Kansas State University


College of Education

Category: August 2014

Congratulations and Welcome to Your New School Year!

A quick look at the calendar—and at all the sales in the local stores—reminds you that it’s August, and a new school year has arrived.

It is your first school year as a teacher, however, and that makes this August just a little more significant than all those others that have come before it.

Today, you’re not shopping for a book bag or new school shoes; you’re shopping for ideas to help you have a successful start to your career.

We remember quite well the excitement—and the nerves—as you enter our classroom for the first time.  You’re jittery with excitement, yet, as with any new venture, you’re also a little nervous that you’re not prepared. What if…?

The good news is Kansas State University’s College of Education is here to help.  This newsletter is designed to give you specific and practical tips to help you successfully navigate through your first year of teaching.  You will find topics that address various issues as the school year moves along—from setting up your classroom to preparing for conferences with parents to wrapping up your room for the summer.

We hope you’ll enjoy our ideas and suggestions and keep in touch with us as you move through lesson plans, lunch counts, and assessments.  It’s our way of reminding you that you’re not alone…and that the COE Wildcats are here to support you in any way possible.

Getting Started: The Basics

You turn the key and unlock your classroom…for the first time ever. You’re stepping into a career you’ve been working toward for years. It’s amazing; it’s exciting; it’s…overwhelming. Students will be arriving in a few days, so how to you get your first school year as a teacher off to the strongest start possible? You…jump in and get started.

As a new teacher, you’ll quickly realize time is a valuable commodity, and it will be through the entire first year of your career. You’re moving into a new arena, where you have many decisions to make and a great deal of planning to do. Here are some quick, practical tips to get your room, your lessons, and your mind ready for the first day of school.


One of the most exciting moments is walking into your very own classroom. You have the opportunity to “design” your room—as much as the facilities and furniture will allow. That means you can implement some of those ideas you’ve discussed in your COE classes.

What kind of seating arrangement do you want?

IDEA: If you’re concerned about behavior management, consider putting desks in orderly rows. If you want some student collaboration through the school year, group desks. For the most in collaboration (yet probably also requiring the most of your skills in behavior management), opt for tables rather than desks.

Which way do you want your students facing?

IDEA: Try to achieve the fewest distractions (windows, hallway traffic, etc.) and greatest focus on the lesson (clear line of sight to boards and overhead screens, for example).

What kind of foot-traffic path do you want to create in your room?

IDEA: Set up your room so students have easy access from the classroom door to their desks. It will help with classroom management and safety issues, as well as any fire or tornado drills that occur through the year.

Where do you want to locate supplies your students will need on a regular basis (writing folders, textbooks, etc.)?

IDEA: Think easy access and routine. Use a file cabinet drawer or storage crate for each class period’s writing folders or other material. Make sure the cabinet is easily accessible for your students. Make space on a shelf for each class’s textbooks, if you need to store them through the day. No matter what grade level you’re teaching, several plastic tubs of varying sizes will come in handy for compartmentalizing highlighters, markers, etc.

Where can you place your own desk so it provides student access…but not SO much access that it will become a distraction?

IDEA: Angle your desk in a corner that gives you good visibility around the room but also takes up a minimal amount of space.

What types of “decorations” would you like on your walls? A theme approach? Inspirational items? Content-connected items? A few personal items to share your personality with your students?

IDEA: Begin with minimum décor; post times for various activities, key information that you want them to remember (ex: a process for checking out a book), lesson objectives, essential questions, etc. There will be plenty of time later on to create a truly personal learning area.

Are you a bulletin board person? How can you best use that space?

IDEA: Use one bulletin board—the one students have the most access to—for business…to post schedules, announcements, and other materials your students will need; use a less accessible spot for less vital items, such as photos and other materials that show your personality.

Making a Good First Impression with Your Students

We all know how important first impressions are, and that’s especially true with the beginning of your school year. We also know that poor first impressions often are difficult to undo. So it’s important that you have a strong beginning to your year. But how do you go about it?

