Be Not Afraid

Well, it’s the end of week one of a new school year.  While there were certainly times when things were hectic and while challenges definitely arose, overall this might have been the best first week of school I have ever had as a teacher.  Want to know why?  I made a conscious effort to slow down, enjoy the moment, and let my students do the same as much as possible while still trying to communicate that my classes would be rigorous but worthwhile.

Usually, in my AP classes, I begin as if we are running in a track race and the gun has just gone off.  We sprint from the start and never let up.  Not so this year.  (Although some of my students, especially my newbies, may disagree with me.  But trust me, I definitely slowed it down. :))

How many of us have heard the old “never crack a smile until Christmas” rule?  How many of us start off in the mindset that we have to train the students before we can let them enjoy themselves in the learning process?  I used to subscribe to this, but I really don’t think it’s as true as we may believe.   Yes, we want students to understand certain procedures, and yes, we want to set certain parameters so that we can have a smooth, successful year.  But I think this can be done in a different way than cracking a whip at the start of a semester.

This week, on the second day of class, I had students sitting on the ground, working in groups and talking to each other about the historical problem with which we were wrestling.  Today, I played a review game with one of my classes in which, I admit, things got a little loud.  Of course it got loud!  There’s 20 kids sitting around the room in groups of two trying to “win” the game and the clock is ticking.  But that loudness and that sitting on the floor in groups talking with each other is not a sign of chaos or a lack of classroom management; it is a sign of engagement.

Did I worry that the kids might not take the class as seriously this year as other years if I started out slower or allowed them more freedom?  Maybe a little, if I am honest.  At the same time, I knew that if I could get them engaged and to “buy in” from the get-go, my job would be a lot easier the rest of the year.  Did I have students who tested me and the boundaries?  Sure.  But I would have had such experiences regardless of how I started the year, and I spoke with those students accordingly just as I would have done in the past.

On Thursday, I asked the sophomore students in my AP Euro class to email me how they felt about the class after only 3 days.  I asked them to tell me how they felt the class was going and about any worries or questions that they still had.  Granted, these were very short emails.  I found, however, that all the students responded quite positively. Yes, they were worried about keeping up in their first AP class, and yes, not all of them loved history.  But they all said they liked the class (so far!), that they were excited about the school year, that they were finding the pace of the class challenging but doable.

So if you worry about “letting up” too soon with your students as I did in the past, take it from me, it may work in your favor to do so.  You may find that the students engage more when you let them enjoy the process of learning and when you allow yourself to enjoy the process of teaching in August rather than October.



  1. Encouraging words, Donna. I did my Google spreadsheet vocabulary assignment Friday – in groups. At moments, I thought I might have lost control. One kid, struggling with how to use a spreadsheet, said, ” I don’t think this is a good idea.” He said it LOUDLY. As it turned out, it was. They had buy-in on which words we chose, they learned about spreadsheets, and they left my class saying it was fun. Vocabulary – Fun? Your words here helped me steady myself again after second-guessing myself. I know I will need reminding again and again this year to slow down and seek engagement. Keep writing.

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