Having taught school for many decades, a first day activity always included establishing classroom norms. This involved discussion with students about appropriate behavior in the classroom and expectations of the teacher as well as of the students. When I was engaged with kindergarten or first graders, this procedure was quite productive as these students were new to school and unsure of classroom and playground operations. But as children progress through school they already are fully aware of conduct expectancies such as arriving on time, keeping hands and feet to themselves, respecting classmates, and so forth. While students do not always adhere to these norms, they are well versed in their meaning and the teacher's anticipation that they will follow these guidelines so that a fruitful year of learning can ensue.
Sound norms free the teacher to teach. When attention is given to the instructor, promptness is in place, and mutual respect reigns, great academic achievement is possible. When kids are naughty, late, and cellphone-dependent, education becomes a trial. In society we have norms we observe (some people more so than others) that enable us to accomplish our tasks. Politeness and professionalism are hallmarks of success in school, at home, and in the world. Having been raised in a home where respect and attention to duty and responsibilities were automatic expectations, I am surprised when I work with students and their parents as well as perspective teachers and new teachers to find that manners are not universal or engrained and so guidance and explanation are indispensable.
In my job now as field service supervisor for student teachers and mentor and coach for new hires, I am shocked at the norms I now must address, norms that in the past would have been unthinkable and completely unnecessary. These consist of dressing professionally, turning off cellphones and other electronic devices, and using suitable language. I won't even wander into tobacco usage - smokeless and otherwise, unending, bottomless cups of coffee and soda, or coming late and leaving early. If it did, this essay would become a tome.
Today's fashions offer jeans with holes, torn T-shirts, short shirts that reveal skin and body parts, low-slung shirts - also very revealing, flip flops, butt-skimming skirts and dresses, and other casual choices for attire. If this young under-grad or graduate were in banking or the medical profession, can you imagine such clothing being donned? Why is it that many potential teachers and new hires select such clothing? While teachers demand respect as professionals, they often forget the value of appearance in reflecting this role. Dressing well is critical - covered and all parts tucked away.
Another frightening crucial norm is relieving participants of cellphone/electronics addiction. When a teacher enters a classroom there is plenty of work to be done without interruption especially from calls and text messages. In trainings and in observations, I hear dings and chimes and watch teachers glance furtively and most often not discreetly at screens that scream for attention or they actually return calls while I stand mouth agape or students stare as they are required to remain engaged and on task. How ludicrous! And of course with secondary students (and many little ones as well), cellphones run rampant in their hands with constant and instant connection deemed a necessity. No cellphones for teachers or students should be an immediate action of school administration. Teaching is a difficult responsibility and no time should be wasted on dings and dongs.
Finally, there is the issue of appropriate language. Swearing in movies and on television has tumbled over into everyday life. Yes, there has long been profanity, but it seems to have overtaken mouths and brains. Stroll through almost any school hallway or cafeteria and evil words will attack your ears. Continue onto the playground and the swearing will likely intensify. A cursory "Not appropriate language" may be heard as a reprimand, but it usual has little to no effect. But actually, you can go almost anywhere - beach, mall, or baseball game - and profanity resounds. When did the "F-word" become the sole term to express anything and everything? In the last two years this has become a needed norm requiring several corrections when college-age students participate in debate.
Norms are excellent for maintaining discipline and clarifying expectations. They provide a reference for behavior as they define routines and procedures. While in the past a quick review was all it took as students knew and understood good manners, today more perusal and careful examination of what promotes learning and what rips it away are essential ingredients to the first day welcome. With norms clarified and in place, the rest of the year can leap and zip along with a brisk, organized, solid educational pace.
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