You Only Get One "First Day of School" | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

It's that time of year again! You wake up in a sweat, shaken from the dream where your clock doesn't go off and you are late. You know what I'm referring to -- "The First Day of School!" Whether veteran or rookie, we all have mixed feelings of excitement and fear about that day.

Thank goodness, it's never as bad as it is in your dreams. My last 28 "first day of school" experiences have been pretty good. As a matter of fact, like a good wine, they have only become better with age.

You probably know that saying, "You only have one chance to make a first impression." Well, you only get one "first day of school." Of course, if you don't do well on the first day, that does not mean you should quit teaching. With that said, here are seven tips to help make a good first impression on that first day.

1. Smile

Guess what? You can even laugh if you want. Hopefully that myth, "Don't smile before December," has been laid to rest. It's OK to let your students know that you are human and have emotions.

2. Dress Up (optional)

I am an old-fashioned type of gal, and my girlfriend teases me mercilessly. But I go out and buy a "first day of school" outfit. I guess it's because I remember my first day of school outfits from my youth. Nothing wrong with looking good on the first day!

3. Be Prepared: It's the Little Things

Don't wait until the students walk into the room to make important decisions that could lead to chaos. Simple things become complicated when you are dealing with 20+ students entering your room for the first time. How are you going to seat your students? A seating chart is a good idea until you get to know your kids. How are you going to distribute all those notices that need to go home? A class mailbox works wonders! How do they go to the bathroom? Signals are a great way to get your attention without disruption. How will they line up when it is time to leave the classroom? Try and think all of these "little things" prior to the first day. If you are new, ask a veteran teacher for help.

4. Develop Expectations

Whatever you choose to call it -- expectations, rules or norms -- make sure you develop them on the first day. Your students need to know what is expected of them from day one. Whether you prefer creating the rules or letting the students develop them, make that part of your first day. Last year, I had my students create the rules, and then create posters on the computer with illustrations depicting each rule. I laminated them and hung them in the room for the entire year.

5. Classroom Management

The first few days are considered the honeymoon period. But sometimes there is no honeymoon. What do you do then? Make sure you have an idea on how you might handle a situation. Set up a buddy teacher in advance. Try using online behavior management tools. My district has moved toward the Responsive Classroom approach, so I will make sure that I'm familiar with it before my students enter my room. Make sure you have a system in place.

6. Have a Plan for the Day

The first day of school is a long day -- teachers and students need to adjust to being back in the classroom. Think about what you are going to do with the day. Most teachers spend the day on rules (norms), routines and icebreakers. Some prefer to stick in lessons. You can do both. Choose a picture book to share that will lead to discussions about issues important to your classroom. Try some "Getting to Know You" activities to start building a family atmosphere. Give students a chance to explore the classroom. If you integrate technology in your classroom, the first day is a perfect day to introduce digital citizenship.

Make this a day to learn about your students, and give your students a chance to learn about you.

7. Don't Judge/Clean Slate

You might have witnessed negative behavior from a particular student last year. Maybe the teacher from last year cornered you and gave you an earful about this child. No matter what, give that student a clean slate, a chance to start fresh. At the end of the school year, I got a note from a student who thanked me for sticking by him even though "he got on my nerves." If I had treated this child according to the behavior he had exhibited in previous years, he would have never have had the amazing year he ended up having. We all deserve a chance to start again.

The first day of school finally ends, and the rest of the year lies before you. Don't worry -- if you didn't "get it right" the first day, you still have many more days ahead of you to improve!

Comments (43)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Chasmin Jenkins's picture

The "develop expectations" and "classroom management" sections of the blog were my favorite because these two factors set the tone for a classroom for the entire year. Throughout my years of schooling, I have had teachers that set high expectations of the students on day 1. By doing this, it allowed me as the student to prepare myself and schedule my days to study and be fully prepared for the class. I feel that setting expectations of students early on, as well as setting the rules of the classroom on day 1 are the keys to running a smooth, functional classroom.

Henry C. Darnell's picture
Henry C. Darnell
4-8 Generalist Pre-Service Teacher Canidate

I really appreciate the article as a whole, because when looking at teaching there are many things that are learned over time and this just helps a lot in debunking some of the myths and rumors that are always passed around. It gives me confidence as a pre servce teacher.

Ms. Roxanne Mejia's picture

Future Science Teacher. Thank you I really enjoyed the different ways to set up and be ready for the first day of class. Also about the clean slate I think that is so important.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

Hi Terron,

I was a music teacher for 4 years for K-6 general, choral, and instrumental (band), and I hear you. Sometimes I felt it was really hard to find resources that related directly to my experience or advice that I could apply to my classroom. One of the things I tried to do was apply classroom advice to a band setting. Most of the advice from this article can be applied in your room. Creating routines is just as important in band as any other classroom. You can search for more music education specific advice on Edutopia, but I also loved using the NAFME site for community and advice: You'll be amongst your fellow music educators and all articles/advice are music ed related.

Best of luck with everything!

Whitlow Stanley's picture
Whitlow Stanley
Special education major @ Prairie View A&M University

As a future educator, I found this information very useful. My favorite is number seven, because many of us tend to hold on to old impressions of a person, without thinking about giving them another chance to redeem themselves. Thank you for sharing this information!

Teresa's picture
Assistant Professor Prairie View A&M University

Mrs. Mims:
Thank you for writing an outstanding blog about the first day of school. I am a professor of pre-service teachers and I used your post to teach my students how to blog. Your blog was very insightful and your wisdom is appreciated. Personally, I loved your photopeach video. I showed it in class and we were all engaged as we viewed each image and each question. The students realized what a wonderful technological tool it could be to engage their own students. Again, thank you for sharing your years of experience and I hope you enjoy reading our "future teachers" comments.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

Teresa, we quite enjoyed the influx of your students. They are an enthusiastic and thoughtful group, and we look forward to their first days as teachers. :-)

leilea0830's picture
Pre-K teacher

As a fairly new educator I found this information very informative and enlightening. I think it is great that veteran teachers take the time out to guide new coworkers especially on the first days of school. This can be a very stressful time for a new teacher just now entering the field.

Lisa Mims's picture
Lisa Mims
5th grade teacher /Education blogger

My district doesn't do this, but the district my son was in did. I loved meeting in his teacher in a casual atmosphere before school started. It does help build on the parent-teacher relationship. Good luck!

Lisa Mims's picture
Lisa Mims
5th grade teacher /Education blogger

@Teresa I apologize for my late response.Thank you so much for your comments. I love the fact that you are exposing your students to the tech that is out there! It really makes a difference in the classroom! Good luck to them all and thank them for the comments!:)

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