This week I helped prepare my teachers-in-training for their first day of authentic teaching practice. They will be confronted by real life kids, all curious about their new teacher. My students naturally had a lot of questions and some anxiety over what to do on their first day.
Although they will be teaching these kids for a short period of time, it did make me think of my own first days of school in years past. Typically it was a mix of assemblies in the gymnasium, adjusted schedules, passing out paperwork during homerooms, class syllabi, textbooks, rules and procedures, and more. It’s unlike any other day the rest of the school year.
But do you know what else is happening on that first day? Excitement. A large percentage of the students are giddy to see their friends again as well as see what their new classes are like. Teachers, for their part, are ready to start new again as well. Maybe some of them are disgruntled that the summer is over, but nevertheless they have a little more spring in their step.
Then why is it that we teachers usually squander away that excitement on the first day?
I know I did the first few years of teaching. Each new class that came in to my room was met with paperwork, permission forms, seating charts, numbered textbooks, and a rundown of the syllabus. Woohoo! Talk about stimulating. If there was any way to stomp on all that first day excitement, that is exactly it!
So what can be done? How can we better harness that energy and capitalize on it? Here are a few things you may want to try:
Get to know each other
I’ve played “2 Truths 1 Lie” on the first day of class before. I started it by modeling what to do. Mine were: I’ve been sky diving before. George Clooney swam at my family’s home. When I was 8, I was ranked top 10 in surfing. The lie was surfing. Yes, before I was born, my family lived in Augusta, KY where a young George Clooney also lived. And I jumped out of a plane for a girl once! The kids had a laugh, but it got the ball rolling. It’s fun and it reveals so much about your students. After the lie is revealed, follow up on the truths. Show your kids that you’re interested in them. “You can play the harmonica? Nice! We’ll have to hear it one day!”
I know a lot of teacher who wait until day 2 to really jump in and I get it. Day 1 is all about getting through the business of school with all the things I mentioned above. Get through the junk first then get to the cool content. But again, I think it misses a chance to capitalize on that first day excitement. Like I said, your students (most of them) are curious and ready to jump in. Use that!
Over time I started to look at the first day as a movie trailer. I love watching movie previews. For me, it’s just as important as seeing the actual movie! So I translated it into the classroom. Give your students a taste of things to come. The beauty of History is that it’s filled with crazy human stories. I’d have to look it up, but I heard that the majority of all Oscar winners were from historical epics. History is awesome!
Anticipation sheets can be used to keep the energy going. Anticipation sheets, being a set of statements that the students guess at whether they’re true of false, can be written in a stimulating and entertaining way. Give them statements that may run counter to conventional thinking or even controversial. During the American Revolution, the colonial army engaged in biological warfare. FALSE. It was the British with smallpox. Or The US Government actually supported the genocidal group, the Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia. TRUE. I always like to throw in there, The average American doesn’t know a lot about American History. It usually gets a good discussion going.
You could even unload a good story if you really want to go over your class syllabus. Every time I get to the Romanov family, my students get a big kick out of the story of Rasputin. So why wait six months to tell them about it? While previewing units that will be covered in the year, throw up a nice picture of Rasputin for reaction when you get to WWI or the Russian Revolution. His death is a crazy story!
The last bit of class, I like to initiate a conversation about what THEY want to do for the year. What are their expectations? What are some of their favorite topics in History? Are they even into History? How do they learn best? What do they want from ME? They can even write it down and hand it into you....without putting their name on the paper. That’ll allow them to speak more freely. It’s good to check in with your students. It shows that you do care and gives them a degree of ownership over the class. Now, you don’t have to do every little thing they suggest. Some students say, “We should watch a lot of movies. It helps me learn.” Well, that’d be awesome, but it’s not going to happen. Movie clips are definitely fair game, but I’d interpret that comment as a challenge. It’d be a challenge to construct cool activities that are just as entertaining as a movie, but way more beneficial to learning.
The bottom line is to think about your first day of school and how to use it best. Over the course of the day, they’ll have teachers that will do all that paperwork and rule setting. Your class could be the one that stands out at the end of the day and maybe get them just as excited for day 2!