It’s 7:54 am on the first day of school. I run frantically into my classroom two minutes before the students arrive. When I open the door, I find that the room is completely empty – no chairs, no tables, not even a stray paperclip on the floor. I begin to hyperventilate and can feel the walls begin to collapse around me. Suddenly, my principal appears wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume. You know, the kind with the flapping arms and bobbly head? As panic spreads across my face and my heart begins to race, I sense that someone else is watching me…
My eyes snap open. I am relieved to find that I’m in the comfort of my own home and that the someone watching me is my dog, Joey, who is staring me in the face, anxiously awaiting her morning walk.
For me, the night before the first day of school is always a mix of Christmas Eve and the night before a big test — a combination of excited anticipation and overwhelming anxiety. A whole class of new students to meet, a year of learning to embark on – and a step off into the great unknown.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the anticipation of it all, there are some fundamental things to keep in mind when planning for the first day. The following advice comes not from years of doing it right, but from years of trying, failing, listening to mentors and trying again.
- Smile. The old wives’ tale, or perhaps teachers’ tale, about not smiling until Christmas is just that, an old wives’ tale. Have you ever spent time with someone who didn’t crack a smile for five months? I didn’t think so. Your students don’t want to either. Be clear about your expectations and boundaries, but remember to be warm and friendly.
- Greet everyone. When students (and their parents, if applicable) enter the room, say, “Good morning!” or “Welcome to the first day of school.” Shake their hands, look them in the eye and ask them their names. They are far more nervous than you are: exude comfort and joy.
- Learn names. My name is slightly unusual but pretty easy to say. When I was growing up, most teachers didn’t take the time to learn how to pronounce my name. I quickly learned to shorten it to “Jess.” Ask your students how to say their names if you’re not sure. Ask the student what they prefer to be called before assuming you can shorten a name from, say, Andrew to Andy.
- Build relationships. Research shows that students who feel respected by and connected to their teacher and peers perform better academically. Take time to learn one interesting thing about each student. Be willing to share your own uniqueness as well.
- Rituals and routines. Be clear about the routines and rituals in your room. Explain, model and practice them. If you want students to enter the room in an orderly manner, plan time to rehearse this on the first day.
Here’s to a wonderful start to the school year and (hopefully) a few good nights of sleep before then!