Some of you may have already gone back to school, but here in NSW we are in the last throws of our holidays. Just one more week... and it's time to start thinking about preparing for the new year.
The challenges of returning to school
Whilst there is probably some feeling of excitement, going back to school can be challenging for everyone. I know as a teacher that I feel that little churning in the stomach as I think about the "settling-in" weeks. The weeks where everyone is getting to know each other and I learn about and adjust my teaching to the living, ever-changing beings in my classroom.
Whether you are a pre-school, primary, high school or university teacher, the challenges are the similar: How to facilitate a smooth transition into another school year; How to establish a happy, respectful, collaborative and organised classroom; How to learn all those new names!
The challenge can be even greater if you are teaching a child with a disability for the first time. Or if a child with a disability will be in your class and you have not had the opportunity to meet them, find out about their needs or complete a full transition plan. Even if you have had the oppurtunity to put these things in place, the first term can still be challenging.
Here are some little tips I have found useful in a range of inclusive education settings (pre-school to university) to help smooth over those first bumpy weeks:
- Be prepared - if you have a well-planned set of lessons, with more than enough resources at your fingertips that cater to all the different learning styles (eg. auditory, visual, kinesthetic), then you will be able to concentrate on developing relationships and managing behaviour with minimal effect on children's learning. This is especially important for children with Autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays as they need structure and predictability - and will need your support as they adjust to a new school year.
- Set clear boundaries - talk with your students about rules, consequences, how they want their classroom to look and feel. This will help them get involved in articulating and establishing boundaries, which will increase their sense of ownership of these rules and prevent any issues that may arise out of power-struggles. This is especially important if you have children with social or behavioural difficulties such as ADHD or ODD in your classroom. Difficulties with authority can be decreased when their input is respected whilst still recognising clear boundaries and expectations in the classroom. See this process as an essential part of your first week, not as something that is "extra-curricular."
- Walk in with a smile and a sense of humour - and hold on to that sense of humour tightly. It can be the greatest tool in developing a rapport with your students.
- Know who you can call on if things go pear-shaped. Be prepared to ask for help if necessary.
- Have a relaxation and/or celebratory plan in place for completion of the week. Something to look forward to can help get you through any rough patches.