First Day Memories

I never loved the first day of school. My teaching depended so much upon knowing my students, and until I got to know them, I never felt entirely comfortable.

Having said that, I do have many happy first day memories, including a funny story from my first day of teaching kindergarten.

I was at a new school, in a new city, and my previous years of teaching experience were with first and second graders. Compared to them, my kindergarten students seemed very young. For some of them, kindergarten was their first school experience. I had one child who tried to run away that day, and another who cried and cried.

I remember leading the class in singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” with the child who was crying in my lap and the child who wanted to run away in his mom’s lap. One of the other students tried so hard to convince the two unhappy ones that kindergarten was the place for them. He kept saying things like: “Isn’t this fun? We’re singing. I can’t wait to see what else we do. I am happy and I know it!”

Another great first day memory comes from the second year my school in Tennessee used Responsive Classroom practices. That meant when my second grader students came to me, they had already used classroom routines like responding to a signal for quiet the previous year. I remember ringing the chime on the first day of school and every one of my second graders whipped his or head around to look at me. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!

You can get a taste of how this works from watching the segment on responding to a signal for quiet. It’s such a treat to watch Caltha Crowe teaching in her own classroom. Whenever I look at footage of Caltha with her students, I’m struck by how clearly she presumes positive intentions. Everything she says and does conveys such a belief that the children can and will live up to her expectations. I think it is so important to express that confidence and faith from the first moment. She exudes that.

My advice to you for the beginning of the school year is this: Refrain from making too many judgments about your students from their first days. They, like you, are likely to be feeling nervous and unsure, trying both to prove themselves and figure where they belong in their new community. Try to be patient if they initially do so in unproductive ways. Work on building a strong community where they can feel safe just to be themselves and where they can slowly let you and others get to know them.

Introduce a signal for quiet on the first day of school. The Zenergy Chime, with its clear, pleasing, and powerful tone, is a favorite audio signal among teachers who attend our workshops!

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: First Day of School, Quiet and Other Signals