Let me warn you about your first days of school during your first-year of teaching—for a long time you’re going to feel like an absolute fraud. You will come home exhausted (and well after contract hours) after feeling like you’re just making everything up on the spot. You will feel like you are letting the kids down with your inexperience. You will feel like you just weren’t made for this.
The best piece of advice I can give you is this: make a teacher friend.
The other teachers in your building are your team and your lifeline. They know what it’s like to be a first-year teacher and they’re equipped with the knowledge and experience of survival. Learn from them. Copy their behavior management plan, their activity ideas, their lesson plans and fake it ‘till you make it.
Take It From Me
When I was three days away from my first-ever day of school, I was petrified. I had no lesson plans, no behavior management plan, and no idea what to expect when a group of 20 seven-year-olds walked through the door. I walked into my co-worker’s classroom and said this exactly. What did she do? She taught me. She gave me copies of her lesson plans, her schedule, showed me around her room, everything! I took notes on it all and copied it verbatim for the first month. The day before school, I got a full night’s rest and felt ready.
I implore you to do the same. Teaching is such an art of detail and most teachers actually LOVE explaining their reasoning and theories behind what they do, and, most of all, they love teaching. Humble yourself, learn from them, and let them know how much it means to you. You won’t ever make an enemy by looking up to someone.
This advice goes for weather you’re teaching ESL (English as a second language) to grades 6-8 in South Korea with a co-teacher or if you’re teaching general elementary in Dubai on your own. You’re grade-level team is your lifeline.
Learning From Others
Unfortunately, not all school environments are as supportive and you may find yourself in a school with a more competitive or close-knit community where it’s difficult to connect with others as a newcomer. In that case, I’m so sorry. Being honest, it will probably ruin your experience.
However, you’re still going to need to know how to survive your first days of school before you can start to figure things out on your own. To help, learn from me! Here’s what I do for the first week of second grade in my ELL-inclusion classroom in bush Alaska.
My “First Days Of School” Schedule
Because my current school is strictly primary (K-2) we start out on a half-week, Wednesday through Friday. For the first three days of school, my schedule is as follows:
8:30- 9am, Coloring
This time is typically reserved for reading interventions for low-readers. However, reading interventions don’t start until the following week once all students have been assessed. Instead, for the first days of school I put on some relaxing music and greet the students as they come in and find a seat. For the first day, on each desk is an “About Me” coloring worksheet and a new box of crayons. I allow them to pick their own seat and chitchat as they color so they feel relaxed in their new classroom. On Thursday I have the students create a team-coloring “Welcome to Second Grade” poster that I display for “Meet The Teacher” that night. On Friday they play a game called “Find a Friend” where they draw a picture of their favorite movie, book, etc. and then go around the room finding things in common with others.
9- 9:30am, Morning Meeting
Typically, I split this time between a bell-ringer spiral math worksheet and morning meeting, but for the first three days I just have an elongated morning meeting.
In my class’s morning meeting this is what we do:
- We all sit in a circle and say “Good Morning!”
- Handshake Race (I time the students as they go around the circle to shake their neighbors’ hand and greet them by name)
- Calendar routine (We go over the year, month, date, and day of the week)
- Attendance/ lunch count
- Daily schedule (I’m explicit with the students about what we are going to be doing that day)
- Share circle (Each student in the circle is invited to share something about their day, weekend, or even a memory)
- Brain Dance (This is something new I’m trying for this year that I learned from a professional development training. The purpose is to wake the kids up and get them energized for learning while building community through common movements.)
Normally, morning meeting takes 15 minutes and then I would dismiss them for math, but for the first days of school I extend it to a 30-minute morning meeting to introduce myself, explain my behavior management system, talk about how to pay attention, and introduce the hand signals I use in class.
9:30- 10:30am, Math
I like to hold math in the morning when the students are most focused. For the first days of school, I use this time to collect data on where students are in terms of the second-grade CCSS (Common Core State Standards). Three times per year, I issue the same test assessing each math standard. It is expected that in the beginning of the year they do poorly and then get better as the year goes on. This is to document growth.
However, testing is really boring so I try to spruce it up by making it into a scavenger hunt. There are 26 standards so, to split it up, each day I hide 8-9 questions around the room and give the students an answer sheet. I give them some boundary rules such as “It is not in my desk” or “It’s not in the bathroom” and then they walk around looking for the questions.
This is easy to do with any worksheet you want. You can make your own worksheet or check TeachersPayTeachers for one you want. Then simply copy each question onto a smaller card and hide it somewhere in the room. Make sure each question is clearly numbered and have the answer key labeled with blanks for each number. I make a different sheet for each day so it’s not overwhelming to see 26 blanks on a page and also so I don’t have to count on students not losing their answer keys by the end of the week. I make sure to model the first 1-2 times so students know how to fill out the sheet correctly, otherwise a lot of them will simply fill it out in the order they find the questions instead of matching the number of the question to the number on the answer key.
When I collect the papers I record the grade but don’t count it towards their report card since it’s more for me to track where they are in the beginning, middle, and end of the school year.
