What NOT to Do the First Day of School


The bell rings and the students come pouring in to the first day of school. Excitement and a bit of chaos fill the air as well as some nervous anticipation – not just from the students but also from the teachers.

Yes, the first day of school is extremely exciting, but those first few hours with your students are also critically important. In fact, they can actually make or break the entire school year.

What not to do the first day of school

10 Things Not to Do on the First Day of School

  1. Let the little things go. The biggest mistake I made during my first year of teaching was letting little things go. A little talking here, a student with their head down there – no biggie, right? Wrong. When we let the little things go, we give our students the impression that we either don’t notice or don’t care about their behavior. And the problem is that those little things won’t stay little; they’ll quickly escalate to full-blown problems. The answer? Simply address the small things with a simple statement such as “Greg, please sit up. Thank you.”  Check out my post “The Tiny Mistake that Could Ruin Your Whole Year” for more details on this topic.
     
  2. Lay down the law. My personality doesn’t lean this direction, but I’ve seen teachers, in an attempt to avoid letting the little things go, take the opposite extreme. They decide they need to lay down the law and show the kids who’s boss. So they jump on any small infraction and whack the kids with the biggest punishment possible to show them that they will not tolerate misbehavior. This isn’t a wise approach either. Yes, you need to address the little things, but often all that’s needed is a verbal correction. And if consequences are in order, give appropriate ones; don’t inflate them just to scare the students. Check out my posts “Should Teachers Lay Down the Law?” for more thoughts about this.
     
  3. Make it a “fun day.” Okay, yes, the first day of school should be kind of fun and exciting. But you shouldn’t intentionally make it a “fun day” or a “party day.” If you do, you are setting a very bad precedent and are just asking for your students to be out of control. Instead, start off the school year as structured as possible. Then, once the students are used to structure you should be able to add in some fun activities without losing control.
     
  4. Go over all your procedures. Please don’t torture your students by spending the whole class going over a sheet that contains all your procedures. This is so boring, and it’s probably also what every other teacher is doing. Yes, you absolutely need to teach your procedures, but you should teach them as they come up, not all at once on the first day. And if you have procedures written on a handout, just let your students read them for homework. (p.s. if you’re wondering how to teach procedures, check out my posts “How to Teach Procedures that Your Students Will Actually Follow.“)
     
  5. Spend more than 30 seconds talking about fire drills. Okay, if you teach elementary you might be justified in taking more like 2-5 minutes. But for middle school and high school, please don’t. Just don’t. These poor students are hearing about fire drills in every class, and it’s not like they’ve never done one before. Furthermore, it’s not as if they’re going to remember exactly which direction they’re supposed to leave the building in each of their 8 classes. Instead, go over fire drill procedures as quickly as possible. Then later in the week you can go over them in more detail when the students’ brains aren’t being overloaded with procedures.
     
  6. Dress down. Even if you typically dress somewhat casually, the first day of school is not the time to dress down. Your students only get one first impression of you, so the first day of school is the time to pull out the most professional outfit you have. Check out the posts “Do Teachers Really Need to Dress Professionally?” and “How to Dress Professionally on a Teachers’ Income” for more thoughts on when dressing professionally actually matters and how to do it on a budget.
     
  7.  Just wing it. If you try to wing the first day of school you will probably survive it just fine, but you’re also wasting an incredible opportunity to start the year off right. Instead, plan every minute so that you are prepared, confident, and organized. The best way to start class is to have some type of simple assignment ready for the students as they enter the class. This will keep them occupied while you deal with the inevitable confusions of the first few moments of class.
     
  8. Let students choose their own seats. Even if you plan to allow students to choose their own seats at some point in the future, you still want to assign seats on the first day. Why? First, because it will help you learn their names more quickly. And, second, because allowing them to choose seats and then trying to figure out who is in which seat wastes a whole lot of time. In addition to having a seating chart ready, plan a way to tell students their seats as they enter class instead of after they’ve already sat down. For example, have the seating chart displayed on a smart board or projector. Or, have each students’ name and seat number on a post-it note on the wall so they can quickly find theirs and locate their seat.
     
  9. Pass out textbooks one by one. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can really waste a lot of time to call your students out one by one to come up and receive their textbook. Instead, come up with a way to hand them out quickly. I typically had them set out at the end of each row, and the students would simply pick up their stack and pass them back. This means I invested time beforehand writing down all the #’s and putting each student’s name in their book, but it was worth it to help streamline the process.

