Just after being dropped off in my care, the "late arrival" stood up, walked toward the bathroom, and began pulling down one carefully hung center sign after another, ripping them at will. As we all stared in horror, she then began to take her shoes off and scream out, "My feet STINK!" Before I could fully wrap my head around what was happening in my "perfect" classroom, she bolted for the door and began running down the hallway.
None of my teachers, friends, textbooks, or new colleagues had prepared me for this. And there was no one around to help. No aide. No administrator. NO ONE.
Unsure of whether to run after her or stay with the kids looking as upset and baffled as I was, I was forced to make a rash decision. I hadn't planned for this little contingency. And everyone knew it. And because I hadn't, I pretty much lost control of my class on that very first day. And I certainly questioned whether or not to come back for my second.
Thankfully, not every new teacher gets a kid who is brash enough to come in late, rip down signs, take her shoes off, scream strange personal statements, and make a beeline for the classroom door...all in a matter of minutes.
But it helps to be ready for such a student. After all, you really only get one chance to start the year out right. Blow it, and you'll have to work extra hard to gain back the respect of your kids and return the classroom to a place of learning and order. Trust me, I know.
While I would have preferred an easier welcome to the teaching profession, my crazy first day taught me an invaluable lesson I have NEVER forgotten -- Be PREPARED...for ANYTHING!!!!!
So here's my "first day" advice for you:
2. Hang any cute signs high enough that they will be out of reach from any kids with "sticky fingers."
3. Never begin your day by seating your kids on the floor around you. They will have NOTHING to do if you have to get up to deal with another parent, student, etc. Rather, always start your kindergartners out with some sort of seat work they can do on their own. A nice coloring sheet is my favorite choice. After all, almost anyone can pick up a crayon and color. Plus, it's soothing for anyone who has had a rushed morning or is feeling extra nervous. Even if your kids don't have "mad coloring skills," they can usually pick up a crayon and mark on the sheet. Plus, as they color, you can get an instant idea of various students' fine motor control. You will also be free to personally welcome any late arrivals. And if you have to suddenly CHASE any kids looking to "leave a little early," your kids will have something quiet and orderly to do while you are gone! Having a quiet activity your kids can do on their own will also free you up to deal with parents, take the lunch count, figure out afternoon transportation, etc.
4. As your kids are completing their first coloring sheet, walk around, marveling at their work. Brag about the students who are doing a fabulous job coloring and/or working quietly. You want them to be on your "team" immediately. You want others to strive to perform like them as well. Make a BIG deal out of them! Offer stickers or stamps, if necessary!
5. If anyone says they are "finished" when they are clearly not, ask them to add more details. Tell them how much you LOVE really awesome work. Tell them you can't wait to see their finished products. Set the bar HIGH and do so QUICKLY. For those who truly ARE finished, praise their work and allow them to write a story, draw a picture, or read a book. NEVER make finished students just sit there or put their heads down.
6. If anyone raises his or her hand to ask you a question while coloring, go WILD with praise! Tell him or her (loudly enough for the whole class to hear) how smart he or she is to know how to ask a question in class! Say things like, "Oh, my goodness! I can't BELIEVE you already know to RAISE YOUR HAND when you want something! You guys are SO SMART!!! I bet you all know not to get up out of your chairs without permission as well! WOW!" Without boring them, you will be teaching your kids what you expect. And you'll be setting a positive, supportive, nurturing climate. Work in other rules as they come up as well!
7. Don't "ignore" questionable behavior, even if it's only the first activity of the very first day. You usually only get one day to make an impression and set the mood. Do it while your kids are still anxious and nervous. It may be the only chance you get -- especially with regard to the kids already testing your limits. Know what you want your classroom to be like from moment one, and mold your kids accordingly. Put a calm, gentle hand on the back of any antsy kids or "talkers," whispering in their ears to remind them to sit still, work quietly, etc. as you do so. A calm, gentle hand and private whisper can work wonders for your already on-edge kids. Let them know who's boss, but do it lovingly and consistently. While it may take a lot of effort to train your kids in the beginning of the year, later in the year, you should reap your reward! Ignore questionable behavior, and your class is likely to be out of control by mid-year, causing you to work much harder (and possibly lose your love for teaching...as well as your sanity) as you count down the days to summer vacation.
8. Be over-prepared. Make sure you have MORE THAN ENOUGH to do with your kids throughout the day. Idle hands are NOT good! Keep your kids busy, happy, and learning.
9. Make sure your classroom is set up so that you can see everyone at ALL times...and that nothing can fall over or hurt kids if bumped into accidentally. Safety first. You MUST be able to see what is going on in your classroom from wherever you are...ALL the time. Cute centers, corners, and reading areas are fine...just make sure you have full vision of who is there and what they are doing from wherever you might possibly be.
10. Have fun! I've heard some teachers say that they don't smile until the third month of school in order to get control of their classrooms. This is totally unnecessary! You can smile. You can be nice. You can even have FUN with your kids on a DAILY basis. You just can't let any misbehaviors slide. Small misbehaviors early in the year turn into LARGE misbehaviors later in the year. So be silly...creative...fun loving..., but take the time to squelch any wrongdoings as they occur. Smile every day and have FUN teaching your kids what they need to know to leave your classroom on, or, preferably, ABOVE grade level. This is your life...your career...make it FUN and REWARDING for both you and your students!
Wishing you all the best and much success...and hoping you have a FABULOUS first day,
Author of Kinders Can! READ and WRITE!
Go to www.KindersCanReadandWrite.com to read a free sample!