New teacher articles

10 ideas for a great start to your school year

A new school year is both exciting and daunting — full of the hope and promise of a fresh start and the fear of the unknown — for teachers, students, parents and the whole school community.

Here are some ideas gathered from veteran teachers at all school levels. Use the ones that seem appropriate for your students to help give you a good start and, hopefully, lay the foundation for a successful school year.

These ideas were adapted from suggestions published in the AFT’s “American Teacher.”

  1. Establish a few key rules.

    Four or five classroom rules based on mutual respect can help you create a respectful and secure learning environment from day one. Keep the rules short and simple, but take some class time to teach, model and discuss the rules, letting students express their views. Then enforce the rules consistently and fairly so students see that you have high expectations for their behavior in your classroom. Students with clear and consistent boundaries are more likely to perform and behave better.

  2. Teach classroom routines and procedures.

    Many discipline problems in the classroom can be avoided with clear routines and procedures. Kids need routines and it is up to teachers to establish them during the first days of school. But don’t assume that your students know how you want things done. Start with routines you need immediately — e.g., a stop-talking signal or passing out or collecting papers. Teach each procedure; then use it a few times to give students immediate practice. Follow the same methodology over the next few days each time you need to introduce a new routine or procedure. Once they are ingrained, you will have more time to cover the content of your lessons.

  3. Plan for student introductions.

    Try this to learn about your students early on without stirring up the anxiety kids often feel when they have to talk about themselves: have pairs of students interview one another and then introduce their partners to the class. If you like, develop an interview questionnaire with your class or provide one for them asking for basics like the student’s name, family, pets, summer experiences, favorite things and interests. This encourages positive student interaction, supports communication and memory skills, and lets students know that you are interested in every one of them. You can follow up by seeing how many — including you — remember students’ names and something about them. Students who feel you care about them and know their names are less likely to misbehave.

  4. Make parents your allies.

    You don't have to wait until Open School Week or for problems to occur to contact parents. Send a note home the first week to introduce yourself; inform parents about your plans and expectations; and ask for their support. (It may help to have the note translated into other languages, where appropriate.) Let them know how they can help their child succeed and suggest a few things they can do at home regularly. Offer your e-mail or other contact information to make communication easier. If you like, leave space for parents to sign that they have read your note and will do their part.

  5. Engage with paraprofessionals.

    If a paraprofessional is assigned to work with your class, foster a good working relationship right from the start. Schedule a time to meet, explain your plans and expectations for the students, and discuss the role the paraprofessional can play within your framework. Developing clear responsibilities for your paraprofessional will benefit you and your students, and will involve your paraprofessional in a meaningful, professional way.

  6. Find a buddy.

    Teaching can often feel like an isolating experience, especially for newer teachers. There’s no need to feel alone if you find a friendly colleague to help you navigate those choppy waters. If you qualify for a mentor, be sure you have one assigned to work with you. Otherwise, begin the year by asking your colleagues or your chapter leader to suggest a buddy teacher. You’ll have someone to go to with all your questions — and don’t hesitate to ask even questions that seem insignificant. Asking questions shows that you are interested and eager to learn.

  7. Set class learning goals.

    Try to give students a clear sense about what they will learn and do in your class, right from the start. You can present this as broad achievement goals, perhaps related to the learning standards for your grade and subject level. Involve students in some discussion about these goals and have them help you with the wording so the goals are meaningful to everyone. Then post these goals around your classroom and refer to them regularly. This will remind students that in your class everyone is focused on accomplishing common learning goals.

  8. Have students identify personal learning goals.

    Take some time early on for students to brainstorm how they think they can achieve the class learning goals individually, what they find most challenging and how they can overcome those difficulties. Have them add any personal goals they have for themselves. (Follow up with older students by having them write a letter to themselves setting out their personal learning goals in your class.) Find ways for students to track their progress toward these goals and refer back to their goals periodically. Making the goals their own gives students a greater stake in learning and places you in more of a coaching role, helping them achieve what they want for themselves.

  9. Keep duplicates of texts and handouts.

    As you begin to distribute texts, materials and handouts early in the year, set aside a few of each for students who will transfer into your class later on. If you wish, prepare a few attractive shopping bags and put one of each item in each bag. Add a friendly welcome note and you’ll be all set to make a smooth transition when a child transfers into your class with little or no notice.

  10. Create a class website.

    Such a website, which you can set up for free using Google, is an excellent way to keep kids accountable and to communicate with students and parents. Your website can include a calendar, where you post when assignments or forms are due and when tests are scheduled. This helps students who might otherwise forget or who were absent and need to make up work. You also can post homework assignments, progress reports on a unit of study, examples of well-done assignments and reminders about reviewing for exams. Encouraging students to visit the website regularly can also save you wear and tear and valuable classroom time with such routine reminders.

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