No matter if this is your first year of teaching or your fortieth, the first day/week of school can be overwhelming. Here are some tips that just might help you survive those first challenging days.
Before the first day:
- Plan the first and most important day minute by minute… and then have more activities or fun Read Alouds in your “back pocket” for any unexpected down time. (I write an abbreviated version of the minute-by-minute schedule on a large index card for quick reference throughout the day.) This should counteract the spinning head/panic that might otherwise occur!
- Create a temporary rug placement chart or desk chart using any information you have about your new students.
- Use lined chart paper and write large headlines on each paper, such as When I Arrive At School; Before Recess; Lining Up For Recess; Walking in a Line, etc. You can co-create the behavior rules/expectations charts throughout the first day of school. The charts can then be posted on the walls for the first weeks.
- Put up simple bulletin board headliners for each subject area that can stay up all year. I like to create phrases: Super Scientists, Future Authors of America, Math Detectives, Got A Problem?
- Organize and label all the folders
- Label all the school supplies, book boxes, etc., with student names
- Put names on the discipline card pockets (or your our own system) for use on the first day
- Copy all student paperwork for the first week (at least) and stack it up in order of use.
- Have name tags, books, temporary folded desk/name tags, first day fun packets, etc., organized on top of student desks. (I use packing tape to mount laminated student desk identifiers on desk top book boxes instead of right on the desks. They will last all year and not peel off! I use the smaller ones that have room for a small photo of the student along with the student’s name. I save the large, fold-up name tags for substitutes.)
First Day/Week Tips:
- Keep your schedule handy on an index card.
- Focus on the students! Give each student a hug and wear a huge smile. All children deserve to feel welcomed, loved, and appreciated for who they are!
- If you feel nervous or uptight, take a deep breath, slow down, and act like everything is under control. The power of positive thinking works.
- I have the students get started right away on a fun packet of activities. Here are some ideas:
- While students are quietly working, I go around the room and take photos of each child (to be used for bulletin boards and name tags.) I greet and reassure the parents, take attendance, guide late students to their spots in the room, take a breath, etc.
- A lot of the first day is sensing when it is time to move on to the next item on the schedule. Be flexible!
- Before you have the students transition to the next item on the schedule, give explicit instructions and model when you can.
- Try to do as much as you can of the yearlong daily routines, such as: Calendar, Number of the Day, Problem of the Day, etc.
- Work together on the behavior rules/expectations charts.
- Use a soft, calm voice to set the tone of the classroom atmosphere.
- Use your discipline system from the get-go. Your goal is to make things as real and routine as possible from the beginning.
- Do a fun art or P.E. activity on the first day. I like to use a big bubble maker as a P.E. activity outside for my second graders. I call off numbers and children try to pop as many bubbles as they can!
- At the end of the busy day, read aloud a funny book and lavish praise on your new family of students! I hand out inexpensive medals or certificates to every student. All students deserve to end their first day on a positive, happy note!
My final advice after teaching for more than thirty-five years:
Make it as real and routine as quickly as possible!
For example, it is easy to put off the challenging training involved in the rotations and routines. So, I start the all-important flexible Guided Reading groups on the Monday of the first full week of school. So much anecdotal information can be obtained about each student’s reading needs during the group time. I usually have three or four groups: one group remains at their seats doing Daily Work such as Evan-Moor daily practice lessons; one group is at the computers; one group is selecting and reading Independent Reading books; and one is meeting with me for Guided Reading.
Remember: get the routines flowing and the hard work will pay off down the road!
Alice Evans is a forty-year veteran National Board Certified elementary classroom teacher and is a published author. She recently retired from the San Diego Unified School District.