Back to school: Tim Gillespie and Cris Tovani

August 27th, 2012

Welcome back to our back-to-school series! Today Tim Gillespie (Doing Literary Criticism) and Cris Tovani (Talk to Me) share about how they prepare and spend the first day of school with their students. Don’t forget to share your back-to-school rituals or ideas. Five commenters will be picked to receive a free Stenhouse book at the end of the series.

Tim Gillespie:

Opening day in September: Heart thumping, period after period, I’d stand at the door to my high school classroom and shake every student’s hand before he or she entered, accompanied by a stream of welcoming banter: “Hey, how are you doing? I’m Mr. Gillespie. What’s your name? I’m looking forward to working with you. We’re going to have some heavy-duty learning happening in here this year, right? I’m happy to have you in our class.”

And then I had a checklist for that first hour of our 180-day relationship. During our opening encounter, I wanted to make sure the students: wrote something of consequence (often a quick account of their joys and frustrations with English classes in the past), talked about their expectations and worries and hopes for class, read something short and powerful (usually a poem), and had an opportunity to laugh. The messages I was hoping to convey with these start-of-school rituals: I’m excited to be here, I want you to be excited, I want you to succeed, you will be listened to, we will be doing a heap of writing and reading and thinking together, and laughter is not incompatible with intellectual rigor.

Cris Tovani:

I love do-overs and for me that’s what the beginning of the school year brings—a chance to re-do another year of teaching a little better and a little smarter.  As school draws near, my rituals and routines rarely waver. The dining room table is transformed into a collection center for new books, articles, and ideas that I have gathered over the summer.  I have found my beautiful, blank conferring notebook that will hold notes and important observations I learn about my new students.  I will have been to Target stores all over the city purchasing dirt-cheap composition notebooks so my students can begin setting them up as reading response logs the first day of class.

At home, I will have cajoled my daughter and husband into articulating their learning goals for the year because the first day of school just isn’t about me starting over.  They get to start over too!  My tiny, messy closet will have gotten an overhaul.  I will have picked out outfits for the first week school, knowing full well that I will change my mind multiple times. I will scour Office Depots and Staples to find markers, sticky notes, highlighters, and other various and supplies that I have to have.   I will have my first read-alouds ready to go and new books organized in baskets so that kids know right off the bat they are in a classroom where lots of reading gets done.  I’ll be sure to clean out some old files to make room for new ideas.  I’ll have my bulletin boards designed and a new floor plan for my classroom ready to be arranged when workweek begins.  Glancing at the calendar, I realize that I have a lot to do.  I better get busy.

Entry Filed under: Leadership & Mentoring

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda Baie  |  August 27th, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I like hearing Tim’s goals that he shared at the end of his writing, & I like the term ‘do-over’ that Cris uses. Might be a poem in there somewhere! I had the joy of a self-contained class (independent school) so our day was spent out of doors mostly in a shady part of the grounds. We wrote, interviewed each other, shared favorite books, & played games. My favorite was the first writing, where almost the 1st thing students wrote was feelings ‘right now’ about the year. Then we shared one important sentence & I wrote them down into a poem for beginning our class community. Typed later, it was a piece of our history as a class, & stayed on the door all year. thanks for the post!

  • 2. Mrs. V  |  August 27th, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I always enjoy reading about the way that others set up their classrooms and structure the first day. I especially loved Tim’s objectives for the first day. The last couple of years I have been trying to get a better balance with getting to know you, reading, and writing after adjusting to a shorter block of time. I like the idea of having a powerful poem.

  • 3. Leslie Shinaver  |  August 29th, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Wonderful sentiments from thoughtful educators! I’m going to take the opportunity to use digital media to query students–PollEverywhere or VoiceThread. Then we can revisit their comments later in the year to appreciate where they were and how far they’ve come.

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