    Your goal should be to actually teach something in each class. 

  10. Waste a single moment. Plan through each procedure and activity and find the way to do it as efficiently as possible. Your goal should be to actually teach something in each class. And that’s not going to happen unless you’re very intentional about being incredibly efficient and focused.

Be Ready to Go on Day One

Our FREE classroom management minicourse will help you prepare for the best start-of-school yet. Click here to start the minicourse.

Want more back-to-school tips? 

I wrote Create Your Dream Classroom specifically to help teachers revamp their classrooms and prepare to have the best start of school ever. And don’t worry about finishing an entire book before school starts. The Back-to-School Power Pack will guide you straight to information you need to start the school year right. Click here to read reviews or order it now.

Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Denise Romero - August 14, 2014

Don’t expect to get to everything you wrote in your planbook for the 1st day!

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Anna Kay Zawacki - August 22, 2014

I think its important NOT to make the first class all about “YOU”. Yes, you will go over the syllabus, classroom rules and procedures, assign textbooks, etc. All of that is important. I also think its vital to actually TEACH the first day. It sets a precedent for your (high) expectations for the rest of the year. BUT don’t forget to do something fun! I have the students complete a “get to know you” form to share some personal and practical things about themselves to help me get to know them. We also play ice breaker games to help the kids get to know each other. I think those activities are really important in building rapport and creating that safe, comfortable classroom environment we all want!

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Sandra - June 11, 2015

SomE very good suggestions.

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Anonymous - June 25, 2015

I always teach math on the first day of school and send home homework. In the afternoon I always ha e an art project that includes cutting, coloring, and pasting. All these allow me the opportunity to observe and evaluate their abilities…even on the first day (I teach a 1/2 multiage)

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Karie - June 30, 2015

Great stuff! I’m starting my 9th year & have never thought of/read some of this!

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Anna Kay Zawacki - July 1, 2015

I think its important NOT to make the first class all about “YOU”. Yes, you will go over the syllabus, classroom rules and procedures, assign textbooks, etc. All of that is important. I also think its vital to actually TEACH the first day. It sets a precedent for your (high) expectations for the rest of the year. BUT don’t forget to do something fun! I have the students complete a “get to know you” form to share some personal and practical things about themselves to help me get to know them. We also play ice breaker games to help the kids get to know each other. I think those activities are really important in building rapport and creating that safe, comfortable classroom environment we all want!

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Suzanne - July 5, 2015

Some good thoughts–thanks for posting! I’m a veteran middle school teacher who DOES allow students to choose their own seats.(unless some medical reason has been brought to my attention & student has specific needs). And it works just FINE! Students are already nervous & I don’t know them anyway–this allows me to observe how they make their choice. They are glad to have a choice & it eases nerves a bit. If it is not a good choice, then I can easily reassign later.

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    Debs - July 8, 2016

    I have found that having students choose their own seats causes some students anxiety. Think about the student who doesn’t know anybody, or the student who doesn’t feel like he fits in. These students hate choosing their own seats especially on the first day.

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    Sommer R. - July 17, 2016

    I let my students choose their own seats as well. But my choice is less of a choice on my part. I often do not get my rosters for a class until the morning of. Even then they are often wrong. I would never be able to assign seats because students would be missing from my list, and such. I’d end up giving them more anxiety and issues with assigned seats in this case.

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    Carolyn - July 21, 2016

    I allow them to choose their seat also. They can remain in that seat as long as they make good choices. It gives them a bit of say- so and some accountability right of the bat. A couple usually need to move within a day or two, but most handle it fine.

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Stephanie - July 7, 2015

In elementary, I allow my students (Parents help), choose their seat when/if they come to orientation. I give them a sticky note and allow them to choose. They write their name on the sticky note and leave it on the desk. That way, the parents can help guide this process, give me insight on their parenting style, and find out about medical reasons for sitting in certain places. A few years ago, I had 2 boys that had been best friends through school and chose seats next to each other. With the parents present, I warned the boys that they will be moved if it becomes a distraction. The boys were well behaved all year so they could sit next to each other…even when I changed the room arrangement and groups. Set up the high expectations and it will work. You find out a ton about the students when they choose their own seat.

