American Association of Blind Teachers

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Carla Hayes

Probably the most important task that any teacher must do on the first day of school is acquainting students with classroom rules and procedures, the discipline policy and the course requirements. This is especially important if you are a blind teacher because some students may try to take advantage of you more than they would if you were sighted. Here are a few suggestions which should make this task easier.

Planning your classroom policies should begin long before the first school bell rings. If you are returning to the same teaching position that you held last year, this simply means evaluating your present classroom policies, taking careful note of what worked and what didn't work, and making any necessary changes. For example, our school started requiring that all the teachers use the Grade Quick computer program for grades and report cards. I was shocked to discover that my grading system which I have been using for the past several years doesn't work well with Grade Quick. So, I will have to design a whole new grading policy before the first day of school so that I can communicate it to my students.

If you are a new teacher or if you will be teaching at a new school, you will need to give a lot of thought about how you will run your classroom. Use one or two of the peaceful days of summer to sit down and outline your classroom rules, course requirements and the expectations that you will have of your students. Start with a firm discipline policy. This should include no more than four or five classroom rules and the consequences which will occur when these rules are broken. When designing these rules, make sure that they are rules that you can enforce. Rules which cannot be enforced will not be effective. For example, if you are a totally blind teacher, forbidding students to send text messages with their cell phones would probably not be an enforceable rule because you wouldn't know when they are doing it. Perhaps your principal and other teachers in the school can help you to design effective classroom rules. In fact, your rules will be easier to enforce if they are the same rules that are in effect in other classrooms and throughout the school. The best classroom rules are short, simply stated and easy to remember. Also, be sure to post your rules in a prominent place in your classroom. To complement your rules, you must spell out consistent consequences which your students can expect if these rules are broken. Conversely, there should also be positive consequences of following the rules. The best consequences are often the direct results of a student's actions. For example, if you award points for homework assignments, a student will lose points if he or she doesn't complete assignments. The natural result would be fewer points and a lower grade. On the other hand, students who do their assignments will earn more points and higher grades. Remember: consequences must be fair, realistic and delivered on a consistent basis.

In addition, you will need to design classroom procedures for such things as fire drills and other evacuations, early dismissals, asking permission to leave the room, duties of your aide if you have one, seating arrangements, making up missed work, testing, turning in assignments and all the other mundane classroom tasks. One thing you will need to decide is how students can get your attention if you cannot see them raising their hands. Simply allowing them to talk out could become quite chaotic. I have solved this problem by appointing a student to be the "caller" each day. It is his or her job to let me know which students are raising their hands and calling on them among other things.

Finally, outline your requirements for each course that you will teach. For example, what will you require your students to read, turn in and complete? How will you evaluate your students' progress? Will there be tests, projects, presentations and/or papers? Be prepared to describe them for your students. What must students bring to class? Will they need to purchase books or other materials for your class? If so, list them. Will there be a course syllabus? If so, write it. What will be your homework policy? What will happen if they cheat on tests? What must they do to earn a good grade? Will there be opportunities for extra credit? If so, how can students earn it? These are the types of things you will need to decide when planning the courses you will teach and there are many more. They will differ from class to class and teacher to teacher. The important thing is to decide on these matters well in advance and communicate them to your students on the first day of school.

In conclusion, you will doubtless give your students many homework assignments during the coming academic year. Now, you have your own homework to do before school even starts. As you can see, your first day of school should involve much more than hellos, introductions and opening books. It is crucial to empower your students for success by letting them know what they can expect from you and what you will expect from them. How you lay down the law on that very first day will set the tone for the entire school year.

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