So, you just landed your first teaching job. Yay! Now what? Here are 10 tips to help you succeed on the first day of school.
I wish I knew these things when I started teaching!
Here are some ramblings from an experienced teacher. A brain dump of all the things I wish someone told me when I started. Ready? Set? Go!
TIP ONE: DON’T BE CUTE!
But seriously… I want to give you a word of caution. Spend more time thinking about what you’ll be teaching and how you’ll teach it than the time you spend on your classroom decor. I am all for a cute classroom. My classroom is actually pretty cute, but it’s not what’s going to make or break your first year as a teacher. Your time will be better spent on your routines and procedures in your classroom. What will those be (be very specific)? What routines and procedures will be in place for your students and also for you? What are the systems that you’ll put in place to help stay organized? What are the rules the routines and procedures that you will have in place to help your students succeed and navigate through a year in your classroom? This is where you spend your energy. Think about what you can put in place that will make your year a success!
TIP TWO: DON’T PARK IN MY SPOT!
Be sure you know your way around the school building, including emergency exits. Where are all the bathrooms and where is the faculty room etc. Also, you want to make sure that you know how to get in and out of all the doors! Keys, electronic pads, which doors are locked during the day, which doors are not locked during the day, etc. You want to make sure you’re aware of those things before the first day with students. ALERT! This includes where you should be parking and where you should not be parking!
Teachers are creatures of habit and we do have our spots where we like to park and our shelf in the refrigerator where we like to put our things and although none of this is official, you will want to be respectful of these habits and these routines and these procedures that were in place before you arrived! Trust me, I’ve parked in the “wrong” spot!
TIP THREE: KNOW YOUR BUILDING AND ALL EMERGENCY PROCEDURES!
You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with all emergency procedures for both you and the students. What happens during fire drills, lockdown drills, shelter in place? What do you do if you need help in the classroom with a student? For example, a student becoming ill, a bathroom emergency for one of your students… these things happen and you’re going to want to know what to do and who to call in that situation! In addition, be aware of your surroundings. Who is the closest teacher to you? Where is the closest classroom? The closest door? Meet that person! Introduce yourself to that person because if something were to happen and you needed something in a pinch, that’s who you’re going to go to!
Teaching is a very busy, fast-paced, and overwhelming stressful environment. You don’t always have time to sit and think through what to do in these types of emergencies, so it’s better to think about it beforehand and plan how you might want to proceed if you need some help!
TIP FOUR: FIGURE OUT DISMISSAL PROCEDURES IN THE MORNING!
Know the lunch procedures and the dismissal procedures first thing in the morning! Do not wait to figure out dismissal procedures! Please, please, please don’t be the teacher at 2:30 in the afternoon that’s scrambling to find out what bus the students take and the buses leave at 2:45 or 3 o’clock. This is not going to make you feel good and it’s not going to make your students feel good and it is not going to go over well with people who have to help you at 2:30 pm.
TIP FIVE: ALL STUDENTS MUST GO HOME TO THE CORRECT HUMANS!
Keep in mind, your students may not know the bus they are taking home in the afternoon or how they’re getting to the bus, especially if they’re younger students pre-K, kindergarten, first grade. You may have students sitting in your classroom and it’s their first day in that building or in that school. They may be new just like you and they don’t know where they have to go at the end of the day, so that is part of your responsibility. Make sure that every child gets on the right bus and gets dismissed to the correct human at the end of the day!
TIP SIX: REMEMBER TO TAKE ATTENDANCE!
IMPORTANT! Make sure that you take attendance! In the chaos of the first day of school especially as a new teacher you could very easily overlook this! For example, you may not realize that you have two students who are absent on the first day and somebody might ask you if “Jayne” is coming down for bus 12 and you can’t even remember if “Jayne” was in school that day! I know that might sound crazy because you’re going to say to yourself “but Elena, how would I not know! How would I not know if the student was present?”. Trust me! Some days get crazy and you may not know!
A word on attendance… please take the time to learn the correct pronunciations of your students’ names. This is important.
