Routine! Routine! Routine!
How do you, the teacher, survive the classroom and make it a positive experience for the teacher and the pupils. It is called routine. The first two weeks are the “honeymoon” time. The pupils are quiet and usually attentive. Although I have noticed that this has changed over the past few years. I have been teaching for 40 years and the last ten have been the most challenging if we forget the first year! I learned the hard way just like so many of my colleagues. A class of caged children can be every bit as harrowing as being locked up with lions and tigers and bears- Oh My! After that first year, the good teacher has learned the “trick.” It is routine and it is established in the first two weeks. Although, today’s teacher must advance that schedule and get the routine in place within the week and in some cases, some routines must be in place today! The veteran teacher has discovered that teaching and learning are possible when a structure (routine) exists. This article will help the teacher old and new to be reminded of a few ideas of establishing structure, I mean, routine!
The veteran teacher has a planned structure in mind already. It has been branded into him by the same experience that the rookie teacher is now experiencing: trial and error and terror. The terror leads to discovering a routine that works or leads to the principals office with a trail of tears and a letter of resignation. Frustration is the outgrowth of no routine. The rookie learns. The only place that the experience pays off is in the classroom on your own with just you and the pupils over time. This is the purpose of student teaching experiences. Sad to say, many school systems require the cooperating teacher to remain in the classroom while the student teacher is teaching. I appreciate the concerns legally but… Having the veteran teacher glaring at the backs of his pupils heads does little for the student teacher to learn those techniques that work or not. As a result, the rookie teacher thinks everything is rosy and heads off to their first assignment with a distorted idea of how it works. Student teaching provides the experience of standing in front of the class and teaching but little of creating an environment of learning. Routines are either established or maintained by the cooperating teacher.
First, let’s consider routine. What is it? It is how the teacher wants the body of students or individuals within the body to react to certain needs within the classroom. For example, the most common routine that all teachers are reminded of each year: FIRE DRILL! Teachers are reminded to explain where to the pupils go and how they behave during a fire drill and often indicate a consequence if the routine is not met. A routine then involves a trigger, that is, an event or action that leads to an established course of events, the reaction. In the case of the fire drill, the loud, obnoxious, irritating alarm creates an adrenaline rush. This is the trigger or action. The routine, developed by the teacher, is to stand and quietly move out of the classroom following a prescribed path to an exterior door. After exiting the door, pupils are to gather in a predetermined location where attendance is taken. Various pupils are assigned tasks, such as, close classroom door making sure everyone has exited and another pupil holds exterior door for class to exit building. A third pupil acts as a flagpole for class to gather about. (My experience has been to lead the class out. Some schools mandate that the teacher follow the class. You must do as the school policy dictates but, if given the option, lead the class. That way if a real fire or danger should confront the class, the teacher should be able to make a decision quickly and lead the class to alternate route). I always find it a good idea to explain to the class both for the need of fire drills and the reason for the various expectations during a fire drill. At this time I also propose a consequence for failure to follow the fire drill instructions. Therefore, a routine involves an action that leads to a set of reactions that result in a “good thing.” Associated with failure to live up to the routine comes a consequence.
Second, establish routines immediately or they will be established by your pupils. During the first few weeks, the teacher has to establish the routines desired. Pencils need to be sharpened. Should they be sharpened at the start of the day or anytime the pupil wants. Can a pupil who needs to sharpen a pencil just get up during a activity and go to the pencil sharpener? How many can go at a time? What happens when 15 pupils get up and move to the pencil sharpener? This is a petty little non-teaching task that must be addressed. Suggestion: Pencils are to be sharpened before the class begins. A monitor (in grade school) will call rolls or tables to go to sharpener. If a pencil needs to be sharpened after class begins then the teacher might have a pencil jar for pupils to borrow from with the understanding that a consequence follows. Sounds good! So what do you, the teacher, do when a student gets out of their seat and moves to the pencil sharpener? You have laid out a routine and this pupil is not following the routine. (This is the “test!” Pupils will always test the teacher especially in the first few weeks. The teacher must be alert for this “test” and be prepared to react. Even if its a gentle reminder). The teacher must respond or the routine means nothing. “Sarah. We sharpen our pencils at the start of class. If you need to use a pencil, I will loan you one.” You want to do this as quietly and least intrusively as possible. All the other pupils are watching. If you don’t say something, the routine means nothing. If you overreact, the lesson is disrupted and you have created a means for the pupil who seeks attention to find it in the future. This is the need for practice to discover what works and what don’t! The teacher needs to be watchful in the first few weeks to get those routines established.
Some common routines that will need to be addressed are determined by age group. Preschool, Primary (1-3), Intermediate (4-6), Upper grade (7-8) and High School (9-12). Generally routines that need to addressed are:
1) Entering the classroom
2) Taking a seat
3) Preliminary or Starting Activity
4) Classroom supplies that should be available to the pupil
5) Routines specific to learning activity
*raising hand in discussion
*taking notes in lecture
*remaining with group in team activities
*noise level maintenance
*asking questions of teacher in different activities
6) Following classroom rules
7) Using materials within the classroom
8) Using the washroom
9) Talking with the teacher
10) homework collection
11) homework distribution
12) Taking Attendance
13) Notes to the office
The list goes on from here. Plan ahead and be prepared. Failure to have a plan results in the routine being established outside the teacher’s control. When you hear the administrator’s and other teacher’s talk about “having control,” this is what they mean. Control is having the routines your way. Once a routine is established it runs entirely on its own with only an occasional test. Of course, if the routine is one the teacher does not like it is tough to change it. Once routines are established, it is very, very difficult to change That is one reason that beginning teachers experience so much difficulty. Experience leads to developing routines and controlling the classroom so that a positive learning environment can be established. The control is in the teacher hands and that means the teacher can teach and the pupil can learn.