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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

Darcy Hill's picture
Darcy Hill
Creative Drama and Music Teacher Pre-K through 5th Grade

So important to be reminded of the importance of the first day. It's a brand new start on so many levels for each and everyone in the classroom, and in that new start there is new hope and a new promise. Thank you for your very insightful words. Many years in the classroom have taught me much, as well. Please see "New School Year, New Start..." at http://imaginationcollaborationteacher.blogspot.com.

Josephina's picture
preschool teacher from New York City

Thank you for your post . You shared some great ideas that I can use on a yearly basis. Thank you for sharing.

Camilia's picture
EC-6 Generalist

Before the first day!
Did you ever have a parent teacher conference before the first day of school in any of the 28 yrs of teaching. I have this idea that meeting the parents the weekend before will help me establish a relationship between each individual family. I'd like to hand out profiles of some type to get to know the students, how they learn, the parents and how they work their view on education etc.

Shakevia Hines's picture
Shakevia Hines
Preservice Teacher

This article was amazing. One of my biggest fears is that I will make a total fool out of myself on the first day of school. This defiantly gave me some ideas that i can use. Also your getting to know you activities were a great touch as well.

Cha'Mario Chopp-Samuels's picture

I love, love, love this article! Number seven is definitely my top favorite. One thing I hate most is not having a plan. Thank you for providing links to start the year, and everyday off right. I am in the process of obtaining my bachelors degree in early childhood education, and am interested in teaching third grade. As you may know third grade is when students first begin to take the STAAR test, so I know I'll be super nervous!

Monique Kimbrough's picture

My name is Monique and I am currently a college student. I will be preparing for my "First Day of School" in about a year. This article was helpful especially when it talked about planning for thee day. I think that is extremely important to know how I would like my day to go. Your tips were wonderful!!!!! I know the first days are hectic and all you can do is be prepared. Keeping a clean slate is important and not passing judgment is essential. I think I will be excited about the first day of school. I cant wait to decorate my class with all kinds of pretty welcoming things. Thank you for your helpful tips.

Shaleetha Jackson's picture

I'm a pre-service teacher here at Prairie View A&M University where we produce productive people. I'm already nervous for my first day and I haven't even graduated yet. I learned on today that your first impression in everything. You have about one minute to make a first impression with your students. The first day is everything. I'm glad my teacher led me to this blog to help me to prepare for my first day.

Antoinette's picture

I absolutely love this mini preparation manual, because as I am preparing for my first day in the classroom as the teacher not the student. This day will be phenomenal. With your teks I will take them and utilize them to make sure I am prepared for the special first day.

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?

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