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Planning for Your First Day at School

On the first day of school, the secret to success is in the planning, not the pedagogy. How's your back-to-school planning going? Have you forgotten anything? Our checklist can help! Included: Online resources for a variety of back-to-school planning needs, including welcome letters, bulletin board ideas, and back-to-school activities.

It's official. You're a teacher! You aced all your education courses, know the subject matter backward and forward, can rattle off the names and philosophies of dozens of educational theorists, and achieved a pretty respectable score on the state certification exam. You finally have an actual job and an official class list. There's only one problem. The first day of school is drawing near and you have no idea what to do. Are you really ready to face that first terrifying day?

The secret to success in any new endeavor is planning. But for this particular endeavor, don't just plan, over plan. Don't just prepare, over prepare. Don't just write enough lessons plans to fill one class or a single day. (They never do!) Write more than enough!

When it comes to planning ahead, of course, the secret to success is in the details. Use the checklist below to help you with any details you might have overlooked in planning for your first day at school as the teacher.


Although it's not generally a good idea to clutter your classroom with framed family pictures or your collection of ceramic apples, there are a few personal items that can help you make it through the year. They include:

A diary. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down your thoughts and impressions about the day's events. Was there a lesson that went particularly well, or particularly badly? Why? Did a difficult discipline problem arise? How did you handle it? What was the result? What successes did you experience? What compliments did you receive? As the year progresses, the diary will help you identify what works and what doesn't word, and it will help you find alternate strategies. It will also document your growth as a teacher, something you may not recognize otherwise. Who knows? There might even be a book in it!

A personal appointment calendar. Yes, a date book will come in handy for reminding yourself of faculty meetings, PPTs, and scheduled observations. More importantly, it can be used to document the unscheduled events that crop up during the day, and often come back to haunt you weeks later. You might think you'll never forget the day Darrell's father called to complain about your discipline policies (the first time!), or that Tamika's mother stopped in to request a speech evaluation, or what you did when Patrick bloodied Jose's nose on the playground. But you will! Jot it down immediately in your date book. And keep the date book in, not on, your desk!

A personal survival kit. Store (out of reach of students!) a personal teacher survival kit. Include such items as a small sewing kit, safety pins, bandages, suntan lotion, change, snacks, tea bags or coffee singles, bottled water, breath mints, tissues, hand sanitizer, a spare pair of pantyhose (if appropriate!), sneakers and socks, a scarf and gloves, and any other items that will make bad days and minor catastrophes a little easier to deal with. None of those things are absolutely necessary to your success as a teacher, of course, but having them handy will make your life a lot less stressful.

A sturdy canvas bag to keep it all in.


Confidence breeds competence. You'll feel a lot better about facing that first day of school if you take the time to become familiar with the school and with the people you'll be working with. Before school starts:

Familiarize yourself with the school building and grounds. Sure the principal took you on a quick tour, but how much did you absorb, or remember? Take the time before school starts to retrace your steps. Locate the bathrooms (not just the one closest to your classroom!), the gym, the cafeteria, the media center, and the nurse's office. Note where they are in relation to your classroom. Ask where resource classes are held. Find the audio-visual equipment and supply closet and ask about checkout procedures. Take notes or draw yourself a map.

Visit the school Web site. A school Web site can provide valuable information about the school and community, as well as insight into what's expected of students and teachers.

Review school policies and procedures. Ask about any procedures that are unclear. Learn the reasons for any policies that don't seem to make sense. Every school has its own history and problems. You'll be better equipped to follow policies and procedures correctly if you understand the reasoning behind them.

Make friends with the school support staff. They're the best friends a new teacher can have. Introduce, or re-introduce, yourself. Remember names. Ask about attendance and lunch count procedures, if you're not sure about them. Find out how to get an e-mail address. Make it clear you expect to make mistakes at first and that you know they might be inconvenienced. Ask how you can make their lives easier. Bring doughnuts!

Make a friend. Choose a teacher at your grade level or in a nearby classroom and ask if he or she would be available to answer questions or give friendly advice during the first few weeks of school. Let that teacher know that you're open to suggestions and eager to learn.


Your classroom will be your home-away-from-home for the next nine months. You'll want it to reflect your personality, your educational philosophy, and your goals for your students. How do you do that? Consider some of these suggestions from veteran teachers.

