Tuesday was our first day of school with the kids. Unlike last year, I have not looped with these students. This year, everything starts at the beginning. And that is most definitely an overwhelming prospect when we teachers begin to think about what routines need to be taught. When I prepare for those first days, the burning question is “what do I want this to look like in our classroom at the end of the year?”
So much of this first week is not academic; it’s procedural. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Many education experts advocate for building the classroom culture over the first six weeks of school. However, the pressure to start academics weighs on all of us – administrators and teaching staff. When assessments are scheduled for the first month of school, there’s an implication that the academics have become the focus fairly early in the year.
In the Daily 5, reading stamina – the amount of uninterrupted time students read with focus – is built one minute a day, one day at a time. Starting at 3 minutes, I need 27 school days (5+ weeks) to build reading stamina to 30 minutes daily (a minimal goal for fourth graders). And when I take a shortcut to get to this goal? Well, that’s when some less-than-ideal behaviors pop up. Building purposeful habits can’t be rushed.
So if all these culture-building steps create a safe and vibrant classroom environment for kids, why don’t we just do it?
The pressure to start curriculum too soon is strong. Even experienced veterans start to feel the nagging pressure to be at a particular spot in the curriculum by a date carved into a calendar. Am I trusted to assess my own students’ needs, design and deliver the instruction to take them from their entry point to where they need to be at this grade level?
I’m not sure I am.