  • Have (at minimum) your first day’s materials ready to go. You don’t want to be madly searching for copies of handouts while your students are waiting for you to take charge.
  • Have a filing system that categorizes your information by classes.
  • Greet your students at the door so they know you’re excited, you’re prepared, and you’re in charge.
  • Have a seating arrangement in place before your students ever enter the room. It creates less disruption, especially if the seating chart is posted on the overhead screen as they walk in. If you don’t want assigned seats, make sure your students can get seated as effortlessly as possible.
  • If you can, send a quick note home to your students before the first day of school—especially if you have a particular home base group or small group that you’ll be responsible for through the year. Send a postcard or an email with a brief note saying you’re excited about having them in class and that it’s going to be a great year. That gives you an early connection with the students and their families. It also opens the lines of communication before the first bell even rings.
  • Establish basic rules on the first day; have them posted to reinforce them. But keep the list small and manageable.  For example, “Respect” is a one-word rule that covers nearly everything.
  • Avoid referring to students’ mothers and fathers; today, family can be defined in a variety of ways.
  • Smile…even though it’s not Thanksgiving yet. We’ve all heard the idea that teachers shouldn’t smile until Thanksgiving; don’t take it literally. There’s no need to scowl. Instead, the real intent of that saying is for you to be ready to manage your class as needed. As for smiling, give it a try. It will help you and your students feel a little more comfortable in the first days of the semester as you all get to know each other.

Supply Shopping List

pencil cupYour school will provide you with supplies to start the school year, but you’ll want to gather a few supplies yourself…that’s part of the fun of having your own classroom. Here is a list of some of the basics teachers have found handy:

  • Loose-leaf notebook paper (wide-ruled)
  • Two boxes of pencils
  • Ink pens
  • Two or three large erasers
  • A package of pencil-cap erasers
  • A box of highlighters
  • A box of small safety pins
  • Stapler and staples
  • A box of facial tissues
  • Permanent markers
  • A K-State cup or something to hold pencils on your desk
  • A box of sandwich-sized plastic bags that seal
  • A package of disposable wipes

Ten Tips for Thriving During Your First Month of Teaching

  1. Know that you, your lessons, and your students won’t be perfect; enjoy that we’re all works in progress.
  2. Keep in mind that your administrators and your colleagues want you to be successful—almost as much as YOU want to succeed.
  3. Students come in all shapes and sizes, mentally and physically; enjoy their unique characteristics. The diversity will make your classroom an interesting and lively community.
  4. Remind yourself that every child in your classroom is someone’s loved one…someone’s baby; respect that.
  5. At some point, you WILL figure out the bell system at the school.
  6. Despite its name, your plan period won’t involve too much planning; however, it’s a good opportunity to take care of other necessary tasks–such as lining up lab time or a visit to the library for your classes.
  7. At some point, a student—even a senior in high school—may slip and call you “mom” or “dad”; that’s a term of endearment and worth a smile.
  8. Keep a metal basket on your desk for materials to be graded; try to empty the basket by the end of the school day.
  9. Try to get a graded assignment in the grading book during the first week of classes; it signals to parents and the students that you’re doing important things in your classroom and that learning has already started.
  10. Take time to really listen to your students; many have no other place for their voices to be heard and honored.

Be Ready for Your First Open House/Parent Night

Chances are your school will have an open house or parent night during the first week or two of your new school year.

That can be an intimidating event, even for veteran teachers, but it also can be a valuable way to connect with your students’ families and create a partnership with them. It’s a chance to provide a brief sense of who you are, open the line of communication with them, and help them understand you’re all focused on helping their child have a successful school year.

Make the most of this opportunity by considering the following:

  • Some families will be uncomfortable in the situation, so be welcoming. If possible, greet them at the door.
  • Have a one-page, brief handout ready with your name, school telephone number, and school email address. List the time of your plan period and any other times you’re available at school (such as before or after school). One or two sentences about your goals for the class are also helpful.
  • If the event includes families visiting their students’ classrooms, have your room neat–with a message and key information displayed. Be sure to include your name, classes taught, and any scheduling information they would find useful.
  • If you have an opportunity to visit with them individually or as a whole group, keep your message brief, since time will be limited and they may have several other teachers to visit.

After the event, jot down key information and ideas about the students to help you connect with them and be more successful in your class.

Looking Ahead….

September calendar iconNext month we’ll discuss tips for a variety of issues as you move into your second month of teaching. These include:

  • Working with your administrator and colleagues
  • Record-keeping
  • Preparing for your first parent/teacher conferences
  • Grading issues