There’s only one opening day, so like most teachers, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to welcome my students and start building a positive classroom culture right away. While my checklist is by no means exhaustive, it will ensure that I walk into the classroom fresh, organized, and ready to kick start a brand new school year with enthusiasm.
No more last-minute preparations
This year, I’m making it a point to have everything prepared for the first day of school a week in advance. I’ve been guilty of making final tweaks to the syllabus or my introductory lesson the night before the first class—which meant that I had to get to school early to print and make photocopies for my students. It always got done, but it was an unneeded distraction, another to-do that kept me from being relaxed and fully present.
This year, I am making a vow to skip all last-minute preparations.
Introduce the course syllabus in a new way
The syllabus is a critical document, but let’s be honest, reading it is about as exciting as reading the dictionary. While I need to know that students are familiar with my classroom policies and procedures, I’ve also seen how it zaps students’ enthusiasm.
There are all kinds of creative ways to introduce the syllabus, but here’s one I like:
Set up two rows of chairs that face each other. Students will sit across from each other, each with a copy of the syllabus that they’ve briefly reviewed. Now ask your students two questions: one about something in the syllabus and one that’s personal and just for fun. The pair has a short period of time to answer both questions. Once the allotted time is up, check to make sure the syllabus question has been answered correctly.
Now the students in one row move down one seat, sort of like you might do in “speed dating.” Repeat the process until you have covered the essentials of the syllabus. Not only will students learn about the classroom policies and procedures, they’ll also learn a lot about each other.
Set the tone; start the conversation
This year, I want to start a conversation that will continue throughout the rest of the school year. In addition to a few other activities, I plan on reading Dr. Suess’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. This book is perfect for younger students, but the message is ageless. In typical Dr. Suess fashion, students will rhyme their way through a series of playful, yet empowering pages reminding them that they are the masters of their ship; they have the “brains, the shoes and the feet” to take them where they want to go this year. This book is not only a great conversation starter, it’s also a way to set the tone for the rest of the school year.
Never be sabotaged by faulty equipment
Nothing stresses me out like having to fix a piece of cranky technology in front of a group. You know what I’m talking about: the video plays, but there’s no sound; the sound plays, but there’s no video. This is the worst, especially when the success of my lesson is contingent upon working technology.
If you are using technology on the first day of class, save yourself a headache: Get there at least an hour early to make sure it works!
Learn students’ names immediately
I’ve tried everything in the book to learn my students’ names as quickly as possible: sticker name tags, index cards that students fold in half and write their names on, name games, and so on. Eventually, I get them all, but I like to know every student’s name by the second class meeting.
How do I do it? I use a little app called Attendance2. This app was originally intended for teachers as a way to streamline the attendance-keeping process. But I use it for the built-in flashcard function, which allows me to snap a photo of my students, add their name and any other necessary details and file it away so I can quiz myself later on.
Please feel to share your favorite activities for the first day of school!