Making the Most of the First Days of School: Suggestions for the Start of the School Year
By Sara Mujahid
As the new school year begins, you may be feeling that familiar excitement and anxiety that is so familiar to teachers. First impressions do count and the first day of class can set the tone for the rest of the year. With this in mind, we present ideas to help you take full advantage of the precious first days of school.
Focus and plan: All good work begins with intentions. At the beginning of the year, reflect on why you are teaching and set goals for yourself and your students.
Introduce yourself: Students are naturally curious about their teacher. Beyond knowing your name, older students like to know about their teachers credentials and experience. As students walk in, be prepared to greet them with salaams and smiles. Speak to them as you wait for others to arrive, begin establishing a personal relationship with each student from the very first moment. If you are preoccupied or distracted at your desk, students are likely to feel less important and sense disconnection from you.
Answer basic questions: The students and parents want to know about schedules, grading policy, homework, and school supplies. Discuss these issue briefly and create a handout for students to take home and share with parents. Include a student/parent response form. This can help you to gather important information about students and help parents and students to share concerns.
Break the ice: Very few people are able to sustain attention in lecture format. It's important to get the students to communicate. One way to do this is to play a name game. Begin by saying your name and have the next student say your name and add their own. Each student adds their name to the chain until the chain comes back to the teacher, who tries to repeat every students name. The class pitches in to help if someone forgets a part of the chain. Another variation is to use name tags or name plates on the desks and have students add an adjective or a rhyming word.
Introduce a class procedure: Raising hands to talk, passing back papers, waiting until teacher dismisses class before exiting, looking for assignment notices on the corner of the board — these are all necessary components of schools. Setting aside time for procedures in the first week of school will help your class to run smoothly throughout the year.. Even on the first day, pick a procedure, introduce it, and practice it with students. See Harry Wong's First Days of School for more on procedures.
Allow students to interact: Cooperative learning is not just the latest catch phrase at teacher's seminars, in fact students can and do learn from one another and learning to work together is an important part of school. Yet for many teachers, the idea of group work is a nightmare. To avoid disorder and wasted time, introduce students to group work at the beginning of the year. Give students clear directions and clear objectives. Rather than using large groups, allow students to begin with just one partner.
One introduction activity that many teachers have used successfully on the first day of school is to have students interview and introduce their partner. Come up with a short list of questions yourself, or have the class come up with the questions on the board. Then have the students pair up for a few minutes.
Lastly, let each pair introduce one another to the class. Alternatively, have students discuss a question or a problem using think-pair-share. For example, in a Canadian Geography class, the teacher asked the students to think of the pros and cons of living in a country with low population density. Allow students to first think and jot their ideas on paper, have them discuss with a partner, and then share their ideas with the whole class.
Inspire students: What were you last moved by? Perhaps it was an ayah or a hadith, or maybe it was a scientific discovery or a mathematical connection. Whatever it is that you've been moved by, consider sharing it with your students, as well as sharing with them the feelings it inspired. School can often feel like a dull place for students, full of disconnected facts and teachers who operate like robots, trying to stuff students' minds with curriculum. Share with students a little something of whatever it is that makes you excited to learn.
One teacher began her introduction to poetry class by reciting a poem from memory, filling students with wonder. A high school math teacher shared the story of Pythagoras with students in the first week; a similar history of math story can help to draw in otherwise uninterested students.
Find time for reflection: The beginning of the school year sets to tone, even for you. Make sure that from the beginning you find opportunities to reflect on what's happening in the classroom. Keep assessing what's working and what you could improve. In addition, given most teachers' schedules, a part of our job becomes prioritizing and reducing our task load so we can concentrate on what's really important for our students. Find time to do this early so you can avoid becoming overwhelmed.
What works for you at the start of the school year? Please share your experiences and strategies with us.
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