Establish and Reinforce Your Rules
It's a good idea to have a stapled two-page introductory document ready to pass out to your students on the first day of school. The first page of the document will consist of a letter, greeting the parents and introducing yourself. Include some information about your education, teaching experience, and a bit about required supplies, daily routines, and your goals for the academic year. Don't write a full resume — you're not applying for a job — you're just letting parents know a little bit about you so they'll have confidence in you as a classroom teacher. Don't forget to sign your letter.
The second page of the document is, in some ways, even more important than the first page because it will contain your classroom rules. Many teachers feel that very broad, general rules are sufficient to run a classroom efficiently. For example, many of your teaching colleagues may recommend that you give a set of simple rules such as, “1. Be polite. 2. Be prompt. 3. Be productive.”
Simplicity has its place, but remember what the great physicist and mathematician Albert Einstein once said: “Simplify as much as possible, but no further.” Simple rules are good for kids, but if they're as simplistic as the examples above, kids may not know exactly what to expect in certain situations. For example, are kids allowed to navigate the classroom — to get up and walk around — any time they please or do they have to ask your permission first? What's your tardy policy? What's your rule if a student consistently fails to do his homework?
Therefore, you might want to consider a letter of rules that is as simple as possible, but no simpler. Think of your classroom rules as a kind of Constitution for you and your kids to adhere to, setting forth specific rules that enable all of you to work together in a professional manner. Perhaps an extremely simplified model might seem more kid friendly, but such a model may also tend to cause unnecessary confusion and arguments. You'll have to decide what's best for you. The following is an example of a somewhat more detailed rules letter:
General: Students will respect all peers, visitors, and school personnel, obey all rules, and work diligently, in and out of class. Noncompliance will result in disciplining, such as conferences, loss of privileges, detentions, suspensions, etc.
Manners: Students will address peers, visitors, and school personnel respectfully, and should use courteous phrases such as, “Please,” “Thank you,” “You're welcome,” etc., liberally. Students should call me, “Mrs. Jones,” or, “Ma'am.” Students will not use profanity for any reason. Students' behavior will reflect courtesy and propriety at all times.
Student-Teacher Discussions: Students wishing to discuss personal behavioral or academic issues with the teacher will do so in private, and in a respectful manner. At no time will a student disrupt instructional time with public disrespect and defiance.
Navigating the Classroom: Students wishing to leave their seats and navigate the classroom to sharpen pencils, etc., will raise their hands first and secure permission, in every instance, unless otherwise instructed. Students will navigate safely at all times by walking — not running — in a courteous, considerate manner.
Absences: Students returning from absences will immediately give me a note of explanation from a parent or parents may briefly stop in.
Tardiness: Students will be seated prior to the ringing of the tardy bell. Tardy pupils will immediately give me a note of explanation from a parent or parents may briefly stop in.
Homework: Generally, I assign homework every school day except Friday, and on some Fridays, as well. Students will complete all assignments and give them to me the next school morning. Students with missing or incomplete homework will immediately give me a note of explanation from a parent or parents may briefly stop in.
Parent Communications: Students will immediately return to me all written parent communications given to them on the next school morning after receipt, signed by a parent.
Parent Conferences: Conferences with parents may be held during my daily planning period or before or after school, by prior appointment only. Call the secretary and schedule an appointment, giving a requested date and time. Please confer with me often, and after receiving any written communication from me. Parent conferences are not held during passing periods or during instructional time.
Record: Students' infractions will be recorded in writing, and discipline will follow.
Breaks: Students must get my permission to leave class during instructional hours for water, the restroom, or any other reason. Students given leave will use a hall pass and return speedily. Students with medical conditions requiring frequent restroom trips must give me a note of explanation from parents.
Schoolwork: Students' schoolwork will be completed per my instructions and given to me immediately when due. I will determine all schoolwork grades. Criteria include neatness, organization, and content.
Grade Reports: I will determine all grades based on work received and my professional observations and judgment. I will not alter recorded grades without a legitimate reason to do so, such as a proven numerical miscalculation.
Special Privileges: Special privileges such as field trips are for those students who show continued good behavior and work habits. I will determine who receives special privileges.
Parent Visits: Parents are cordially invited to visit and observe in my class during instructional hours, after first checking in at the main office. During visits, parents must sit and observe unobtrusively.
Certainly, many of the words in the rules letter above are probably too difficult for really young kids to understand; so, go ahead and modify the letter or just explain the gist of each rule or do both. Or, you can stick with these rules, “1. Be polite. 2. Be prompt. 3. Be productive.” The choice is yours.
Sign your rules letter and make sure the letter has a tear-off portion at the bottom for the students to return to you, signed by themselves and by their parents. The tear-off can look something like this:
We have carefully read and discussed Mrs. Jones's introductory letter and the attached classroom-rules letter. We will abide by all terms, and we understand that every item is a material term, without exception.
Student's Name, Printed:
1st Parent's Name, Printed:
2nd Parent's name, Printed:
The words, “material term,” mean that every provision of your rules letter is equally important and no provision is meant to be ignored by parents or students. Have your students promptly return their signed tear-offs. File the tear-offs in the students' dossiers for those times when a parent claims he was never informed about your rules. Produce the tear-off at parent conferences to remind the parent that he was fully informed beforehand. The tear-off can also be shown to the parents of misbehaving children, as a reminder to everyone that they agreed to follow the rules and aren't honoring their agreement.
Establish your rules early, make them as specific as you're comfortable with, and get the kids and their parents to sign the tear-off. That's how you begin the school year like a seasoned professional — a teacher deserving of deference and respect.