That First Day
In anticipation of the opening day of school, I make sure that I have desks arranged in place and that I have prepared bulletin boards, visual aids, and other materials to make the room look inviting and professional. Now all I need are the students.
Usually, I greet students at the door the first day. I want them to see me before they see anything else about my class. I want to communicate professionalism by how I dress; yet, I also want to communicate warmth and love through my smile and voice. I want them to feel that I’m in control and have things planned for them from the start.
Rather than frantically trying to generate a seating chart myself, I let the students help with it. I make an overhead transparency of the seats in the room with each desk numbered, and the transparency is displayed while the students enter the room. As they enter, I hand each one a 3 x 5-inch card with a number on it. That number is his seat number. (At this point, most students haven’t figured out the need to show up with their friends at the same time for classes, so I don’t have too much difficulty with friends sitting near each other the first day.)
Also, through PowerPoint I have a Bible verse displayed on the TV screen. The verse is the subject of my devotional for that day and sets the tone for the whole year. I then go through the roll, asking students what names they wish to be called. As I’m doing this, I’m filling out a blank seating chart, showing where the students are actually sitting so that I can use it for a few weeks until the class rolls are finalized. I then have the students use the index card I gave them to answer some information questions. I ask such things as their names, home churches, interests, what they like and don’t like about history, e-mail address, and other things. I collect the cards and use them to learn about the students and to guide me in praying for them on a regular basis.
Next, I take a few minutes to share with the students who I am, what my interests are, and what I like about history. Then, I hand out the textbooks. While I’m doing this, the students are working on a worksheet I’ve given them. (It’s usually a humorous worksheet, but they don’t know that at first.) It gets the students back into a classroom mindset right from the beginning. Near the end of class I hand out an assignment sheet. I plan the entire semester’s assignments, but I hand out one month’s assignments at a time. Handing out the assignment sheet and giving homework the first night show the students they must get right to work.
I also have worksheet packets and other materials duplicated and ready to go for the first day. I establish a uniform pattern of handing in and handing out material. Routine is essential for effective classroom management.
Normally, I don’t get to class policies the first day. In high school, each teacher has his/her own policies, so the students have to inhale several different ones the first day. On the second day, I hand out an information sheet that includes materials needed for the class, policies for the various aspects of class (homework, quizzes, tests, projects, extra credit, etc.), grading scale and standards, classroom management, and behavior policies along with punishments and rewards. I review this sheet each year in case I need to make revisions from previous years. If I am going to hold the students and myself accountable, I need to put everything on paper and put it out before them. But, having it on paper is not enough. I talk through each point and explain what I mean. Students may have questions that I can address right away, drawing upon previous experiences.
I need to be prepared to re-explain things the first few weeks as students continue to struggle with differentiating my policies from those of the other five teachers they have had that day.
As for the first lesson, I lay the groundwork for what we are going to do the rest of the year. The opening lesson should, of course, be grounded in the Bible and the fundamental principles for learning that are found therein. I take some time to talk about the philosophy of learning from a Christian perspective and then focus on specific philosophies as they pertain to our subject matter. I preview some of the big events of the coming year, and I try to demonstrate an excitement to stimulate their excitement.
Of course, the biggest thing I can do in preparation for any school year is prepare myself spiritually. I spend time in God’s Word and spend much time in prayer. I read some books that have meant a lot to me and inspired me as a teacher. I review effective strategies and themes I want to emphasize through my subject matter in the coming year. I take time to reflect upon the goodness of God in past years and plead for His grace to abound again.
About Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy teaches world history and U.S. history at Bob Jones Academy.