It’s always important to have a student roster in front of you and mark off whether the student is present or absent even if you take attendance electronically. Even if you’re taking attendance on your laptop, still have that roster in front of you. Then, do a headcount to make sure the roster matches the headcount. Check to ensure the name on the list especially with younger students matches the child who is sitting in front of you. Ensure every student is accounted for and that you are very clear on the students who are absent that day. If a child comes in late, mark that down. In addition, on that same roster, you could write down how each student is getting home, as I spoke about previously.
TIP SEVEN: REPEAT YOURSELF! REPEAT YOURSELF! Repeat Yourself! repeat yourself!
Let’s revisit routines and procedures for a minute. Everybody needs to knows what to do with those everyday things like, bathroom procedures, lineup, transitioning from one place to another, or from one activity to another. How do students line up? How do students transition from one activity to another? How do students push in their chairs quietly? Every procedure should be explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced multiple times throughout the first few weeks of school. Spend the time now, and thank yourself later!
TIP EIGHT: HAVE MORE ACTIVITIES PLANNED THAN YOU THINK YOU’LL NEED!
Plan at least one activity that will help you get to know your students and let your students get to know you! One of my favorite activities is so simple and has hardly any prep. On the very first day of school, I give each student an index card and I tell them to put it off to the side. I don’t tell them what to do with it right away. I kind of build a little anticipation and then after we go over rules and routines and procedures and things like that, I will let them write down one question to ask me and it’s an anonymous question. It must be appropriate, it must be respectful and I have the right to not answer all the questions (so that gives you the power to not answer something that might be inappropriate or that you just don’t want to answer but teach them also how to ask a question to get the most information out of you). For example, instead of “Do you have a dog?” maybe they should think about asking you “What kind of pets do you have?” Try to coach them into asking questions that are more than simple yes or no answers. So, that’s a fun activity and then I gather up all the index cards and go through them to answer them and it’s a nice little discussion. There are a lot of get-to-know-you activities and things like that out in the stratosphere and I’m sure that you will find one that will be something you love. Definitely have at least one of those activities ready to go one day one!
Also, have a few activities planned that will give you a good idea of where your students are as far as academics. Think about some short writing activities, some basic math facts activities. Keep these first day activities in a portfolio for each student. You’ll likely want these to show growth at conferences, which will be here before you know it!
Plan one activity for your bulletin board, and one that can be sent home to families.
On your second day of school, hit the ground running! You’re going to review those routines, those rules those procedures, and you are going to applaud every student and call out every student who does the right thing that you taught yesterday! You are going to make it a positive day! For example, “I love the way so many of you pushed your chairs in so quietly. That is exactly how we modeled doing it yesterday. I can tell that you remembered what we did from yesterday and you behaved in such a respectful way toward your classmates so they didn’t have to hear your chair.”
TIP NINE: TAKE DEEP BREATHS!
On the first day, you are going to focus on attendance, dismissal, knowing the building, and all the procedures. You are going to make sure that the teacher closest to you you’ve met and introduce yourself to that person and they know who you are and they know that you might have questions during the day. You’re going to use your lunchtime to iron out wrinkles, meaning if you don’t know about dismissal, if you do have any questions, you’re going to take care of it during lunch. You’re also going to eat during lunch because eating is pretty important, especially on the very first day! Also, stay hydrated but not too hydrated because using the bathroom could be an issue, just saying! Take a deep breath every 30 minutes or so if you have to set a reminder on your watch or your phone every 30 minutes take a deep breath and just kind of look around and let it sink in that you are doing the thing you set out to do! It is happening! Let that moment live in you. Over 20 years later, I can still feel that first day. I can still bring myself back to that classroom and I think that’s important. I think you want that. I think you’re going to want that in 10 years, in 15 years, and 20 years… So take in the day, take in those little faces, and be proud of yourself!
You’ll get to know your kids a lot faster than you realize. You will very quickly have your students figured out. You’re just going to see all these little humans and their personalities shining through. It can be a pretty amazing thing, teaching.
TIP TEN: LOOK THEM IN THE EYES! THOSE KIDS ARE THE REASON YOU’RE THERE! REMEMBER THAT!
The guiding principle in my classroom, treat everybody with respect. The rules and procedures are established and everybody’s welcome in my classroom. Everybody is treated with respect.
Best to you in this new endeavor!