The first day of school isn’t just a big deal for students and their parents; it’s a big day for teachers, too. Months prior to the opening of the school, teachers busy themselves with preparing lesson plans, tidying up their classrooms and thinking about PTAs in advance. From the field trips and activities to the first day of school outfits, teachers extensively plan for Day 1 of the new school year.
That was before COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, teachers and school authorities were thrown off like the rest of the world. There are still debates concerning school openings: should the school open physically or would it be best to shift online? Some schools are re-opening, but the majority choose to stay online. Then, there’s the discussion of how to hold the first day of school during the pandemic: how will the class go about on Zoom? If the school opens physically, how can you maintain social distancing measures?
These were some of the questions teachers had to face during the first day of school in 2020. It wasn’t the anticipated “Happy first day of school!” greeting teachers were looking forward to. Instead, they were forced to adapt to a new normal in months — for the sake of the kids. As school authorities strive to make schools safer, teachers scramble to adjust to distance learning.
Now, there is calm of all sorts in a majority of America’s schools. They managed to coast through a mid-pandemic first day of school. But the planning doesn’t stop there. Teachers may have survived the half of 2020, but what will Day 1 look like in 2021 and beyond?
Why is the First Day of School Important?
So why plan now for the next school year’s first day? Isn’t it just another day at school?
The first day of class offers a great opportunity to introduce yourself and your goals for the course. First impressions matter since students can form an opinion of your very quickly. Plus, the success of your first day could impact the flow of the class and course.
Apart from striking a strong first impression, the first day of class also provides the perfect opportunity to:
- Set the pace for the rest of the semester
- Build a learning-centered community by getting to know more about your students
- Define the goals and expectations for the class
- Motivate your students to invest in the course by encouraging learning over earning good grades
There are many considerations involved with the first day of school. How are you going to build rapport with your students? How can you generate interest in your subject?
Answering these questions and other concerns were already challenging before COVID-19. But since the pandemic hit, teachers have been wondering if the first day of school would even continue amid the global crisis.
Thankfully, most schools managed to survive Day 1 of the academic year, albeit there were challenges, such as unstable internet connection, video conferencing and potential outbreaks (for schools that re-opened). Now, classes are in the middle of the year and teachers are already bracing themselves for what the New Year may bring.
If you are in the same situation, take heart. 2021 and the following years promise a better year in terms of recovery from COVID-19, which guarantees a better year for schools. Although the next first day of school is months ahead, it’s best to prepare now.
How Do I Start My First Class in a Post-Pandemic World?
It’s only natural to ask many questions: “How do I introduce myself during the first day of school?” “What will the next school year look like?” “How will students attend school? Will we see them physically or will we still hold classes virtually?”
The answers are not there yet. But it’s best to accept the following truths and plan around them.
Digital Learning is Here to Stay
Despite its challenges, online learning may be a permanent part of schooling post-COVID-19, so it’s best to incorporate technology into your lessons. Whether you have students in the classroom for most of the day, every other day or not at all, reaching them via technology will be a standard practice moving forward.
For instance, some schools use Google Classroom to deliver modules to students at home. Other schools use programs from Canva and Apple. Students can also use educational apps to make learning easier. For example, the app Notability allows students to directly write on top of their PDF documents so they can easily submit their requirements digitally.
Engaging Digital Activities are More Important than Ever
One of the most important things teachers learned about distance learning is that engaging with students, who face multiple distractions at home, is challenging. So planning for an engaging first day of class is a must.
Consider the following suggestions:
- Personalizing learning
- Project-based learning
- Flipping the classroom
- A class blog for discussions
- Literature circles for emotional/social learning
Collaboration and Socialization May Still Look Different But Will Still Matter
Since school is canceled and social distancing measures are in place, students have had limited means of social interaction, apart from video conferencing platforms. The kids may have social media to connect with their friends, but in-class interaction is still different.
Encourage socialization by holding a weekly Google Meet session devoted to socializing — no lessons, no school work — just more time to connect and collaborate with their classmates. You can also form a club focused on a particular hobby or interest. For example, create a book club for kids who want to discuss the books they’ve read during the quarantine.
You’ll Need Newer Engagement Tricks
How do you know if you’re striking a positive first impression on your students if they’re not seated in front of you? It’s easy to see when students are distracted or have lost interest just by tuning out their body language.
This is the challenge of distance learning.
In a virtual classroom, you’re only chance of engaging with the students is via video conferencing. It can be difficult to gauge their expressions but it’s you make do with what you have.
For instance, you’re handling high school students. First, request the kids to turn on their cameras during your introduction so you can see their faces. This will require patience on your part since some students have either a slow internet connection or are hesitant to show their faces online. Set an example by turning on your camera and introducing yourself first.
If possible, have an ice breaker with you. While it’s best to get right to it when it comes to the first day of school, breaking the ice warms up the class virtually. Start the class with games like “3 truths, 1 lie” or have a roundtable of names and fun facts per student.
Trust Your Instincts
Other people will tell you what learning should look like, but you’ll always know what’s best for your students. The way you welcome them will depend on your style or who you are as a teacher. The best teachers are those who stick with their style
If you want to engage your students via storytelling, go ahead. If you want to welcome them with a video on the first day of class, feel free to do so. Use what you learned from the previous school year to better your engagement with the students.
Mind Your Self-Care
Teachers can adapt to anything. The previous year has proven that you can adjust to the needs of the school and your students. But before you face another year, don’t forget to care for yourself.
When push comes to shove, teachers end up sacrificing their time, money and health for the benefit of their students. But COVID-19 brought on massive changes, which caused stress to teachers and school authorities. Give yourself a break by taking a break before the school starts.
Do what works for you. After planning for the new semester, do what relaxes you. Set aside the worries associated with the questions “When does school start?” “How can I make the first day of kindergarten better for my students?” “How do I prepare for class?” Instead, rest your mind. You can still be a good teacher even if you rest.
The first day of class this 2021 (and the years to come) is a hopeful one. 2020 may have changed the way you hold your classes, but there are some things that can stay the same and others that will need to adapt to the new normal. Either way, the first day of classes is significant for both teachers and students. Make the most out of what you can and be your best.