3 Common First-Day-Of-School Mistakes

Smart Classroom Management: 3 Common First Day Of School Mistakes

Come the first day of school, you’ll be ready.

Your room, your schedule, your activities and lessons. Your outfit.

All primed, polished, and poised to succeed.

You’ll even know exactly what you’re going to say when you greet your new class.

Which is all well and good.

But there is something about the first day of school that causes many teachers to behave in ways that undermine their best laid plans.

Maybe it’s nerves. Maybe it’s trying to do too much.

Maybe it’s being so focused on checking off every box that they lose self-awareness.

Whatever the cause, if you can avoid the following three mistakes, you can begin laying the groundwork for the best year of teaching you’ve ever had.

1. You talk too much.

It’s normal to want to cover as much information as you can on the first day of school, but it’s best to temper your ambition.

Otherwise, you risk losing your students.

Talk too much and they’ll tune you out. They’ll form a negative impression of you and being in your class, which is the seed from which misbehavior grows.

It’s best to break your policies and procedures into digestible chunks and involve your students like you would any other lesson.

Get them up and moving. Have them prove they understand by actually doing it, modeling it, or acting it out—while you look on quietly.

Give them a taste of what it’s like learning from you, which will set the tone for the rest of the year.

2. You’re too serious.

Although behavior expectations can be a weighty topic, and a teaching must on the first day of school, this doesn’t mean you have to be an ogre while you’re at it.

Too many teachers turn foreboding as soon as they bring up misbehavior.

Despite what they may say among colleagues in the privacy of the teachers’ lounge, somewhere in the back of their mind they still think intimidation is helpful.

But using fear, no matter how subtle the undercurrent, to coerce good behavior will only make your job more difficult—because it will very effectively sabotage your relationship with your new class.

It will weaken your leverage and ability to curb misbehavior.

Remember, your classroom management plan protects them and their right to learn and enjoy school. It’s good news, and thus it should be presented as such.

3. You’re too timid.

Teachers who try too hard to make a good first impression are at risk of falling into timidity.

They fear disappointing their new class so much that they tiptoe around their classroom management plan. They minimize its importance.

They give it only cursory attention, leaving students to believe they don’t have the stomach to really follow it.

But, again, protecting learning and enjoyment is a wonderful thing. Along with their physical safety, it’s also your most important job.

Furthermore, far from making your relationship with students more challenging, your classroom management plan is the very thing that allows it to flourish.

It’s the foundation upon which trust is built.

So teach it boldly. Be clear and confident. Show your students through your words, your passion, and your very presence that you will indeed fulfill your every promise.

Awareness Is Key

Accomplishing everything you set out to do on the first day of school is no guarantee it will go well.

Yes, it’s important to check off your boxes.

But if you unwittingly bore your students, intimidate them, or downplay the critical role of fixed, non-negotiable boundaries, then you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.

You’ll begin the year with a severed connection, a disconnect between what you’re trying to communicate and the message your students are receiving.

The mistakes above are particularly insidious because they’re difficult to see in oneself. You look back a week later and think, “I was so prepared, and I did everything I wanted to do, yet why am I struggling?”

The good news is that simple awareness of which one or more of the three mistakes you’re most susceptible to is the best way to avoid making them.

Be cognizant of the amount of speaking you’re doing. Present all behavior expectations as good news. Deliver your classroom management plan with boldness.

And the first day of school will go as planned.

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23 Responses to 3 Common First-Day-Of-School Mistakes

  1. Kat August 5, 2017 at 7:40 am #

    I posted this on an older post but I don’t know if anyone will see it there:
    I need advice. This year my school is requiring every teacher to use the exact same behavior management system. It is a 10 point clip chart where students start the day at 0 and earn a point for good behavior in ten different areas: each subject plus recess, lunch, specials, line behavior, and being “on time and ready”. This goes against everything I believe about behavior management, so I’m struggling with this. My team decided the students will keep track of their points individually instead of on one big clip chart display, but there is no way around the rest of the system. I am required to give points in those ten areas.

    • Backroads August 5, 2017 at 9:06 am #

      I want to say this has been touched upon in an article in the not-too-distant past (which may be where you first posted). Do you have to report on how each student did? How closely are the points followed?

      • Kat August 6, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

        Yes, we have to write the corresponding letter grade (9-10 points is “E” for excellent, 7-8 points if “V” for very good, etc.) in their daily planner so their parents can see how they did each day. The principal goes through and checks their planners too- either random spot checks, or when she’s in the classroom.

    • Krissy August 5, 2017 at 10:24 am #

      If your school is requiring it, then you have no choice. Unfortunately, as a new teacher, you don’t have much say. Even if it goes against your beliefs. I suggest you do what they want and try to get on leadership committees where they make these decisions. This way you’ll at least have a say. Otherwise, build relationships, look for the good in your students, make positive calls home, and just love your kids so they will only do positive things in your class. Then the negative aspects of this management system will not be a huge deal. Check out Teaching with Love and Logic. It changed the way I teach but did not interfere with my school’s management system. Good luck!!

