FAQs for the First Days of School

Find answers to some of the most common concerns for the start of a new school year. This article for teachers includes advice on what to wear, what to say, how to assign seats, and how to learn students' names.
Page 1 of 2

FAQs for the First Days of School

Teaching is the only profession with a "New Year's Eve" and a first day each and every school year. Other professionals have their first days of work but only once in a career. With this distinction come all of the problems and excitements of "firsts."

What Should You Wear?
What Should You Say First?
How Much Should You Tell about Yourself?
How Do You Assign Seats?
How Can You Learn the Students' Names?

What Should You Wear?

Teachers recommend dressing as professionally as possible. You need not run out to a color consultant or buy a dress-for-success manual. Follow your own personal preferences but present yourself to students and their parents as a cool and comfortable, well-groomed professional. On the dressy-casual continuum, most teachers land in the center. While some suggest a dressy dress and shoes or suit and tie on the first day, most stress comfort. You will have to take into consideration climate, school norms, and grade level as well as your own personal taste. Sitting on the floor or handling paints and paste may dictate very casual clothing or, better yet, a smock that suits you. In middle and high school, males can wear a subject-related tie and females a pin or other subject-related accessory. Dress up on the first day. Look your professional best.

What Should You Say First?

Somehow we believe that first words are magical and make or break a situation. If we can get the first sentence right, all will go well thereafter. In reality, your students will never remember what you said first, but because it is of primary concern to new teachers, here are some ideas:
The Welcomers: "Hi, I'm so glad to see all of you. We are going to have a super year."

The Introducers: "I'm Mr. _____ and here are Boris and Natasha, our classroom pet rats."

The Managers: "What a nice line. I hope it's this way all year. Please walk in quietly and find a seat."

My Personal Favorite: "Mistakes are permitted in this class."
Generally, you're safe if you take one from every category or create your own unique way of breaking the ice. Remember the acronym WISHES:
Share Hopes
Establish Standards
*Check out TeacherVision's Getting to Know Your Students feature and Icebreakers – a downloadable, printable book.

How Much Should You Tell about Yourself?

Beginning teachers are concerned about what to be called by children and how much to tell the class about themselves. In all but the most special circumstances, it is most appropriate to be called by your last name preceded by Mr., Mrs., or Ms. In some cases, primary teachers may be called by their first names (e.g., Mr. Mike or Miss Susan). Some teachers use only their last initials, especially when their names are long and difficult to pronounce.

In all cases, write your name on the chalkboard and pronounce it with your students. During attendance, children can easily learn your name by responding to your salutation "Good morning, Juan" with "Good morning, Mrs. Matsumoto."

Having grown up as I did with the belief that teachers neither visited restrooms nor shopped in markets, I always make a point of telling my students something about my personal life and professional background. Surprisingly, the majority of teachers do too. They commonly tell their pupils about their families, why they love teaching, why they became a teacher in the first place, their pets, summer vacations, interests, prior career or experiences, hobbies, and any apparent physical disabilities.

A few teachers encourage and respond to student questions about themselves. Some make a biographical poster or bulletin board. On it are photos of families, pets, and pictures of favorite hobbies, sports, foods, and so on. How much you share will depend on your personal style and philosophy. You can share a little at a time as the year progresses as you prefer, but do share something about yourself that first day. Even minimal self-disclosure (the type and name of your pet, your favorite hobby) will ease the tension, satisfy curiosity, and bring you down to earth, where the kids can reach out to you. Developing rapport with the students in the class is an essential task that first day. Hopefully, you have enough suggestions for getting through the first two minutes of the day. It's time to sit down and relax.

How Do You Assign Seats?

In the old days there were two ways of assigning seats – alphabetical order and size order. If your name began with the letter Z or you were tall, you were guaranteed a seat in the back. Your saving grace was poor vision, poor hearing, or disruptive behavior. These were the three mitigating conditions that upgraded your seating to first class, front row center. But times have changed. The overwhelming majority of teachers favor self-selection as opposed to prearranged seating, at least the first day.

Allowing kids to choose their own seats on the opening day of school is their first exercise in decision making and taking responsibility in your classroom. We adults are often unhappy about assigned seats in airplanes, in theaters, and at dinner parties. We like to find our spaces and feel comfortable in them. And since we are creatures of habit, once we choose, we like to stay put.

Kids feel the same way too! Does this mean that once they have chosen their seats they never move? Never say never. Several circumstances are described by teachers who only partially subscribe to the self-selection pattern. They suggested two adaptations:

  • Choices are modified when special needs arise or seatmates are incompatible. Usually, arrangements are not finalized until the end of the week and still can be modified thereafter.
  • Kids choose new seats every month--or two or three times per year--for a change of scenery, and their choices are subject to teacher modification should the need arise.

    Another popular seating assignment method is random selection by lots. Students draw numbers that correspond to numbers on the desks. These selections are subject to teacher modification, and lots can be redrawn every month or several times per year. In this method there is a certain degree of fairness based on chance, but the risk is that no one may be happy with the outcome, least of all the teacher, who has to deal with the complaints.

    At the other end of the continuum from free choice and random selection are the prearranged, teacher-determined seating assignments. Although teachers who prearrange seating are in the minority, they base their decisions on three variables: ability, alphabetical order, or desire to integrate the sexes, the races, or ethnic groups. It is important to point out that prearranged seating can be dysfunctional.

    In the first case, seating by ability group can stigmatize children and is not necessary, since kids can easily change places for special remediation or enrichment. In the second case, ease of learning the names is not a good enough reason for seating in alphabetical order, since last names are not the common form of address and the Z's will always be in the back! A seating chart is a more reasonable way of solving memory lapses anyway. Finally, trying to achieve balance on all important variables (sex, race, ethnicity, size, ability) through seating will drive you batty, so why not let free choice prevail? Step in when necessary to correct obvious imbalances, especially when using cooperative learning strategies.

    Try to seat nonnative speakers in the front of the room so they can hear you clearly. At the same time, make sure they are sitting near a buddy who speaks their language.

    If you do prefer assigned places, label the seats or spaces on the floor with name tags and let the students enjoy the challenge and excitement of finding their assigned places on the first day. If they can't read, you can shape or color code their names and seat tags to make the task easier.

  • About the author

    TeacherVision Staff

    TeacherVision Editorial Staff

    The TeacherVision editorial team is comprised of teachers, experts, and content professionals dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and relevant information in the teaching space.

    loading gif