Friday, August 3, 2012

The First Day of School: How It Looks In My 5th Grade Classroom

It's hard to believe that the first day of school for students is less than two weeks away (August 15th to be exact).
That first day fills students and teachers alike with anticipation and nervousness. For me, the first day is something that I try to put a lot of thought into.

How you start the year out is important to the success of that year. Your first impression on your new students in those initial days will set the tone for the entire year. If you come off as wishy washy, unorganized, or weak on discipline, you will have issues that will plague your class all year.

Some of the best advice I ever received about the beginning of the year came from my dad, a master teacher with over thirty years of classroom experience. He said that you really need to let the kids know that you mean business, that they can trust you but must respect you, and that you will hold them accountable, all right from the second they walk into the classroom.

I make it a point to greet my students individually that first day. I make sure that I ask their names if I don't already know them (and as a long timer at a school that has had generations of the same families, I do have a lot of students and families that I've known for years), and I make sure that they understand that they will be held accountable for their behavior and responsibility every single day.

Some of those kids go home that first night and say "wow, Mr. B isn't as nice as I heard he was," or "I don't know if I want to be in this class." But that's ok, remember, we're not there to be liked, and sending the kids home with fuzzy goodness on the first day isn't always a good thing. Be strict, rigid, and by the book those first days, and eventually you can start to pull back, but your students will remember that they're accountable and act accordingly. This is a tried and true method, I'm not saying be mean and scary, but you don't have to try to make friends and be the popular teacher on day one, in fact I mean not to in my class.

I know I've been a little wordy here, so I'll go ahead and jump right into my plan for the first day (school goes from 8:00-2:30 in my school district, with 40 minutes for lunch 12:00-12:40) Before I begin, remember that the hallmark of that first day, and the first week, is setting up rules and procedures. Scholastic Professional has a page that is called Head off Behavior Problems With Classroom Procedures, and lists 30 things that you should have procedures for.

  • First I greet the class, introduce myself by talking officially about my education and credentials (even though this will go over some of their heads). I then tell them that I have until the end of the day to learn their names, first and last, and I practice.
  • Next, we go over rules and procedures. I will do the following things every day for the first five days:
    • We will go back outside to the place they line up on the playground when the bell rings. I will discuss proper line etiquette, and what to do if I do not arrive to pick them up (you never know what will occur before school starts). 
    • Pushing in chairs: This is very important in these large classrooms that most of us teach in these days. I set up the rule of pushing in your chair everytime you leave your desk, and diligently call every student on it who forgets.
    • How to leave the room: Where the sign out sheet is, hall passes, and the expectations for behavior in the school when alone.
    • Starting the day: How students enter the room. In my class, they walk in through the outside access door, empty their materials from their back packs, put their back packs in the hallway, enter the room, get breakfast, have a seat, and work on their morning journal activity while the announcements go on. 
    • Supplies: I collect most of the students supplies and keep them communal. I take glue, crayons, colored pencils, pencils, and paper, and put them into large bins that we will share. Students are then given the expectations for the usage of these items and the consequences for damaging them purposefully (their parents will be asked to purchase new ones).
    • Handing in work: I go over where the work baskets are located, the consequences for late work, and where to find work after you've been absent (the absent folder).
    • Lining up: I normally have my students line up in a set order. I usually start with alphabetic order and if I have any conflicts, I move students around those first weeks. We practice extensively the proper line etiquette in the hallway. I gripe if they're not straight, if anyone talks, and on and on. I will always find something wrong with the line, and make them practice it many many times that first week. But after that, they line up much quieter.
    • Lunch procedure: Where do they go for lunch? We do recess first, so we talk about how to leave for recess, where to line up for lunch, and where I pick them up. We practice this as well.
OK, I think you get the point. We go over all the rules and procedures, I'll stop explaining and just list all the rules that are important:
  • Where to line up in the morning, after lunch, fire drills, etc.
  • Pushing in chairs
  • Morning routine
  • Lunch routine
  • End of day routine
  • Supply sharing
  • Group work expectations
  • Where to turn in work in
  • Where to get absent work
  • How to use computers
  • When to use computers
  • What to do when done early with work
  • Raising your hand before talking
  • Practice walking in the hallway
  • Desk organization
Yes it can be daunting, but it's necessary. Be organized, be rehearsed, and present yourself professionally. It will go a long way. Even if you're nervous, new, scared, don't let it show. Be awesome!

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