      • Kat August 6, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

        Thanks! Sadly I am not a new teacher, and even the teachers who have been at this school for 10+ years are very unhappy with this. Thank you for the advice! You’re right that I will keep doing what I’m doing…and begrudgingly follow this point system. 😉 I have read Teaching with Love and Logic too. 🙂

    • Lee August 5, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

      Flip the system! Have each student start the day with ten points and deduct points for misbehavior.

      • Kat August 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

        We aren’t allowed to because that would become a “negative” system, according to admin. We can’t “take away” points; they can only earn the points. Such fun! And students have to clip up after earning each point, so there really is no way to play the system here. I guess I was more looking to vent because I am still in disbelief that we are required to do this!

        • Alison Charbonneau August 7, 2017 at 9:32 am #

          Sounds like a system that will take your focus away from teaching and learning. I would simplify the system to three categories (scores) – (10) followed expected behavior, (7) slipped up but redirected easily, (4) behavior was an issue. Everyone would get 10’s in everything unless I had to stop instruction to deal with their behavior. When the time came to fill out the planner I would have kids fill out there own and place a sticky note on the planner of the errant students with their score adjustments so they would know where they needed to write less than 10. So yes every kid would start with a 10 in every category which encourages the behavior you want to see, why not? Sounds like a rediculous system, I would do everything I could to keep it from becoming the focus of each day.

          • Alison Charbonneau August 7, 2017 at 9:34 am #

            There = their 🙂

        • Lu August 9, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

          Hello, Kat I’ve been reading the previous comments and I agree with you. It is a very unfare situation, and as I see it, this ‘filling in the chart’ is obviously a tool seeking to control not only the students, but you also by taking out of your hands the criteria to evaluate your students as if they think teachers don’t have the capacity to.
          I don’t like that style of evaluation because I believe that in fact what they want to do is to control students’ behaviour instead of being interested on what they learn or stimulate their creativity. Remember that schools are the prision for thoughts.
          What I think is that if you accept what they are imposing on you will only get worse. I’d recommend to discuss about this whit your teacher mates and get TOGETHER to create another proposal until the system give up.

  2. Backroads August 5, 2017 at 9:03 am #

    Ooh, very good list. I’ll put this to mind for the first day!

    I do have an off-topic question, though. One of your points is to refrain from repeating instructions. However, it seems like every year I have an IEP stating I must be up for repeating instructions to a student. Is there a non-weird way of having that option for said student without the rest of the class relying on repeated instructions?

    • Michael Linsin August 5, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

      Hi Backroads,

      Yes, but if you don’t mind, because of the limited time I have to answer questions in this forum, I’m going to save this topic for a future article. Thanks for the suggestion!


  3. Aron May August 5, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    What does a typical first day of school look like in your classroom?

    • Michael Linsin August 5, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

      Hi Aron,

      When you get a chance, please check out the First Days Of School category of the archive.


  4. Jessica Robinson August 5, 2017 at 9:31 am #

    Mr. Linsin,

    How do you feel about Whole Brain Teaching/Kagan strategies? Do you use these in your classroom? I enjoy those and your strategies and am hoping to be able to intertwine these altogether for a successful school year. Any thoughts?


    • Michael Linsin August 5, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

      Hi Jessica,

      Not specifically. Although there is probably some overlap, my approach to teaching is well covered in The Happy Teacher Habits.


  5. Kim Hogan August 5, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    I feel like I can relate. As my 28th year kicks off, there have been times when I’ve been required to do things that are not my preference and worse, are harmful to the kids.
    Number 1: put your “I’m on board with this” face on. While I did admit to my 5th graders that it was new or difficult for me personally, I did not put it down or not support it.
    I do like the idea of kids keeping track. It may take a few minutes each day for you to stop and for them to evaluate themselves. In your shoes, I think I’d evaluate myself in this areas along with, and in the beginning, aloud to, my students. I think I’d add another line: Tomorrow, my goal is…
    If kids see this as a check-in, it seems it could be a way to self-regulate and evaluate.
    I’m seriously thinking of now doing this myself and in my room.
    Best wishes for a great year!!

    • Barbara Lowe August 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

      Kim your answer is inspiring in its focus of self evaluation for both teacher and students. I can see that as a positive approach and perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sarah D August 5, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

    I’m a fairly new reader and I love your fresh and insightful words. It’s like a burst of fresh air. I also appreciate how short your posts are. I hate reading really long articles; yours gets straight to the point. Please continue doing what you are doing. We need more people like you to support teachers. To add, I read a lot of your behavior management articles–what if we followed it to a tee, but admin does not do their part. Now what? It’s happened many times esp to other teachers. That’s why the students keep misbehaving. It’s very frustrating.

  7. Rebekah Langford August 6, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    When do you start handing out consequences for students at the beginning of the year?


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