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Considering the environment
While there is very little teachers can do about the size or location of their classrooms, planning an appropriate environment is the first step in preparing for the school year.
Environmental conditions can affect a child's learning. It is crucial that the beginning teacher become acquainted with the physical components of the classroom first.
Start by checking the lighting. Is the classroom evenly lit? Eye strain can interfere with learning. Natural light from windows increases illumination but requires some advance attention. It is hard for children to learn if they are struggling with sunlight in their eyes. Natural light can also produce glare on chalkboards during certain times of day.
Keeping background noise at a minimum is important. Noisy heaters and ventilation systems may produce a constant environmental hum. By turning up the temperature, stepping back and listening, the teacher can avoid placing a desk in an area not conducive to learning.
Arranging the desks
When arranging the desks, a walk around the classroom will help to locate areas where a student's ability to see the teacher may not be ideal. The teacher must also have an unobstructed view of all students. What happens out of a teacher's range of sight is still the teacher's responsibility.
After arranging the desks, check to see that all students will be able to freely navigate high-use areas. A clear line to the pencil sharpener or garbage bin can reduce the temptation to socialize. Obstacles can also be potentially harmful if students must exit the classroom quickly. Finally, walk around the room to ensure that teacher-student proximity can be used as a management tool. The ability to stand beside a student is one of the best behavioural controls in a teacher's repertoire.
Drafting the seating plan
At the beginning of each year homeroom teachers must sign the Ontario Student Record Cards (OSRs). While signing, look for vital medical information inside the cover. It is important to know if any of your students have peanut allergies, are prone to seizures or are allergic to bee stings. The OSR can also provide information on special learning needs and preferential seating. Previous year's teachers can help identify students who need special consideration.
Once you gather this information, make a seating plan. Place names on the students' desks and on the hooks in the cloakroom. Locate fire exits and note them on your seating plan. Tape the seating plan to your desktop, covering it with a piece of overhead transparency to protect it. Now that the physical environment is prepared, it is time to work on establishing the climate.
Creating a successful atmosphere for learning is essential.
The easiest place to begin is to cover your bulletin boards. Corrugated cardboard, inexpensive wallpaper and newsprint are useful materials. To give the board a finished look, a border can be applied - corrugated material, small pictures or ribbon can create a nice finish.
Bulletin boards provide places for student work to be displayed, to aid in the development of ownership and belonging. Student monitor assignment can also be posted there.
Assignment of monitor jobs helps increase student ownership in the classroom. Student monitors can handle recycling, help distribute papers, science and art supplies or run errands to the office when needed. Monitor jobs help students to build self-esteem and develop a sense of responsibility. By posting student monitor positions in the classroom or in monthly newsletters, you increase the value and recognition of these contributions.
On a blackboard, masking tape or white tempera paint can be used to create a calendar grid. This can be used to remind students of upcoming tests, field trips, dances and birthdays. Use coloured chalk to add in the dates and to decorate the calendar.
Though it may seem redundant with a calendar, a reminder board is often advantageous. Use it to write specifics regarding homework or items needed for art the next day.
A day-at-a-glance schedule can also help to alleviate the stress of the unknown. Most elementary students benefit from structure and routine, and some react quite negatively
Finally, decorate your door with the students' names to welcome them to their classroom.
Planning for extras
Being proactive means thinking ahead. Consider what might disrupt your day and
Are any of your students required to go to the office during the day to receive medication? Pre-plan to check in daily with the person who administers the medication. What happens if a juice glass breaks in your classroom? Some schools require the teacher to pick it up and place it in a main recycling bin. You will need to pre-plan a location to keep broken glass until you can safely dispose of it at the end of the day.
What should you do if a child becomes ill or vomits? In some schools you may simply contact the office. In schools without full-time custodial help, the teacher will be required to deal with the situation. As you cannot leave the classroom un-attended, make sure you have the necessary supplies at hand. Keep a supply of paper towels and a garbage bag handy.
Does your school have a handbook? If so, keep a copy in an accessible location. Handbooks can provide basic and extremely useful information on such things as how students should enter class and be dismissed during the day. Whether or not you have a handbook, you should know the answers to many questions:
It is important to be aware of the school's emergency codes and action plans. Taping these to the inside of your desk drawer keeps the information easily accessible.
Writing on the board
One nagging concern may remain for new teachers: how to write on the blackboard. While this improves with practice, there are tricks that will enhance quality. Using the fine muscles of your hand will cause the script to be small and your hand to tire, so practise using the large muscles in your upper arm and shoulder.
If you find your writing slants down, you may be dropping your arm. Use your body as a ruler - using the larger muscles and taking short steps, keep the writing consistently level with your eyes, neck or shoulder. If your sentences slant up, you are reaching out with your arm. Taking a step in the direction you are writing will help to keep the sentence straight.
One trick remains. Completely wet down the boards you will use for writing. With chalk and a ruler, measure out and line the wet board. Allowing the board to dry completely will take some time. Blackboards tend to be porous and can appear dry when they are not. Lines applied to the board in this way will remain as a guide when subsequent writing is erased. They will fade eventually and will need to be reapplied in approximately four months.
Your room is ready to greet the students.
In August, think ahead and keep a list of all the little things you'll need to know. Then take some time to seek out the answers. Being prepared is fundamental to experiencing a successful first year of teaching.
To complete your preparation for entry into the school, start to look for a mentor. In every organization there are unwritten rules. An experienced staff member can answer questions that come up along the way.
Jennifer Barnett teaches in the Bachelor of Education program at Nipissing University in North Bay and is a practice-teaching advisor.