A Middle School Teacher's First Day

We teach our students that if they “plan to learn, they must learn to plan”. As teachers, we know all too well about the importance of laying out a plan. The beginning of a school year can be hectic at best, yet it’s wise to follow that advice yourself on the first day of school, especially if you’re new to the teaching profession. As a long-time middle school teacher, I’d like to share some insight as to what has worked for me on that all-important first day of each academic year. It will encompass the work that needs to be done beforehand as well as what might help the actual first day go a little more smoothly in your middle school class.

Make a good first impression. Much of that first impression is sculpted in the days leading up to the opening day of school. The classroom should be attractive and organized. Be sure to have the room in order a couple days in advance of when the students will actually arrive. Adorning the space with colorful decorations and learning tools will catch the students’ eyes. One boy said to me later in the year, “I knew this class would be fun as soon as I walked into it.” When I asked him why he thought that, he replied that it “just looked fun”. They do notice. Pay attention to details. Be neat and organized. They are looking to you as a role model in more ways than one. Plan to dress professionally. Professional doesn’t mean a suit and tie; however, you don’t want to look like one of their peers either. Your name and the name of the class should be posted along with the day’s objective and homework assignment. Students need to become accustomed to always looking in the same spot for this information. Post a bell schedule. Prepare a seating chart for each period. Number your desks to match the charts. I used an LCD projector or put the seating charts on overhead sheets for easy access on that first day. Write a personal letter to the students for distribution when they enter your class. This not only gives them something to read as soon as they enter the room, but also provides some background information about you. My homework the first day was always that the students needed to write a letter back to me. (No stipulations… I just said, “Make a good first impression.”) These letters gave me insight and I referred to them on and off during the school year. I recommend some type of hands-on activity, but have the components on the desks and ready to go. Keep it simple. Don’t consider waiting until that first day to tie up the loose ends. You will be busy addressing wandering students and curious parents!

The first day arrives all too quickly, but at least now you feel prepared. Greet the students enthusiastically at the door, hand them your letter, and advise them to find their seats, according to the chart that’s on display. Assigning seats right away shows the students that you have expectations. It also eliminates much of the awkwardness that some students feel in trying to choose a seat, and it helps you when it’s time to take attendance. The tone you set during the first 50-minute period is important. A mix of firmness, politeness, and a sense of humor is key. Don’t hesitate to reprimand a student for inappropriate behavior. It’s a must. They need to know right away that you’re the boss! Move around the classroom as proximity to the teacher is a major key to on-task behavior. The first year I taught middle-school, I had visions of extensive interaction with my students. I quickly realized that the paperwork of registration makes it important to include independent activities that require little direction. As a math teacher, I would place a set of foam tan grams at each student’s desk. I gave the quick direction to use all 7 pieces to construct one of several different shapes (square, rectangle, and triangle). They were allowed to work at a low whisper with neighboring students. When registration was complete, various students were chosen to show their creations at the overhead. I would then begin to go over classroom procedures. (See my article entitled, “The Whiteboard Jungle: Discipline Tips for New Middle School Teachers“.) This will spill over to the next day. In addition, I always had a Power Point slide show running continually on that first day to address class procedure issues.

Each fifty minute period will fly by quickly! At the end of the day, even though you are thinking of nothing but going home to soak your tired feet, be sure that your plans and materials are set for the next day. Take a deep breath and realize that this is the start of something big. Good luck on the first day!

Some related articles:

Middle School Teachers: Organize Your Classroom and Make Your Life Easier
Middle-School Teachers: Assign Jobs to Students and Breathe Easier
Teachers, Go to the Head of the Class with These Ten Health Tips for Back-to-School!