As a former (now retired) classroom teacher, this quote on the left really resonates with me! While I do think it’s important to set some expectations the first day…the primary goal should be to to start that first day in a positive way so my students would know they would be not only safe and supported in my classroom, but also all the fun and amazing things they would do during the school year! Think of the school year as a full-length movie…and on that first day, give your students a “sneak preview” of what this year will be about!
Speaking of fun for that first day of school, check out my TpT product – Back to School Bingo! This is a great icebreaker activity I used with my students (I also would revise and use for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!)
I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS! What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!
Hop on over to this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store! And PLEASE, if you do purchase, I would appreciate some reviews on this in TpT. If you don’t end up purchasing, please share the product on social media and with other teachers!
I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME! So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!
First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated! Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.
Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated! Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences of not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!
And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents! Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!
So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings!). I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!
Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.
Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were. I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!
Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule!
Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.
Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)
- Respect all people and property in the classroom.
- Use quiet voices during work time.
- Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
- Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
- Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
- The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
- School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
- Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
- Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
- Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.
Friday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!
Grades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.
How am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!
Illness: In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.
I’ve always loved the first day of school better than the last day of school. Firsts are best because they are beginnings. Jenny Han
So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!