Starting Off Strong: The First Day of School
Veteran teachers know that the first few days of school are critical, so here are a few strategies that I use to set my class up for success!
1. Set the Tone
For most of our students, the classroom is the only professional environment that they're exposed to. Because of this, some of my strategies may seem rigid, but remember that the first few days set the tone for the entire year. Also, it’s easy to start out firm and relax later, according to the classroom dynamic.
• Wear professional attire – Taking extra care to dress up during the first few weeks of school will give you an edge when you’re explaining rules and procedures. It sends a message of confidence and authority. For those who like to dress more casually to relate to the kids, remember that it’s always easier to get more relaxed as the year progresses than the other way around.
• Create order from the very beginning – On my very first day teaching, I took over a class midway through the year that had a reputation for unruliness. Instead of allowing students to straddle into class and carry on conversations until the bell, I asked them to wait outside. As soon as the bell rang I opened the door, greeted them with a smile and explained how I wanted them to enter the class. Students came in, found their numbered mailboxes and sat in newly assigned seats. At the end of the year they told me that it felt like a new first day of school. They mentioned that they could just feel that the class was going to be organized.
• Prepare seamless transitions – Have student contracts and handouts already placed on desks, but have them turned over and ask students not to review them until you say to. Make sure that rules and procedures are already posted so that you don’t have to write them on the board as you go over them. Most teachers know that long transitions result in side conversations - something that you don't want on the first day.
• Explain the reasoning behind your rules – Many teachers tell students what the rules are without explaining how they apply outside of school. Go into depth about what would happen to an employee who is constantly late for work or who disrespects others. Students need to know that we give them rules not because we hate them, but because we care about them. Create a sense of “we're in this together” and let them know that like good parents, you're firm because you care.
2. Create Routines Immediately
Educational experts estimate that new classes take roughly a week to internalize routines and procedures in the beginning of the year, but up to three weeks in the middle of the year. Focus on teaching students how your class works before teaching them content.
• Teach your procedures – Good teachers differentiate and assess for understanding of content right? Then why don’t we do the same thing for foundational classroom procedures? In my Read 180 classroom, students rotate in three separate groups. When I first teach them how to rotate, we actually practice as a class until it can be done quickly and seamlessly. It may seem childish, but at least a few students always forget what to do or end up forgetting to bring the correct materials. By practicing and internalizing the routines immediately, it helps me to focus on content rather than management during the rest of the year.
• Have a daily routine posted – A good class should be able to get started with minimal or no instruction from the teacher. For instance, after a week my goal is to have students come in, get their materials and begin working on their own. I’ve actually had substitutes tell me that the class runs itself. It’s not because I’ve always had perfectly behaved students (far from it), but rather because they always knew what the regular routine was.
• Make a student friendly whiteboard – Use electric tape to section off portions of your whiteboard for dedicated purposes. That way, students always know where to look to see the daily learning goal, homework, agenda and important notes.
Lastly, be ready to learn and adapt. No two classes are alike, so be ready to try out new procedures and get rid of ones that don’t work. What worked last year might not this year and what didn’t work before might be your key to success.
There’s so much to talk about that can't hope to fit it all in a single post, but hopefully you’ve found some of these tips helpful! Comments and feedback are welcome, so please share your thoughts so that we can all grow as educators!
Rosemead High School
El Monte Union High School District