I've had first days in the classroom that were pure poetry and others that were pure... well, you know. There's things out of our control that can make that first day a tough one for sure. But there's also things we can do beforehand to set the stage for success.
As I reflect, those great first days were usually after a summer where I spent extra time setting up, designing bordering for student work displays, dusting each individual book in the classroom library, fine-tuning and perfecting those beginning lessons: the handouts, the pacing, and the mini-lessons.
And then there's been a few times where I really, I mean really, dove headfirst into enjoying my summer, returning from an island or road trip just days before the start of the new school year.
And you know what? Both scenarios are great.
Although we're probably a lot less nervous that first day the more prepared we are. I also know students will have a better initial impression of me with that first scenario.
If we are rested, relaxed, and ready it will show, and it helps keep the kids calm and focused. (And let's face it, as anxious as we teachers are that first day, the students are much more nervous than we could ever imagine.)
And oh, those first impressions -- they stick like gum on hot asphalt. So here are some tips for giving the best impression, Day One:
#1 Organized, Tidy, and Ready
This will immediately stand out to students. Wow, supplies are all organized and labeled, books are on shelves, and look at her desk! Everything has its place and all is in order.
Be sure to also have ready your procedures and hard rules (no gum chewing or cell phones) so you can share them at the very start of the day. This will avoid that preventable and awkward moment with a new student.
#2 Too Much and Too Many of Everything
Make extra copies, just in case. There is really nothing worse than being one or two copies short. Panic! Need name tags or construction paper? Get the x-large pack (you can use the leftovers for another project). Have a surplus of pens/pencils handy for those kids who have already misplaced or lost theirs.
#3 Over Plan the Lesson
Timing is everything. And the last thing you want is for there to be six minutes left before the lunch bell and have little to nothing for students to do. You don't want them to see you scrambling for a sponge activity not connected to the prior teaching. So over plan the day. And the best part about this? You'll have most of the next lesson already done.
If your "welcome to this class" speech includes new material (a new procedure or content -- something you've never introduced before), practice. If you are a new teacher, this is imperative. By rehearsing, this gives you an idea on pacing, one the greatest challenges for most beginning teachers.
If you are using technology, arrive early to make sure all is in place and working.
#5 Be Ready for Anything and Everything
Don't think you will need the dean's phone extension that first day, or that replenished first-aid kit, or have to directly address name-calling with a student five minutes after the bell? We wish, but unfortunately, it happens. I had the experience one first day of breaking up a fight between two students -- such a bummer, but sometimes a sad fact. Students will be impressed if something goes awry and you handle it quickly, with wisdom and grace.
#6 Dress to Impress
I'm not the type of teacher who wears business attire. I'm too active in the classroom for that to be comfortable for me. However, that first week I do spruce it up a bit, dressing more on the professional side than I typically do the rest of the year. I want to send a message that I am very serious when it comes to the business of learning and thinking.
How about our first impressions of students?
That first day, a student sometimes enters the room too loudly, says something slightly abrasive, or ignores an instruction. Then comes Tuesday morning, and it's my job to wipe the slate clean. Modeling forgiveness and kindness and giving a kid a second (third, fourth...) chance is part of the job of a teacher.
Over the years, I've also heard a good number of teachers talk about how they don't like to get any information from former teachers about incoming students. I was one of those teachers as well. Every child deserves a chance to make a new first impression.
Please share with us your strategies and best practices for that first day of school.