Those First Few Days

Blog reader Stephanie will transfer this fall from elementary to high school (Can you even imagine?) and recently asked what the first day of school looks like in my classroom, so let’s unlock the door to good ol’ Room H-9 and take a look.

Lots of teachers have lots of different ways of launching, but I’ve found that by the time kids are in high school the human scavenger hunts and two-truths-and-a-lie games feel pretty tired. You gotta remember that they’ve had dozens and dozens of first-day-hey-kids-let’s-get-to-know-each-other ice breakers over the years and they might even have had five other ones in our first day together with other teachers on my campus. Everyone’s pretty much over it by the time they get to me. Also, I teach in a rather in-it-to-win-it community, so I feel the need to get going with the academics pretty quickly. The first week, as you’ll see on the calendar below, is mostly about setting routines and expectations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a little fun, too. For example, here’s a PDF of the memes I use on the first day as I give the class policies overview. You may want to personalize some of your own slides, which you can read more about here.

When the kids walk in the door, a welcome slide is already being projected and I invite them to find their assigned seat and make a name card, which they post on their desks. I’ve never been a fan of the “Don’t smile ‘til Christmas” philosophy. Instead, I smile and crack jokes before that first bell even rings. I figure if I have to be there, you can be sure I’m going to have some fun.

Name tags on the desks (the bigger, the better so everyone can see them) are vital because the more quickly you can memorize all of those names (34 per class X 5 classes = Jell-O brain) the more quickly you can control the room and start to make connections. Since I’m a visual learner, I try to take mental pictures of the kids while they are doing desk work or reading SSR books. Just try to be sly about it. No one likes a creeper.

Expect the troublemaker to reveal himself (herself?) sometime during the first week. Be ready. This previous post will give you a script to help handle the leader of the brat pack, but I also keep my ears perked for any subtle snide comments. Don’t let those things slide. Instead, address the inevitable crunchy moments with grace and humor. Kids are looking to see how you handle things and they all want to feel respected and safe, especially the ones who seem to cause the most trouble.

Finally, give a small homework assignment that first night, maybe to just print and complete a questionnaire sheet or submit a getting-to-know-you Google form. That way, you can quickly tell which students are disorganized, which ones don’t have the internet, who might not have a parent at home at night, etc. I also think a bit of first-night homework sets a tone of high academic expectations, something I definitely want.

Here’s a more detailed look at my first few weeks (click on the calendar image and zoom in to make it more readable):
Notes of explanation:
• Due to licensing agreements and copyright law, I am not able to post my full calendars in this open forum because they are packed with links and downloads to things I am prohibited from distributing outside of my direct students. This is just a screenshot of my first month’s calendar, but at least it’ll give a glimpse of the pacing.
• The blue text lines are links to video content and downloads. I’ve “flipped” my grammar, lit. term, and vocabulary bell ringers and made them short homework assignments. Obviously, the links won’t work on this screenshot.
• My classes have summer work and, yes, I’ll be grading essays over the Labor Day holiday. (And so it begins…) If we didn’t have summer work, I’d just swoop straight into the personal narrative writing lessons.
• You might notice that there are two rounds of essays (the summer reading base-line essay and the personal narrative essay) in this first month of school. I don’t usually assign such a heavy writing load, but I want to set a studious tone and find out students’ writing skill levels. The writing pace slows a bit when we get into the literature.
• Because I work with the World’s Greatest Librarian, our campus is hosting a TED Talk event on Sept. 17. To take advantage of this teachable moment, my classes will take a pause in personal narrative writing that week and I’ll highlight TED Talks and public speaking skills. Normally, those lessons would fall later in the semester.
• After this first month of school, my class will move on to our short story unit and then John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which will conclude with a full literary analysis essay.

Stephanie (and anyone else who’s still reading at this point), I hope this info. is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to check in and let us know how the year is going. I guarantee it’ll be a wild ride!

Teach on, everyone!

24 thoughts on “Those First Few Days

  1. You are a great person and a wonderful teacher. I always use your teaching methods in my class. I just want to thank you and please keep showering us with your brilliant ideas.

  2. Cheryl Baber says:

    Always enjoy and appreciate your ideas, even after 20 years of teaching. Middle school (8th ELA) is still pretty new for me! Thanks for your wonderful sense of humor!!

