I’ve been teaching seventh grade for a long time. Still, every year, I find myself changing up my routine for the first day of class every year. As a middle school teacher, I only have 40 minutes to introduce my classroom to my students. I like to make that experience memorable and make sure that the students come away with an understanding of my expectations for them, and a positive feeling about the class.
With that said, I also keep in mind the fact that my students are a bundle of nerves on the first day of school. They often arrive late and breathless to class, and they’re more concerned with what they’re wearing or catching up with friends than any class they attend. I make sure that the activities I include are engaging and not overwhelming. Students will probably forget a good portion of what you say on that first day, but they won’t forget you.
5 “Must-dos” for the First Day of Class
1. Have each student say their name to you
I create seating charts for the first few weeks (they often change after day 1). I have students tell me their name as they arrive, and I place them in the correct location. If possible, I project the seating chart on the smart board so they can see where they sit by themselves. Once seated, I take a moment to go around the room, and have them repeat their names again. I listen to the pronunciation and repeat it back to them.
If your name can be difficult to pronounce, have them do the same with you. Saying someone’s name properly is a sign of respect. Learning to pronounce your students’ names properly is a little way of showing them that you respect them. If you’ve found that you need lots of practice, I’ve seen many teachers suggesting using flipgrid. Each student can make a short video stating their name, and you can watch the videos as needed.
2. Introduce your classroom
I like to physically travel around my classroom, and point out where I keep assignments, discuss my policy for book sign-outs, and where students might sign out of class if needed. I also like to note to my students that my desk area is off-limits. This is a topic of some debate among teachers, however, I like to have a space in my classroom where I can keep my own personal belongings and confidential student information, without a concern that students will be rifling through them.
3. Take care of supplies
This might not be possible for many teachers, however, our supply list is passed out over the summer. That means that students come to class with their supplies already purchased. As my students keep their binders in the classroom, I have them label their dividers on the very first day of class, put their name on the spine, and add the binders to the back shelf. This also removes the binder from their locker.
If there’s time available, I also like to have students decorate their binders. This might seem like a silly task, but it’s been shown that students are more likely to take ownership over their materials if they have invested some time in them.
4. Calm their nerves
My students are new to the building in grade 7. Even though they’re probably been in the building before, and they may have attended an open house the previous week, they are NERVOUS for the first day of class. By the end of class, I like to check with them to make sure that they know where their next class is located. I might also ask them to express what they’re nervous about! This generally leads to some funny comments and little conversations that will carry us into the next day.
5. Maintain Expectations
This is probably the most difficult part of the first day for new teachers. Students need to know that they should feel safe in your classroom. They need to know that if another student is rude, or interrupts, or steals their pencil, that the behavior will be addressed. Therefore, as the teacher, you must address any rude behavior from day one. If you let it go on the first day, that behavior will continue, and it will become worse.
How to address this behavior is always the conundrum. As a teacher, I always make sure to establish a vibe of respect and positivity. I genuinely and authentically pay attention to those who are behaving the same way. I also compliment those students who are funny and friendly. All of my actions are done with sincerity so that my students know that I mean what I say. This will inevitably encourage other students to follow.
If a student does engage in rude behavior, I make sure to talk to them individually. This means, even if the whole class has eyes on me, I will walk over to that student and speak to them quietly. I like to speak in hushed tones with a smile on my face. Once I point out the misdeed, I then crack a joke to make that student laugh. The other students are curious and they notice. I didn’t yell, and I wasn’t sarcastic, and yet, the student’s behavior was addressed. One of my favorite teachers of all time (who had a Ph.D. in psychology/ student behavior) did this our first day in class, and I’ll never forget it because it worked.
Does this always work? NO, absolutely not. Some of your students will come into your classroom with a ridiculous amount of emotional baggage and trauma, and you certainly won’t flip that behavior within the first forty minutes. Still, if you are CONSISTENT, that behavior will most likely improve.
I like to make sure I have a simple slideshow for the first four tasks to make sure that I stay on task. Even though I’ve been teaching at this grade level for a very long time, I still forget whether I covered a topic from one class to the next. Although I’ve varied my classroom routine for the first day of class from year to year, these 5 tasks have remained fairly constant.
NOTE: I did try stations last year. They were fun and interactive, but long-term, I didn’t like them. I didn’t have the chance to establish my personality, and my students really had no idea who I was when they walked out of class. Yes, stations for the first day of class are a new idea, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a better idea. You always need to make sure that you do what’s best for YOUR students and YOUR classroom. Therefore, this year there will be no stations in my classroom on the first day of class. Once we’ve established classroom norms, I’m a big advocate of stations.