Ahh, September. Back in my drinking days, I used to go through a bottle of wine a night in September. I would go to Costco and load up on wine, joking with the cashier that it was my September teacher medicine. Nowadays I am more inclined to go to acupuncture or get a massage to cope with the stresses of teaching, but I am not sure if I would make it through the month without SOMETHING to help me!
September is golden in some ways and then again it is utterly exhausting as well.
It is golden because the kids are so amazed that they can understand a new language so easily. They are very motivated by this and see themselves growing quickly. They are falling in love with class, and the language. We are talking about them an their interests and their uniqueness. People are getting their classroom jobs, and we are developing inside jokes (I am constantly on the lookout for a good inside joke and firmly believe that you can judge the quality of a class community by the number of inside jokes that the class shares. I am looking for cute names (as I learned from Ben Slavic so long ago) I can call them and we are settling in and getting to know each other. I am chatting them up at the beginning of class, laughing with them, observing them, assigning and managing student jobs. Some days we talk for four minutes, and others we talk for 25…especially when setting up jobs and suchlike. (The average, I would say, is more like 4-6 though.)
It is utterly exhausting because I am constantly training the class in my expectations. I am constantly walking over to the rules, investing those seconds of deep breathing and smiling calmly into future smooth-running classes. I am explaining over and over how they are graded each and every minute in class. I am updating their Interpersonal Communication grade twice a week, and sending home emails and making in-class phone calls on Fridays to let the class know that I am serious about focusing up when it is time to focus up. The third week of school, right about, oh, NOW, is the most exhausting part. The kids are getting comfortable and are testing to see what is allowable in this new kind of class. Because they have never seen anything like it, the ones who will test, test intensely. Because I have prioritized having a good time and laughing with them in English before the input part of class starts, the ones who want to keep up the free-for-all the entire class will try to.
It is also exhausting because in addition to training the kids, I also do not yet have the relief of reading time to relax and recharge for ten minutes at the beginning of each class period. The day when we begin SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) is a beautiful day indeed for me, because i am about to teach a LOT of language without lifting a FINGER…my little friends the BOOKS are going to do that for me! We will not start that till October, so C’MON OCTOBER!!!
Personally, I find it is worth the struggles that come with having to establish those boundaries, to have the blessing of the “slow start” to class. I LIKE having those minutes to connect with the kids, build community, pass along as much power as I can to them in the way of student jobs, and build our class culture. I learn so much from the kids during those first few minutes of shooting the breeze in English. It is time well-spent to me, even though it does require a strong, firm hand when we switch gears into the input part of the lesson. It’s like we go from Hanging Out and Relaxing to Full-Steam Ahead when I give that signal that it is time for the language class part to begin.