Successful First Day of School Sets the Tone
I taught high school English for 26 years and thoroughly loved my career. The difference I saw in the people who loved teaching and the people who were unhappy or had a difficult time with it was that those who loved it established themselves on the first day of school. Students crave guidance and thrive on it. If it is not provided, they are left to their own devices and make some bad choices in the classroom that disrupts the whole learning environment.
Dedicate Time and Thought to Your Classroom Rules and Expectations
Before school starts, write your rules and expectations and make copies for each student. Create a summary of rules and expectations to send home for parents/guardians to sign and return. With expectations out on the table for students, they know what they are dealing with and act accordingly when they come into your classroom each day. Believe it or not, this creates a safe atmosphere for students. If you do not establish these expectations, students will fend for themselves and, more than likely, you will not be respected and will be steamrolled from the beginning to the end of school. This makes a miserable year for you and the students.
Hang Tough: The First Days of School are Stressful
Even though I have had a successful career because of the way I scripted the first day of school each year, having things under control did not allay my anxiety each year. I would work all year and during the summer editing rules and expectations to make things perfect for that first day, but I hated every first day of school because I knew students would think I was the ultimate crank.
I knew that establishing myself would cause them angst about being in my class, and I am the type of person who cannot stand having anyone dislike me. I had to come to the realization that it would only last a week or so. Students would know what to expect and once I saw their behavior in my class and knew the first-day-of-rule-toting worked, I could ease up and be myself and eventually lighten the classroom mood as time passed.
If you start easy and get harder, you have already lost them. That is not to say you should not try to turn it around, but your road will be much more difficult. It is more important that you be students’ constant strength, not the “cool” teacher – that comes later after establishing yourself. Be strong so trust and respect will be the basis for your student/teacher relationship.
It's Okay to Smile, But the First Days are Serious Business
Being strict does not mean being negative and sour. Ages ago, teachers were told not to smile the first week of school. I could never pull that off, not even on the first day. I love kids and have to smile at them. Once PowerPoints and Google Presentations came along, I would hand students the rules and start with an introduction about myself and a class description. I delve into pictures taken over the summer or that captures things I love – I change the pictures each year. They see that I am a real person with love of family, pets, concerts, and travel. Then I move into the rules with fun memes that do not detract from the seriousness of how it was going to work in my classroom.
Once I read my rules or even waited until the next class, I would do class ice breakers and would also participate. For instance, tell students to line up according to birthdays then ask each person to reveal his or her birthday. Once they share, they find common ground with each other. Another fun one is to have students form groups stating whether they do some, a lot, or no chores at home and letting them explain why. There are all types of ice breakers you can use or create, ranging from how many siblings to pets to types of music they love to different extracurricular activities. It gives them a chance to discuss their interest in a controlled environment, and it gives me a chance to learn about them.
Decorate to Reflect Your Classroom Atmosphere
Prepare your room with posters that reflect your rules, respect, and positive, motivational sayings that reach students. Say no to the “playground” work style set up for a “fun” classroom because it can turn on you and be more distracting than helpful. In ever-growing class sizes, you need to become the source of fun and comfort through your passion for teaching and the learning related activities you use or create that stimulate their imaginations.
As an example of my trial and error, I tried placing a couch in the back of the room. Even though I stated they could only sit on it with permission, there were always arguments amongst the same strong-willed groups about sitting on the couch. Sometimes I would come in and 5 or 6 kids would be piled on the couch wrestling for a seat. The quiet kids never got a chance on the couch because they did not want to be the objects of attention in the silly arguments that were typically turned on me accusing me of playing favorites. The couch had to go. No set of rules seemed to deter them from falling into chaos.
It is a Constantly Changing Labor of Love
During your teaching career, you are going to try different things and note which things work and which things that don’t work. You must find your way. The major piece of advice I give to all teachers is to let students know your expectations from the first day of school.
To have a successful school year, you must set yourself up for success.