  3. My pleasure, Cheryl. I’m about to begin Year 18 and it’s staggering to realize how much I still don’t know. Happy we’re learning together!

  4. I’m about to enter year eight, and I definitely struggle with the first few days with high school students. I also love your link to Flip the Script. Always great ideas to get me thinking. Only three weeks left of summer for me!

  5. Three weeks?!? Oh, that’s not nearly enough summer vacation! Don’t hate me, but we don’t go back until the end of August. Then again, we didn’t wrap up until June 12, when I’m sure you were already poolside. 😉

    Have a great back-to-school launch, Jennifer! I’m rooting for you.

  6. Thank you for this insight! I just started using your MUG shots spring ’15. I can’t believe what a difference bell ringers make. I’d never used them before! I teach 10th grade World Lit and have been going about it backwards. I have been delving into the internet this summer to recreate my class and really create a classroom management plan. While I can’t buy your entire curriculum through TpT, I’ve really appreciated the inspiration and ideas you’ve been sharing. Thank you so much for taking the time to blog about your classroom.

  7. I always love reading your blogs, Laura! Thank you for sharing your ideas–they are a godsend! They have saved me so much time and have given me a few more “cool points” in the eyes of my students. One of the last activities we did at the end of the year was your Shakespearean insults, and the kids LOVED it!! Stephanie, if you’re reading this, best wishes for a great and seamless transition! Going from elementary to high school is tough. Don’t be afraid to remind them that you are human and fallible. They will appreciate that sincerity more than you trying to “fake it” in front of them.

  8. Thank you for this! I taught 8th grade ELA for a few years, but have been “out” for 9 years with my young family. I am starting back in a few weeks (in 8th grade again-yay!) and am nervous about how much has changed. A fellow teacher recommended your TPT products, and I love everything I’ve seen so far! I’m glad I found your blog as well!

  9. Wonderful, Leah! Welcome back to the fold. The lingo has definitely changed a lot in the past nine years, but the kids are pretty much the same – bright, wacky, looking for our validation and craving inspiration. You’re going to do great!

    I’m so glad you found my blog and shop. Definitely grab anything/everything that will help ease your prep load and be sure to subscribe to the blog so you’ll receive an email whenever I post something new. Once school starts my posts are…well, let’s just say sporadic. 🙂

  10. Thanks so much, Michelle. And you’re absolutely right – teens can smell a “fake” a mile away. Be yourself, Stephanie, and let your nerdy English teacher flag fly!

  11. Oh yes, Tereza, those bell ringers get the job done, right? Please know that my family is so grateful for your purchases and I love that you took a minute to comment here. Bloggers LOVE comments! (Makes us feel like we’re not just talkin’ to a wall.)

    Definitely be sure to scoop up all of the freebies you can over at; there’s a wealth of goodies in my store and so many other shops, too! And don’t worry, I’ll keep adding more as the year rolls along.

    Hope your 15-16 is the best year ever,

  12. Laura,
    I just discovered you today! I have read all your 20Time posts and am diving into more and more of your materials as well. I taught junior high Language Arts for 10 years, took about 12 years off, HA! I was homeschooling my own three children for the past 9 years and I will enter the classroom again…only this time as a high school English teacher teaching 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade English. I am a little overwhelmed, that’s putting it mildly…I am FREAKING OUT!
    I would love to know if you have multiple grade level MUG shots, Literary terms, Words on Wednesdays, etc. Any advice you would have for me on planning and creating a learning environment that builds with each grade level.
    Your materials are awesome! Your spirit is contagious! Thank you for posting so many helpful blogs and sharing your excellent ideas, I look forward to learning from you.

  13. Oh my goodness, Sonja. Welcome to the party! So glad you found me.

    Just so I’m clear, they gave the new teacher on campus preps at ALL FOUR LEVELS?!?! Oy vey! You are going to be one busy lady this year.

    For the bell ringers, they aren’t split up into different skill levels; really, any of the volumes will work with any level class from 9th to 12th. I would recommend, though, thinking about your 9th and 10th graders as one class/one bell-ringer prep and your 11th and 12th graders as a second class/bell-ringer prep. That’ll get you through this first year.

