You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. —
That quote might not be accurate, but it won't hurt to plan for the first day of school and to let the students know you’re prepared. To make this happen, follow these seven steps to get the most of this first impression:
- Have your day well planned, including a seating chart. It is important to have good discipline from the first day, but that does not mean you have to be mean. Explain your expectations, such as raising a hand to ask a question, asking permission to leave the room, and where to pick-up or hand-in work, as well as the late work policy. Above all spend time reviewing school safety rules. Where are the exits, the fire extinguisher and the emergency routes? You don't have to make the students afraid of you, but they need to know your expectations and when they can get extra help.
- Take control. This is their first day in your class. Communicate the rules. Posting them in the classroom is always a good idea. I recommend having a handout for each student with the discipline code, your contact numbers, materials they need to bring, and other school information. You may not have time to go over the school handbook, but make sure every student has one, as well as any textbooks required.
- Take a long look at your classroom. The fire code in your community, if it is like other towns, usually limits the number of flammable items to about 20 percent of wall space. Nothing can hang from the ceiling or block the doors. Sofas and other upholstered items may violate the code. I recommend you dedicate at least one board to post school items. As for other boards, let students design them based on what is being covered in class.
- An ice breaker may be of value because some students may not know everyone. One idea I sometimes use is to bring in a wolf or other stuffed animal as the classroom mascot and let students submit names for it.
- Get personal information. I give the students a card asking for their home contact numbers, as well as their interests and hobbies. I even ask them to bring a previous paper they are proud of to show me later in the week as I get to know them. And, I always try to contact the parents within the first couple weeks of school or at a Back-to-School night. Sometimes messages from students get changed by the time they get home, if you know what I mean.
- Be open to new ideas. I offer a great many links here. Spend time exploring them, and maybe you can discover fresh ideas. Consider having students write a short autobiography to get to know them.
Finally, be yourself. Whether your first or 40th first day of class, the most important message is that you care. Yes, you have rules, but that doesn’t mean you lack compassion and understanding. Remember you don't want to make Will Rogers wrong.
Alan Haskvitz teaches at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, California, and makes staff development presentations nationwide. He serves as an educational consultant, curriculum developer and author.