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Back to School: What Students Really Want to Know

Jordan Catapano


We all remember those butterflies in our stomachs and questions in our heads as we woke up for our first day of school each year. Who will be in my class? Will my teacher be nice? Will I have all the supplies I need? Will I have any friends to sit with at lunch time? Will that cute girl from last year be in my class again? How will I survive the first day of school activities?

Even more interesting, however, is that students have many questions about their new school year that they haven’t necessarily asked aloud, but their minds are itching to know.

These questions are the questions that relate to the overall expectations and stability of their new classroom environment. Like any individual in any new environment, students are thirsty for information regarding how they are to behave and what expectations to live up to. As a teacher, it is critical that as we prepare to go back to school, we are conscious of defining what exactly the expectations for the environment are. It is ultimately the responsibility of the teacher to set the tone. It is critical that this is done well and done immediately, because the first few days, and the first day of school activities, lay the foundation for the rest of the year. It is difficult to reverse or revise the foundation that the first few days set.

So think to yourself: “What kind of environment and expectations do I want to have for my classroom this year?” and “How will I communicate this to my students?”

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Remember that communication is more than just giving a printed List ’O’ Rules to students the first day and expecting they comply with everything. Instead, the first days back to school give you an opportunity to demonstrate the expectations in a number of ways.

First, you must understand that you want to communicate two types of expectations: academic and behavioral. Although you can, and should, take time to clearly spell out for students where your policy is on each of these areas, that will only go so far. You need to make sure that you are modeling these through your personal demeanor and through your responses to their work and actions. As students perform classwork and homework, you need to be upfront with your feedback, responding to each student in a thorough manner that they can understand.

And as students interact with one another and the classroom atmosphere at large, you need to make sure to clearly demonstrate to them where the line stands and what behaviors are encouraged or discouraged: “Please do not get out of your seat right now,” “Very good question!” “If you’re going to come into class late, make sure that you … ”

The first days of school (and first day of school activities) offer you the opportunity to show students who you are and where you stand as a teacher. If you don’t put up with certain behaviors in the beginning, then they’ll understand that you’re not going to put up with certain behaviors the whole year. If you don’t accept certain standards of work in the beginning, then they’ll understand you don’t accept certain standards of work the whole year.

Let them see you as a positive, optimistic, encouraging, and honest individual, and you’ll define for them what the expectation is when they walk into your room.  It’s when you answer those unasked questions – those questions about who you expect them to be – that you find you’re the most successful in beginning the days back to school in the strongest manner possible.

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