Today was the first Monday of the year. YAY!!  I think this year is off to a great start–the best one in several years *knocking on wood now* and naturally, instead of simply enjoying it, I’m analyzing it to death, trying to figure out why.  I’ve been at this teaching thing for a few years now (I think this was my 16th first day of school-as a teacher) and I feel like I’ve tried everything under the sun.  I’ve had years where I spent the first day going over rules, materials, and syllabi as well as years where I barely told them my name before proceeding into material.  I’ve tried “attention-grabbing” activities and just jumping into the book.  I’ve done team building stuff and data collecting activities.  It just never seems to be quite right.  I guess getting back into the swing of things is just as hard on teachers as it is on students.  Maybe tougher.

So, what’s different this year?  Well, obviously I have different students.  I’m sure that’s one of the most significant variables I have no control over.  Perhaps I am just the fortunate one to have the blessed and coveted “good mix”…only time will tell.  But I did make a few minor changes that might have something to do with the positive vibes.  First, I bought enough lamps this summer to be able to turn off my overhead florescent lights.  Originally I just wanted my projector to show up better during class without turning lights on and off constantly.  I also have heard that florescent lights can be a source of headaches, which I constantly battle.  I guess you could say self-preservation motivated me.  But, a funny thing happened when my students came in.  They were quieter.  They sat down right away.  Ironically, they didn’t complain about the dark.  I’m not foolish enough to think this might last all year, but it has lasted 4 full days and I’m anxious to see how long it goes.  I’ve even heard a few students comment on how “groovy” it seems.

Second, (and this is completely stolen from somewhere, but I have no idea where) I had students fill out a name tent with some basic info, then cut the back flap into thirds.  Since we start school on Wednesday, they had a perfect chance to ask a question or make a comment each of the first 3 days of school.  The first day I got pretty much exactly what I expected…some indicated a fear of failing, many simply said they were looking forward to the class (I believe about 25% of those), and some just thought I was off my rocker.  Nevertheless, I took time to respond to EVERY student…answering their question or making a comment on what they had said.  These were returned the second day and students were asked to do the same thing…only this time they started to simply share a bit about themselves or ask me a question about me.  I was asked my favorite color, books, movies, wild wing flavor…lots of stuff.  And again, I took time to respond to them all.  By Friday, students felt comfortable talking to me as a real person (gasp) and the rapport building has started stronger than ever.

Finally, we started our Interactive Notebooks.  Thanks to a ton of help from @mgolding, @druinok, @cheesemonkeysf, @jreulbach, and @samjshah (and probably some more people I can’t remember off the top of my head-sorry) I have finally been able to bring this idea into real existence.  I was honestly afraid my students would scoff and buck the whole way, but they are EXCITED…wait, did I just say that about a math class?  Yep, I did.  Some of them have commented on how much they think it will help them stay organized.  Some of stated how they just like the fact they get to color.  Some have expressed their hopes that it will help them review their material.  Whatever the reason, they actually think it might be a good idea and (again, knocking on the wood) I think every student has a pretty complete, ready to go notebook.  Perhaps coming to class prepared has them thinking differently about school?

Maybe its something completely unrelated to any of these reasons.  Maybe the teaching fairies just smiled on me this year.  Maybe I should not have put it into words for fear of jinxing it.  But maybe I’m starting to get a small grasp on this thing called teaching.