First Day at the Secondary Level

Get ready for your first day teaching at the secondary level with these tips on everything from outlining the syllabus to starting a fun and hands-on project. New teachers will find this resource particularly valuable for back-to-school.
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First Day at the Secondary Level

First day at the secondary level is just as exciting and just as anxious as first day at the elementary level. There are so many names to learn, so many procedures to remember, and so many tasks to accomplish. Consider this suggested sequence of activities:

Secondary Thoughts

Post a philosophical statement on the wall and use it to initiate some discussion with students on the first day. Select one that has personal meaning for you (you might want to use different statements with different classes or different periods). Here are a few I've used:

  • “You can't earn if you don't learn.”

  • “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” —Albert Einstein

  • “There is nothing more dangerous than a closed mind.”

  • “Education is a process, never a product.”

  • “Education is never about achieving perfection, but rather about meeting challenges.”
  • Meet and greet your students at the door to your classroom. Shake their hand, call them by name, and welcome them into the room. This is a critical moment for pre-adolescents and teens as it sets the tone for the rest of the day and the rest of the year. It lets them know that their attendance is valued and that they are part of a community of learners. I suggest that you make this single act a regular part of your daily routine. You'll reap untold benefits.

  • Establish a seating pattern or seating chart early on. Initially assign students to desks. You might want to do this alphabetically so you can learn their names quicker. Later, you can inform them that a class meeting will determine final or rotating seating assignments.

  • Talk briefly about yourself. Let students see your human side by discussing your education, your family, and especially your philosophy.

  • Take attendance. Spend some time learning the correct pronunciation of students' names. Make a positive comment about each students as you go through your class list (“Thanks for coming,” “Good to see you,” “How's the team look this year?”).

  • Share an initial set of rules and classroom expectations. Secondary students will quickly determine what kind of teacher you will be by how many rules you have, how precise those rules are, and the severity of the punishments you establish for infractions. Remember K.I.S.S.—Keep It Short and Sweet. Don't overload them with rules the first day. Let them know that they will be involved in establishing classroom procedures throughout the year.

  • Inform students about your expectations for each class and each period. They need to know about bringing textbooks, note taking, expected quizzes and exams, homework assignments and procedures, getting your attention (raising hands), and bathroom procedures.

  • Provide students with a syllabus or course outline for the semester or year. Inform them about the topics you'll cover; the projects they will complete; and any special activities such as field trips, guest speakers, or multimedia.

  • Schedule a motivating or energizing activity related to your subject area. This can be in the form of a Jeopardy! game, a panel discussion, a scavenger hunt (see First Day at the Elementary Level; adapt the hunt as necessary for secondary students), or a cliffhanger like one of these:

    • Begin reading a book, but stop at a climatic point. Tell students that you'll read the conclusion tomorrow.

    • Give students some brainteasers or puzzles related to a forthcoming topic. Tell students you will provide the answers in tomorrow's class.

    • Engage students in a hands-on project (a mobile, diorama, poster, etc.). Tell them you'll provide time in tomorrow's class to complete the project.

  • Provide a very short, but motivational, homework assignment. Here are some possibilities:

    • History: Interview your parents or grandparents about a recent historical event.

    • Science: Locate a discovery or invention that was not around 20 years ago.

    • English: Write your own epitaph.

    • Math: Find three mathematical equations used in popular media (billboards, magazine advertisements, TV commercials, etc.).

    • P.E.: Discover what the world record for the hammer throw is or what is the hammer throw? For men? For women?

    • Art: Find a Salvador Dali painting and tell what it means to you.

  • Wrap up the period by giving students a preview of things to come. Whet their appetite for the coming week, the coming month, and the coming year. Leave them with a feeling of anticipation.
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