I had a conversation with a co-worker recently that still has me pondering: How do you enter a self-contained class with the students already in it, and gain immediate control of the classroom? Already, having students walk into a room from the hall can be challenging, in that the students come to you with all kinds of energies, moods and problems. However, something that worked well for me during my self-contained years, was greeting my students at the door. I addressed each of them by name and I taught them to address me similarly. What I was really doing was monitoring the energy that was entering the room. If a student was too rowdy or upset even, I told them to pause at the door, breathe deeply and let it go. I taught them, mainly by repetition and practice, to leave all drama at the door. If a student happened to run-in while I was not at the door, I asked them to re-enter like they knew how, in other words, in a more appropriate and respectful way.
Thankfully, I had my own classroom and I guarded its energy furiously. My classroom was my home away from home, and the last thing I wanted was negative energies coming in and making home in my teaching space.
So when it came to this conversation with this co-worker, the only thing that came to mind was you can't start your lesson right away when you walk into a self-contained class, or any class for that matter. You have to read and address the energy of the room. Say good morning to the class and have them address you in turn. Transition is important, even for the older-too-cool-for-school kids. I also suggested he do a mood check-in by going around the room and having the kids say one word about how they are that day, or they can jot it down.
My advice to all teachers walking into a self-contained room to teach easily unfocused students: Acknowledge their person, acknoweldge them as students and make sure they address/greet/welcome you as teacher.
This is just the beginning of conversations between this co-worker and myself around self-contained teaching strategies, and I welcome this dialogue as means to reflect on my six years working with special education students in the 12:1:1 setting.