Starting the Year off Right in your Math Classroom



Two years ago, I was 9 months pregnant at the start of the school year.  The director of the school let me decide if I wanted to start the year or start my maternity leave at the beginning of the year.  I took about 2 seconds to make my decision, "I'll start the year!" I declared.  I knew how important the first weeks of school are, and I knew that if did not establish some important routines and habits at the beginning of the year, the students and I would suffer the entire rest of the school year.  So there I was, two weeks before my due date, teaching 6 classes of 7th graders per day.  My days were exhausting, but I knew that these weeks were essential for success.  I focus on two aspects, and only two aspects at the beginning of the year: relationships and routines.

Routines:  In my mathematics classroom, routines include teaching students how to justify their work, participate and create proper classroom discussions, giving and receiving constructive criticism, and math talk.  I also include the same routines needed for any classroom: starting your class, ending your class, grading homework, group work, pair work, test routines, obtaining materials, etc...  My first week of school often consists of problem solving/logical tasks.  These tasks are approachable for any level, as well as a contain a high ceiling to challenge all students.  I use these tasks to launch and discuss the above mentioned routines.  As a math teacher, I always am checking and guiding my students thinking, while this is a very important task for every other week of the school year, it is not your goal this week.  Don't dismiss their thinking, do take time to discuss their thinking, but remember your goal is to teach routines.

Relationships: your students need to know that you care about them, both as students and humans. Work hard to learn their names and something unique about them. I have my students fill out a getting to know you form. I ask them how they feel about math as well as things they like to do and some of their goals.  I am pleasant with them, and do not take the "scary teacher" approach.  This does not mean that I allow them to be disruptive or disrespectful.  I work to set proper boundaries and firm limits.  However, within these limits I allow them to create relationships with each other and with me as their teacher.  I notice things about them, and let them know that I noticed.  For example, "Ashley, I noticed that you got a haircut."  "Tony, I noticed that you have new shoes."  Noticing helps the students realize that I do care about them.  Just a note, as a junior high teacher I am very careful to say, "Ashley, I love your new shoes,"  because Ashley may not want her junior high math teacher loving her shoes, that could be considered "uncool."  As the weeks turn to months, I really get to know my students, and I work to use the correct language with each of them.

The first week of school is absolutely critical to the success of your classroom throughout the year. As a teacher, during the first week  it is easy to get stuck on pretests, sending homework, being the "boss", etc...  Remember, routines and relationships should be your goal.  Forget about the other things, and the rest of your school year will be much more successful.  

Back to Top