Planning should be on the top agenda to make your first day at school a great one.
There is a common mistake teachers make on the first day of school that sets in motion bad student habits and misbehaviours that can last the rest of the school year. But this one particular mistake will be responsible for scores of teachers getting off to a disastrous classroom management start—one many will never recover from. And what makes this mistake most troubling is its deviousness. It’s a sneaky little thing, harmless in appearance and barely noticeable. Most teachers won’t even know they made a mistake, let alone one so spectacular, until weeks later when it hits them like a splash of cold water to the face.
And the mistake of course is ever going back on your word. If you say it, if you ask your students of it, then you must back it up with action. Otherwise, your students aren’t going to trust you, believe in you, and have reason to listen to you, or be inspired by you. What they will do, though, is run right over you.
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.
Whenever your students don’t give you what you want, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, stop your class, ask for and then wait for their attention, and then ask them to do again.
Do this whenever they fail to live up to your expectations. Before long, pursuing excellence, both behaviourally and academically, will become a habit they can’t shake. And you’ll be one happy and effective teacher.
We’re teachers! We aced all our education courses, know the subject matter in and out, know the names and philosophies of many educational theorists, and achieved a pretty good respect. You finally have an actual job and an official class list. There’s only one problem. The first day of school is drawing near and you have no idea what to do. Are you really ready to face that first day?
Planning is the secret to success in any new endeavour. But for this particular one, don’t just plan, over plan. Don’t just prepare, over prepare. Don’t just write enough lesson plans to fill one class or a single day. Write more than enough!
The secret to success is in the details when it comes to planning ahead.
Use the check-list below to help you with any details you might have overlooked in planning for your first day at school as the teacher.
MAKE YOURSELF READY
There are a few personal items that can help you make it through the year. They include:
A Diary – Write down your thoughts about the day’s events. Take some time at the end of each day to do this. If there was a lesson that went especially well, or bad? Why that happened? Any discipline problem occurred which was difficult to handle? How did you handle it? What was the result? What successes did you experience? Did you receive any compliments? The diary will help you identify what works and what doesn’t work, as the year progresses which will help you find alternate strategies. It will also document your growth as a teacher, something you may not recognise otherwise.
A Personal Appointment Calendar – The date book will come in handy for reminding yourself of any meetings, etc. More importantly, it can be used to document the unscheduled events that crop up during the day, and often come back to haunt you weeks later. You might think you’ll never forget the day when a parent called to complain about your discipline policies, or that someone just stopped in to request an evaluation, or what you did when some student hit the other one on the playground. But you will! Jot it down immediately in your date book. And keep the date book in, not on, your desk!
A Very Personal Kit (Optional) – Store (out of reach of students!) a personal teacher survival kit. Include such items as a small sewing kit, safety pins, bandages, snacks, tea bags, bottled water, breath mints, tissues, hand sanitizer, a scarf and any other items that will make bad days and minor catastrophes a little easier to deal with. None of those things are absolutely necessary to your success as a teacher, of course, but having them handy will make your life a lot less stressful. Have a sturdy bag to keep it all in.
Confidence breeds competence. You’ll feel a lot better about facing that first day of school if you take the time to become familiar with the school and with the people you’ll be working with. Before school starts.
Know your School Building and Ground – Sure you will go on a quick tour after school opens, but how much will you absorb, or remember? Take the time before school starts to retrace your steps. Locate the bathrooms (not just the one closest to your classroom!), the play area, the cafeteria and the waiting room. Find the audio-visual equipment and supply closet and ask about checkout procedures. Take notes or draw yourself a map.
Have a look at School Website – This can provide valuable information about the school and community, as well as insight into what’s expected of students and teachers.
Get to know School policies and Procedures – Make sure no procedure is unclear to you. Learn the reasons for any policies that may not make sense. Every school has its own history and problems. Make yourself better equipped to follow policies and procedures correctly. This will happen if you understand the reasoning behind them.
School Support Staff is Important too – They’re the best friends a new teacher can have. Introduce, or re-introduce, yourself. Remember names. Make it clear you expect to make mistakes at first and that you know they might be inconvenienced. Ask how you can make their lives easier.
You need a Friend – Find a friend. Let other teachers know about you in brief. Be open to suggestions and be eager to learn. Then choose any teacher you like. See if he or she would clarify your doubts and gives some friendly advises.
PREPARE YOUR CLASSROOM
Your classroom will be your second home. It will reflect your personality, your educational philosophy, and your goals for your students. How do you do that? Consider some of these suggestions.
Bulletin Board – Reserve them for displaying student work. Depending on the grade level of your students, you might want to designate one bulletin board as a calendar board, which will remain constant throughout the year. For older students, consider setting aside a section of a bulletin board for posting the day’s schedule, objectives, class assignments, homework, and upcoming events. Another section of the same board could hold a running assignment log and a handout folder (for students who are absent).
Setting up the Classroom – Arrange Desks properly, Depending on your individual teaching style. You may assign seats, at least initially to help you learn students’ names, to establish mutual respect, and to maintain classroom control.
You need Student Supplies too – Depending on your students, you may need paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, construction paper, rulers, or calculators. You’ll also need textbooks and possibly workbooks. Be sure to count them!
You need Teacher Supplies also – You may probably need pens and markers, a stapler and staples, paper clips, tape, rubber bands and plan book.
Although not, strictly speaking, part of preparing your classroom, this is also a good time to:
Check and Review Lesson Plans – Obtain all necessary materials for your first day’s lesson plan
What Materials Students will take Home the First Day – These might include a calendar showing the class specials schedule and upcoming events, a syllabus, and a homework assignment.
Books out of the School or Library – Whatever is the grade level of the students, start a habit of reading aloud to your students for a few minutes each day.
PREPARE YOUR STUDENTS’ PARENTS
Establishing rapport and a cooperative working relationship with parents is essential to any teacher, but it’s especially important to the first-year teacher, whose inexperience may be an issue for some parents. You can get off on the right foot by taking help from school administration in this regard.
Be sure to have your principal, mentor teacher, or another veteran teacher to help you out in any activity you plan to carry out. They know the community and school policies better than you do and are in a better position to evaluate whether your approach is effective and appropriate.
THE BIG DAY
You’re as ready as you’ll ever be! Now what?
- Arrive early! Give the classroom one last check. Turn on the lights and open the windows.
- Greet students at the door. Introduce yourself and welcome them with a smile!
- As students arrive, hand them an assignment and ask them to get started immediately, if it’s applicable on the very first day.
- Review, explain, and discuss school rules and procedures.
- Work together to develop a list of classroom rules and consequences.
- As you move through the day, explain and practice class routines.
- Discuss class or individual goals and expectations. Students enjoy hearing this and discussing.
- Try to include an activity that provides opportunities for students to interact or problem-solve.
- Congratulate yourself on a job well done!