Why The First Day Of School Is The Most Important

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tienvijfitienby Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

The first days of school are surreal.

The room that has sat empty for months is full again. Kids are back–and boisterous.

And they’ve all gotten taller.

Like all school year beginnings, I have a lot to accomplish this year, too. There are standards and goals, activities, lessons, curricula–the list of “To Do’s” is extensive.

I also want to have fun. It’s why I teach. The tone we take on Day One sets up the whole year. “Never smile till November–show them you’re serious,” is an old-school mantra. It never worked for me. I never had that “teacher stare.”

One day, I was really mad. It was justified. I don’t get really mad often, but someone earned my ire, and I gave “the teacher stare.” Before I could burn a hole in their paper with my glare, the student, and the three around him, burst out in laughter–not a giggle, mind you, but the type of laugher that makes you wonder if you should issue an emergency lav pass.

“Miss,” one choked out, “Never do that again! You can’t look mean. It’s not possible–you look ridiculous. It just doesn’t work for you.” Point taken. I listen to my critics.

“Don’t worry,” a math teacher told me, “You’ll get it when you have kids. You get ‘the look.’” I have a child now, and I still don’t have the look, and I can’t frown until November. My grandmother told me if I frowned my face would freeze that way.  If it freezes that way, I won’t be able to smile at graduation, and someone will probably give me a thank you gift of Metamucil. I’d rather get a photo or cup of coffee.

Must teachers be serious to set up a good quality classroom structure that encourages learning? Perhaps there’s a better way to handle the beginning of school. We can project that we’re deadly serious about what we do–teach, mentor, plan for success–but that we have joy in our hearts for each student who walks through our doors.

I love the first day of school, when those bright shiny faces are sitting timidly waiting to see what I’ll do, sizing me up to see whether they’ll like my class. I teach at a career and technical high school. No one chooses my social studies class. They come for their technical area. It’s my job to convince them social studies is cool. On the first day, I ask, “Who loves social studies?” In every class, one or two students who think the answer will get them closer to an A raise their hand really high.

My job is to change that–to give them a love for learning and for my subject, hopefully. I do that by making a great impression and having my pieces in order on day one.

5 Resources For The First Day Of School From Learnist

This week’s Learnist feature is dedicated to those first days of school, where teachers, new and experienced, set up that tone for success. Teachers everywhere are wondering who their students are and will become, and students are hoping they’re going to have fun while they learn.

The First Days of School

The first days of school are so important. We stand at the door with a smile welcoming our students. We set up expectations, grading policies, and providing the environment that sets the tone for a successful school year. This board has some tips for doing those things.

1. Teach Like a Pirate

Dave Burgess’ Teach LIke a Pirate has become a movement of creative teachers around the world exchanging ideas and entertaining the troops. In this book, Dave Burgess shares the first days of school, which, he says, sets up the class for learning for the rest of the year. Twitter chats and Professional Learning Networks have sprung up around this philosophy. This board shares some ideas from the TLAP book and network. Dave Burgess will be the first to say this isn’t a method, it’s a philosophy.

This board starts us off with information and TLAP tips, but I would like it to become a collaboration, because that’s what TLAP does best. Pay attention to Dave Burgess’s discussion of the first days of school, where he sets up his pirate ship for the year.

2. Setting Up Your Classroom

This is a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. This board talks about the process of setting up a classroom, from cleaning and locating your materials, obtaining the types of furniture and supplies you might need to find, and sitting down to consider your emergency procedure, classroom systems, and methods of keeping track of classroom materials like books and lab equipment.

3. Tips for Teachers: Planning the First Days of School

This board has decorating ideas for classrooms and a great article for preparing for your first day of school, especially if it is your first day ever. New teachers have a bit longer of a list, and some of the tips on this list are helpful, like keeping a journal, which can help from year to year, and making sure you have a school calendar for all your meetings and appointments.

4. Classroom Culture

“Michaelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” This quote about classroom culture speaks volumes about how creating a positive culture for higher-level learning sets classes up for success. This is reflected in the appearance of the classroom as well as the attitude of the instructor towards students and learning.

5. Tips for Freshmen Who Want to Survive the Best Four Years of Your Life

I love this board because it was made by a recent graduate to guide freshmen in having success in high school. I’m going to show it to students on day one. It shows the roles that older students can have in helping to shape the classroom experience of younger students, and is something for which I’ll be using Learnist this year.

Image attribution flickr user tienvitijftien