibly can. But when you hear me shout Olé, you’re going to shout Olé back and then get silent. Totally. Dead. Silent. Ready?”
If they’re not pounding on the desks and screaming bloody murder, we practice it again. And again.
For the rest of the year, they’ve got two Olé’s to quiet down or there’s a consequence. We’ll get to consequences in another blog post. There’s a whole world of fun creativity wide open for you there. In the meantime, use a bell, use a chime, use call and response, whatever it takes. But for the love of practical pedagogy, don’t be the whiney “Hey guys…” guy.
Routine #4. The I just shit my pants Routine
Kids have to use the bathroom. Sometimes to get out of class, sometimes because they’re legitimately about to poo their pants. Do they sign out? Do they raise their hand and ask permission? Do they have passes they hand to you? I like to know where my kids are at all times, so there’s no walking out the door unless you’ve made one-on-one contact with me. Except during stomach flu season. ‘Round about October we have a very specific three minute, all-class training in what to do if you’re about to yak.
Classroom bathroom routines for flu season:
- Get up from the desk.
- Run like holy hell.
- Barf in the bathroom.
It’s such an important issue, we also have a back-up plan:
- If you can’t make it to the bathroom, barf in trashcan.
- Go to nurse
- Take trashcan with you so the teacher doesn’t barf as well.
Really, all classroom routines can be summed up with the flu season structure. If you don’t want a stinky mess in your classroom, have a plan.
And here’s the most important part of the entire post: whatever you do, don’t change the routine.
Twelve years in education and I make the same damn mistake every year. Sometime around April I find myself thinking “Oh my lord, I am so bored of doing the same damn thing every damn day.” Because, mind you, for me it’s not just the same routine for one Spanish class a day like it is for the kids. Oh, no. It’s the same routine seven periods a day, 190 days a year for twelve years straight. So, naturally I want to shove a Q-Tip in my own ear every time I hear myself shout “¡Olé!”
Thus, inevitably, every April I get the bright idea to switch it up a bit. “Ok, kids,” I say. “Today when I need to get your attention, I’m going to shout “¡Sí!” and you are going to respond with ‘¡Se puede!’ Ready? ¡Sí..!”
And all hell breaks loose. Chickens fly across the room. One kid spontaneously combusts. Ten others throw Play-dough at the whiteboard while a Tyrannosaurus Rex eats my desk.
Don’t believe me? Fine. Learn the hard way. Switch up your routine up mid-year. I’ll know it’s you when I hear the 911 call come in. Kids don’t take changes in routine well, even when they beg for them.
Own your classroom. Create your systems. There will be time for content later. In fact, you’ll cover your content much better if you do your due diligence and make sure your kids are well-trained first.
Otherwise, you’ll find that the shit takes over your show.