The first day is a big day. For students. For teachers. And for parents, too. Here’s a look at how seven elementary teachers approach day one of the school year and all the excitement and uneasiness that can go along with it. You just may find some inspiration for your own classroom.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Let the School Year Begin!
“I always tried to remember the following:
1. Have a ‘schedule’ for the day, but be flexible and don’t expect to have time for everything.
2. Have simple activities for students to start working on from the minute they get there. I usually had playdough and coloring pages out for students to work on when they first got to school. Also, keep all of the day’s activities simple, because kids come into kindergarten at so many different levels and some might feel shy or be reluctant to participate. I developed my Welcome to Kindergarten packet with this idea in mind. It’s full of simple, no-prep activities.
3. Know exactly how each student will go home at the end of the day. On the first day, a student’s transportation might differ from the rest of the year.
4. Be excited and SMILE! The first day of Kindergarten can be overwhelming for kids and parents. When they see your excitement and confidence, they’ll feel better!”
Teaches 1st grade
“On the first day, I am as intentional and explicit as humanly possible. I model every behavior I possibly can. This allows students to see and hear what I expect from them.
A first-day tour is quite common with young students, but over the years I’ve learned to shorten it to the things they need to know about the first day: the playground, the lunchroom (with me acting out how to go through the line), the office, and (most importantly) the bathroom! Taking a longer tour than that is typically overwhelming for the kids. Their attention spans are quite short after summer vacation, and they won’t really need to know how to get to the library or the 2nd grade hallway during the first few days anyway.
Finally, I work with their shortened attention spans and simply plan a lot of activities! We read several books throughout the day, play on the playground a few times, and color a bit. I always take a photo of their sweet little first-day faces and have them draw a self-portrait to include in their portfolios of the year. I love looking back to see how they’ve changed!”
Simply Skilled in Second
Teaches 2nd grade
“One of the first activities we do is make our class rules and write our rules in our School Rules book. I read Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and we create the rules together. Then I tell my students (and make it a pretty big deal) that I have one major rule for myself, as the teacher, that I will never, ever break. And that rule is that I will never yell at them… ever.
They always ask if I’ve ever broken my rule and when I tell them I haven’t, they usually never believe it. But it is very, very powerful. Every single end-of-the-year memory book that I get — every year — always says, “My teacher told us she would never yell at us, and she kept her promise.” When I tell this to my students, they immediately begin to relax and know that they never have to be nervous or scared about being yelled at. These are powerful words that help to empower my students.
This is where we write our rules that we create together and we always write down the ‘teacher rule’ as well: School Rules Flip Flap Book.”
Teaches 3rd grade
“The first day is a mix of community building, procedures/routines, a picture book read-aloud and activities and some sort of craft/activity that can be used to decorate the room and have the kiddos start to take ownership of the space. It’s really important to me to get students’ work up and around the room early in the year. It really helps the space come alive and shows how much I honor their abilities and contributions to the room.”
The Teacher Studio
Teaches 4th grade
“One thing I make sure I do on the first day of school is help the students get to know me as a teacher (I give them a funny true/false test about myself with some kind of crazy questions!) and let them know that I’m nervous about the first day of school, too. I love to see their faces when I admit that I have a stomachache and was up all night worrying about whether or not they would like me. I can visibly see them relax when they realize I’ve been nervous, too. I let them ask me questions that they’ve been worrying about so I can put their minds at ease (No, I don’t give fact tests….yes, they will have lots of reading time…yes, we do have a little homework…yes, we get snack — and so on).
I do very few rules and expectations the first day (only essential ones). We build community and learn each other’s names. I teach them some cooperative games and we begin to build our classroom culture. My number one goal is for students to go home and tell their parents that 4th grade is going to be great.”
DeWitt’s Learning Lab
Teaches 4th and 5th grade
“For the first day, I show a PowerPoint I created with photos of my kids from last year ‘acting’ out different scenarios. We made it on the last day of school, and they loved doing it. For example, one slide is about how to take care of supplies, so the picture shows a student modeling how to snap the cap back on a marker! Another shows a student pushing in a chair for a fellow student. My students love seeing other kids model the rules!”
Teaches 3-9 year-old severe ASD students
“We spend the first day getting to know more about the children, letting them explore their surroundings and setting up different activities around the class to see what they’re drawn to. To be honest, we spend most of the first week doing this so we can get a bigger picture of the students and prepare for the rest of the year.”
Here’s to many wonderful first days. And second days and third days and fourth days, too.