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First Day of School Ideas: What I Want My Students to Know

Jordan Catapano

“Do your homework. Participate. Don’t abuse electronics. Make up work from absences. You’ll be graded on this and that. Be on time. Have fun. We’ll cover this kind of material.”

Sound familiar? This is the long list of details – rather predictable details – that students hear again and again as part of a typical teacher’s first day of school ideas. Not entirely the most exciting way to start the year. Sure, it is somewhat necessary to cover these basics of your classroom, but do students really need to memorize this class list right away?

I’ll admit that I fall into this category of teacher sometimes. It’s OK – it’s necessary. But there’s something more that I want my students to know. I believe that students understand what the basic rules are pretty quickly, and they understand what’s expected of them academically. But I also want to make sure that the fact that I care about them, a lot, comes across loud and clear.

Some teachers present their first day of school ideas with their grimaces on, determined to squelch the rabblerousing students into obedient, square pegs. But I want students to sense from me that I’m not all grades and assignments and PowerPoints and worksheets. I spend hours on top of hours thinking about them over the summer – before I even meet them – preparing for how to best help them learn. And as I present my first day of school ideas as I finally get to meet the people I’ve been thinking about, I’m excited to know what interests them, what inspires them, what they’re passionate about, what they’ll think about, where their weaknesses are, and how I can respond to their unique needs and personalities.

I care about what they think. After all, I’m not here to teach them what to think as much as how to think. I am interested in doing whatever it takes to get them to learn. If that means changing my style, giving more homework or less, using technology, utilizing projects, reaching out to parents, conferencing before or after school, or anything else that will make a difference, then I’ll do it. I am committed to making students feel more confident in their abilities than when they started the year with me.

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I also want students to know that I’m passionate about the topics we’ll be studying. I didn’t accidentally become an English teacher, as I’m certain any teacher didn’t accidentally come to teach the ages or subjects they have. I wholeheartedly believe that the skills and content we discuss hold a great deal of value for students’ futures. I don’t just teach these skills in class, but I apply them myself in my free time.

When it comes to sharing my cares to students, I don’t necessarily recite my mantra for them. Instead I show it through my character, my interactions with them, my smile, and my questions for them. Often I’ll employ class surveys, icebreakers, get-to-know-you activities, and interest inventories to see what sparks their hearts. I greet them all with unbridled smiles and learn their names within a day or two to let them know that they matter to me. When they mess up, I don’t discipline as much as guide. When they succeed, I praise them so the whole world knows they nailed it. If they have an original idea and share it through their discussions or writing, I listen intently and genuinely respond.

Students should know that I’m not here to play teacher. I am a teacher. And that means that beyond the rules and expectations I lay out for them, there’s more care and concern for them than they might ever have imagined.