The bell rings and the students come pouring in to the first day of school. Excitement and a bit of chaos fill the air as well as some nervous anticipation – not just from the students but also from the teachers.
Yes, the first day of school is extremely exciting, but those first few hours with your students are also critically important. In fact, they can actually make or break the entire school year.
10 Things Not to Do on the First Day of School
- Let the little things go. The biggest mistake I made during my first year of teaching was letting little things go. A little talking here, a student with their head down there – no biggie, right? Wrong. When we let the little things go, we give our students the impression that we either don’t notice or don’t care about their behavior. And the problem is that those little things won’t stay little; they’ll quickly escalate to full-blown problems. The answer? Simply address the small things with a simple statement such as “Greg, please sit up. Thank you.” Check out my post “The Tiny Mistake that Could Ruin Your Whole Year” for more details on this topic.
- Lay down the law. My personality doesn’t lean this direction, but I’ve seen teachers, in an attempt to avoid letting the little things go, take the opposite extreme. They decide they need to lay down the law and show the kids who’s boss. So they jump on any small infraction and whack the kids with the biggest punishment possible to show them that they will not tolerate misbehavior. This isn’t a wise approach either. Yes, you need to address the little things, but often all that’s needed is a verbal correction. And if consequences are in order, give appropriate ones; don’t inflate them just to scare the students. Check out my posts “Should Teachers Lay Down the Law?” for more thoughts about this.
- Make it a “fun day.” Okay, yes, the first day of school should be kind of fun and exciting. But you shouldn’t intentionally make it a “fun day” or a “party day.” If you do, you are setting a very bad precedent and are just asking for your students to be out of control. Instead, start off the school year as structured as possible. Then, once the students are used to structure you should be able to add in some fun activities without losing control.
- Go over all your procedures. Please don’t torture your students by spending the whole class going over a sheet that contains all your procedures. This is so boring, and it’s probably also what every other teacher is doing. Yes, you absolutely need to teach your procedures, but you should teach them as they come up, not all at once on the first day. And if you have procedures written on a handout, just let your students read them for homework. (p.s. if you’re wondering how to teach procedures, check out my posts “How to Teach Procedures that Your Students Will Actually Follow.“)
- Spend more than 30 seconds talking about fire drills. Okay, if you teach elementary you might be justified in taking more like 2-5 minutes. But for middle school and high school, please don’t. Just don’t. These poor students are hearing about fire drills in every class, and it’s not like they’ve never done one before. Furthermore, it’s not as if they’re going to remember exactly which direction they’re supposed to leave the building in each of their 8 classes. Instead, go over fire drill procedures as quickly as possible. Then later in the week you can go over them in more detail when the students’ brains aren’t being overloaded with procedures.
- Dress down. Even if you typically dress somewhat casually, the first day of school is not the time to dress down. Your students only get one first impression of you, so the first day of school is the time to pull out the most professional outfit you have. Check out the posts “Do Teachers Really Need to Dress Professionally?” and “How to Dress Professionally on a Teachers’ Income” for more thoughts on when dressing professionally actually matters and how to do it on a budget.
- Just wing it. If you try to wing the first day of school you will probably survive it just fine, but you’re also wasting an incredible opportunity to start the year off right. Instead, plan every minute so that you are prepared, confident, and organized. The best way to start class is to have some type of simple assignment ready for the students as they enter the class. This will keep them occupied while you deal with the inevitable confusions of the first few moments of class.
- Let students choose their own seats. Even if you plan to allow students to choose their own seats at some point in the future, you still want to assign seats on the first day. Why? First, because it will help you learn their names more quickly. And, second, because allowing them to choose seats and then trying to figure out who is in which seat wastes a whole lot of time. In addition to having a seating chart ready, plan a way to tell students their seats as they enter class instead of after they’ve already sat down. For example, have the seating chart displayed on a smart board or projector. Or, have each students’ name and seat number on a post-it note on the wall so they can quickly find theirs and locate their seat.
- Pass out textbooks one by one. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can really waste a lot of time to call your students out one by one to come up and receive their textbook. Instead, come up with a way to hand them out quickly. I typically had them set out at the end of each row, and the students would simply pick up their stack and pass them back. This means I invested time beforehand writing down all the #’s and putting each student’s name in their book, but it was worth it to help streamline the process.
Your goal should be to actually teach something in each class.
- Waste a single moment. Plan through each procedure and activity and find the way to do it as efficiently as possible. Your goal should be to actually teach something in each class. And that’s not going to happen unless you’re very intentional about being incredibly efficient and focused.