I love October. This year, I’m particularly excited about the month. Personally, it will include a trip to Boston College, my alma mater, with both my 3.5-year-old son and my husband. We will take in a football game against my husband’s local team of choice — Virginia Tech — and we will spend time with some of the people I met at the start of my teaching career. Some of the people who molded me into the teacher I am today. October will also include a visit from my childhood friends to my current hometown, which, as we get older and lives get busier, these are the visits that become fewer and farther between. So a weekend with the ladies who stood by me when I got married is another reason to love October.
And of course, Halloween. I love Halloween. When my husband and I found our current home, we didn’t realize we had moved into THE Halloween neighborhood. People deck out their houses more for Halloween than they do for Christmas. I’m also really into family costumes — preferably homemade by my mother. Since my son was born, we have been the cast of Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh and friends, astronauts, and this year, we will don neon-colored hair, and dress up as Trolls from the Disney movie.
As a teacher, I also love October because it marks the beginning of what I call the sweet spot of the school year. It’s about the beginning of October when I look around my classroom, and say to myself, we have arrived.
I spend September doing so much talking, modeling, demonstrating, and modeling again — all in an effort to establish clear routines and expectations. Most of all, we are cultivating a classroom community built on trust and kindness. Together, we create our Guidelines (rules) that we will abide by for the school year. My current students drafted the following guidelines:
I am intentional about my language with my students, especially during that first month. I consistently refer back to our guidelines, reinforce expected behaviors, and redirect when needed. I slowly remind students less and less what the expectations are, in an effort to teach them how to own the expectations themselves – in an effort to build independence.
Deliberately teaching routines and expectations also means that I have to be careful with the academic content I introduce. If the content is too challenging, students will not be able to learn the routine and expectation. Often, that first month feels “light,” like I should be teaching more “stuff.” However, I’ve come to realize, the “stuff” I am spending time teaching that first month allows me to gain time in the future, so that when the content becomes challenging, the routines and expectations guide us through.
Establishing the community of trust, and spending time getting to know one another in September, also allows me to try different types of learning experiences for my students over the course of the school year. It provides the foundation to take on group projects, personalized learning, and whatever else the education world decides to come up with next!
So I look forward to October every year because it’s also when I start talking less and the kids start talking more. They take charge of their learning, and they own the classroom. I become a facilitator, a coach, and a mentor. Don’t get me wrong, we will certainly have times over the course of the year where I still take the lead — where I do the talking, the modeling, and the demonstrating.
But boy, do I love October. It’s my teaching sweet spot. My class has settled in and found its rhythm. I look up, and say, we have arrived, and we embrace the possibilities.