Back in the Groove

Teachers share ways to ensure a smooth transition into the new school year

Teachers share ways to ensure a smooth transition into the new school year

September 16, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Williamsport Elementary School teacher Doug Higgins starts steering his students into back-to-school mode before the school doors open for a new year.

Higgins in mid-August sends his second-grade students an upbeat letter to remind them about the change on the horizon - the transition from summer break to school.

"A lot of kids leave in June and they don't pick up a book until they get that letter," Higgins said.


He and other Tri-State area educators use a variety of strategies to ease students back into the school routine, they said.

Kindergarten teachers such as Cindy Welsh of Hedgesville (W.Va.) Elementary School guide youngsters into their first full-day school experience.

Welsh said it's most important to "welcome the kids with open arms," express a sincere interest in them as individuals, give them plenty of praise and encouragement, and "create a fun learning environment so the students want to be there."

Higgins agreed that educators must make the classroom experience "as positive as possible" so children enjoy learning.

He launches the school year with fun activities that break students' back-to-school tension while building team spirit. Higgins keeps class rules and expectations basic so kids don't feel overwhelmed. He assigns them daily class duties to build self-esteem and a sense of community, Higgins said.

Tasha Brown, a fourth-grade teacher at Williamsport Elementary, establishes that sense of community in her classroom through such exercises as asking students whose desks are grouped together to design posters with team names, she said.

Brown makes sure students know her expectations for them, reinforcing those expectations through communication with parents, she said. And she doesn't assign too much homework right away.

"You don't put a full load on them the first week," Brown said. "If they feel safe and that it's a positive environment, they're going to learn."

Educators at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School in Franklin County, Pa., devote the first day of school to setting a positive tone for the year, language arts teacher Sue Frederick said.

Frederick and other members of a back-to-school committee plan school-wide opening day activities that foster a sense of community, make students feel comfortable in the school environment, and illustrate classroom expectations, she said.

A sixth-grade scavenger hunt, for example, gives new middle school students a chance to meet each other and all their teachers - defusing some of the anxiety most feel about starting middle school, Frederick said.

"They are very afraid of the huge changes from the elementary atmosphere to here. You can't learn when you're afraid," she said.

Teachers also stage skits to demonstrate acceptable and unacceptable behavior, Frederick said.

Many students starting classes at Washington County Technical High School are "coming into a double-whammy," social studies teacher Rosanna Larrick said. They have to overcome "summer brain" syndrome and adjust to a new environment and peer group, Larrick said.

Eligible juniors and seniors from high schools countywide can pursue vocational/ academic studies at the technical high school.

A school-wide "Friends Day" during the first week of school gives students an opportunity to get to know each other, computer upgrade and repair instructor Mandy Corcoran said.

She makes her students feel more comfortable by asking them what they hope to learn from her in addition to outlining her expectations of them, Corcoran said.

Printing and graphics communication teacher Jim Groves fosters a sense of community in his classroom by encouraging students to teach each other, he said.

Larrick creates a friendly classroom atmosphere during the first week of school with ice-breaker activities and small-group exercises. She uses humor - showing a video of comic Jerry Seinfeld portraying a stereotypically boring history teacher - to let students know what not to expect from her, Larrick said.

And she outlines her high expectations for students in manner that doesn't overwhelm them, she said.

"It's all in the approach," Larrick said. "It's not tyrannical."

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