New Teacher Orientation Speech Notes (Or, Six Reasons Your First-Day Classroom is Like an Airport.)

This year, over thirty school districts will be giving See Me After Class to all their incoming teachers. To celebrate, here are the notes from the most requested twelve-minute segment of my New Teacher Orientation speech: Six Reasons to Treat Your First-Day Classroom Like an Airport.

One: Have a system for limiting carry-on baggage. You are not just on information overload right now – you’re on super-important information overload. Starting earlier this summer, you’ve been handed a series of packets and binders, each with a warning like, “Make sure you read this or you might ruin your kids’ lives!” or, “Make sure you read this, or your teaching career might end in flames of destruction and infamy!” (But no pressure! Just be confident!) Then, as you’re trying to organize those,you go to a training for the new Common Core math program, and then a well-meaning colleague shows up and says, “Here’s a 270 page description of my unit on whales!” There’s a chance that all of this is good, useful material. Unfortunately, the more information and advice you have to process, the more paralyzed you become, and the binders and packets can quickly stack up on your desk (or, in my case, the back seat of my car, and then my ironing board at home). Luckily, just like on an airplane, you can plan ahead to limit how much you’re allowed to carry around at once. Then, have a system for checking in the stuff you don’t want to lose, but don’t need right now. Start the year by making an “ideas for later” box to keep in your classroom closet. Anything that you think may be helpful but you just can’t deal with right now goes in that box. If you need it, you’ll know where to find it. If not, you can look at it over winter break. Or summer break. Or, in some cases, never, because it turns out not all the packets and binders you get are equally important. You just don’t have the experience yet to know which are which.

Two: Even if your destination is fun, the way there should be as structured, quiet, and uneventful as possible. The first day is not the time to show kids you are cooler, or more fun, or have more creative lesson plans than their other teachers. You’ll have time later in the year for that. Early on, you want your kids to think you are just as strict and “boring” as their more experienced teachers. You also need to be prepared for lots of interruptions and announcements on the first day – which is one of many great reasons NOT to do that activity where the kids help you make up the rules. On a related note, “respect everyone” is not a rule.

(Many more first day tips, along with a shopping list, lesson planning checklist, and ten-day countdown to-do list are in the First Daze chapter of the book. I’ll be sharing a link to read entire chapter with all newsletter subscribers next week. Click here to subscribe now.)

Three: When the kids are walking into the room, you are airport security. You don’t have to shake hands with all incoming students and introduce yourself. It’s not time for that yet. Stand at your door and give simple, repeatable instructions on where to sit and what activity to start immediately. Have a system for assigning seats. In elementary school this usually means labeling desks. At the high school level, you can assign seats on the spot by handing out numbers or playing cards (more detail on this in the First Daze chapter). Have your first assignment ready to go and easy to understand. And have some pre-sharpened pencils and paper ready, because just like at an airport, you are going to have a big crowd coming in at once, and then you will have a few people straggling in late, so you don’t want anything to stop the line from moving. If you feel bad about not being friendlier, remember that just like you want airport security to be able to do their jobs, the kids want you to be able to do yours. That means getting everyone on board quickly and efficiently.

Four: Once kids are in the room, you are the flight attendant. Now it’s time to get students securely fastened into their seats, in an upright position, and engaged in another activity that they can work on independently. You need to prepare for takeoff. You will probably have a meeting on Thursday or Friday of the week before school starts where you’ll receive a tentative class list and learn what administrators expect from you on the first day. This will include taking attendance, processing “no-show” students, and distributing, collecting, alphabetizing, and turning in lots of papers. You want to make sure in advance that you know how to do everything on that list, and you want to plan what your students will be doing at their desks while you are completing the items on the list and any unexpected, last minute tasks.

Five: Once you begin your lesson, you are the pilot. This is as exciting and scary as it sounds. Make it a little less scary by double-checking all your supplies and equipment in advance. Assume the only supplies that will be in your room Monday morning are the ones that are there when you leave school on Thursday unless you fix the situation yourself on Friday. On a related note, part of your job is to take care of yourself so you can take care of the kids – which includes trying to get a decent night’s sleep. You’d be pretty nervous if an airplane pilot told you he’d been exhausted all week but still stayed up until 3AM last night to get his flight plan just right.

Six: Have a flotation device – even if you don’t think you’ll need it. The “flotation device activity” is a very time-consuming backup activity that isn’t part of your lesson plan but will keep kids busy in case your planned activities end early. Just like an actual flotation device on a real airplane, you hope you don’t have to use it. But if you need it, you’ll be glad it’s there. Lessons often end early, and thirty minutes of no-lesson-plan time for a new teacher feels like a week and a half in normal people time.

Best of luck as you plan for your first day.

© 2015, Roxanna Elden

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