Back to School–Older Students

4 Important Considerations for Starting the Year Right

Setting the tone for a great school year is extremely important. Here are four important things to think about and suggestions for getting things off to a great start!

Assign Seats

Why does it matter and an easy solution

There are many reasons to assign student seats. The students feel there is a plan. The teacher has thought about this. It allows you to meet the accommodations of an IEP with preferential seating. Perhaps most important, it removes stress for some students. Imagine walking into the room as a new student. It seems like everyone already knows each other. They all gravitate to their friends and sit together in clumps. You, on the other hand, have no one to sit with and feel like an outsider. Assigned seating prevents this scenario.

My favorite way to handle assigned seating is with tent desk tags. You know the kind–fold a construction paper hot dog style and write names on the desk tag. This helped me to learn names. I also tell students they will sit in different seats frequently. Whether you decide to change it up daily or weekly, it is important, particularly at the beginning of the year. First, it gives the student who hates their seat an opportunity to move. Second, the teacher can easily make adjustments and try out different arrangements to determine the best fit for their class. Third, as students move to different seats they are working with new classmates during the “turn to your partner and discuss” moments. This helps to build community. A bonus to the tent desk tags occurs when there is a sub. I tell my students they will be used by a sub throughout the year. I simply collect the desk tags and keep them in my sub notebook.(I use a different color for each class). These are very handy for a sub to place on desks and see the names of the student. As a bonus, placing the tent name tags can be a reward to be earned in your classroom.

Avoid “Tell Me About Your Summer” or “Tell Me About Your Family”

Why and Alternatives

While both of these topics sound harmless and both have good intentions, these topics can be very stressful for some students. Family situations vary a great deal. While one student had a great trip to a theme park and all-inclusive resort, another student may have been struggling to take care of siblings and hoping there was food for lunch every day. The “Tell Me About Your Summer” may be great for some kids, but painful for others. The same applies to the “Tell Me About Your Family” prompt. I have had a student with a father who went to jail recently. Multiple students have lost parents due to death or abandonment. If they just met the teacher, they may not feel like sharing this part of their life (and certainly not with the class). Alternatives such as “Tell Me About an Important Person In Your Life/Past” or “If You Could Plan An Ideal Vacation, What Would You Do” might better accommodate all your students. I am also a big fan of choices. Go ahead and use the summer and family prompts, but make them part of a smorgasbord of topics. Be sure to include prompts that will be positive or neutral for all students

Don’t Wait Too Long to Intervene

Try a discreet note

I get it. You want everyone to have a good start. You also want students to like you from the beginning. But letting behavior slide is a sure way to run into trouble down the line. Address behavior immediately. This doesn’t mean you assign detention the first day or start an email to the parent during your plan. One way I have found to intervene quickly and quietly is to slip the student a note. It can be as simple as “I enjoyed your enthusiasm, but please remember to raise your hand.” The discreet note seems to work most of the time. In addition, I have found other students realize you have done something. They will not know what it is, but they realize you are aware of the situation and have taken action! I am also on the lookout for any possible reason to contact parents of kids who are likely to have potential issues later with a positive interaction as soon as possible. This serves two purposes. It will help to get the parent(s) on your side and the student will know “my teacher contacts my parent(s).”

Plan But Not Overplan

For those first few days, it is important to have more than enough to fill the class period. Sometimes things just go faster than you think they will. What will you do if there is an announcement to hold your classes because there is some kind of issue in the building? Having a folder of quick and already prepared useful activities is an important strategy for the beginning of the year and throughout the year. But what do I mean by plan but do not over plan? Yes, it is important to plan how you will cover the standards/objectives for your course. You need a roadmap of how you are going to get to where you want to go. But perhaps your road map should not include all the stops you are going to make for lunch, sightseeing, and bathroom breaks! I’ve learned this the hard way. I was teaching a new class and spent the entire summer working on a curriculum I thought would be good for my students. It turns out, I was wrong. It was not designed the way my students learned best. It needed major revision. I had failed to create a student-centered classroom. It is important to know your students and teach with their needs in mind first. You can’t do this during the summer before you meet your class. So my suggestion is to plan ample worthwhile activities for the first days, know your standards/objectives and district requirements, but wait until you meet your students to tweak those plans based on the needs of your students.


Beginning of School Resources from Reading Specialty

If you are looking for Back to School resources, check out these and other products available from Reading Specialty.

This Reading Specialty resource contains EVERYTHING you need to begin the school year in a Reading/ELA class. Included you will find a sample syllabus, first day activity, 10-day autobiography writing project, student questionnaire, parent-teacher form, an independent reading tool kit, independent reading task cards, root words and prefix units, and 30 nonfiction passages with comprehension questions. Click here to be directed to this resource on TPT.

This is a great way to begin your class with an academic focus. It has a differentiated passage written at a 6.5 and 8.8 reading level. It begins with a passage about the history of schools. It includes academic questions, questions to get to know students, discussion and more. Click here to be directed to this resource on TPT.