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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 (41)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shenice's picture

The "Don't Judge/ Clean Slate" portion of your blog stood out to me like sore a thumb because I have witnessed on so many occasions teachers and people in general writing off children due to past experiences and it just hurts my heart! Children are constantly growing and evolving ; it is destined for them to make mistakes at some point! The proper thing for a teacher to do is support her students, and love them unconditionally not judge them!

Terron W's picture

I very much enjoyed what was shared in this post however it reminds me of a concern that I often have. As a preservice teacher going into music education(band) I find it difficult to relate to my classroom setting. Frankly I just feel left out because of what seems to be a great shortage of materials like this for music educators. Is there any advice for the future music educator?

Rachel Weathers's picture

As a pre-service teacher, I really enjoyed this blog because although I am still in college, I already have a fear of my first day of school, especially my first first day of school. This really gave me a comforting feeling and eased a lot of my fears for that first day. I also liked the links you included as well. Many times I read articles where teachers are using out dated techniques to engage with students on that first day instead of new exciting and creative ways to establish a great teacher/student relationship on the first day of school. Thank you for sharing ideas!

Brandi Smith's picture

I will be preparing for my first day of school soon, and this article really helped me. I loved the tips especially the one about having classroom mailbox, I feel that would be great throughout the whole school year to distribute information. Another idea I like was the photopeach idea it would be a great way for the students to get to know the teacher. Thanks for the tips, cant wait to see how my first day will be.

Valencia's picture

As a pre-service teacher you have given me an outline for the first day of school that will set the tone for the rest of the year. Establishing a foundation on the first day will be the outcome for the child's experience after returning home. My niece didn't enjoy her first day of school because she said her teacher talked too much and didn't let her get to respond with her ideas. So she had a bad first experience being in first grade on the first day. I think these tips will help with my classroom when I become a teacher. In class this morning my classmates and I engaged in your photopeach slideshow and assessed your photos to get the right answer. We enjoyed answering the questions and getting them right!
Thank You for your tips

Michael Woods's picture
Michael Woods
Future middle school math teacher from Houston, Texas.

Thanks for the manual or steps for having a successful and efficient first day. I really enjoyed the different ways to setup your classroom before you actually met your students; this will conserve a lot of time to implement your rules and expectations for that school year.

Taylor Blair's picture

This blog was right on time, I am currently a student-teacher candidate and will be preparing for my first day of school as a teacher here in the near future. All the information shared is really simple but very helpful. This blog has helped bring the small things to the forefront that can help make your first day of school go as smooth as possible.

Krystal's picture

This is so beneficial and helpful. I am excited for my first day one day when that time comes. I am a student teacher going into the High school setting, Mathematics. So far it has been going well. Everyday is something different and exciting, the attitudes from the different classes are so diverse. The first day is like a pre-test. It's the second week of school that drives the motive and begins the test. These are great tips.

Shawna Fields's picture

This is a very insightful post. As a pre-service teacher I found the tips listed above to be helpful in my future classroom. It is important to make a good first impression. I want to develop high expectations for my students, but I also want my students to feel welcome in my classroom. I am looking forward to creating a positive learning environment that my students will never forget. I appreciate your 28 years of dedication to education!

Shawna Fields

Ms. Jordan's picture
Ms. Jordan
4h Grade Math Teacher

I totally love this post on the seven tips to help new/future teacher like myself to make a good first impression on the first day of school. I will be definitely using these steps to get me through my first day. - Thanks

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