Anyway, what should happen on the first day of class? As a young teacher, I spent the whole first day on procedure, explaining class expectations and rules, getting to know students, etc. And at some point I realized two things:
- High school students should know how to behave in a school classroom at this point. Assuming otherwise is insulting and doesn't hold my students responsible for their behavior.
- I want to get to know my students, and have them get to know each other, in a real context, not an abstract activity involving a bingo game.
My current strategy is to quickly go through the class list, doing a quick language survey -- what they speak at home, what level of English study they've done if new to the school -- and a quick check of how to pronounce names. I quickly go through the units we'll study with some enthusiasm, cover any classroom procedure issues likely to come up in the next week, and a word about behavior: that I expect that they know how to behave in school. All of that takes ten minutes. And then off we go.
My grade 9 class is starting a unit on Life and Death, reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich and various carpe diem poems. I asked them if they had a day to live, what would they do? Then we watched part of a speech by Steve Jobs, starting at the 9:00 mark:
Then I asked, 'What's stopping you from doing most of the things on your list today?' The discussion was fantastic.
My grade 10s will be reading Catcher in the Rye, so I played 'Institutionalized' by Suicidal Tendencies:
Again, it drove a quick-write and discussion on teen angst and relationships with parents that set up the reading perfectly.
In both cases, we drove toward something compelling, combining media and our own discussion. I got to know them on a personal level, not just their name and where they went this summer. That's the tone I want to set for the class: that this will be an interesting place to be, and that interest will define the class management, not the other way around.