To teachers and students alike, the first day of school is a memorable day. We plan for it and can’t sleep because of it and build it up in our minds until it seems like the most important day EVER! And while it may not be quite as impactful as we think, the first day can set the tone for the rest of the school year. With that in mind, here are four things educators should definitely avoid doing on that special first day.
Make It All About You
The first day of a new school year is the perfect time to make sure that the students know everything there is to know about you, their teacher: your interests, hobbies, previous life, family, favorite books and music, pet peeves, vacations, and rules. They’ve probably been dying all summer to learn about you. So spend all of the first day telling the kids about yourself. After all, it’s not like the school was designed for them, now, is it?
Instead, speak as little as you possibly can the first day. Make it about the students. Let them speak. What are they excited about? What do they want to accomplish this year? What worries do they have? How can you help them achieve their dreams? Plan activities that will allow them to express their goals and hopes and fears and that will let them get more comfortable with each other and you. (For ideas, check out this blog.)
Read the Handbook and Go Over the Rules
Even if students have attended your school before, it is still critical that you go over all of the rules and “don’ts” on the very first day. Everyone knows that kids can be wild, and you don’t want to have any discipline problems this year. So be firm and detailed in what they should not do. While doing this, make sure not to smile. Note: It’s especially effective if you make the students copy the rules from the handbook into their journals.
Instead, realize that they probably know most of the rules already, even if this is their first time at school. Let this new day be about beginnings and not about punishments. If you must mention the rules, then use these:
- Do the right thing.
- Do the best you can.
- Show people you care.
After all, isn’t that what all of the other rules boil down to?
Tell Them What They Will Learn This Year
The students have been anxiously waiting to find out what new pieces of literature they will read this year, what different types of math problems they will have to solve, and what ancient histories they will be required to learn about. This can most effectively be done the first day of school by handing out an exhaustive syllabus, written in size 10 font, that includes homework, major projects, and test dates for the entire year. You want to share with them your love of Hamlet, the Pythagorean Theorem, or biology and thrill them with what they must do in order to achieve a passing grade. Note: It is also very helpful at this time to mention THE TEST that they must take and pass at the end of the year in order to move to the next grade.
While it is our job as educators to know what content standards must be addressed each year in school, it is the right of the students to determine what they want to learn. What are they interested in and how can that be tied to the curriculum? What are they passionate about? (Passion = interest and engagement, which means they are more likely to learn.) What learning do they need in order to achieve their goals? Instead of telling students that they will need to know all of this information to pass THE TEST, let them tell you how they think they could use the content, how it might make their lives and futures better, and what it might lead to for them.
Keep Them Seated and Quiet
The research is very clear that children can only learn when they are sitting still and keeping quiet. So get them ready for learning this year by not allowing any talking the first day. Yes, they’ve been away from their friends all summer, and yes, it’s hard for anyone to still perfectly still for eight hours. But absolute chaos will result if you let them move around or speak to each other. Besides, how can they hear the pearls of wisdom you are provided to them if they are talking?
Instead, make the first day (and most of the days after it) active and engaging. Since they want to talk, give them reflection questions to answer with their peers and help them get started thinking about what they can accomplish this year, what their strengths are, and how they can best learn. Give them teaser activities to get them excited about what they’ll be learning. Include icebreakers that get them moving. You might even allow them to rearrange the furniture as needed for conversation. Learning doesn’t happen in isolation, after all.
The first day of school is the perfect day to let the students know how very much they mean to you. Be honest and tell them how excited you are to be their teacher. Show them that you care. Understand them enough to fill their day with fun and excitement. Make sure that they know that you believe in them and in what they can do. And let the joy of learning bubble up inside of you and fill them completely. Then you and they will have an AMAZING year!