I’m starting at a new site working once again with Jr. High and High School. I am nervous about some of those teenager behaviors especially from the Jr. High kiddos. Going from Elementary school back to working with the upper grades is a tough transition, but I have done it before and know that I truly love working with 11th and 12th grade (which it seems my class will mostly be) because they are craving that end goal of graduation and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. What I have found is that they are willing to work and have less excuses or complaints. In fact one of my students said “The reason I’m over here (in credit recovery) is because I didn’t do my work or go to class everyday. I’m smart, but lazy” It was refreshing to not be blamed for this students’ issues at school. It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone take ownership instead of blaming the system or the teachers or his parents.
We are started out with an autobiography writing project so that I can see their writing styles as well as gaps and that I can get to know the students better. The project includes the students drawing a “life map” to show where they have been and where they want to be in the future. Next the students brainstorm by answering a list of questions about their birth, hometown, years in school, siblings, pets, hobbies, future plans, etc. After this they write it into a rough draft that is peer and teacher edited at least once before they rewrite and type up their final paper. They design a front cover and add drawings and photos that show their personality and life even more.
For the first week, I had the students learn my rules and consequences and then sign a copy of it that they have read, understand, and agree to follow the rules. (See the post titled My Classroom Rules under the Advice category). This set the tone of the room and ensured that less mayhem could ensue. I trained them on how to retrieve paper and pencils, how to ask for help, and other management procedures. It basically comes down to “If you don’t know, ask. If you need help, ask. If you need to leave, ask” I think of myself as the gatekeeper and the students need permission to be allowed to walk through. I control the environment and am the only one allowed to bend the rooms. For instance, there is no food allowed in my room except when I throw a class party or use food in a lesson. This keeps the students in check and them realizing that they are welcome in my classroom, but they have to follow the guidelines. One student asked if she could decorate her desk with duck tape. I told her “No” and explained that if you do that then it opens the floodgates for stickers, drawings, and gum on the desks. She laughed.
Building Class Culture
We worked on a few other projects to build classroom culture. I had the students draw and then paint an image of the school’s mascot. Each student created their own spin of the style and layout, but we brought them together to form a mural wall. We made soda can insects to add around the mural wall and the effect was both creative and bonding.
Success for Teens
I started the students on two powerful programs that we will do until the end of the year. The first is a book for teenagers called Success for Teens that teaches important lessons about the road to success. The book is produced by the Success Foundation (http://www.successfoundation.org/) and is free to non-profit youth groups and schools. I had done this program with my high school classes in my first and second year of teaching and it was a winner! The stories are written by teens, for teens and give powerful messages like “Everything starts with small steps”, “Habits are power” and “Use the Moment.” The books have places for the students to fill in their ideas about each chapter and to reflect on their decisions and course in life.
The other book we are using is Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory. It is Danny’s journal and drawings that tell about his life and his path to becoming more artistic and creative. He draws the everyday things around him and realizes that everyday matters because of the little things and powerful people in our lives. There are forums of people who have taken these philosophies and ran with them. There are lists of everyday things to draw. This is what we do in the afternoons- we draw from the list. Sometimes I choose, other days it’s the students’ choice. They draw using the power of observation. (http://dannygregory.wordpress.com/community/edm-challenges/)