How To Avoid A Bad Start To Your School Year

It can sneak up on you quickly.

Your students, after all, are eager to please. They want to do well. Many are determined to turn over a new leaf, to put the past in the past and start afresh. Every new year of school is a clean slate, a chance to get it right.

So, in the first couple of weeks, it’s easy to get lulled into feeling like you got it wired, like you got this teaching thing down. Your students are happy. Attentiveness is good. And misbehavior has yet to become an issue.

But just below the surface there is a danger lurking, a danger that can lullaby even the most vigilant teachers to sleep at the wheel. You see, as soon as the excitement of a new school year wears off, as soon as the novelty loses its luster, it’s natural for things to begin fraying at the seams.

If you look close, lo about the third week of school, you’ll notice a smidgen of sloppiness in the way your students line up for lunch or turn in their homework or gather themselves into groups.

Nothing drastic, mind you. Nothing particularly eye-catching. But it’s there.

They raise their hand per your modeling, perhaps, but start talking before you call on them. They dawdle a second or two longer before following your directions. They jostle or murmur under their breath or look away as you teach a lesson.

You find yourself repeating the same things again and again, talking louder, feeling the first pangs of frustration.

Now, for many teachers, this natural phenomenon, this slow but sure retrogression of general behavior and attentiveness, doesn’t occur to them until it’s too late—if it occurs to them at all.

And so they’ll remind. They’ll warn and threaten. They’ll harp and harangue on the importance of listening, performing routines, and giving a good effort. But for the most part, it falls on deaf ears—because the students are too far gone.

They’re so far down the ski slope that they can only hear the echoing of your voice. The dewy leaves are already turning brittle. And the distractions . . . the distractions grow greater every day.

Your only choice, then, is to start over, to wipe the slate clean, to begin from the beginning, as if it’s the first day of school all over again. Of course, because you no longer have a captive audience, this is made more difficult the second time around.

Better to capitalize on an open, eager, and malleable class right from the beginning.

Doing so, however, takes a bit of shrewdness. It takes proactivity. It takes being a stickler for the little things—those that may not seem so important at the time. It takes a strategy that, when employed from day one, need not be used very often.

It’s a strategy that has become a mantra among the most exceptional teachers, for it promises to draw out the best in your students—whether the first week of school or the last.

The strategy is this: Never move on until you’re getting exactly what you want from your students. In other words, don’t transition, start your lesson, continue the work, make the project, work in groups, or anything else unless your students are meeting the standards you’ve set for them.

Usually, this takes nothing more than a pause. Other times, though, you may have to stop them in their tracks, rewind to the beginning, and start again.

But if you stay true to what you want, if you stay true to what you know your students are capable of, then you’ll never lose control of your class. You’ll never feel like a comedian dying on stage. Is this thing on?

Instead, you’ll ensure that active listening, attentiveness, and sharply performed routines are part and parcel to being in your classroom. You’ll ensure good habits, maximum time-on-task, and optimal learning.

You’ll ensure confidence in knowing that you’ll never have to prod, plead, remind, or merely hope things will get better.

When you steadfastly refuse to continue on and on, unsatisfied and unhappy with what you’re seeing in your students, there is no telling what can be accomplished. There is no telling the surprises in store. There is no telling the staggering progress your students will make.

Boundless and life-changing.

Eyes affixed beyond their surroundings, beyond their everyday existence . . .

To the infinite stars in the sky.

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20 Responses to How To Avoid A Bad Start To Your School Year

  1. Sue August 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    1 thing I keep debating in my mind is if I have the rule raise hand before speaking and a kid blurts, do I ignore them or give them a warning.

    • Michael Linsin August 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      Hi Sue,

      You do both. In other words, you never respond when a student blurts out a question or answer, but you do give a warning. That is, according to the classroom management plan I recommend.


  2. Rachel August 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    As a first year teacher in charge of 25 students, I went in ready to teach, model, and practice each procedure explicitly. The first day began perfectly, with students entering quietly and, after a greeting, beginning their seat work. I had a captive audience for the first hour, and after modeling, I began sending teams to the restroom and praising their perfect procedures. However, after lunch, things began disintegrating. It began with small side talk, which I quickly addressed and moved on, but began creeping up with increasing frequency. I found myself pausing until they noticed and stopped, and I profusely praised those who were following procedures correctly. I even remembered to turn away students who attempted to give me hugs at non-designated times. Now, after three days of school, I feel like some things have gone really well, while there has been at least one point each day (always in the afternoon) where I have completely lost control of the classroom. I am terrified by the fact that I am noticing these behaviors already, when it is supposed to be the honeymoon phase. I have read about and implemented many positive and proactive behavior management systems, and I began the very first day with a focus on creating a warm and safe classroom environment, I had students help come up with classroom rules, as well as examples and non-examples of each, and I had them complete team and class building activities. Although there has been slight improvement over each day (despite a majorly chaotic ending to the day yesterday due to my failure to break down end of the day procedures in order to get students packed up in time), I am facing the monster task of introducing centers, assessment procedures, and many more next week, and I am terrified that I will lose what little progress I have made.

