In my high school observations this semester, I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to see any first classes; however, I have been a student in many first classes and a teacher in a few. The first day of class is just one day, but it is arguably the most important day you will have with your students all year. It is the day that they are introduced to you, their peers, the course content, and the course expectations. And, as Evertson, Emmer, and Worsham argue, the first days of school are absolutely critical for establishing order in the classroom.
Before you write out your first lesson plan, consider what impression you want your students to leave with after the first class. Presumably, you want to create an environment wherein learning happens. You (hopefully) also want to create an environment that is respectful and welcoming to all students. If you are hoping to support an Inquiry-based classroom, you want to foster an environment that allows and encourages students to ask questions and experiment with their own learning. These things are all great in theory, but how do they look in practice on the first day? Below, I’ve highlighted some aspects of the first day of class that you may want to consider. Because of my background in English, my examples will primarily tie to Language Arts classrooms; however, they should be applicable or at least adaptable to all classrooms.
If you have control over the layout of your classroom, how will you arrange it? Will the desks be in standard rows, with the teacher at the front? Will students all face each other, in a more seminar-like format? Will there be different stations or pods? How will you decorate?
Whichever set-up you settle on is fine, so long as you have a reason for your decision. Consider the overall effect that each arrangement will have. Desks in rows are conducive to lecture-style teaching with teacher as authority, whereas desks in a circle are conducive to discussion with teacher as facilitator. Also consider whether you will use a seating plan, which may help you remember names but may also assert more control than you desire.
A) To you, the teacher:
How will you introduce yourself to your students? No pressure, but this is the first impression you will be making on them. Many of the students I have talked to in high schools have told me that the teachers who are approachable and who connect with students on a personal level are their favourite teachers. Will you tell them a little about yourself? Also, this is a good opportunity to share a bit about why you enjoy the subject you will be teaching them and let them know what you are excited about.
B) To the other students:
If you want your class to be an interactive one where students feel comfortable talking to each other, it’s a good idea to get them to introduce themselves to you and to each other on the first day. Incorporating introductions in your first lesson also tells students that you care about who they are. Icebreakers take more time, but in my opinion, are well worth it. You might consider also getting them to complete “get to know you” questionnaires, where you can work in course-related questions (e.g., “what is your favourite book?”) and space to tell you important information.
Going Over the Course Outline
Students like to have an idea of where they are headed (and don’t we all, really?), so providing them with some kind of roadmap for the course is a considerate thing to do. If you have a syllabus, I recommend not going over every word, but instead highlighting key information.
Be sure to have some sort of discussion about expectations you have for the class. You might consider creating a list of class rules in collaboration with your students. If students have input about the rules, they are more likely to follow them, as they are less likely to feel that the rules are arbitrary. If you decide to create the rules on your own, consider making expectations as a sort of contractual agreement with your students. You can have two sections: one for “students will…” and one for “teacher will…,” and you can even get students to sign the agreements. It might also be a good idea to have a large, readable copy of the expectations hanging somewhere in the room to refer back to from time to time.
The best way to show that the course values learning is to demonstrate it: get the students to engage in real material on the first day. This learning can be as surface or in-depth as you desire, and you might choose to tie it into one of the other “first day” aspects that I’ve outlined (for example, your icebreaker could somehow tie to your subject). At the very least, talk to your students a bit about why you are excited about the subject. If you are legitimately interested in and excited about the material you are teaching, students will be more engaged.