    If you go to this link and scroll down the page, you’ll see that I have four separate volumes of both MUG Shots and Words on Wed. I’d use Vol. 1 and 2 for your underclassmen this year and Vol. 3 and 4 for your upperclassmen. You could also use the Lit. Terms and Brain Teasers will all of the class levels, if you’d like.

    Also, if you’ll indulge my shameless plug, I gotta tell you that the 5-Minute Essay Grading System I built is the key to your survival this year. The paperload monster is about to bury you, but the grading system’s e-book and forms will be a lifeline. Seriously, it is my top favorite thing to share in my whole blog/TpT world because it gives teachers the time they need to manage everything else on our plates; those little codes saved my sanity and my career.

    Again, welcome back to the classroom, Sonja. We’re so glad to have you back in the tribe. 🙂

  14. I teach high school and my husband transitioned from elementary to high school this past school year. He expected something completely different from what he got- immaturity! When I taught 9th I’d still get the occasional “he’s looking at me!” and it even happens sometimes in 11th and 12th grades. I like to think of high schoolers as little kids in big kid bodies. It’s true! You’ll love it!

  15. Oh definitely, Scaffolded Math. Those 6-foot-somethin’ kids still want to play my goofy games and volunteer to pass back peers’ papers. It’s a kick!

  16. Mary Miller says:

    I have wanted to be a high school English teacher my entire life and in 2 weeks my dream becomes a reality! So obviously I’m excited and also incredibly nervous. I am so grateful I found your blog and resources because it’s as if you are reading my mind on exactly how and what I want to teach. I am a huge believer in teachers sharing whatever we can with each other to help us evolve into the best teachers we can be. Thank you for your same belief and all you share! I am an avid follower!

  17. Wonderful, Mary! Just wonderful! Congratulations on achieving this hard-earned goal. I remember the nervous excitement of my own first year – many, many years ago, I must admit. Just be yourself and you’ll do great! And don’t be shy about checking in with me or mentor teachers on your campus when things get hairy. No teacher is an island! 🙂

  18. Like many of the recent commenters I am going to be teaching high school after a long break from school myself, and it will be my first time teaching on my own! . . . Ok I’m back, had to breath into a paper bag for a minute there. . . I LOVE your blog! I’ve only read bits and pieces but it has already been so helpful! I have a gazillion questions but we will start with just one potentially embarrassing one, because I’m not very tech savvy, what program do you use to make your calendar?? Thank you and I look forward to spending many tired evenings catching up with your blog!

  19. You’re so funny, Terra! You really will be okay. Promise.

    Your calendar question isn’t embarrassing at all. I built it for the web with a Dreamweaver template (an old web design software now owned by Adobe), but if I was just starting out I would probably use Google’s Sites software to set up my class website and calendars. The Google templates are free, easy to use, and immediately posted to the web. As things stand now, I have to post my whole Dreamweaver class site via a server, which can be a little tech-tricky. I haven’t used Google Sites since I already had my site up and running when my campus moved to the Google platform (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?), but almost every teacher at my site now uses the Google tools. I’d heard they’re pretty user-friendly once you get your account/Drive set up. If you get stuck, YouTube is a great source for tech support. People post thousands of video clips over there solving every tech problem I’ve ever faced.

    As I mentioned to the other new folks, I’m so glad you found my blog and hope you grab some ideas that will work for your new assignment. Please check in once in a while and let me (all of us!) know how the year is going.

    Go get ’em!

  20. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderfully positive ideas!

  21. Laura, thank you so much for this post! I just recently received my schedule, and I’m on information overload. I’m working with the IB track of 10th graders in addition to my standard 9th graders. Planning for The Good Earth and Lord of the Flies has been taking up all of my time, so your suggestions are very much appreciated. Love the memes, and I’m glad you get started right away. That’s what I was thinking, so it is nice to hear that I was on the right track. I’m going to add in film stills from our core literature the first week to give a sneak peak of the year while teaching students to write high-level questions and then delve in! Thanks again:)

  22. You’re so welcome, Stephanie! And I might have to steal your idea about the film stills to whet students’ appetite for upcoming lit. Nice!

    Hope you have a great school year!

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