By Andrew Hawk
For teachers, students, and parents, the first day of school is one of the most influential days of the year. First-year teachers will face emotions ranging from fear to excitement. Veteran teachers will be excited to try ideas they developed during the summer. Teachers on the verge of retirement may feel reflective as they remember first days of years gone by. Everywhere (except in school districts that have a balanced calendar), students will shake off the dust of summer vacation and fill our schools. Here are some things that teachers should accomplish before the end of this exciting and busy day.
Do a Getting-to-Know-You Activity
I have also heard these activities called icebreakers. Students come in on the first day feeling a little anxious—especially students who are attending a new school. A great icebreaker is the perfect way to help everyone relax. Which icebreaker you choose will depend on your grade level, but try to go beyond simply having students stand up and say their name and something they like. Icebreakers should be fun and help ease the tension of the first day. Making the icebreaker a standard oral report will have the opposite effect.
Establish Classroom Procedures and Routines
Effective classrooms have procedures for everything, from what to do if you need a pencil to how to line up to go to art class. Procedures tell students what they can and cannot do during the day. When an outsider enters a classroom, it quickly becomes obvious if the teacher has effectively established his or her procedures and routines. Teaching students your classroom procedures can be time-consuming. I recommend breaking these up throughout the day to prevent students’ attention from waning. Be sure to match your explanations with opportunities for practice or student-led demonstrations. Verbal explanations are quickly forgotten by many people of all ages.
Review Your Behavior Plan
Many teachers have heard the old saying, “Don’t let your students see you smile until Christmas!” Even if this cliché is new to you, the message is clear: Start out stern to establish control of your class. However, the truth is that consistency can go a lot further than sternness. Establish an effective behavior plan and implement it consistently. I always recommend keeping behavior plans as simple as your situation allows. Some teachers like to develop the plan as a class. Giving students a say in rules and consequences can help them take ownership of classroom behavior.
Pre-Assess Reading, Writing, and Math
Even if you have reviewed your students’ files, it’s hard to predict what knowledge has slid to the side over the summer. Keep your pre-assessments short and to the point. Math should be a few problems covering the material students should have mastered during their previous year of learning. Writing offers a great opportunity to kick off the year with a fun writing prompt or story starter, such as “If I were principal for a day I would . . .” Reading is a little trickier to pre-assess quickly. I usually pass out a grade level reading passage with a few comprehension questions.
Complete a Confidence-Building Math Assignment
Mathematics can cause students a lot of stress. When I was completing my bachelor’s degree, my Methods of Teaching Mathematics professor recommended making the first math assignment, lesson, or activity of the school year something that students will be able to master easily. This helps build students’ confidence and sets the tone for the rest of the school year.
Let Students Select a Book for Pleasure Reading
If it is your day to go to the school library, great! If not, have students select a book from your classroom library. I require students to read at home as a daily homework assignment. Because of that, book selection on the first day is something that I prioritize.
Complete a Group Activity
It’s never too soon to start developing your classroom community. A great group activity is the perfect way to start things off on the right foot. I usually review the classroom procedures by breaking students into groups and having them act out the right or wrong ways to do things in our classroom. Groups nearly always choose to illustrate the wrong ways, and the whole class has a good time correcting their peers in a whole-group discussion afterward.
Whether this is your first first day of school or your last, I hope you have a great start to your school year!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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