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Emily Serafa Manschot - July 14, 2015

I disagree with not going over procedures the first day. I always did, and I rarely had to bring them up again. Also, I had to give out texts one by one because I had to record the number of the textbook for each student. But I always had time for a mini-lesson, as we were on an 87 minute block schedule.

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    Wendy - May 26, 2016

    I wrote the number of the text book on the outside and matched all books #32 together. Student 32 received book 32 for reading, LA, math, science and history. This worked well for me. Maybe it may help you too.

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Anonymous - July 15, 2015

This seems like the type of teacher I wouldn’t like.

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Emily Serafa Manschot - July 16, 2015

I disagree with not going over procedures the first day. I always did, and I rarely had to bring them up again. Also, I had to give out texts one by one because I had to record the number of the textbook for each student. But I always had time for a mini-lesson, as we were on an 87 minute block schedule.

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Anonymous - July 26, 2015

I would suggest that you don’t skip lunch in an attempt to fit a few more things in. Stop and breathe for a minute even if the teacher in you wants to keep going. You are better off taking a moment to refuel mental and physically!
Wishing all of you a fabulous year 🙂
Adriana

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Megan Kilb - July 27, 2015

I disagree with letting the kids pick their own seats. I always let them pick on the first day, so I can see who chooses the front, who tries to hide in the back, who is friends already, etc. The first thing they do is make a table tent with their name on it, so while they do their student survey, I memorize their names and their faces. Usually only takes about 15 minutes, and it’s important to me that I can say goodbye to them at the end of the day by name. They have some ownership as well, in an area that doesn’t really matter to me (what seat their hind-end is in). Thank you, love and logic. Issues of preferential seating in IEPs and 504s can be addressed the second day.

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Emily Serafa Manschot - August 3, 2015

I disagree with not going over procedures the first day. I always did, and I rarely had to bring them up again. Also, I had to give out texts one by one because I had to record the number of the textbook for each student. But I always had time for a mini-lesson, as we were on an 87 minute block schedule.

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Emily Serafa Manschot - August 13, 2015

I disagree with not going over procedures the first day. I always did, and I rarely had to bring them up again. Also, I had to give out texts one by one because I had to record the number of the textbook for each student. But I always had time for a mini-lesson, as we were on an 87 minute block schedule.

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    Jenny Jenkins - October 27, 2015

    My goodness I don’t understand why you felt the need to post your comment like 5 different times when it said the exact same thing. (Emily) Anyway, I agree you should go over procedures the 1st day but you shouldn’t go on &on about it, they just tune out.

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G. Broussard - May 19, 2016

I have been teaching 25 years and you are exactly right on all 10!

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Carrie - May 26, 2016

I believe that the first day sets the tone for the rest of the year. I teach high school and I do go over procedures on the first day, but I might be open to fixing that! I also jump right into content on the first day to get their feet wet! I am usually more tired the first day then any other day!

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Sara - June 15, 2016

I had this year’s class model my procedures for next year’s class. They each got to explain part of a procedure in one or two sentences. I have a Power Point presentation for next year and I inserted the videos. I’m expecting this will save me time and energy, plus I think the new students will be much more engaged. It’s much more entertaining than just listening to me talk!

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Allison - August 3, 2016

I would like to look at your article “The Tiny Mistake that Could Ruin Your Whole Year,” but the link won’t go, and when I searched the title, it said there was a database error when I clicked that link.

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Kawthar - August 3, 2016

Hi, I will be a teacher for the first time this school year.. I am really afraid and terrible so I am always reading a lot of articles that deliver for me as a beginner pieces of advice.. However your articles were incredibly helpful and useful
thank you from my heart

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Mohammad Reza Agha - August 4, 2016

Prepare your child for first day of school after vacations
Summer vacations are almost over by now with the start of August in
Sindh were as in other rest of provinces it will be beginning of
September! It’s school time again or about to be started. Few of the
kids feels worried and nervous on the first day of school. …
http://babyfirst.com.pk/prepare-child-first-day-school-vacations/

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Irene Imboden - August 5, 2016

Letting students pick their own seats allows me to see who knows whom, where established groups are and other group dynamics.
The one year I randomly assigned students a numbered seat was the year it took me three times longer to learn names.
This is just what works for me.
(and I’m known for not changing seats unless there are circumstances)

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