It is that time of year again. Soon the school bells will be ringing and students will be entering classroom doors. Believe it or not, that first day is probably the most important day of the school year. You only get one chance to make a first impression! What the teacher and students do on that first day can determine the success or failure of a classroom for the entire year.
According to some authorities, “teachers who spend some time during the first couple of days organizing the class so that everyone knows how the class is structured and managed have far fewer discipline problems and students who are involved with learning (Wong).”
What are some things the teacher can do to foster success?
1. Share your passion.
Forget the myth, “Don’t smile before December.” That isn’t the personality of a teacher. Most of us entered this profession because we love sharing something we are passionate about with others. When we are sharing a passion, we are happy, enthusiastic, and energetic. Let your students see that passion.
2. Put your best self forward.
Be the person you want your students (and their parents) to see. Dress the part. Act the part. Do you want to be respected as a professional? Look professional. Be professional. Marketing studies show that we only have seven seconds to create a positive impression. So, appearance can be important to how you are perceived (whether we like it or not). There are ways to achieve a professional look and not like a little old church lady and ways to achieve a casual appearance without looking like you just dashed in from doing yard work. Mode of dress is important but so is behavior. That first day, above all others, is the one when your behavior is observed most closely. This is when you begin to develop trust, purpose for listening to what you have to say, belief that you mean what you say, and offer inspiration to your students (and their parents).
3. Be Prepared: The Small Stuff Can Be Big Stuff.
Think about moving throughout your school day and how you want it to flow smoothly. How are you going to seat your students? How are you going to communicate with parents? Where are you going to post or store materials for absentees or tardy students? How will you encourage students to get started and dismiss class? What will ensure that your class is truly experiencing bell-to-bell instruction and not milling round the doorway before and after class time? How and where should students submit late work? Try to think of all this Small Stuff so that there isn’t any Big Stuff. Since I work in a BYOT district, I always encourage the teachers with whom I work to utilize as many online resources as possible. Create a Google Form InBox and link it to your class webpage. Posting online shared documents instead of distributing hard copies provides for easy, real-time updates and revisions. Online tools and documents offer constant, anywhere, anytime access without chance of losing the hard copy.
4. Share Your Expectations.
You might call this rules or norms or acceptable procedures – whatever you choose to call it, make sure you make them known and adhere to them on the first day. Your students want to know what is expected of them and really do want to be successful on day one. Whether you prefer creating all your parameters or allowing students to develop them with you, make that a part of your first day and consistently follow them through to the last day.
5. Be the Manager.
You wouldn’t turn your bank account over to your students (or their parents) and ask them to manage it! Likewise, you should be the manager of your classroom from bell to bell. Again, think through a typical day in your class. Make sure you have an idea on how you and your students might handle different situations and stick to your plan. Consistency is vital to the success of a year-long community of learners. You and your students must learn to trust one another, be prepared to share your space and your ideas, and work as a cohesive learning community for a long time. The first day plants the seed for the tree of knowledge that you grow together during the school year.
6. If You Fail to Plan, You are Planning to Fail.
The first day of school is a long one with teachers and students adjusting to being back in the classroom. Plan ahead what will be accomplished during that day. Just as Benjamin Franklin expressed so eloquently, without a plan, you are planning to fail. Maybe you want to spend time sharing the rules, introducing routines, getting to know one another, beginning to build a community. As a reading specialist, I always encourage using read-alouds and picture books to lead discussions about issues important to your classroom. Make it a day to learn about your students and give your students a chance to learn about you.
7. Let Them Know Who You Are.
You are not there to be friends with your students. You are there to be their coach, guide, mentor, and teacher who encourages and supports their growth and knowledge. However, don’t hesitate to let students know at least a little bit about you. We tend to trust, respect, and be inspired by those with whom we are familiar yet still hold a bit of mystique. Try to be that model for your students.
The first day of school ends and the rest of the school year lies ahead. The first day of school—when you have your students’ rapt attention and when their minds are open and they’re eager to do well—is the one chance you have to get things right from the beginning.
Good luck getting off to a good start!
I borrowed and adapted ideas from these resources to compose this post:
You Only Get One “First Day of School”
There is Only One First Day of School
The Biggest First Day of School Mistake You Can Make