First Week of School: Quick Tips and Tricks for new K-2 Teachers
By Naomi O'Brien
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The first week of school can seem intimidating for a new teacher, but we’ve all been there. In fact, most veteran teachers are still a bit nervous before the first day of school each year.
After taking a year off after having my baby, I am returning to school, and I too am feeling a little bit nervous. I’ve taught 2 years in kindergarten, 2 years in first grade, and 2 years in second grade, so I thought I’d think back to the tips I received and learned along the way.
Hopefully some of these tips are helpful to you!
You need an attention getter! Maybe it will be a fun chant, a series of claps, or a flicker of the lights. Whatever it is, make sure you practice it all week long. I like to use a wireless doorbell. They are about $15 at Wal-Mart. I even let my kids roam around them room making some noise to practice what to do when they hear our doorbell chime. They know to instantly freeze and look to me for their next directions.
From Day 1, start working on building a positive classroom environment! You can do this by setting high expectations for everyone and not excusing behavior because it is the first day. Model what you’d like to see and reward what you’d like to see. Praise the good choices you see all week long (and all year long). Address negative behavior and poor choices immediately! Involve the students in showing good and BAD examples of behaviors. Discuss your rewards system and consequences for poor choices. I created a fantastic resource that helps teachers build positive classroom communities. You can read about my ideas here.
Building relationships with parents and caretakers is key to having a great year. Get to know them all! Make phone calls, send home POSITIVE notes about their child, and make time to talk to them when you see them. Yes, the first week is a super busy week for us teachers, but you will not regret making time to interact and build meaningful relationships with your students’ parents. When you have a great relationship with your students’ parents, and they know you truly care about their child, they will be more receptive to academic or behavioral conversations about their child in the future that may not be so positive.
If you don’t plan to goof off, take extra recesses, and watch movies all year long, you definitely should not set this precedent on Day 1! I do not do hardcore teaching the first week, but I definitely get to work. I start reading and math centers, and start to find out where my students are academically. We review routines and procedures, write stories, read books, get to know each other culturally, play games, and have fun, but I still follow a schedule, break up into groups, and conduct whole group lessons to set up for the following week when we get down to business!
Get to know your kids! Plan for getting to know you activities for whole group and small group settings with your students. Through writing, reading, and discussion, you can learn a lot about each student during the first week of school. I have a great free All About Me resource here. I like to use it during the first week. Don’t forget to share about yourself, too! Students love to know who they are learning from.
I also like to send home a questionnaire inviting parent to share some information about their child with me. I ask about their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them to learn, and what their goals are for their child.
Whether your students go to lunch/recess with or without you make sure to discuss appropriate recess and lunchroom behavior them. We practice lining up, we talk about making friends and including friends, how to be respectful of the school’s property and other staff members, and being role-models. Something I stress to my students all year long, is that they should be their best self even if I’m not there to see it. They should strive to be better because THEY want to be better, not because I told them to.
I also set up a tally system on the board. If they get complimented as class by other adults we get a tally (two if it’s the principal), when we get 20 tallies, they all get a sticker or a Skittle.
Sorting supplies after school and before school each day used to make me so sad. It was time consuming, I was tired, and I had a million other things I could be doing!
I put an end to the madness by setting up boxes and bins that I labeled. I have free labels as seen in the picture above for use here. As my students brought supplies in they sorted them immediately, and that was that.
Going along with being a family-like community, I pool all of our supplies together and we all share them all year. It’s worked out perfectly for 6 years, and I wouldn’t do it any other way!
You’ve got to plan. And I mean p.l.a.n. Make sure you know what you’re doing, about how long it will last, what you’re doing after, what you’re doing in between, and what you’re going to do if something goes wrong! Our days don’t always go perfectly, and with a new batch of students (unless you looped), you may not know how quickly or slowly what you planned may go. Make sure to keep your day on track, and minimize problems during transitions by knowing exactly what you’re going to do.
My last tip is don’t forget to be awesome. If you’re freaking out and showing how frazzled you are, your students will pick up on that. Go with flow, laugh at yourself, have fun, and be AWESOME!
I hope some of these tips were helpful to you! Have a great first week back at school. You’re going to be AMAZING!
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