Like other "first days" in your life, your first day as a new teacher in your own middle-school classroom will have you feeling excited and anxious in equal measures. Don't worry too much, though. Even experienced teachers feel anxious about facing new students at the beginning of each school year. Just take a deep breath, look around your newly decorated classroom, double-check those lessons plans, and remind yourself of all you've done to get the year off to a successful start. These school-year startup strategies will help you make a positive first impression.
1. Establish expectations regarding behavior, culture, policies, and procedures on the first day. When you set limits, you help your students understand how the class works. Limits allow your students to feel comfortable and safe, so they can focus on learning and enjoying the class. Here are some suggestions on setting the right tone:
- Discuss and clarify policies about attendance, homework, electronic devices, missing work, and hall passes.
- Post policies and procedures in your classroom so that they are always readily available.
- Define consequences in positive terms. Instead of saying "If you come to class late I will not accept your homework," say "I only accept homework that is turned in on time."
- Assess students' understanding of the policies and procedures by creating a quiz.
- Practice what you preach by following your own policies and explaining reasons and consequences.
- Refine and reiterate expectations as each new semester begins. Keep what works for you, and eliminate or modify what doesn't.
2. Communicate and apply expectations clearly and consistently. The opening days define you as a teacher — what you do and say should agree. Otherwise, you send mixed messages, and students will quickly learn not to trust your words. In those opening weeks:
- Begin each day by reviewing the relevant policies or procedures for class.
- Come prepared each day with challenging assignments that you can model and explain. This demonstrates your commitment to each student's success in your class.
- Follow through on any policies regarding missing work or tardiness from the first day. If, for example, you say you do not accept late work, make no exceptions beginning the first day.
- Be well-organized and consistent in how your class works, so students learn what to expect and how to satisfy those expectations.
3. Get to know each other through academic and social activities. Some of your students' most important first impressions revolve around whether or not they feel secure in your classroom. Will I feel comfortable participating in discussions? Will anyone make fun of me? Will my opinion matter? To achieve this trust, give students a chance to get to know each other, learn more about their inner selves, and you, too. Here are some ways to accomplish this.
- Write a letter to your class or send them each an e-mail.
- Involve students in icebreaker activities.
- Have students decorate their class binders with images and words that are important to them. Then provide students time to share and discuss the binders as a way to introduce themselves to each other.
- Ask students to complete a student interest survey (PDF) and then discuss some of their answers during class. Sample questions for a student-interest survey could include:
- Favorite online activity?
- Best place you've ever visited?
- Best book you've ever read?
- Other languages spoken?
- Extracurricular activities or sports?
- Favorite online activity?
- Share a few interesting details about yourself, so your students can see you are willing to let them get to know you a little. The information should not be overly personal or revealing. Basic information on which sports teams you cheer for, what kind of recreational activities you enjoy, pets you have, and favorite books or inspiring movies are enough to satisfy their curiosity.
4. Dress, act, and speak like a caring, serious professional. The most important daily test teachers must pass is the "dinner table test." Most days students go home to family members who ask about their day in school. Everything we do or say as teachers should make sense to interested family members when they hear about it. Cultivate this professional persona by paying attention to the following:
- Dress in a way that inspires confidence in you and your teaching.
- Speak in a positive, supportive way without trying to be one of your students. You are there to lead and teach them; they are your students, not your friends.
- Be in class on time and ready to go when the bell rings, so students see that the class has important work to do and that you have come prepared to teach.
- Never talk disparagingly about other classes, students, teachers, or administrators from the past or the present.
- Avoid playing favorites or doing anything that might be seen as embarrassing to a student, such as singling out a student.
- Be a role model and a professional: everything you do teaches your students.
This article was adapted from The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Classroom Management by Jim Burke, © 2008, published by Scholastic, Inc.