In the Beginning
Today is the first day of school for many of our nation’s children, teachers, and parents. I remember my first day back – first as a student, then as a teacher and later as a school psychologist. To say that my emotions were often a mixed bag would be an understatement – an excitement sundae topped with sprinkles of apprehension, sadness and panic! Whether I was the new kid in the back of the class or the new teacher in the front of the room, my butterflies had butterflies!
In each instance, frequently what saved me was a strong arm wrapped around my shoulders telling me that it would be alright!
According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), “Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence children’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically. The transition from August to September can be difficult for both children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to class must adjust to the greater levels of activity, structure, and, for some, pressures associated with school life.”
So I want to offer just a few of my favorite “Back-to-School Tips” to help you get started:
- Emotional readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking.
- Physical readiness – be sure to get enough sleep and eat well balanced meals – especially breakfast – and get plenty of exercise.
- Preparedness – get ready for each new day of school before it arrives! Make sure you have the supplies, materials, and books you need. Have your study space ready when you come home each day – your room cleaned, your desk cleared, and your computer serviced and ready.
- At school – be on time – to school and to each class, meeting, and extracurricular function. Come to class with pencils, paper, and any other needed supplies. Sit close to the front or near the center of the class. Take notes. Be organized. Ask questions when you don’t understand. Write down all directions and assignments. Be especially quiet and well-behaved when visitors are in the room.
- Respect – be interested in what the teacher is saying. Raise your hand and volunteer answers frequently. Don’t argue with the teacher in front of others. If there is something you don’t think is fair, talk to the teacher in private. When the teacher has gone out of the way to help you, be sure to say thanks. Offer to help the teacher when he or she needs help. Listen to other authority figures in and around the school. Be conscientious, courteous, and respectful of your peers.
- Social Pressures – you might already have a lot of friends in your classes on the first day. But it’s a great day to get to know some other kids. Make the first move, especially with students who are new to your school. Keep an eye out for your fellow students who might be experiencing any difficulties, such as anxiety, or fear. Report any instances of bullying or trouble to your teachers.
- Extracurricular Activities – make time for school clubs, sports teams, and activities. Everyone is good at something. Be an important part of your school and expand your skills, talents, and proficiency.
- At home – have a regular place to keep your book bag, and supplies – both at home and at school. Get some shelves, mini chests, binders and notebooks in which to keep your supplies, assignments, extra paper, etc. Set a regular homework time each day to study and to get assignments completed on time. And make it a habit to review notes, go to the library or computer lab, get a head-start on your homework, or research that big term paper. Learn to prioritize.
- Emotional readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking. Visit your child’s school. Become familiar with the teachers, and the rest of the staff. Let your children know you care about their experiences and happenings at school.
- Physical readiness – be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician.
- Preparedness – go shopping for school supplies together. Some elementary school teachers will provide specific supply lists for their classes. Your area’s office supply store may also have local school supplies lists on hand. Shopping from a teacher-supplied list will ensure your child has the right supplies, and could save you a ton of money and time.
- At school – go to your child’s Open House Night. Get to know the teachers, ask questions, learn what is expected, address problems and find out what’s going on in the classroom. Good parent-teacher relationships lead to good student-teacher relationships!
- Respect – show your child that you respect the teacher and the staff at his or her school. Remember that they are on your side! They care about your children and want them to be successful. If your child’s teacher contacts you about a problem or something that happened at school, understand that the teacher is trying to work with you to resolve any conflicts that may be getting in the way of your child’s success. Trust in the teacher’s feedback. If a teacher reports a particular behavior that you haven’t seen, realize that the classroom and home environments are quite different, and oftentimes children behave differently when forced to follow rules and work with peers. Listen to what the teacher has to say and work with him/her to find a solution. If you want to discuss something with the teacher, schedule an appointment or a phone consultation. Teachers cannot leave their classrooms during the day to talk to a parent that just “shows up”. If you’re having an issue with the teacher, your child, the subject matter or the classroom in general, talk directly with the teacher before going to the principal or other administrators.
