Heather Wolpert-Gawron

First 3 Days of School: Tips, Lessons, and Reflection for the Start of the Year

By on August 29, 2009

So the first three days flew by, and on the justice scale of what went right vs. what went wrong, laughter and learning won out. So I thought I’d share with you a brief run-down of the highlights in a wham-bamm, thank-you-ma’am synopsis of my first few days of the school year.

On Wednesday, I was introduced to all of my 7 periods of students. Each class had approximately 36 students. I’m working an overage this year, so all in, I’m seeing about 250 students per day. I received my class lists that morning, but two days before I had been given the list of kids with district suspensions. I didn’t even look at the list, don’t know why it was even given to the teachers, as I felt it could only prejudice teachers towards certain kids in their classes, so I filed it in the circular file. I mean, sure, I recognized certain names on my class lists as those whose names around various meetings, but I don’t need to know who did what last year until I see what they do this year. School Bell

The first thing to note is how I get kids to designate their seats on the first days of school. Basically, I tape playing cards to their desks. Then, I take another deck and correspond it to the cards taped to the desks, weeding out the ones I didn’t use. I stand at the door and as they come in, and hand out the cards, asking them to please find their seat. It randomizes everything, and for the first few days I can begin to develop my seating chart. Within three days, I know some kids I need to shuffle. Using their student data sheet that they fill out on the first day, I also know (because there’s a prompt that asks them to tell me) if they have anything that they feel I should know about them at this time. This helps me develop a more permanent seating chart as well. Responses range in nature:

“I can’t stand Justin! Please don’t sit me with him!”

“I can’t hear in my right ear.”

“I can’t see from the back.”

“My parents are both dead, but I don’t like to talk about it.”

“I hate reading and writing.”

I look at them all, and it allows me to know at least one thing about each student within the first couple of days.

Anyway, once I get their paperwork covered and rules and “please have your family or guardian sign” blah-blah-bah, I explain to them the procedures of the classroom and we practice them. For instance, I label each of the desks in a table with a character in literature. It’s just my little way of further integrating reading. See below for the diagram of one such table group:

Picture 2

By labeling the table groups, I not only get to talk about the books and point them out in my classroom library (they are now, hence, already checked out), but I can create easy fluid groups. I can say things like:

“All Juliets please go get your table’s Works in Progress folders.”

“Watsons, please get the highlighters for the next activity.”

“All Warts get together to discuss your figurative language Golden Line from last night that you pulled from your independent reading book.”

“During this silent read, could I see all Skulduggerys over here for a brief meeting with me.”

It’s all about integration opportunities and making the most out of every moment of instructional time. Also, every week or so, the kids will rotate positions so I don’t have to see the backs of the same kids all quarter. This also supports Judy Willis’ theories of student achievement and how it relates to surprise and new-ness in the classroom.

OK, First period: deers in headlights. Hard to make laugh, but by Thursday I had busted through their early-morning veil of blah-ness. Generally they enter my classroom, as Shakespeare put it, “creeping like snail, unwillingly to school.” But if they are running late and arrive after the bell (a new and, I couldn’t believe it, actually more annoying bell then the one last year) they must enter the room dramatically, panting and heaving to make me think they ran to get to my class. If they don’t, I make them do outside and enter again in a dramatic reenactment of regret, remorse, and hyperventilation as if they did run to get there.

I prepared an Interactive Whiteboard flipchart for the opening procedures and routines, but within twenty minutes of class, my projector shut off and a warning light started blinking threateningly. (See my past posts on my rocky relationship with my Whiteboard beginning with this one here.) I got it working, but this happened three times the first day, and two times each day thereafter. Total instructional time lost: 18 minutes. Level of frustration: Priceless.

I found out at 7:30 AM on the first day that my supplies I had ordered (writer’s notebooks, etc..) in July had yet to arrive from the warehouse, so I jumped to curriculum I had planned for the following day. We started the Find a Fib Activity as a means to not only begin discussions, but also to begin a short narrative to continue at a later day. I find that I like to start these little writings and create a bank of them. Then, later in the quarter, after we’ve learned some of the skills of writing a narrative, I have the kids look back through their stories started to find the one they really want to commit to massaging through the entire writing process.

We all agreed summer was too short. After all, someone (who the heck knows who or why) decided that we were going to start earlier this year in order to end earlier next year. But it’s not like we’re getting those truncated days back. So, in other words, the two weeks we trimmed we never see again. Of course, I didn’t point this out to the kids, but I also think they understood it all by themselves. They’re no dope.

The rest of my periods went well and we started our Reading Genre silhouette posters in my 7th grade class (post to come). But come Friday, still no supplies. Sigh.

I had a student, a quiet guy, who approached me and said that even though he did not get into speech and debate, he would really love to be in it. He auditioned last year and I couldn’t fit him in. Nevertheless, I spoke to the counselor, and because we had a couple of kids whose schedule did not fit the class in, I accepted him immediately. You can’t deny a kid who shows desire and the passion to improve.

I had a parent, pretty aggressive, who insisted her son get into speech and debate. Her son, an honors student, avoided the auditions, clearly never wanting to be in speech and debate. First she tried bullying the counselor to let her son in. Then the counselor had her talk to me. Needless to say, after listening to her yell and tell me he never picks what is right for himself and he hadn’t consulted her and now I better let him in, I did not let her push me into creating a spot for her kid who clearly isn’t interested. Chill out, lady. My team’s ratio is 60 students to 1 teacher already. I’m not letting in a kid who doesn’t want to be there. Classroom management tip #1.

I had the kids break out their monthly calendars that are the first few pages of their agendas (we have just adopted common binders which I find to be a great organizational equalizer). We wrote down testing dates, days off, writing assessments, reading assessments, state testing, minimum days, and dances. Long-range planning, or at least long-range awareness. Can’t beat it.

By the evenings, I sat watching Top Chef and Project Runway with ice on my feet and honey-tea in my mug. My ankles hurt. My throat was already sore. But there’s already been a lot of laughter and a lot of waves of “see you next week, Mrs.W!” The soundtrack of smiles fills the room each period…even the smiles of those kids I’m sure appeared on that suspension list you can find in some dumpster somewhere. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t look at it.

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  1. Trish Klinger
    September 4, 2012

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    What a terrific idea for creating a random seating chart. I always seat my students alphabetically for the first 2 weeks until I learn their names and then I create new seating charts. I’m going to try your idea for the playing cards.
    We have done a similar strategy as part of our anti-bullying week activities in the cafeteria. We hand each student a different colored sticker as they enter the cafe and they have to sit at the table with the corresponding number. Sixth graders embrace the idea, seventh graders tolerate it for one day and the eighth graders hate it because they just want to sit with their friends!
    I love Middle School!

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