The First Day Back to School by Elizabeth Supan
by Elizabeth Supan, Monthly Columnist
Just the phrase itself sends shivers. Doesn’t it? I still get so nervous and excited on the night before the first day back that I have a hard time sleeping. I think the reason I am a bundle of nerves is because I want to make sure that I cover every detail that first day. Will I remember to go over fire drill procedures before they ring the fire drill? Will I remember to turn in attendance on time? And the most dreaded question…will I send every child home the correct way on that first day of school? Will they get home safely?
Sometimes we, as teachers, are so excited, nervous and filled with anticipation that everything goes “just right” that sometimes we lose what I feel is the most important goal for day one: Does every single student feel loved and appreciated enough to want to come back the next day?
Years ago, I made this my number one priority for day one. What about lesson plans? I don’t keep any for that first day. I simply create a list of the essential items that need to be discussed or completed.
Really, those are the only three things that have to happen. I used to fill the day going over every single procedure: properly writing in agendas, how to have homework on desks in the morning, how to line up for lunch, how to ask to sharpen a pencil, etc. You get the idea, right? BORING. I know that we want to set these procedures in place, but it can wait for another day. Not every little detail needs to be covered on day one. It took years for me to realize this.
I try to make my life a little easier by doing a few simple things. First, each student comes in with a million school supplies. Some students have their supplies labeled, but most do not. My solution is to grab gigantic, sealable plastic bags (already labeled with each student’s name) and dump all supplies into them. Then I gather them all and put to the side for another day. They can use my supplies on day one.
Most students have stories they want to tell you. Let them. This is how you are going to be able to achieve the goal of having them want to come back the next day. So, how are you going to have time for this? Have students create an “All about Me” poster. I have students partner up for this activity. Once they create the poster, they share with their partner, and then, if they want, they can share it with the class. Not all students want to share aloud. So, keeping my number one goal in mind, I don’t make them. I do, however, take the time to ask each student questions about his/her poster.
Finally, the first day should be fun. Fun? Yes, fun. One of the fun activities that I like to do is to have a snowball fight. Students fill out a simple questionnaire and then crumple it up to make a snowball. They are puzzled and confused about why they had to crumple up their paper. I tell them that I have a secret. That we are going to have a little fun, but that they have to keep that a secret or other people might get upset that we are having so much fun at school. Then, I throw the first snowball high into the air and yell “Snowball fight!” It is pandemonium, but so fun. I’ll then blow a whistle and the students must pick up the nearest snowball and read the questionnaire aloud to the class. That way, we learn a little bit about each student.
Each year I remind myself to keep that first day simple. Enjoy the day and make sure my students are happy enough to want to return for day two. Then, I can hit them with all of the rules and procedures.
About the Author
Elizabeth Supan is an elementary school teacher in South Carolina with 18 years experience. Currently she is a 4th grade math teacher. She uses small group math instruction to meet the needs of her diverse learners. You can read more about her teaching on her blog Fun in Room 4B. Aside from teaching, Elizabeth enjoys crafting, completing DIY projects and spending time with her husband and children.