The English Teacher Files

Notes from the Classroom Trenches

How to Survive the First Day of High School—A Few Helpful Tips for Teachers

on July 20, 2013

I have been teaching since 2001, yet every year I get the same nauseated feeling on the first day of school. I am very excited to meet a new group of kids and to have great experiences in the new year, but no matter how well prepared I am, the nervous butterflies still invade.  One thing that helps me get through the rough first day is having a great plan. I have developed this plan bit by bit throughout the years and I have come to have a more comfortable, and a bit less nauseating, opening day.

There is some preparation needed before the first day of school:

  • Place a sticky note or tape scratch paper on the corner of each desk.  Each sticky note will be numbered with a Sharpie or large marker. I have 40 desks in my room, so my desks are numbered 1 through 40.
  • Cut twenty-3×5 note cards in half. Number the note cards 1 through 40 using a Sharpie. Reserve the remainder of the cards for later use.
  • Make a map of the layout of the classroom desks. Print a copy of this layout for each period of the day and an extra set to rewrite student names at the end of the day.


On the first day it is important to greet each student at the door. Meet the students with a clipboard, a roster, and the numbered note cards. Ask each student his last name and hand him a random numbered note card. Write the number of his card on the roll sheet to mark this student present. Instruct him to find the seat that matches his card. Check in the next student, give her a numbered card, and instruct her to find her matching seat number.

I find this initial process to be very helpful for a few reasons.

  1. The students feel welcomed with the face to face greeting at the door. This initial greeting goes a long way with building a classroom family.
  2. Randomizing the note cards as the students enter the room helps break up a group of friends who were planning to sit together and chat during class.  This also separates the doting couples without putting anyone on the spot.
  3. For the student who is new or who does not have many friends in the class, this process gives her an immediate assigned seat without making her feel that she has to ask a nearby student if the desk is taken or saved for a friend.

This process takes a bit of time, as you will find a line forming outside of your door, but each student gets a personal greeting from me on the first day of school.  I am sure they are nervous too.

  • Collect the cards once everyone is checked in and seated. Use the cards again for each period of the day. Late students will be assigned to the remaining seats. If the classroom is large and the class is small, arrange the note cards so that seats near the front are taken first.
  • Give the map of the classroom to the student nearest you. Point out the location of his seat on the map and have him write in his first and last name. Instruct the rest of the class to follow the same instruction.  By the end of the class period you will have a complete seating chart. Use the roster and a blank classroom map to recopy student names. I recommend copying the seating chart in pencil. This seating system sometimes needs tailoring to meet specific student needs such as proximity to the board.
  • Take roll one more time so you can see the face that belongs to the name. This is the time that kids ask me to call them by a nickname or a middle name instead of a full name. Write a note of this on the roster.
  • Give or project a copy of the classroom expectations as you discuss each important element of the expectations. Be sure to have at least a summary page of the expectations that is sent home for students and parents to sign.
  • Give a handout or project the expectations for the course, such as the types of books or articles read in class. Briefly discuss grammar and vocabulary expectations.
  • Ask students to fill out a 3×5 note card with their class schedule on one side. The other side should contain student and parent contact information including address, phone numbers, and email addresses. It is important to ask the students to supply the last name of the parent, as parent last names do not always match student last names. I take this information home to use if I cannot access our district grade program with contact information.
  • Students will create the tabs for their files. Pass out small cube sticky notes and clear plastic file tabs and instruct kids to fold the sticky note into thirds. Ask them to write their last name and then first name on the folded sticky note and push the paper into the plastic file tab. The students pass this up and I put the tabs in alphabetical order and attach the tabs to file folders that I keep at the back of the room. All graded homework, classwork, and quizzes get filed into these file folders by period.
  • Give everyone a homework assignment. For example, the older kids have a one-page argument essay to complete. The younger kids have a Shakespeare survey with a short writing portion. Give some type of writing assignment to assess the skill level in the classes.


 Most importantly, be sure to be firm, but fair. I have heard advice about not cracking a smile until the semester, but I have a hard time being this stern for more than a day. I have found that the more structure I present into the classroom atmosphere and the daily schedule, the more the kids appreciate being in my class.  Be cautious about too much structure; the kids cannot or will not think on their own. They will expect your guidance, or editing, or reminding and they won’t grow. Kids seem to respect a structure that is not too exacting. Once order is established at the beginning of the year, it keeps the rest of the year flowing smoothly.

Please let me know how this works for you 🙂 I am excited to hear about your first day.


10 responses to “How to Survive the First Day of High School—A Few Helpful Tips for Teachers

  1. […] How to Survive the First Day of High School—A Few Helpful Tips for Teachers Use Lino Sticky Notes for Colorful Class Discussions » Jul […]

  2. Kelly says:

    Where did you find these stacked hanging file folder structures? Great ideas.

    • mrsporraz says:

      I found the hanging files at Staples. They cost about $40 per stand. The wheels on the bottom make it convenient for my TAs to move when they file papers for different classes. I have also purchased a stand at Costo. I purchased a double level stand for student files, but I found that it was difficult for the students to reach underneath the top files to retrieve their work. I now use the double level stand for extra handouts and for easy access to frequently used items like graphic organizers and writing templates.

  3. DanielFug says:

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself??
    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one today!!

    • mrsporraz says:

      Thank you very much for the compliment. I modified a free theme called “Brand New Day.”
      I hope you’ll visit my blog during the summer when I will post new articles. Again, thank you for the truly motivational words.

  4. Linda Styner says:

    This was very helpful for me as I will be teaching for the first time this year. I look forward to trying your ideas and seeing how it works for my classroom. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Michelle says:

    I do this but I use a deck of cards. The extra large deck of cards are fun!

  6. Miriam Ripplinger says:

    I will be using these ideas this year for my classes! Thanks.

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