Monday, many teachers will be rubbing their eyes and taking a deep breath before reluctantly rolling out of bed. Their stomachs will be filled with nerves, both good and bad. Each teacher’s mind will be occupied with thoughts of their new crop of students: will this year be a good year? Will I like my students? Will they learn from my teaching style? What type of parents will I have this year? Is it too late to run away?
At least, that has been my experience on the first day of pre-planning. All of these questions have always been silenced by the fact that I am so deeply excited to see my co-workers and get to begin setting up my classroom and planning lessons for my students. Planning is one of my favorite parts about education. For me, planning was a huge part of the draw of teaching: I got the autonomy to make every day different. I could mix up lectures with hands-on activities or Socratic seminars. I always looked forward to coming up with new activities every year; so much so, that I very rarely repeated the same lessons or unit plans. Aside from getting to know my students, planning is my favorite part of the job.
At the moment, I am really struggling with the idea that I will not be able to go back to school this year. There are little things that I am really going to miss: that first meeting in the cafeteria with our PTSA provided breakfast and snickering with my favorites in the corner. I won’t get to see that furrowed brow from Dr. Lowery as I get in trouble for chatting with my favorite, Mrs. Branca. I am going to miss waiting at the copier and chatting with the math department…because for some reason, they are always at the copier. I am sad to know I will miss the first lunch together in each others’ rooms and bouncing ideas off of one another or discussing who could wait the longest to input grades (I swear it was like a competition…)
My mind still goes into hyperdrive when I think about the first day of school, and the preceding days of pre-planning. Even now, I plan what I would do if I were able to start school on the twelfth of August.
I am not a teacher who enjoys giving a lecture. Most of the time, I feel like I mix my words. What seems perfectly coherent in my head comes out jumbled and unclear over a 40 minute lecture. Besides, ninth graders usually give you about fifteen minutes of their attention. The first day of school was never a day to incorporate student centered activities; usually, teachers talk about the procedures in the classroom, distribute syllabi, and give the students their first homework assignment.
I did this twice before I realized that was not well suited for my teaching style. Here are three ideas for you to begin the school year with student-centered activities.
1. Make a syllabus scavenger hunt. My favorite way to avoid a lecture is to give the students their first assignment. Instead of talking at them, I make them look for answers that I think are the most important pieces of the syllabus. Students have five centers for the five different parts of the syllabus and I am stationed at the one that explains the day-to-day activities. I repeat the same little speech a few times and get to know the students a little bit. This has worked really well for me in the past. Ninth graders tend to get that glare if they sit still for too long. This particular activity establishes that you will work hard to make the material fun for them, but assure them that they will have to work for you to make sure that can happen.
2. Make a first day of school webquest for students. One of the biggest complaints that I have about my students is that they do not interact enough with the website that took me hours to complete. If I were going back this year, I would use this website in order to have students sign up for Edmodo, take their multiple intelligence survey (to set up their learning portfolio) and allow them to learn to interact with my flawless website.
Okay, okay, it isn’t flawless… But it is a tool that I would want my students to use a lot more than they have in the past. Having a web quest could cut down on the paper I would have to run as well. I would probably add a Google Form for parents to sign as evidence that they read and understood the syllabus.
3. Have a jigsaw activity to establish daily routines and student accountability. Every teacher has different classroom management strategies. I have a weekly secretary in my class. It is designed as a reward as these students get out of the sponge or warm-up activity and instead are required to pass back graded papers. This cuts down on losing instruction time and gives students responsibility that they actually enjoy. If I were to do this, I would have one group assigned as my “secretaries,” and the other groups assigned to various sections of the syllabus in order to become experts in that particular section. Each group would have to choose a leader in order for students to complete the sections of a student activity for their first grade in my classroom. This is similar to the scavenger hunt, but with more movement around the classroom.
What are your favorite activities for the first day of school?