    • Michael Linsin August 17, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

      Hi Rachel,

      It sounds like your first few days have been a mixed bag. If you have any questions you’d like to ask, email me. I’m happy to help!


  3. Sue August 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Thanks for clearing that up.

  4. Lauren August 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Hi, I’ve read page after page on this website, I’m very inspired, and I’ve finally come to the instructions: “Teach classroom management plan an hour a day for first two weeks.” I see 11 very different groups of students, grades 6-8. Each class comes to art every other day. Can you give examples of, what does this look like/how would it work in my art class?

  5. Lauren August 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    I read my comment after I posted it, and I’m not sure it’s written clearly. On A days I have 5 classes, 20 to 32 students each. On B days I have 6 classes per day. We are using an A-B schedule. Our class period is less than an hour long.

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Lauren,

      Because you only see your students a couple hours per week, you don’t need as much time to teach your classroom management plan or your routines. On the first day you may spend 20-30 minutes or so, and then adjust from there in subsequent class periods. It depends on you, your expectations, and how effective you are teaching it to your students.


  6. Lauren August 18, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    I think it will also vary depending on the grade. My 6th & 7th graders so far had pretty good attitudes coming in. We started school this past Thursday. My 8th graders and I go way back but this is the first time I’ve been the “real” teacher and not just a sub.

  7. meirav August 22, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    First, I want to thank you so much for the inspird and word of wisdom! I’m a special education teacher in the fifth grade . In our school every student sits alone and I want them to sit in two groups ( I have only 8 students ) . What is your opinion? Should I do what all other teachers do or will it more effective if they. Will sit in groups (especially regarding the timeout)

    • Michael Linsin August 22, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      You’re welcome, Meirav! If you feel that it will benefit your students, then I think it’s worth doing.


  8. Sreeranjini July 28, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    First thank you so much for addressing these issues. I teach business studies and entrepreneurship to grade 11 boys. Each class has about 40 boys. My class is more often than not chaotic. Most of the students show little or no interest towards the topics taught. This majority makes it impossible to teach the few students who really want to learn. Whenever I am in the process of clearing the doubt of a student, the rest of the class starts talking and making noise. What do I do to control them. Please help.

    • Michael Linsin July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Hi Sreeranjini,

      You’re essentially asking how to manage your classroom. The good news is that you found the right place. We have over 275 articles cover every topic imaginable. I recommend starting in the Classroom Management Plan category of the archive and then going from there.


  9. Michelle September 19, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    I read your posts and have purchased all of your books in preparation for my first day or teaching architecture to 9-12th grade classes composed of 30 kids, 90% boys and 10 with IEPs. My classes meet daily for 40 min.

    My classes started off great- the class is a tech rm and very large. The kids are starting to roam all over the room. Wash hands, garbage, talk to a friend etc. im finding it hard to keep them at their desks. I have assigned seats but maybe i need to switch it up. Hand out detention and call parents? Maybe i should first pull a few of the worst offenders outside to chat. Another idea was to use a project sheet to show what is due to date and what they r missing. Some kids are just not doing the work. They are the wonderers. I can see this getting out of hand.

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

      Hi Michelle,

      You need rules that cover the behaviors you mentioned and a way to hold students accountable for them. When you get a chance, please read through the Classroom Management Plan and Rules & Consequences categories of the archive. Keep in mind, though, that the particular consequences you’ll read about are not recommended for high school students. You’ll need to come up with your own set.


  10. Terry Champagne August 14, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    Hello. I love your articles; they are very helpful. I am a teacher on call. Will you please create some articles for “us”. It is quite a challenge to come into a class for the day not knowing the class, the routines, etc. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin August 14, 2016 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Terry,

      It’s not quite within our focus. However, I’m considering an e-guide on the topic.


  11. Gabriel Guzman August 31, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    Hi Michael, thanks for your time for helping us figure it out the best ways to manage our classrooms. Today I had a new group and I presented my CMP and I told them that I wouldn’t continue the instruction until I got the attention I need from them. Several students kept talking so I was just waiting and waiting. After some time the students who were paying attention and being quiet started to tell me to continue the class “even if some students are not paying attention”. I told them I trust everyone is going to get procedures and do them even if is going to take some time. I felt the pressure from both sides. How can I can I handle this? I’m afraid if may get worse next time. Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin September 1, 2016 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Gabriel,

      In that situation it’s best to do a quick overview of your plan so you can begin holding them accountable. So, yes, ignore side-talking and inattentiveness in the immediate moment. If you’re committed to following your plan, they’ll know it and sense it while you’re speaking and will, in all but the rarest circumstance, become quiet and attentive. This is a common situation in middle and high school and best handled by diving straight into your plan.