As a new teacher, my professional development focused on being student-centered. I wanted to make the students in my classroom as self-sufficient as possible, so after hearing my principal talk about the importance of group work, collaboration, and instructional strategies to use in the classroom, I decided to put these ideas into practice on the first day of school. I had the brilliant plan to make the reading of the student handbook fun and exciting by putting students into groups to read part of the handbook, discuss it together, and then present it to the class. It was a disaster. Even with the best intentions, I could have put these strategies to work much more effectively had I taken some time to get my footing in between Institute and my first day. You don’t have to make the mistakes I did. Here are six things you can do to prepare to teach on the first day of school.
1. Take the time to contact your school, visit and meet with your principal (if possible) before professional development starts, so you are acquainted with the school and some logistics before the craziness begins. When I went to my placement community, I met with my principal, saw my classroom, and learned about some of her policies and procedures before the entire staff came together. This helped me begin to build a relationship with her, and I was able to set up my classroom a little early, which is always helpful.
2. Have a strong Unit 0 plan for both you and your students. You will have worked on this during Institute, but revisit it often as you learn more about the context of your community (see #1). Most importantly, plan your procedures, and know them like the back of your hand. Memorize them. Study them. Hold your students accountable for them. Know exactly what your students will do from the moment they walk in the classroom to the moment they leave. Practice this if you need to. I would suggest reading Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School to help prioritize exactly what you need to start off on the right foot in your first weeks. (Don’t do what I did, and put your kids into groups in the first seconds of your time with them…this equals DISASTER.)
3. Listen to advice from the second year (and veteran!) teachers in your school. If they don’t reach out to you, reach out to them to gain insight into their first year. You may be able to learn from their successes and their mistakes!
4. Stay away from group work in at least the first week of school. Group work is a wonderful and transformational strategy to use in your classroom–when introduced and organized at the right time. Instead of getting discouraged by group work because it is introduced too quickly, take the time to make sure your students know what you expect of them and the procedures in the classroom. You will know when your students are ready. For some, it might be the first week of school, and for others, it might be as late as Christmas.
5. Read your school handbook cover to cover. This is your bible for the year. Know it. Love it. Own it.
6. Focus on the quality of your plans, not the beauty of your classroom. This means mapping out your Unit 1 Plan thoroughly. Place your objectives in the appropriate date, so you at least have a long-term plan ready to go and can look ahead at what you will cover in the first 8 weeks or so. While it seems tempting to work on posters and decorating your classroom in the days before school, make sure you have strong and effective plans for your students for Unit 0 and Unit 1. I was much more concerned about decorating my room to make it bright and cheery, when I should have been carefully planning and revising my plans and procedures. Learn from my mistakes: focus on planning not decorating. You and your students will thank you for it.
What other ways can you prepare to teach on the first day?