- Social Pressures – prepare your child for social situations in the elementary school classroom. A certain level of social anxiety is normal for elementary school aged kids. Teach them to introduce herself or himself and make friends. If your child is older, role play various social scenarios with them—from sharing classroom supplies to encounters with older kids.
- Extracurricular Activities – go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Consider your family schedule and personal energy level, choosing activities that can be easily managed without interfering with dinner time, other children’s needs, and study time. Try to find some activities where your child can carpool with other kids.
- At home – support positive study habits early! Create a homework center—a specific area in the house where your child can do homework each evening. Make sure that it’s in a quiet place and stocked with enough supplies, such as pencils, erasers, paper, a folder or two, and a calculator. Check children’s agendas and take-home folders every night. Check on homework regularly. It’s important to review your child’s homework, but if they get an answer wrong, take the time to help them understand why, rather than just giving them the right answer. Establish a regular routine each night. This includes having children pack their backpacks the night before to make sure they have everything they need for school the next day. Keep encouraging literacy at home. Read frequently with your kids and make frequent trips to your local library. Keep books everywhere—in the car, in the kitchen, and anywhere you spend time. Make special weekend trips to the library to freshen up the collection.
- Emotional Readiness – not just for the first day, but for every day! Learn how to relax and remain calm throughout the day. Practice breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and positive thinking.
- Physical Readiness – be sure to get enough sleep and eat well balanced meals – especially breakfast – and get plenty of exercise.
- Preparedness – get ready for each new day of school the day before it arrives! Make sure to pack up all materials, books, and papers that you may have taken home with you.
- At School – have lesson plans ready for the first week. Have an agenda on the board before the students arrive, outlining your plan, goals, and strategies. Have a “warm up” activity every day to give the students something to do at the beginning of class while you are taking care of housekeeping duties. Have an icebreaker activity for the first day to help you and your students to get to know each other. Create, post, and discuss your classroom rules and responsibilities, grading system, homework policies, etc. Get to know the staff that control the multimedia of the school and can make your life much easier. Make sure any multimedia equipment you get works. For example the overhead bulb might need to be changed. Get to know the secretarial staff. They will be invaluable as sources of information. Get to know the secretarial staff. They will be invaluable as sources of information.
- Respect the Student –be consistent in the treatment of all students. Handle each discipline problem as it arises. Do not make threats, and particularly, do not make threats in anger that you will be unwilling or unable to back up later. If it is necessary to punish students for their misbehavior, make the punishment fit the infraction. Do not demand punishments that are contrary to the policies of the school. Make only those rules that are necessary to your effective teaching. Have a reason for the rules in your classroom and explain those reasons to the students. Recognize incorrigible students and have them removed from the classroom. The learning rights of the other students should not be infringed upon by one or two persons who have no desire to learn and wish only to disturb the class. The golden rule is not a one way street. Choose your words and actions carefully and expect the same from your students.
- Social Pressures – help students deal with social pressures. As teachers, we have the training, tools and experience to help reduce school peer pressure among students. We can encourage students to develop socially acceptable interactions and grow up to live happily and effectively amongst their peers in society. Appropriate attitudes and the inherent capacity to adjust and improve help establish a positive atmosphere in the classroom to help our students handle school peer pressure. Teachers can help students identify skills needed to resist negative peer pressure. Thought-provoking discussions can identify situations which illustrate negative peer pressure, and determine the possibilities for students to become more resilient and respond in positive ways.
- Extracurricular Activities – encourage and provide opportunities for students to participate in clubs, music, drama, sports and other activities that are appropriate for them and will serve as compliment to their academic endeavors. Teachers should also engage in activities with students and other teachers that will enable their lives to be more complete. In the classroom, some extra fun activities:
What are some of your “First Day of School” memories?
Do you have any special tips for parents, students, or teachers?
I want to wish a happy and successful school year to you all!!