For most high school students, returning to the classroom on that first day of school is the last thing they want to do in the last place they want to be. For those students who might actually be excited, most will still give the outward appearance that it’s the last thing they want to do in the last place they want to be. Therefore, reconnecting-or in most cases connecting with students after summer break, might require some innovation on the part of the teacher.
No worries! You should relish this challenge. Look at it as an opportunity to bring students on board by providing a sense of belonging, allowing them to see you as a sincere person, explaining clear expectations, and starting the school year in a positive manner. Once they experience the warm environment and mutual respect, you can get down to the business of education.
The first day you should consider introductions and a fun activity. Save the official syllabus and more tedious necessary tasks until the second day. You need that first day hook to bring them back! You can be as extreme or as conventional as you choose. Don’t force anything. If you aren’t comfortable with the format, it won’t work. Kids can spot a fake from across the parking lot. Play an introduction game using music and a favorite song as the topic. As an example, you start the activity, “Hi my name is Ms. Smithsonian and I don’t really have a favorite song right now, but one of my favorite singers if Pink.” Then the first student refers to the teacher before she shares her information. “Hi Ms. Smithsonian who likes Pink. My name is Sarah and I like Halo by Beyonce”. The next student then repeats info, adds his name and song title and the game continues.
If you want the students to loosen up even more, play it as a memory game and the next student needs to repeat all previous introductions and not just the one before him. Obviously, in a room full of 30+ teenagers, you won’t get very far before someone gets is wrong up. That’s what makes it fun and not intimidating. Laugh. In addition to setting a positive tone, it is a great way to connect with your students. They will be able to see you as a real person and not just some stiff robot spewing up knowledge from behind the podium. Connection made!
After using the first class to do an introduction activity, the second day shifts to all the other necessary information to start the year. Be organized and display a syllabus and a set of classroom rules on a white board or a display easily viewed. The fewer rules the better. At this point you have the opportunity for student input. Start with an announcement similar to: “You’ll notice pages listed in your handbook referring to school rules about assemblies, absences and items in the school handbook. However, please look at Expectations for Room OOO. I have three rules that I think are very important.” Share those rules.
After allowing a few minutes for discussion, ask students if they think your rules make sense. Do they think the rules are fair? Listen to what the students say. They will be more likely to support consequences if they have input and take ownership of the rules. This is a great opportunity to show flexibility while remaining firm on non-negotiable rules. For example, one of your rules probably concerns treatment of others. Your rule might state, “Zero tolerance for put downs. Treat every person with respect.” Explain that rule stands as it is-period. Explain why. Students will begin to feel safe if they know you aren’t going to allow bullying or teasing. Ask students for input on consequences for breaking rules. You might be surprised that their consequences are often more harsh than what you had in mind! Finish the second day by wrapping up information on your classroom policies and expectations. Consider adding some student input in your final draft. Now you are ready to type the rules and distribute to students on Day 3. You might ask for a parent or guardian signature plus the student’s signature. It’s a good way to connect with students and parents and promotes open communication.
In addition, within the first few days give students a brief overview of some of the interesting projects they will be doing. Get them excited. In many ways you are marketing your class to the group. When you present that first lesson, make sure it is relevant to students. They need to see the connection between the material and their lives. If possible, relate a writing activity to summer vacation as an effective link. A brainstorming activity in a journal responding to the same prompt is just one idea. The student responses could evolve into a bulletin board display. Posters and displays in your room should reflect student work whenever possible to remind students it is their space. The personal connection you make with students influences discipline, academics and other areas.
In any case, back to school and that first day will happen. However, the connection you make-or fail to make, can set the tone for the year. As a teacher, if you choose to simply go through the motions without making a legitimate effort to personally connect with your students, do not expect positive results. It’s almost like an open invitation for students to challenge you with poor behavior or bad habits. After all, if you don’t care enough to take a risk and put yourself “out there,” why should you expect your students to do so? On the other hand, if you do make the effort and take the risk to allow students to see you as a partner instead of a ruler, they might even want to come back to your class the second week! Would your classroom be their choice of where they want to be? Of course not! They still want to be on summer vacation, but your class might not make that “most dreaded” classes to avoid list!