Typically, it’s the students who receive the rules on the first day of school. However, there are some rules teachers should follow too. Following these rules on the first day of school and throughout the school year can help ensure success.
1. Be Welcoming
Many veteran teachers live by outdated axioms, such as “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving!” and “It’s easier to go from mean to nice than from nice to mean!” While these nuggets of wisdom contain some truth, experience has shown that most students – even those with behavior issues – benefit from a warm, welcoming environment, not one based on obsolete clichés. Greet your students as they come into your classroom. Make them feel comfortable in their new, unfamiliar surroundings. Allow them to take ownership of the setting by referring to it as “our classroom.” A strong presence in the classroom can take back momentum at a moment’s notice, even if you smile at your class before the leaves on the trees change color.
2. Be Specific
Many students won’t remember much of what you say on the first day of school and parents will sign your contract without giving it a second look. Despite those unfortunate truths, it is imperative that you design your syllabus or contract with specific information and properly enforce whatever you distribute to students and parents. If you weigh your grading components differently, break it down on paper. If there are stages to your behavior modification plan, list the steps you will take to correct misbehavior. If you give formal assessments on regular days, create a calendar. These simple steps will keep your students and their parents informed, and serve as evidence should your methods be questioned by an administrator or parent.
3. Be Prepared
Just because it’s the first day of school, it doesn’t mean you should improvise your lesson. Have the entire period planned out with ice breakers, activities, and, yes, even class work. Setting the tone on the first day doesn’t mean being strict and insensitive (see rule #1), but it does mean being consistent and organized. Students will remember if you ended class too early, and that can set a precedent that is hard to shake.
4. Be Collegial
Teachers often share the same students. These teachers likely meet as part of a team or to informally compare notes. If your schedule allows, it would be helpful to make an appearance in your colleague’s classroom during the first few days of school. This is a special show of support for someone whose skills you will rely upon for the next nine months. This united front of solidarity also help students see your educational interdependence. You will know the excuses, explanations, and issues from their other classes and you can use that information to better educate them.
5. Be Ready for Anything
A new school year and new students means a new set of unknowns. Never be surprised when something happens for the first time and always be prepared with a rational response to problems.
Whether it’s your first day of teaching or you’re a veteran of the back to school grind, following these five simple rules can make your first day a walk in the park and set the tone for a prosperous year of learning. Read Back to School Tips for Teachers for more advice on a great start of the new school year.