10:30- 11am, Snack
Students are allowed to eat at their desks (“If you’re eating, you’re seated!”) then throw out their trash and pick an activity. During snack time, my students are allowed to either play GoNoodle, pick a math game from the shelf, color (I keep a variety of coloring sheets out), or read. I limit their snack time activity options because otherwise students get overwhelmed with choices and end up causing trouble. With the boundaries it allows me to stay in charge while they have fun.
11- 11:30am, Writing
I will have the students gather on the rug and then model the task of the day in a mini-lesson. For the first days of school this is simply writing about your summer in 3-5 sentences with a picture. After modeling, I allow the students to use flexible seating to work on their writing pieces independently. They are allowed to sit at a desk, table, or on the floor. Again, they are allowed to chitchat but I facilitate around the room checking to make sure everyone stays on task.
At the end of the week, I collect these pieces, make copies, and send the originals home. Along with their math assessment results, I keep the copies in student folders as their BOY (beginning of the year) writing sample and use it to track their annual progress.
11:30am- 12pm, Reading
Normally, this is when I would hold our daily reading lesson following the CORE model, but for the first days of school I just do an interactive read-aloud instead. On Wednesday, I like to read “The First Day Jitters” by Julie Danneberg which is pretty popular (*Amazon affiliate link). Then I follow up on Thursday and Friday with some books focusing on social-emotional learning with themes such as sharing or making friends. I let the students raise their hand to comment and then will ask some basic comprehension questions about recalling the plot to allow different points of view.
12- 12:20pm, Team-Building Activity
Normally, this would be spelling time, but for the first days of school I have the class do team-building activities instead. I like to start out with the “yarn-tangle” ice-breaker on Wednesday to get students talking to each other. On Thursday I focus on teaching them the importance of following directions with the “Paper Porthole.” On Friday I teach them how to play a game I learned at a professional development training where you use imaginary strings to “mold” your partner into funny poses. I like that game particularly because it teaches them about consent and positive touch while letting them be goofy in a controlled environment.
12:30- 1pm Lunch
1- 1:30, Recess
1:30- 2:30pm, Reading Groups/ Special
We do Special a little differently at our school. First, all students are split into color-coded groups by reading level, then, for special, the class is split in half with 2 groups going to Special (gym, library, or Yup’ik language class) and 2 groups staying behind for reading intervention. After 30 minutes the groups switch.
However, for the first days of school we don’t yet have the students sorted into reading level groups so I use this time to do so. The students are separated randomly and I test them one at a time for their reading level. This includes performing an ORF (oral reading fluency) test to calculate their WPM (words per minute) and testing their Dolch words for each student.
For the ORF I find a grade level reading passage either from the curriculum or on TPT (TeachersPayTeachers) and set the timer on my phone for 1 minute. I have the student sit with me and read the passage out loud marking off the words they get wrong or struggle with (if they struggle for more than 2 seconds on a word I give it to them and mark it wrong). After 1 minute when the timer goes off, I count up the words they got right and that is their WPM score. I record this and whether or not it meets the grade-level expectations.
For assessing their Dolch words, I just print out a list of all Dolch words and have them read all the ones they know from sight (sight-words). I check those off and then calculate the percentage they know and record it.
This is a lot of testing so I break it up where I test each student’s ORF on Wednesday, then split the 220 Dolch words between Thursday and Friday.
This year, to try and spruce up the testing a little bit, I’m going to use this worksheet from TPT which makes the Dolch testing a little less boring.
2:30- 2:50, Extra
Extra time is set aside for when our school assemblies are held and I usually use this to teach our SEL (social-emotion learning) curriculums, “Second Step” and “Mind Up.” However, for the first days of school I use it to pre-teach some other activities that we do during the week. On Wednesday I pre-teach our reflective writing journal by modeling how to write the date and how to reflect on your day. On Thursday we do another activity that I learned from my professional development training where each student gets a stack of index cards to build a house, then we connect them all with roads to make a tiny index card village. On Friday we have our annual “Welcome Back” school-wide assembly.
To make things a little more comprehensive, you can download a copy of my first week of school schedule below. Click to download the PDF and signup for our weekly informational newsletter.
In case you couldn’t already tell, I try to keep my class engaging by allowing a lot of student collaboration, incorporating games, and finding ways to fit movement into my lessons. If that’s not your style, that’s okay! There’s more than one way to teach.
Now, I realize this plan is very specific to elementary classroom teachers and doesn’t address teachers in secondary or ESL subject-teachers who teach in rotating blocks. However, the main objectives still stand. Your first days of school should be about collecting BOY data, figuring out homogenous groupings, modeling expectations, introducing them to your behavior management structures, and meeting their classmates. Maybe you won’t need to worry about collecting student CCSS data for math, but you still like the idea of making an assessment into a scavenger hunt. Feel free to use it! That’s what this post is for!
If you want more guidance in terms of preparing for your first days of school, check out our completely free online course, “Your First Week.” It’s a day-by-day plan for the first week of school that will instruct you on what to do from the first day you walk into your new school.
If you found this post of unquestionable value, as is always the mission, please share it!