On the first day of school students have so many things they want to know. Some of them are heartfelt and of utmost importance… like who of their friends is in their home room or if P.E. is before lunch. Others are not quite so pressing… like what happens when I don’t turn in my homework or what are my responsibilities in this class. Still, students are usually bursting with questions on the first day of school. Just face it, students do have inquiring minds and an effective teacher will use that first day to begin acclimating the students.
The first day of school is new and fresh and shiny and holds eons of promise. An effective teacher will utilize this fresh start, this new beginning as a time with a plan to guide students toward success. Harry and Rosemary Wong profoundly state, “The first day of school is the most important day of the year. There is only one first day of school and what you do can determine your success or failure for the entire year. On this day the students form their first impression of you.” So, think about it… what first impression do you want to project?
One researcher “video taped some teachers on their first day of school and discovered that those teachers who started with a fun activity spent the rest of the school year chasing after the students. Whereas, those teachers who spent some time during the first couple of days organizing the class so that everyone knew how the class was structured and managed had far fewer discipline problems and had students who were involved with learning (Wong).”
Here are some typical First-Day-of-School questions that really should be addressed:
1. Where am I supposed to be?
You might want to create an assigned seating chart immediately. This can be done in many ways – alphabetically, randomly generated by a computer program, students could draw a color or number or even a playing card to determine their assigned place. This quickly establishes the teacher as the person who is in charge and manages the classroom. Yet, when students are allowed some choice – even when it is limited to the choosing of a number – they are generally appreciative that they have some input in the situation.
2. What are the teacher’s expectations?
No matter what you call them – rules, guidelines, expectations – students want to know their limits and boundaries in the classroom. They want to behave and to succeed. They will succeed – at meeting the expectations or at rebelling against them! Effective teachers explain their classroom rules, guidelines, procedures, expectations and they share these with the parents of their students as well. The class web page or blog is the perfect place to make this accessible for easy reference by students and their parents. Just like Benjamin Franklin said, “Without a plan, you are planning to fail.” Make your plan and stick to it! Effective teachers are flexible, of course, but they have a strong plan and they follow the plan consistently for continued success. Authorities say that effective teachers manage their classrooms according to plan and ineffective teachers discipline, threaten, and punish. Lay your expectations for classroom procedures out right from the beginning. Don’t let it be a guessing game and the classroom will run farm more smoothly all year long. Teaching and practicing procedures must start on the first day but cannot only be shared then. This process takes several days – even weeks to create a well-oiled classroom that runs smoothly. Make a plan. Share the expectations. Adhere to them. Enjoy the year!
3. How will I earn my grade?
Grades are important – make no mistake. However, an effective teacher conveys to the students that learning and understanding are far more valuable and important than the score recorded. When students know what to expect, they are far more likely to achieve. When the students know the teachers expectations and have clear explanations for how their performance will be scored, they are more likely to meet success. From the beginning of the year, explain the grading procedure. Let students know your expectations. Model. Provide them with checklists and rubrics for individual assignments. When students have a clear picture, they can get closer to the target.
4. Let them know who you are.
Students don’t expect to know all the intimate details about you. However, when students know a bit about their teacher, it humanizes him/her which lets the students make connections. I always share a bit about myself and my family with my students to help them realize I am a person much like them and have a life much like them. I think this helps them to make a connection to me and recognize that we can become a community of learners working together. I even offer to let them ask me any questions they want answered. Do I always provide personal and intimate details – NO! Sometimes I will answer a question with a broad generality – like when they ask what is my favorite kind of music, I say, “loud!” I’ve told them my favorite drink is cold or hot or something like that which is general as well. When asked about some things I will simply answer, I don’t do that much and have no favorite. There are always ways to be general without giving out too much personal information. The most important thing I let them know is that I love my job and look forward to sharing my time with them!
5. How will the teacher treat me and how am I expected to treat others?
Everybody wants to be treated with respect. Students will respect teachers who are fair and treat them with respect. Demonstrating your expectations, letting students see how you treat others, how you dress, what and how you share information, how you have your classroom arranged, how you organize your lessons – all shows how you treat others and how you expect them to treat you and others. Students look for security, consistency, dignity, and knowledge. The teacher is the gateway by sharing that with students. Be the person you expect them to become and hold them to your expectations as they move in that direction.
Start the school year off well by alleviating problems and answering the key questions student want to know and the rest of the days of the school year will fall into place!