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First Days of School: It's Always Awkward in the Beginning

August 10, 2018 / by Sarah Brown Wessling

First days of school are always so idyllic in my mind. Full of hope and promise and potential. I can’t wait to meet the people who will make their way to our classroom. I’m anxious to discover who they are, what makes them laugh, and how they learn.

I look forward to the days in the semester when we've built enough trust to have compelling discussions about what we’re reading and honest discussions about what we’re writing. I can’t wait for the days when their personalities emerge and we see each other clearly.

But I always forget (and rightly so) how much work it is in the beginning. I forget how awkward the silences are, how emotionless their faces are on those first days. I forget and then I remember that every year starts with the hard work of building trust and shared purpose. It starts with a hesitation to think independently and all kinds of being uncomfortable with authentic learning experiences.

This is the part of teaching we don’t always see (because you can palpably feel how non-magical it is). And that’s exactly why we wanted to bring it to you: The First Days Series. We wanted to remind all you hardworking teachers out there that the good stuff is born from the tough stuff. We wanted to reassure you that everyone starts over every year, and it’s not easy for any of us. We wanted to open the door on these earliest days of learning in recognition of all the imperfection we often feel and rarely talk about.

As you join us for this series, we hope you see pieces of your early days reflected in these videos. We hope you use them to help start conversations about where learning originates and the ways we can be deliberate in creating a space where it can grow. If you’ve been a long-time follower of Teaching Channel, you’ll probably recognize that the rooms I’m teaching in this year look different. They are! We moved to a new high school and I transferred from a classroom to a floating teacher, who is using other teachers’ rooms. The walls may look different than what you’re used to seeing in my videos, but the passion and purpose are as clear as ever. Enjoy!


We start this series with a peek into my earliest days as a traveling teacher and some of the early insights I gained for creating culture without a classroom.

https://www.teachingchannel.org/video/floating-teachers

VIDEO: Teaching Without a Classroom: Tips for Roaming Teachers
Are you a teacher who moves classrooms or shares classroom space? In this video, I share the mindset that helped me make the transition from a “classroom home base” to a mobile one. My big ah-ha was that it’s the people, the way we talk to each other, the way we listen to each other, the way we learn together — more than the physical space — that creates the culture.

https://www.teachingchannel.org/video/pledge-to-students

VIDEO: Pledge to My Soon-To-Be Students
I always start thinking about my students long before we meet. This video highlights a pledge I write to them a few weeks before school starts. Even though I hand it to students when we first meet, I believe it's an important step in opening that door of trust and authenticity that has to be central for our best learning to happen.

https://www.teachingchannel.org/video/first-day-high-school-goals

VIDEO: Making the Most of Your First Day
For many teachers, the first day of school often means an unusual schedule. At my high school, it means lots of time in advisories, an all-school assembly, and super short classes (ten minutes each). Even though that’s hardly enough time to get started, I wanted to make sure we didn’t let those ten minutes go to waste. This short video is how we made the most of our first meeting with each other.

https://www.teachingchannel.org/video/first-day-school-high-school-lesson

VIDEO: Leading with Learning: First Day of School
Every year, I set the same, non-negotiable for the first day of school: teach. Not hand out the syllabus, not talk about policies or requirements, but teach. Somehow I know that the strongest message I send won’t be in the beautifully crafted words on a piece of paper I hand to my students, but in those first experiences we share. This lesson has been the one predictable lesson of the year for nearly as long as I’ve been a teacher. We read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and through that, discover what this class will be about.

Topics: Professional Learning, New Teachers, Class Culture, Lesson Planning, Getting Better Together

Sarah Brown Wessling

Written by Sarah Brown Wessling

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

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