Prepare bulletin boards. Most of your bulletin boards should be reserved for displaying student work. Simply cover the surfaces with butcher paper or a sturdy fabric and add a title and appropriate graphic. Depending on the grade level of your students, you might want to designate one bulletin board as a calendar board, which will remain constant throughout the year. Elementary and many middle school students also enjoy a student-of-the-week bulletin board. (To get the ball rolling, start with an autobiographical bulletin board of yourself!) For older students, consider setting aside a section of a bulletin board for posting the day's schedule, objectives, class assignments, homework, and upcoming events. Another section of the same board could hold a running assignment log and a handout folder (for students who are absent). For additional bulletin board ideas, check out the Education World article Your Search for Bulletin Board Ideas Is Over!

Set up the room. Desks and activity centers can be arranged in a number of ways, depending on your individual teaching style. You'll find some of the most common room arrangements, along with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each, at Creating an Effective Physical Classroom Environment, Teachers Helping Teachers: Classroom Management, and the Education World article Do Seating Arrangements and Assignments = Classroom Management? Assign seats, at least initially. It will help you learn students' names, establish mutual respect, and maintain classroom control.

Obtain student supplies. Depending on the grade level of your students, you may need paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, construction paper, rulers, or calculators. You'll also need textbooks and possibly workbooks. Be sure to count them!

Obtain teacher supplies. You'll probably need (among other things!) pens and markers, a stapler and staples, paper clips, tape, rubber bands, a plan book, a seating chart, hall passes, and attendance and lunch forms.

Post classroom information. Post your name, room number, and the grade or class you teach, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom door. If you have a telephone in your classroom, post important school numbers next to the phone. Include the main office, the nurse's office, and the phone numbers of nearby classrooms.

Although not, strictly speaking, part of preparing your classroom, this is also a good time to:

Review lesson plans. Look over your first day's lesson plans and obtain all necessary materials.

Prepare materials for students to take home the first day. These might include emergency data cards, a school welcome letter, a calendar showing the class specials schedule and upcoming events, a syllabus, and a homework assignment.

Check books out of the school or public library. Start a habit of reading aloud to your students for a few minutes each day, whatever their grade level!


Only the Brave Should Teach

Only the brave. Only the brave should teach.

Only those who love the young should teach.

Teaching is a vocation.

It is as sacred as the priesthood; as innate a desire, as inescapable as the genius which compels a great artist.

If he has not the concern for humanity,

the love of living creatures,

the vision of the priest and the artist,

he must not teach.

--Pearl Buck

Establishing rapport and a cooperative working relationship with parents is essential to any teacher, but it's especially important to the first-year teacher, whose inexperience may be an issue for some parents. You can get off on the right foot with a welcome letter, sent to the parents of each student on your class list. Mail the letters a week or two before school starts. If that's not possible, send it home with students on the first day of school. You might include information about yourself, a list of supplies students will need to bring from home, a schedule of opening day activities, policies for parents' visits, phone calls, and volunteer opportunities (include a volunteer sign-up sheet!), a discussion of classroom rules and consequences, a curriculum overview or syllabus, and your school phone number and school e-mail address.

You can find a teacher welcome letter template among Education World's Back-to-School Templates, and in the Education World article Back-to-School Letters and Survival Kits Build Communication. You might want to send an introductory letter to your students too!

Be sure to have your principal, mentor teacher, or another veteran teacher check out parent or student welcome letters before you mail them. They know the community and school policies better than you do and are in a better position to evaluate whether your letter is effective and appropriate.


You're as ready as you'll ever be! Now what?

  • Arrive early! Give the classroom one last check. Turn on the lights and open the blinds.
  • Greet students at the door. Introduce yourself and welcome them. Smile!
  • As students arrive, hand them an assignment and ask them to get started immediately.
  • Help students prepare their own nametags. You'll find name tag templates among Education World's Back-to-School Templates.
  • Review, explain, and discuss school rules and procedures.
  • Work together to develop a list of classroom rules and consequences, or provide students with a copy of your class rules.
  • As you move through the day, explain and practice class routines.
  • Take pictures of students at work and play. Save some for Parents' Night and for student-of-the-week bulletin boards. Use others to start a class scrapbook.
  • Discuss class or individual goals and expectations. Younger students may enjoy hearing and discussing Judith Viorst's "The First Day" poem.
  • Try to include an activity that provides opportunities for students to interact or problem-solve. Check out the Education World article Icebreakers: Sixteen Getting to Know You Activities.
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well done!


Survival Guide for New Teachers This guide from the U.S. Department of Education offers lots of stories and advice from teachers who have been there.

Works4Me Tips Library The NEA offers tips for teachers on such topics as content, teaching techniques, classroom management, technology, organization, and relationships.

The First Days of Middle School MiddleWeb provides an extensive list of links to resources for all middle school teachers.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © Education World



Last updated 06/23/2017