So you get your class list in September, and then what? You're the teacher. You have access to the room, so you decorated to meet your anticipated needs. You also have your class lists, which provide basic information about each student from the SMS.
You could send out surveys to parents asking what they want you to know about their child.
You could send surveys to each student asking what and how they would like to learn this year. What strategies are successful, and what simply aren't. Who do they like to study with, or do they really study best solo.
I know a lot of teachers who don't want to know anything about their students until they meet them, feeling that its unfair to draw conclusions in advance. That, I think is a personal preference.
I know other teachers who think it's foolish to seek out this information. They simply don't want to get to know their students. I find that to be a form of educational malpractice.
The relationships must come first. One of my mantras is: Teach the students, not the curriculum. The state may not see it that way with its high stakes testing designed to "hold teachers accountable" for the "product" of student learning (as if we were making widgets), but it looks like I'll be around to give it another go next year.
I actually fall into paragraphs one, two and three. And I chat up my students in the hall -- at random, if they're looking particularly happy, if they're looking particularly sad, if they seem really angry. If I see any drastic change in mood, I'll do something, because as much as I do try to make my classroom something of a family (however dysfunctional) that makes me, as the de facto matriarch, responsible to keep things running smoothly, and make sure everyone feels like they BELONG so that learning is maximized (see, there is a method to my mushy madness).
I'm doing a book study this summer on Mara Sapon-Shevin's Widening the Circle: The Power of the Inclusive Classrooms (as I've mentions, and as you must have figured out from my recent posts. She writes that mainstreaming literature from the late 70s and 80s "presupposes that it is the job of the (special needs) child to fit into the existing classroom structure...little or no burden or responsibility is placed on the teacher and students in the regular classroom to modify what they do to create a successful learning environment for the mainstreamed child (or for anyone else)."
So I used the phrase "classroom community" in the title of this post, very deliberately. In your classroom community, everyone should feel welcome. As the teacher, it is your job to set that tone in September, model it every day, build it up when it lags, and bring new members into the fold with as much warmth as possible -- and I truly mean this whether you teach Pre-K or Advanced Calculus.. Children take more educational risks when they feel safe. School, for too many children, is a safer place than home. This is the part of the job not measured by test scores, but do not think that it has no influence or impact on learning.
How do you build and maintain your classroom community?