Education Technology

Tips for Surviving the First Week Back at School

Posted 08/02/2018 by Jessica Kohout - Biology Teacher at Resevoir High School

As summer comes to a close, it is time to think about the most important week of school – the first week! In the first week, we make our first impressions and set the tone of the year. A good first week can make a huge difference in a classroom environment for the whole year. Here are 5 ways to make sure that this school year is the best one yet!

#1. Develop a Classroom Community

The first week should be used to get to know your students. Take the time to learn their names, interests, personalities and learning styles. Being able to address a student by name and by using the correct pronunciation is an easy way to show that you care about them. Play the name game by having each student pick a positive adjective that begins with the same sound as the first letter of their first name. It is a great way to help you and their classmates to remember names and pronunciations.

#2. Jump Right In!

Start with a content lesson on the first day. Get students engaged in a team-building STEM activity like building a paper tower, a fun math problem or a science investigation. Make it a fun, easy activity with multiple solutions so that everyone can participate and feel included in the process. This is the time to observe how the students interact with one another. Make lots of notes on which students are taking the lead, easily distracted, need a little help, and other behaviors that might help in developing groups throughout the year. There is no need to start with rules and policies on the first day. You may need to identify any routines as needed for the activities. However, the first day should focus on developing a classroom community and demonstrating to your passion for the content.

#3. Routines and Expectations

Once you’ve had time to begin to establish a classroom community, make sure students know the routines and expectations you have for them. Classroom norms should be shared and agreed upon. Whether you generate them as a whole group or if they are teacher directed, they should focus on what matters most to everyone in the room. As a teacher, you need to know what specific behaviors are going to set you off.

From the way students enter the classroom, turn in homework, cellphone use, talking or hand raising, you need to make the expectations clear to the students. In my classroom, I don’t allow students to have their cell phones out in class. New research connects in-class cellphone and laptop use with lower test scores: Cellphone Distraction in the Classroom Can Lead to Lower Grades, Rutgers Study Finds. They can get their cell phones out, and check their Instagram feed, after the bell rings.

My advice, practice these routines early and often.

#4. Share Your Values

Take the time to allow students to learn what you value as a teacher. A good way to see what your students think about your values is by having a discussion. By the end of the first week, your students will have developed opinions on the class culture as well as you as a teacher. Lead a discussion about what they think are their teacher’s values. This can be an insightful way to see what kind of impression you have left on your students and make any adjustments as necessary.

#5. Find Time for Yourself

The first week can be very draining, so make sure you take time to do something you love. Get moving, read a good book, or spend time with family or friends. Make sure you take care of yourself so you can tackle the rest of the year.

Remember each year is different and this is the year that will be the best one yet!

About The Author: Jessica Kohout has taught all levels of biology, from on grade level to AP®, at Reservoir High School in Howard County, MD. She became a T3™ Regional Instructor in 2015 and sees the technology as a great way to help students make real-life connections with science. Follow her on Twitter @MrsKohout.