I’ve been anticipating first days of school since my mom read “We Like Kindergarten” to me. I was always ready to go back to school shopping in late July or early August, before Target was even prepared for me. After a couple weeks of nagging, studying the classroom supply list, and forcing my siblings to play school with me, we would head off. I like to remember myself as being fairly pragmatic about my purchases, with maybe a new lunchbox or a cool unicorn paper folder.
Some of you may remember my trusty Jansport backpack, which has carried my books since I was in fifth grade (and pink rolly backpacks went out of style).
Most years, my brother Ian and I would stand in front of the house for a picture after receiving a blessing prayer from our parents. We rode in our Honda Accord to school and listened to the Leaving New York album from R.E.M. (This became such an essential album in my life that I was completely shocked when one of my friends didn’t know the words).
2018-2019 is a new kind of school year for me. I am, finally, the teacher. I’ve been waiting since 6th grade (one year after the backpack) when I thought I would be a farmer’s wife and teach in a small schoolhouse. Then it was the convent and teaching in a small schoolhouse. Now engaged to not a farmer, and teaching in a very big school, I don’t think it’s quite set in yet that very soon the language arts skills of about 120 8th grade students will be completely within my care (read more here about personalized learning in my classroom).
So what does a teacher do on the first day of school? I’ve been in classes where we take pre-tests or go over the syllabus, played ice breaker games and given partner introductions. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but none of those sound both engaging and purposeful. One of the books I read this summer is called “First Days of School” by Wong and Wong, and it’s led me to my first day of school plan.
When starting a class, it’s important to begin modeling and implementing procedures and rules right away, as well as demonstrate my role as their teacher. Wong suggests having an assignment ready for the students to work on at their desks as they walk into the classroom for the very first time. I’ll be waiting outside the room to say hello to everyone and let them know that seats are assigned and an assignment is waiting for them. This hopefully ensures that the students will be quiet when I walk into the room and do not have to shout over them to get their attention for the first time.
My first bellringer assignment focuses on vocabulary. It will instruct students to define empathy, respect, and community as well as write a sample sentence to go along with each word. This opening activity has a purpose: it introduces me to their handwriting, shows me who can write with stamina, and gives me a little insight into their reading level. This assignment will not be graded on correctness but on completion, as practice work should be.
After my students finish up with that worksheet, I’ll introduce myself and my classroom. I haven’t quite worked out how I’ll do that yet, but Wong recommends having a script for the first day – not to read off of but to make sure you hit all the important points.
They will then fill out little Twitter biography cards, and kudos to my friend Lindsay for letting me steal that idea – the best teachers borrow, copy, and steal the best stuff all the time. After the introductory cards, I’ll have the students take out their phones for a Kahoot game. Kahoot is an online quiz platform for anyone to use, and students love it. While they’re playing, I can take note of who has cell phones because at the end of the game, they’ll have learned the technology rules for the classroom: all phones away, all the time.
At the very end of class, I’ll pass out an introductory letter to go home. As a new teacher, I have no doubt that I’ll look back on this post next year and come ready to tweak it (maybe throw the whole thing away).
One of the fun things I get to do right now as I prepare for the year is school supply shopping essential all summer long. I have my classroom and a key to it, bulletin board paper, some books on the shelves, and my desk. Soon, I’ll bring a camera and write about how I’m physically setting up the room. Until then, I’ll be scouring Goodwills for books, picking up plastic crates, and laminating lots of signs.