LaQuita Middleton-Holmes | August 2019

Making a Lasting First Day Impression

Back-to-school is simply the best time ever! The stores are filled with school supplies: pencils, pens, index cards, markers, border, posters, EVERYTHING! The colors are vibrant. The school supplies are fragrant. The beauty of seeing parents helping students buy their school supplies is magnificent… It’s an educator’s heaven!

After we have cleared our minds, bodies, and souls of this “Back-to-School” euphoria, we know that we must prepare for a successful year. Every year is very different and what we do to prepare will help set the course for the best (or worst) year of our careers.

There are a plethora of tasks teachers should do to prepare for a successful year. But let’s dwell on strengthening your first day routines for a solid first day impression.

First Day Impressions

Your first day impression is very important because as the popular saying goes, “First impressions are everything.” There is another one that says, “You don’t have a second chance to make a first impression.” So, let’s get to it!

As you read, consider your own responses to the following questions:

  • How do you introduce students to you?
  • What do you say in that first meeting on the first few minutes of class that will assure students that your class is ‘worth taking seriously?’
  • What do you convey during that first meeting to assure students that you are ‘worth entrusting their young minds to’ and that your class is ‘worth taking seriously?’
  • What body language do you employ to help build students’ confidence in you as their teacher?

Introductions are always a tedious undertaking because it will set the tone for the entire year. If students detect one ounce of weakness in you, they will try to take advantage of that perceived weakness for the remainder of the year! Let’s work backward with the above questions. First up, what body language do you employ to help build students’ confidence in you as their teacher?

Where are you positioned in the classroom?

To have the maximum impact on your students, position yourself in the front and center of your classroom. This has always been an issue for me because as a performer we are taught to make use of the “stage” and really deliver to your entire “audience.”

However, for the sake of the classroom, standing still in the front of the classroom works best because this is where all students can see and hear you.  It is where students instinctively know where to look for you when important information, for example, directions, is being delivered. You will also be able to see and hear all of your students at the same time; identify students who may be disengaging (and redirect them), and/or those who may have questions or comments!

How is your posture?

I have terrible posture! I tend to slouch even when standing. And yes, there is a correlation between correct posture and teaching. A slouched posture denotes a lack of confidence and drive. It seems as if the person has already given up before the presentation gets started.

This registers clearly to students on the first day because students look for little clues that tell them that a teacher may be less confident or less “likable.” No, it is not about “likes”. But students tend to learn from teachers they like and learn less from teachers they do not like. It’s crazy to think that your entire year can be affected simply by your first day impression. 

How is your voice?

Whatever emotion you are feeling will showcase itself in your voice. If you are sad, your voice will be sad. If you are happy, your voice will have a happy tone. And if you are unsure, your voice will be weak. In class, you should have a strong tone to your voice. Present yourself as confident and sure. Your students should hear the passion for your subject in your voice.

I have had many students tell me that they did not like Social Studies before coming to my class. After awakening from fainting (how could people not like Social Studies?), they completed their thought by saying that they now liked the subject because they saw how much I liked it. Much of their newfound love for Social Studies came from how I sounded when I spoke of it!

What are your hands and feet doing?

Your hands and feet should move naturally. If your hands are stiff by your sides or behind your back, students will sense your anxiety immediately; they will disengage and focus their attention elsewhere. If your hands and feet are moving faster than the words are exiting your mouth, you are moving them too much! So, relax!

What to Do?

Check out these tips:

  1. Practice your introduction several times at home.
  2. Practice in front of your mirror.
  3. Jot down notes as you go along to ensure you cover all of your desired points.
  4. Practice with the notes – and then without.
  5. When you are comfortable, go into your classroom and practice in your actual space.
  6. Stand flat-footed and deliver!

What facial expressions are you using?

Although you should present yourself as confident and sure, you should deliver warm and inviting facial expressions. Yes it sounds weird, but it works! You want students to know you mean business, but you want them to feel comfortable coming to you when they need assistance. They want to know that you care.

Think about this: your parents love you and want the best for you at all times. However, if you step out of line, they will quickly counteract that line misstep with some type of redirection. This does not mean they do not love you. It means that they love you so much, they are willing to make you upset in order to bring the best out of you.

 This is the approach I take in my class and it works well for me. Hopefully, it will work for you, too! And now let’s turn to the next question: What do you convey during that first meeting to assure students you are ‘worth entrusting their young minds to?’

Convey confidence!

We have discussed this, so I am confident in your ability to convey confidence on the first day of the new school year! And, just in case you are still a little fearful, just remember these wise words from a former supervisor: no one knows you are afraid until you show them.

Convey know-how!

When people are convinced you are an expert in your field, they will trust you! To achieve this, try a content-related activity where students have the opportunity to show what they know, learn a little more from you and their peers, and then bring them back corporately.

At the end of the activity, use this as an opportunity to bring it back into the fold of your content area. This short activity should be very short & can happen on the first day!

 Convey consistency!

This is where you will deliver your class rules, expectations, and consequences. What is also equally as important as delivering class rules is delivering the consequences of misbehavior. Your Task is to convey that if a student breaks a rule several times, s/he will receive that consequence an equal amount of times – and in ascending order. The consequence will become greater and greater until the initial misbehavior has been retired.

Make sure to consult your behavior consequences listing for your school. This will be the fundamental document that will guide the rules and consequences for misbehavior in your classroom.

Positive Behavior

Don’t forget to discuss rewards for positive behavior as well! Quick Idea: I have given out Great Parent Awards to parents of students who consistently behave well and follow the rules. I will also give the respective students small gifts, too. Students love snacks! Since I do not permit eating in my classroom, this is a time that I do. 

Now let’s discuss what you say in that first meeting on the first few minutes of class that will assure students that your class is worth taking seriously. It’s not so much what you say on the first day as it is how you say it. I am sure you have heard of the cardinal rule of not smiling on the first day. I amend that cardinal rule by picking and choosing specific times to smile.

On the first day of school, I do not smile when I deliver the syllabus. I also do not smile when I establish the rules or the goals of the course.

Conversely, I will smile when engaging students in the “two truths and a lie” game or when I highlight some of the high points of the previous year. I also smile when I discuss the importance of my course.

To help students take your class seriously, convey consistency! Students must be able to see that you “know what you are doing”. Even if you do not.

Something to Ponder

What will likely stay the same throughout the entire year? For example, last year I told my students to expect two exit tickets and one graded free response question (FRQ) per week. One disadvantage is that yes, it was difficult at times, but I made sure it happened!

But a definite advantage was that by the time grades were due, I was one of the few teachers who did not have to round up assignments from weeks ago! My grades were already submitted. My grades (95% of them) were scantron-created exit tickets. This then made data collection was made ultra-simple. It also gives students quick feedback on their performance and can set the expectations for their tutorial time with you.

Highlighting this in your first day impression will exhibit consistency that students look for (although they won’t admit it).

How do you introduce students to you?

Consider the type of teacher you want to be. Then, consider the repercussions of that decision. We all want students to like, or at least, respect us. Why? So they will learn from us! But what are the repercussions of that “like”?

I tend to make the top of my first day teacher lecture very business-like and serious. The second part is where I lighten the room by playing a game.

If we convey a fun, party nature with our first day impression, students may misconstrue that nature with not taking the class seriously. If they do not take your class seriously, your end of the year goals will not be happy. And neither will be your principal! But if you follow these tips and tricks, your first day impression will lead to a successful school year for all!

About the Author

LaQuita Middleton-Holmes is a freelance Educational Consultant in Texas. She loves to bring out-of-the-box teaching to elicit out-of-the-box results!