The First Day of School: The Best Day of School!

By on September 1, 2015

This week a very special guest offered to write an eCoach for LiteracyTA. Tim LeMaster, my father, has been teaching for over 40 years. He has taught in both private and public schools. Currently, he is teaching middle school social studies in the William S. Hart School District. Tim has encouraged me all my life to be my best self. We are thankful for his words of wisdom. Here is what he has to say about the first week of school.

You need to get students on your team the first days of school and let them get to know you and explain how much you value them and want the best for them. Teachers are all passionate about their subjects, so use that passion to get students excited about learning. In my case, I want my students to feel apart on the history of America.  Make your curriculum relevant.  Use analogies and make connections to bring the content to life.  Students are diamonds, and we need good diamond cutters (teachers) to form them into beautiful precious stones.  We are called to do this job!  

On the first day of school, all the kids are nervous--and you know what--so are we.  Students and their teachers are nervous because it is a new year with new expectations and new experiences. I have always believed that nerves on the first day of school are a good sign. They remind me of how much I care about what I do.

I have found over the years that the first day of school should be used to set the tone for the rest of the year. It is my responsibility and privilege to gain their confidence on day 1.

Before my students come in, I count out 30-35 playing cards (depending on my class size) and pull the exact number and type from another deck. Cards from one set are placed on the students’ desks. The other set is handed out to my students. As students pour into my room, I greet them with a confident handshake and a smile. This one moment communicates so much to my new students. It says: I am happy you are here! Thank you for being in my class! I am a friendly person who cares about you! I love my job and can’t wait to get started! Immediately, they see my personality and get a glimpse of my passion. After I shake their hands, I hand them a playing card and ask them to go find their matching card in the classroom. This is a fun and random way to seat students on the first day and hopefully eliminates buddies sitting next to each other (sometimes the best of friends get lucky and find themselves sitting right next to each other). Once kids are seated, I collect the cards. Now I have a way to randomly call on students. Engagement is high and it is only the first 10 minutes of class. I ask a question, pick a card, and the student sitting at the table with that card answers the question. Simple!   

In addition to the playing cards, I like to use an icebreaker questionnaire to learn more about what they believe about school and to show an interest in their point of view. The questions I ask guide my students to think and reflect on their learning. For example, I ask,  “If you had the power to change anything about your classes last year, what would it be?”  Then I ask, “What would you like to change about yourself this year? How can you improve from last year.”      

When it is time for them to learn about me, I tell them brief stories and show them pictures. I speak with passion and enthusiasm. I want them to get excited and feel comfortable. I can be silly at times which always makes them smile and laugh. I become a real person to them.  Each day I try to introduced a new part of me for the first week. The first day of school should be fun. It is a day to make connections. A day to inspire young minds. A day that only happens once a school year.

The Importance of Building Character

One of most important components of my curriculum is character education/building. The first character quality I establish is attentiveness. I define attentiveness as “the worth of a person or a task by giving your undivided attention.”  When I introduce attentiveness, I have a volunteer student come up to the front of the room and I instruct the student to tell me about a vacation. I tell him/her to keep talking no matter what I do. As the student begins to unfold his/her exciting vacation, I begin to purposely ignore what is being said and look in my top pocket, my wallet, at the ceiling, etc. At this point, students are laughing and the volunteer is playing along. Then, I look at my volunteer and say, “Oh, I am sorry, I just got distracted. Would you try explaining it again?”  The student starts over, and I quickly get distracted again.

By this time, the volunteer becomes agitated even though he/she knows this is a demonstration of what not to do. We reset one more time, but this time I listen. I stand facing the volunteer and make eye contact. Nothing is in my hands. My focus is on the student telling the story. I interact with the student and show great excitement in what he/she says. Then, I turn to the class and ask them what they thought about how I treated the story teller? They all agree that I was very rude and not very attentive the first two times. I look at the class and ask, “How do you think teachers feel when you do that to them while they teach?” They get it immediately. From that day forward, if a student is not paying attention, I don’t have to yell or get upset, I simply say, “You are not being very attentive.”  The student knows the definition and he immediately corrects his/her own behavior and usually says, “Sorry Mr. LeMaster.”  Problem solved. Character building is the best classroom management strategy I have. The ownership is placed back on the students where it belongs and the lessons they learn transfer to real world experience.

These things I have shared with you have been very successful for me for all of my teaching career. I recommend implementing any of these ideas. I am sure all of you have excellent first day of school ideas. Thank you for all that you do for our young people!

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The Conversation

Mrs. Kidd Mrs. Kidd 9/1/2015

I can't wait to use your ideas Tim, I wonder if you model other important classroom behaviors...
I need pointers.

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Ms. Johansen Ms. Johansen 9/4/2015

I've been out of the classroom for several years in a training role and I'm lucky enough to be a classroom teacher again, beginning next week. After reading Mr. LeMaster's words, I am reminded why being in the classroom is indeed a calling. How wonderful a student's day would be, all year long, if we all embraced these words of wisdom. Let the games begin!
Ms. Jo

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