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First Day of School
by Gail Englert

A response to the question:

What do you do on the first day of school?

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What do you do on the first day of school?

Do you make sure to get at least a little bit of math in to set the tone? Is it important to start by establishing patterns of group work? Or is it best to spend the whole day discussing classroom policies and the reasons for them, including your expectations for how students work together, instead of doing any actual mathematics?

Are there any particular activities or icebreakers that work really well for you?

Any other must-dos or must-avoids for that crucial first day?

Joshua

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Dear Joshua,

I am an elementary teacher, so what I do will probably be a little different from what a high school teacher would do, but I will share it anyway.

There is a great book by Harry and Rosemary Wong called The First Days of School (How to Be an Effective Teacher) that is a wonderful resource for any teacher, beginning or experienced, at any grade level.

I begin before school starts by taking the photos from my students' cummulative folders and making flash cards to help me learn their names. Then, as they enter my room that first day I am able to greet most of them by their name. They know right away that I care about who they are.

Since I am busy at the door, I have a sheet on each student desk with the outline of our classroom and furniture drawn in (a classroom map). The directions ask them to sit down, look around, and find a list of items (globe, pencil sharpener, calculators, trash can, etc.) I get several pieces of information from this activitiy. One thing I learn is seating preference, since I don't assign seats that first day. I want to see what they choose, and if they can be productive from that spot, they will stay there for a while. But if something causes them not to be able to produce work, like a chatting neighbor, or a vision problem, etc., they will be moved by the end of the week (day -- if it is too serious!) I also learn who can read and follow directions, who is a self-starter, who needs lots of supervision to complete a task, etc.

I try to pose my "rules" in positive terms, rather than a list of "Don't" I stress the "Do's". And to keep this session from being too dry, I let my students tell me what they think the rules of the classroom should be (already having what I want in mind), and then, as I record, I make any necessary changes (always asking them for approval, of course, before recording the ideas on the chart) so that what ends up on the list is what I had in mind, but they think they thought of it.

In that same vein, I have students model appropriate behaviors (and I play-act the inapropriate ones, and have them act as teachers and tell me what was wrong.) the first day, and reinforce those behaviors for the first week (month) to be sure they are clear to my students. I want them to have some autonomy in the classroom, so I let them get up as they need to, to use the pencil sharpener, stretch, use the restroom (with a sign out system), get needed materials. I want them to do all of this without disrupting the learning that is occurring, so we practice ways to move about without causing a stir.

I will have my students figure out the value of their name (using the a = $1, b = $2, etc.) and then make a graph of the data as an icebreaker. That way we can do a little math, and find some connections at the same time.

That first day is a chance to establish the tone for your year. Details will change, but that first impression is what students will hold on to.

-Gail, for the T2T service

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