As a welcome gift when I was hired, my principal gave me the book The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong. It is an exceptional read. In fact, I just bought a new copy to give to a friend of mine who was hired as a middle school science teacher at a school in Kentucky. He does not have an education degree, nor does he have any classroom experience (or prior to June any desire to be a teacher).
One of the parts of the book that has stayed with me is a spread about what kids really need to know on the first day of school. The layout included text and cartoons of students with thought bubbles revealing their real needs on the first day of school.
As teachers, we might think the most pressing needs on the first day of school are to cover the rules and expectations and to highlight the learning journey of the year.
According to Harry K. Wong, kids want to know where the bathroom is, if they will have friends, and whether the teacher will know their names. (This is what I remember from the book, however, it could be a little different since it’s been years since I’ve opened to this particular page.) It’s not important whether I get this verbatim, what is important is I remember kids have different first day of school needs than teachers.
I’m seeing this firsthand since I live with a second, third, fourth, and sixth grader. In addition, I’m spending this week with two high school seniors. We’re talking (in tiny bits) about the new school year. All of them are less-than-thrilled about the first day of school (from the 7 year old to the 17 year old) because it’s “boring” and “all you do is listen to things you can’t do” and “teachers must think we’re going to be awful.”
“Maybe this year will be different,” I say.
They give me that look.
Although less-than-thrilled about the first day, for the most part, they are looking forward to returning to school. They just aren’t looking forward to the first day.
I think it’s because the things that are most pressing to them may not be answered on the first day of school.
“What do you hope your teachers do on the first day?” I ask.
I think their answers are useful when considering first day plans.
I’m thinking through creative ways to meet their needs and to give an excellent first impression of what it means to be literate inside the walls of the classroom, as well as in the world — both now and in the future. I’m thinking the rules and the syllabus can wait. Curiosity, communication, and community can’t.