Knowing all that you do of each and every student today, how much would you say comes from information gathered on the very first day of school? Furthermore, knowing how excited and motivated students are the first day, to what degree do you use the opportunity to get started? And then, there’s the crucial relationship building. What do you do? All too seldom we talk about these issues, or share and explore what we do or can do. Below, you can read about the objectives, doings and tips for the very first day with my students.
I work as a teacher at Arendal Upper Secondary School, in a small town in the south of Norway. I teach Norwegian and sociology. Even though my students are ”old”, most of my objectives and tasks can be relevant for older and younger students with some adjustments.
The sooner, the better
We know very well that all students benefit significantly from a teacher’s early detection of their strengths and challenges, both academically and otherwise. My main goal for the day is, consequently, to get as much knowledge as I possibly can of;-
- at what academic level my students actually are and which ”gear” (high/low) to start with,
- which students need help from others, for instance, for additional testing, special equipment/ ICT programs etc., and
- which students to be aware of, whether due to private or school related situations or issues, like current classmates challenges, experiences with bullying, anxiety, a single mother situation etc.
I believe the relationship building is the ticket to obtaining the information of my objectives, and is therefore crucial that I get right. That being said, the students today seem to be more than willing to share their information. Hence, the opportunity is there. We just have to grab it.
Relationship building – just a preparation
How do we get the students attention, knowing that the social hierarchy battle between students kicks in immediately upon entering the classroom and continues, more or less, throughout the day? I surprise! For example, you can raise the bar high for the course, maybe so high they don’t believe what they hear, or tell them something inspiring about the course, that you’re ditching grades or of a special activity that would ”rock the boat”. Next time you need their attention, you can ”steal” it by impressing them. It can be simple, for example, learning their names super quick. Have each student tell their first name(s) as well as previous course taken, while you write their answers down. By the time you’re done, you should remember all their names. This has tremendous effect!
Be unexpected! For example, when explaining the ground rules for the contact and the classroom, let them use their own cell phones to write down your name, number and e-mail address. For me, it is important that they know they can reach me whenever wherever during the school year. That may not be the case for you, but the point is to give the information in an unexpected way.
When preparing exercises or tasks, think about the many collaborating and working methods you use during a school year, and pick out the ones you use the most. Use these methods in your tasks. I make my students interact in small and large groups while solving tasks inside or outside the classroom, but I also make them write (a lot) during the day.
Be playful! Find the exercises that work. I use one, where the class is divided into two groups and simultaneously solve one task at a time. The first group to shout out ”done”, if getting it right, gets a point. With no time to prepare, they shall line up numerically by shoe size, alphabetically by first name, numerically by birth month (and date), and by height, eye colour, last name and so forth. We do this four-five times.
The day’s objectives – Information
First up, the students fill out a form, containing questions of practical, but necessary, character you need from them today. I assume you already have one you use.
My most important tool, is my students’ handwritten essay of at least three pages at the end of the day. I change the topic almost every year, but I recommend that you keep it simple and open, like ”My biography as per today’s date”. Upon reading their answers, I can determine where to start, both academically, who to contact for further tests etc. and who I will need to follow up immediately – my objectives! Be supportive during this exercise, as there are many students who will be terrified of not getting it ”right”.
The third source – the interaction – is all the information, impressions etc. I have picked up during the day, and constitutes an important supplement to the two written documents mentioned above.
To end with a gift – A letter
A former teacher of mine taught me this exercise: Let the students write a letter to themselves, revealing current interests and doings, relationships and what’s ”in” at the moment. They put their letter in an envelope, seal it and address it to themselves. On the last day the class is together, which could be three years later, they have forgotten all about the letter. However, the response I get every year shows the importance of this writing: For many of the students, this is the first (and only?) time they realize how far they’ve come during a course of study!
It can be a good idea to start reflecting already now, using your current students as models for determining how you want to make more out of the first encounter next year. We know students greatly benefit from you becoming right on track quickly, but so do you. Good luck!