Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The First Day of School--Your Priorities

The first day of class is often one of the most stressful days that you and your students will experience all year. We're nervous. They're nervous. Every one is unsure of what to do and how to do it well.

It has always helped me to think in terms of what MUST get done that day. Once I have completed those tasks, then the rest is reasonably easy.

Here is an excerpt from The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide that is designed to help teachers think through what we have to do on the first day and get everyone off to a good start.

 As you begin thinking about the first day of class, you should give thought to how to convince your students that you are the best teacher they will ever have. Your new students will be concerned that they will not have a good teacher or a good year. Your first-year jitters may be bad, but theirs are probably worse.

            Because it is so important that the first day of school be an encouraging experience for your students, you must present yourself to your students in as positive a manner as possible. This will be easy for you if you focus your energies on the following six important priorities:

Priority 1: Take Charge of Your Class

  • Even if you are overcome with stage fright, you must conquer your personal feelings and pretend to be confident and self-assured. Sometimes, by pretending to be confident, you can begin to convince yourself that you are.
  • Have a seating chart ready so that you can show students to their seats and get them started on their opening exercise at once. Have an assignment on the board, or give students a handout as they enter the room.
  • Before the term begins, when you have made up your class rules and expectations, consider having a friend record you presenting them. You can really have fun with this if you film your presentation at the beach, on a boat, or even in your own backyard. When school starts, show the video and give your students a handout on the class expectations to fill in as they watch and listen.

Priority 2: Calm Your Students’ Fears

  • Stand at the door of your classroom and welcome students to your class. Wear a bright name tag. Make sure to prominently display your name and room number so that students and their parents can be sure that they are in the right place.
  • Look happy to see every student. Greet each one pleasantly, using his or her name if you can.
  • Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important lesson you will teach all year. In many ways, it is. Your students should feel not only that they learned something interesting but that they will continue to learn something in your class every day.

Priority 3: Introduce Yourself

  • Although it may seem obvious, it is important to introduce yourself to your students on the first day of class. Because you want the first day of class to go well and because you want to control the amount of wild speculation about you, the new teacher, you should introduce yourself. You should be comfortable telling your students

    • How to spell your last name
    • Your title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr.)
    • Where you went to college
    • Where you grew up
    • Why you are looking forward to working with them
    • The positive things you have heard about them
    • The positive things you have heard about the school
    • What your favorite subject was in school
    • Why you chose to be a teacher

Priority 4: Engage Your Students’ Minds

  • Design fast-paced, interesting instruction that will appeal to students with a variety of learning styles and engage their critical thinking skills.
  • Consider a lesson that will allow you to assess your students’ readiness levels as well as give them an overview of the skills they will learn or the material that they will cover during the term. Make sure that the lesson is one that encourages them to be active and not just one that requires them to listen passively.
  • Include a brief homework assignment to reinforce the day’s work and to get students into the habit of doing homework for your class.

Priority 5: Begin To Teach The Class Routines

  • Teaching acceptable school behavior is part of what teachers do and is certainly part of what students expect from their teachers. For example, when it is time for students to turn in the day’s written assignment, show them the procedure for passing in papers that you will expect them to follow.
  • If students lack supplies to do the assignment, lend them what they need for class and gently remind them that they will need to have paper and a pencil in the future.
  • Keep any reprimands very low-key. Stick to gentle reminders instead.

Priority 6: Begin To Build a Classroom Community

  • Even on the first day of class, your students will view themselves as members of a classroom group. You can enhance this natural tendency by using inclusive words such as our or us when referring to the class.
  • Ask for their help in routine tasks such as passing out materials, tidying the room at the end of an activity, or in helping each other.
  • Take time for at least one ice-breaker activity so that students can get to know their classmates. You will find more information about this later in this section.