The First Week: What You Want to Accomplish

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Editors' Note: This blog was updated 8/3/2016

There are teachers who give homework – actual homework – on the first day of school. Others spend the first week playing getting-to-know-you games and left the curriculum for later.

There’s no right way to do the first week of school, as long as you set some goals and work toward accomplishing them. Here are some things I would always keep in mind in the first week:

Assigned seats are necessary

Nothing will move classroom rapport along more than quickly learning everyone’s names. I would organize the kids into desks arranged by their first name to speed along the process and then make sure they stayed there. The complaints about assigned seating would start toward the end of the first week. If I wanted them to stay in their arrangements, I would start “forgetting” names, which annoyed them even more than not being able to sit with their friends. Then you always have the liberty to move kids around once you get a sense of the dynamics.

You need to participate

The majority of teachers like to do some introductory activities and games to help the kids interact, but it’s important for the teachers to participate in these games as well. First, even though they may not know the word, kids know that they don’t like aloof teachers. There’s no reason to be guarded when all you are discussing is how many pets you have. Teaching is about building relationships and you need to show you’re willing to meet them halfway (or more).

Questionnaire and information sheet

Every teacher has the kids fill out some sort of information sheet, usually on the first day of school. It’s important to get all of that contact information (make it a grade if that’s the only way to get kids to turn it in). I would also have a detailed questionnaire for the kids, touching on everything from how they learn best (some already knew their best modalities) to what I could do to make the class easier for them. If issues presented themselves later in the year, I would refer back to the questionnaire and get some valuable insight on why the student and I were having trouble meeting in the middle.

Formative assessment can be fun

Any sort of formative assessment you want to do during the first week, to see what skills the kids are entering your class with, needs to still be relatively lighthearted. The kids are still easing into the routine of school and having a 20-page test dropped in their laps can be a shock to the system that affects their opinion of the class (while its still being formed) and your ability to build rapport. As an English teacher, I would always have them write about something that I knew they would want to write about, like a hobby or interest. I would find out what skills needed work and the kids would not stress about the assignment.

Looking for more back-to-school tips? Check out these three ideas to keep students engaged in the classroom all year long!

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