After fourteen years as an educator, I still get excited on the first day. The start of my 15th year in a few weeks will be monumental, as I am transitioning back to teaching after ten years as an administrator. From experience seeing hundreds of teachers start their year, I have gathered and would like to share what makes a lasting impression on both students and administration.
Teachers who dress-up for the first day of school always elicit the best first impression on students and the rest of the faculty. Male teachers who matched my professional attire (long sleeve shirt and tie with slacks) as an assistant principal caught my attention. So did female teachers who wore a business casual or even formal wear. Your clothes on the first day of the school speak volumes about you! They tell others whether or not you care about your students. If your students are wearing their new back-to-school clothes, and you receive them in your room looking sloppy, what are they going to think about you?
Never let people see you frantic. People can tell when you are unprepared, whether or not you can manage to keep it together. However, the average person who is unprepared is unable to control their panic. If you’re running around, making calls to the office asking for assistance when things were previously spelled out for you, sending students to the office to make worksheet copies, and/or referring students to the office for misbehavior, you can consider your first day of school a disaster. Your composure will be on a microscope, and you need to smile back, even when tested, at the person looking through the lens.
Your lesson on the first day of school should not be homogeneous. I’ve seen many teachers who simply passed out their class syllabus and spent the remainder of the period talking about its content. A great first day of school lesson incorporates various activities. A starter (warm-up) question on the board, e.g., “What’s one fun or cool thing you did this summer?” will get the ball rolling. Instead of having one or two students answer this question out-loud, have students turn to a table partner or the person on their right/left and shared their response. Give each person 30 seconds. This teaching strategy, where you relinquish control for a set amount of time, is all about confidence in your abilities. Anyone who sees you do this technique will know you are a confident teacher.
Another activity you can have students do is a person scavenger hunt or what is more aptly named: Find Someone Who. Give students a worksheet containing a set of descriptions, and they are to go around the room finding other students who fit these descriptions.
Teachers make the mistake of believing the first day of school is about them. Wrong! The first day is all about your students. You will have the remainder of the first week to discuss your rules and expectations, grading policy, and do your first content-based lesson. Your first-day lesson should include active opportunities for your students to get to know your room’s layout indirectly, and their peers, directly. You can still provide visual clues to other aspects about you as a teacher.
• Have a lesson plan clipboard. Are you in need of a lesson plan template? The best veteran teachers have not stopped writing out lessons. Carry and refer to it on the first day, so your student and any visitor can see you are prepared.
• Tape numbers down on your desk or tables. Students will see these numbers on day one and gather that they are reflective of some seating scheme.
• Have your class rules posted on a chart or poster where everyone can see them. If you would rather do an activity where your students decide what the rules and expectations should be, giving them input, then have the chart or poster title written out only, e.g., “Our Class Expectations.”
• Have pictures of you and your family, or images of hobbies you enjoy doing. This says to your students and visitors that you are a person with a life outside of teaching.
I have seen how great teachers use the momentum of the first day of school to run a fun and structured class for the remainder of the year. The first day of school has the weight of an elephant, and you want to make sure you can harness all of this mass to facilitate learning until the last day of school. So take the time to be at your best on day one. Your career depends on it!