Right now there’s a a lot of advice out there about how to start off the school year. In fact, I have offered some. But it’s important to remember that each day is a new start. It’s worth learning how to do that.
The best way to start the day off right is to end the previous day right. If it was a generally terrific day, spend time talking about what went well. If it was a generally stinky day, spend time talking about what went well. And then pull out your handy one-page-a-day calendar and rip that stinky day into little shreds. I’ve seen relief and joy in kids’ eyes as their terrible, horrible day is torn to bits and tossed in the trash. It’s gone. No hard feelings. No record of wrongs. No punishment waiting in the wings. Note that I said “their terrible, horrible day.” Sure, it may have been mine as well, but it’s mostly theirs. They came to school, as I did, with the best of intentions. No kid walks into school saying, “I’m going to destroy the classroom today!” No teacher walks in and says, “I’m going to make this day miserable for every child!” So, reward good intentions and scrap the day. Literally. A caveat: My primary response to a hard day is to analyze what I did and how I reacted to the kids. I cannot control how they reacted, but I can control my own reactions.
So you are starting a new day. You know that your kids may have endured a yucky bus ride or a fight at home or simply feel out of sorts. They may come in the room crying. Or perhaps they are ready to explode like a volcano, hot magma at the top. How do you greet these kids? It’s certainly easier once you know them, because you can read their cues more effectively. Regardless, I try to remember that this class is about their needs, not mine. I may want to look like a perfect teacher (read: have a perfect day), but teaching is messy. Kids (and teachers) are messy. The classroom should be a haven, a place where kids get what they need. There’s no one right way to handle a kid starting off in distress. Here are some options: Give them space. Follow the classroom routine. Let them chill in their cooling-off space. Hand them a favorite book. Start them on a favorite activity. Ask if they want to talk. Let them draw or use other materials to express themselves. I didn’t include “smile” because you are hurting for them and with them. This wasn’t what either of you wanted. A gentle and caring expression works well.
For kids who typically have a bumpy start to their day, you must get at the root of the problem to improve their first moments at school. Is it some interaction with others? Anxiety about school or transitions? Testing to see how you will respond? Hard-wiring? Hating school? Each of these possibilities will need to be handled differently. Bottom line: It’s worth making the effort to start off each day right.