Ever since student teaching, I have always been told that the first day in September with my new students is always the most important. When a veteran teacher would tell me this, I always responded with, “What should I do to make my first day count?” I received many different answers, and some I have tried. In my first full year of teaching, my principal bought me Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. One teacher reminded me not to smile until Christmas (I never listened to that one) and another said, “Do what every other teacher does; hand out the course outline and go over your rules.” I did try that one, but I always kept thinking, I’m being like everyone else. I didn’t want to be like every other teacher. I wanted to stand out! I wanted to be the teacher that all of my students were talking about.
A few years ago, I decided to start putting even more effort into making my first day better than all others. Here are the techniques I tried:
1. Write a poem – Being an English teacher, I thought having students write a bio poem would be a great way to start. I wrote one about myself to model what I wanted my students to do, and then they created their own about themselves. They were amazing, and students were even willing to share them on the first day! I thought I had my first day activity set for my future years, but when I asked my students at the end of the year if they liked it, they didn’t remember it. Back to the drawing board!
2. Have people I know introduce me – The next year, I knew I had a winning first day planned. I would have someone I care about write a letter to my students about me. This way they could hear another person’s opinions about me, not just my own. Plus, my students would have to ask their parents/guardians to write me a letter about them, so it would fit perfectly! After reading aloud the letters to each class, I was sure I had an opener I would stick with. Unfortunately, I got the same response in June as the year before.
3. Introduce myself – Last year I thought my students needed visuals. I made a PowerPoint about myself so my students could really get to know me. I share photos of my family, some of my writing that was published, awards I won, music I enjoyed, and so on. I thought my students really liked it! I got the same dreaded result in June. Nothing seemed to work!
Yesterday, when I sat down to plan out my first few weeks, I still had an empty spot for the first day. I sat there trying to come up with something–anything–that could knock my students’ socks off. I needed to be memorable! I started flipping back through my old writers notebooks to get ideas, and right away I found a note I saved from a former student. She said, “You’ve helped me improve my reading and writing skills in so many ways.” I found another note a few pages later that stated, “I will most definitely continue reading on in tenth grade…Since reading is so important to improve as a person I’m going to keep reading. I enjoy reading a lot and want to keep reading for the rest of my life.” I beamed as I reread those notes, for they reminded me that I am making an impact on my students. Yes, first impressions are important, but they are not everything. Receiving notes like those showed me that my students are not only remembering what I teach them, but some students have replaced bad habits with great ones.
Today, I now know what I am going to do the first day. Independent reading is a HUGE part of my class, so I am going to start with a read aloud. I am going to let my students laugh about it, share their favorite parts, write about it, and most importantly, let them enjoy the story. Though it may not be the most “creative” or “memorable” based on my own definitions, it will show my students what matters in my classroom.