What to expect during the first grading period

Much of the advice for new teachers this time of year seems to be focused on two topics: arranging a functional classroom environment and having a productive first day. Even though both topics are crucial to a successful school start, they only cover the very beginning of the year. After a successful first day, each day that follows is equally important to the eventual success of your students.

Experienced teachers agree that even though every school day brings new challenges, the first grading period can be especially demanding as students settle in to the new year. And for new teachers, the first grading period is especially difficult because each day is a first-time experience complete with unique challenges—and opportunities. Here are some of the challenges you might face during the first grading period along with suggestions about how to manage each one.

1. It is inevitable that some students will try to redefine the limits of acceptable behavior by testing the boundaries established by the class rules, policies and procedures.
When this happens, be as matter-of-fact as possible as you calmly put your discipline plan into action. This will keep the disruption to a minimum and help the students who are misbehaving move forward in a positive way. Keep in mind, too, that just going over the behavior expectations at the start of the year is not enough for students to really understand them. Spend some time each day for the rest of the first quarter and then as needed reminding students of the good behaviors you expect from them as well as the rules, policies and procedures that will make it easier for everyone to learn.

2. Some of the policies, procedures and rules that you have carefully formulated for your class will not function as well as you anticipated.
This is probably inevitable because you created most of these rules before you met your students. Don’t hesitate to tweak what needs to be fixed. When you notice that things are not working as well as you would like, it’s easy to manage this by first gathering the data you need to determine the scope of the problem and then adjusting the procedures as needed. At this point, you may find it helpful to include your students in the decision-making process because their input will create a sense of ownership that encourages cooperation.

3. Each class will quickly develop its own identity.
This tendency creates opportunities for forward-thinking teachers to guide students into positive behaviors. For example, instead of just writing off a class as being “rowdy,” frequently refer to the beneficial behaviors you would like to encourage: courtesy, tolerance, cooperation or friendliness, just to name a few. Pointing out the positive behaviors you observe instead of focusing on the negative ones is an effective way to turn around undesirable behaviors and to encourage students to think about themselves as capable learners.

4. Students will have widely differing learning styles and levels of readiness.
Sometimes the skill and knowledge variations among students in even a small class can be daunting. Use learning styles inventories, interest surveys and other formative assessments to learn as much as you can about how your students learn; in time, you will have enough data to provide differentiated instruction that can meet the needs of all your students.

5. Your students will need help in learning how to relate appropriately to each other and to you.
Teaching your students how to be courteous and respectful in their interactions is time well spent because it will eliminate or reduce disruptions caused by a lack of social skills. Fortunately, teaching school social skills is neither a time-consuming process nor one that requires a great deal of planning and preparation on your part. Rather, these skills are taught first by conscious modeling on your part, and then by raising student awareness and providing consistent encouragement.

6. You will find that it is hard to pace lessons correctly during the first few weeks of school because you are not familiar with your students and the way they work and learn.
Always plan far more work than you think your students can accomplish in a class period. It is also helpful to have backup plans of enrichment or remedial work ready just in case you will need to have some students work independently while others finish an assignment. In time, you will know enough about how your students learn to be able to pace instruction appropriately.

7. Anxious students will act out in surprising ways until they can be assured that you are a good teacher and have their best interests at heart.
Be kind, nurturing and friendly to every student. Do your best to create a welcoming, inclusive environment as quickly as possible with steady class leadership. Take care, also, to avoid creating more stress for the more anxious students in your class by handling disruptions in a low-key, professional manner.

8. You will have to reach out to reassure anxious parents or guardians who worry about their child’s potential for success in your class.
Recognizing that one of your most important responsibilities is to reach out in a transparent and professional way will make it easier for you to spend the time necessary to build a trusting relationship with parents or guardians. Class newsletters, positive phone calls, and frequent notes home are just a few of the many ways you can show your willingness to work with parents or guardians to support their children.  

9. At the end of the day you fill find it almost impossible to recall what you taught or said earlier in the day.
Teacher fatigue at the beginning of the school year is undeniable, but there are simple solutions to help alleviate this. Keep a pad of sticky notes on hand to write reminders. Use a to-do list. Make a detailed lesson plan and follow it carefully. Jot notes on your plans and keep a reflection journal. These will all make it possible for you to stay organized and mindful during your school day.

10. You will feel exhilarated and exhausted at the same time.
Your first year as a teacher is a time in your new career that you will always remember for its intensity. It is important that you manage this intensity by attending to your stress levels. It is all too easy to lose the work-life balance that makes it possible for you to enjoy your new career unless you make deliberate choices to take care of your own mental and emotional health.