It’s official. You’re a teacher! There’s only one problem: the first day of school is drawing near and you have no idea what to do. Are you really ready to face that first terrifying day?
On the first day of school, the secret to success is in the planning. And for this particular endeavour, don’t just plan, over plan. Don’t just prepare, overprepare. Don’t just write enough lessons plans to fill one class or a single day (They never do!). Write more than enough! When it comes to planning ahead, of course, the secret to success is in the details. Use the checklist below to help you with any details you might have overlooked in planning for your first day at school as the teacher.
There are a few personal items that can help you make it through the year. They include:
A diary. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down your thoughts and impressions about the day’s events. Was there a lesson that went particularly well, or particularly badly? Why? Did a difficult discipline problem arise? How did you handle it? What was the result? What successes did you experience? What compliments did you receive? As the year progresses, the diary will help you identify what works and what doesn’t word, and it will help you find alternate strategies. It will also document your growth as a teacher, something you may not recognize otherwise. Who knows? There might even be a book in it!
A personal appointment calendar. Yes, a date book will come in handy for reminding yourself of meetings, PPTs, and scheduled observations. More importantly, it can be used to document the unscheduled events that crop up during the day, and often come back to haunt you weeks later. You might think you’ll never forget the day Daniele’s father called to complain about your discipline policies (the first time!), or that Marika’s mother stopped in to request a speech evaluation, or what you did when Patrick bloodied Mario’s nose on the playground. But you will! Jot it down immediately in your date book. And keep the date book in, not on, your desk!
A personal survival kit. Store (out of reach of students!) a personal teacher survival kit. Include such items as a small sewing kit, safety pins, bandages, suntan lotion, change, snacks, tea bags or coffee singles, bottled water, breath mints, tissues, hand sanitizer, a spare pair of pantyhose (if appropriate!), sneakers and socks, a scarf and gloves, and any other items that will make bad days and minor catastrophes a little easier to deal with. None of those things are absolutely necessary to your success as a teacher, of course, but having them handy will make your life a lot less stressful.
A sturdy canvas bag to keep it all in.
PREPARE THE WAY
Confidence breeds competence. You’ll feel a lot better about facing that first day of school if you take the time to become familiar with the school and with the people you’ll be working with. Before school starts:
Familiarize yourself with the school building and grounds. Sure the principal took you on a quick tour, but how much did you absorb, or remember? Take the time before school starts to retrace your steps. Locate the bathrooms (not just the one closest to your classroom!), the gym, the cafeteria, the media center, and the nurse’s office. Note where they are in relation to your classroom. Ask where resource classes are held. Find the audio-visual equipment and supply closet and ask about checkout procedures. Take notes or draw yourself a map.
Visit the school Web site. A school Web site can provide valuable information about the school and community, as well as insight into what’s expected of students and teachers.
Review school policies and procedures. Ask about any procedures that are unclear. Learn the reasons for any policies that don’t seem to make sense. Every school has its own history and problems. You’ll be better equipped to follow policies and procedures correctly if you understand the reasoning behind them.
Make friends with the school support staff. They’re the best friends a new teacher can have. Introduce, or re-introduce, yourself. Remember names. Caretakers are the most important people in a school. They know everything!!! They hold the keys to every door and closet, drawer or warehouse! Never underestimate the importance of making friends with them. Ask them all the things you need to know, they’ll be glad to help. Bring doughnuts!
Make a friend. Choose a teacher at your grade level or in a nearby classroom and ask if he or she would be available to answer questions or give friendly advice during the first few weeks of school. Let that teacher know that you’re open to suggestions and eager to learn.
PREPARE FOR STUDENTS
Although we’re probably a lot less nervous that first day the more prepared we are. If we are calm, relaxed, and ready it will show, and it helps keep the students calm and focused. (And let’s face it, as anxious as we teachers are that first day, the students are much more nervous than we could ever imagine.) And oh, those first impressions — they stick like gum on hot asphalt. So here are some tips for giving the best impression, Day One:
Be Organized, Tidy, and Ready. This will immediately stand out to students. Wow, supplies are all organized and labeled, books are on shelves, and look at her desk! Everything has its place and all is in order. Be sure to also have ready your procedures and hard rules (no gum chewing or cell phones) so you can share them at the very start of the day. This will avoid that preventable and awkward moment with a new student.
Have Too Much and Too Many of Everything. Make extra copies, just in case. There is really nothing worse than being one or two copies short. Panic! Depending on the grade level of your students, you may need paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, construction paper, rulers, or calculators. You’ll also need textbooks and possibly workbooks. Need name tags or construction paper? Get the extra large pack (you can use the leftovers for another project).
Overplan the Lesson. Timing is everything. And the last thing you want is for there to be six minutes left before the lunch bell and have little to nothing for students to do. You don’t want them to see you scrambling for a sponge activity not connected to the prior teaching so overplan the day. And the best part about this? You’ll have most of the next lesson already done.
Rehearse. If your “welcome to this class” speech includes new material (a new procedure or content — something you’ve never introduced before), practice. If you are a new teacher, this is imperative. By rehearsing, this gives you an idea on pacing, one of the greatest challenges for most beginning teachers. If you are using technology, arrive early to make sure all is in place and working.
Be Ready for Anything and Everything. Students laugh, make jokes, talk to each other, sing, text and unfortunately, sometimes it happens that students fight between them. Even on the first day you may witness the breaking up a fight between two students — such a bummer, but however a sad fact. Students will be impressed if something goes awry and you handle it quickly, and with wisdom and grace.
Start Learning Names Immediately. The sooner you dive in on this task the better! I am a visual learner so making a seating chart right away and using their names as much as possible helps. Assign seats, at least initially. It will help you learn students’ names, establish mutual respect, and maintain classroom control. Many teachers will tell you that getting names down as soon as possible helps with discipline and, sure, this is true. However, it more importantly sends the message loudly and clearly that you are interested and that you care.
PREPARE YOUR STUDENTS’ PARENTS
Establishing rapport and a cooperative working relationship with parents is essential to any teacher, but it’s especially important to the first-year teacher, whose inexperience may be an issue for some parents. You can get off on the right foot with a welcome letter, sent to the parents of each student on your class list. Mail the letters a week or two before school starts. If that’s not possible, send it home with students on the first day of school. You might include information about yourself, a list of supplies students will need to bring from home, a schedule of opening day activities, policies for parents’ visits, phone calls, and volunteer opportunities (include a volunteer sign-up sheet!), a discussion of classroom rules and consequences, a curriculum overview or syllabus, and your school phone number and school e-mail address. You might want to send an introductory letter to your students too! Be sure to have your principal, mentor teacher, or another veteran teacher check out parent or student welcome letters before you mail them. They know the community and school policies better than you do and are in a better position to evaluate whether your letter is effective and appropriate.
THE BIG DAY ARRIVES
You’re as ready as you’ll ever be! Now what? Arrive early! Greet students at the door. Introduce yourself and welcome them. Smile! And most importantly enjoy your teaching and have a great school year!
How’s your back-to-school planning going? Have you forgotten anything?
Please share with us your strategies and best practices for that #first day of school in the comments section below.
Adapted from: “Planning for Your First Day at School” – EducationalWorld.com
“Preparing for Day One” – Edutopia.com
“Back to School Planning Guide” – Scholastic.com