This article sets out six steps that you can do to plan your first days of school and make the most of them. This is simply written from my own experiences and knowledge and only meant to be a bit of guideline as well as some advice from someone who has teaching experience under their belts. There is also several very wonderful programs and books out there with information on planning the first days of school as well as most school systems and schools will give you some sort of training when you first start the job prior to your first day in the classroom. Below each paragraph will be a short video explanation that will give you a little more detail as to what I am meaning. Check back to see these videos once they are posted. :-)
Start by Picturing Your Ideal Classroom
The very first thing that you should do when preparing for a new school year or a new teaching job if you are in early childhood or a year round program is to picture your ideal classroom. How do you want the layout of the room to be? What management strategy or strategies do you plan to use? What would the ideal day in your classroom look like? What routines and procedures do you want to put into place? Etc. Write down what you want your ideal classroom to look like somewhere that you can refer back to it. It is important to have in mind your ideal classroom so that you know what things you will need to do leading up to the start of the year/your first day as well as the routines and procedures that you will need to put into place from day 1. I would then create a To Do list that you can check off tasks once they are done for things leading up to the first day of school, things you wish to accomplish on the first day with your students, and things that you wish to have established by the end of the first week.
Draft a Classroom Management Plan
The second thing that you should do is draft a classroom management plan. This can be as detailed as you like since it will most likely be for your eyes only unless your school requires that they see something. You want to have in mind that ideal classroom that you wrote about while writing your plan. What rules do you want for the students? Are you going to have the students help you draft the rules? What routines do you want in place such as how to walk in line in the hallway (for younger students) and what students should do upon arriving in your classroom (for all ages)? Also, this is where you think about your classroom arrangement and what the ideal arrangement would be for you keeping in mind you want to be able to see the students at all times and how you plan to run the classroom as far as individual and group work and also what type of classroom it is as far as what you are teaching.
Arrange the classroom for efficiency
Once you have decided how you want to arrange your classroom, you want to go ahead and put that arrangement into place. In today's world many teachers have to share space so either work with the other teachers that will be sharing the space to arrange the room or figure out how to make the most of the permanent arrangement since you do not have the flexibility to move the furniture itself as the space is not your own. I recommend working with the other teachers if at all possible to reach a compromise that works for all of you. With classroom arrangements you want to think about what would make the classroom the most effective classroom for you and your students. There are several classroom arrangement ideas out there and a simple internet search will bring up several images to choose from if you are struggling to come up with something on your own.
Decorate your classroom walls
Once the arrangement is in place you need to decide what you would like on the walls of the classroom. It is proven that students of all ages do better in a room with some eye catching displays either on the wall itself or a bulletin board then a plain white space. You want to think about the ages of the students you will be working with and what your curriculum is as well as how you can incorporate student work and student information in your classroom. Some examples from early childhood and elementary include having a family picture area where you display pictures of the child's family or possibly a student of the week area where each student in the class will get a chance to share more about him or her self. You also may want to display student artwork or work on the wall. In early childhood most of our wall is covered with student artwork. With older students you may want a multiplication chart on the wall or some motivational posters. Really you are at liberty to decorate your walls however you wish within the guidelines of the school, but you also want to think about how you can incorporate the students since they will feel like it is more of a family atmosphere and that they are part of your classroom if they are included in some way. It also helps to have subject specific areas especially in an elementary classroom where you teach everything and have all of the science posters together, all of the math, all of the language arts, etc.
Introduce yourself with a welcome letter
For younger students this letter will most likely be for the parents, but if your students are old enough to read it is nice to have a letter for them as well. It may be you write one letter and address it to both your students and their parents. As a teacher you are working in partnership with your students and their families and in some cases with other teachers. Teaching is all about team work. The most effective teachers are able to work with families to provide the most effective education for each child (student). Even if your students are adults you are still working with these adults to provide the best education for them. When I was in college, I worked with my professors to ensure I was getting what I needed from them. I was always the student that asked questions and participated in classroom discussions and gave my input and that's probably part of the reason I ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude and also had a perfect GPA in my original graduate work for my Masters in Teaching. I also established really great relationships with my teachers growing up as well as my college professors and it is because we worked as a team and when I was younger I know my parents took part in my education as well. Yes, some parents could appear to care less or are unsure of how to take part in their child's education and that is why as the teacher you need to make all efforts possible to work with them to provide the best education for their children. Your welcome letter is usually very brief introducing yourself such as your educational experience, your hobbies (if appropriate to share), your families, etc. You then should set out to explain a little about what is going to happen in your classroom. For older classes this "Letter" could even be part of your syllabus for the year or semester. Something great to include is classroom schedules, expectations, etc. If you are unsure of what to include most administration and teams of teachers will help you in drafting the perfect letter.
First Day Tips
So the first day is here! Wow! You are probably nervous and that is okay because chances are your students are nervous too! The first day is usually about building relationships and establishing routines and less about curriculum although you definitely will probably start introducing your curriculum in some way before the day is over. On the first day you should start your day by sharing yourself with your students and getting to know them. A great way to do this is with an icebreaker game of some sort. Obviously with super young students in early childhood that are nonverbal or have limited speaking skills just welcoming them and their parents into your classroom with a smile and good morning makes a HUGE impact and first impression especially with the parents. This is where circle time comes into play as well. Even with one year old students I have a very brief circle time that lasts about three minutes but we start it with a little song where we say their names and good morning/wave hello to each other. Then, once the welcome portion is over with older students you want to establish some classroom rules (usually very basic, very brief rules). Any students old enough to understand there are some basic guidelines can have rules. Obviously older students would have more detailed rules then younger students but students as young as two can have classroom rules. Younger than two it is usually on the spot reminding them what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate and even with two and up through early elementary you will have to have these discussions from time to time about what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate in the classroom. When the students are able to have some sort of part in this rule creation that is great! Even a two year old can tell you in some form to be nice to each other when you ask the right questions while forming your rules. Then, once you have your welcome and rules out of the way it is important to start establishing procedures and routines. Show your students what is expected of them. Again with younger students it may be following the classroom schedule as best as you can while incorporating first day activities. With older students it may be showing them what is expected when they first walk in in the morning. With older, younger students it may be showing them how they are expected to walk in the hallway. You will know what sorts of things you want your students to know and practice and you want to start doing this from day 1 in the classroom.