Why the first day of school is critical to the rest of the year

First Day of School

Whether kindergarten, high school, college or graduate school, feelings of angst always arise when it comes to the topic of the first day of school. There are many questions that arise in the minds of student and instructors alike: What will my teachers/students be like? Will I learn? Will I be able to teach this new group of students? Do I belong here?

No matter the level, it is important not only to survive, but to conquer the first day of school.

Pamelia Trimble, an Earth Science and Oceanography instructor at John Glenn High School in Norwalk, California, is preparing for her 30th first day of school. She says the first day sets the tone for the entire school year.

“The first day of school is critical because first impressions are made,” Trimble says. “As a teacher, I let the students know what to expect, some rules that are critical, and how to be successful in my classroom.”

First Day Sets the Tone For the Rest of the Year

“I don't go over everything, just a few highlights. I have to establish that I am in control, not them! The first day basically sets the tone for the rest of the year.”

Pamelia Trimble

The pressure of making the most of that first day is especially burdensome for Trimble, because like most school districts, the first day is a modified shortened day in the Norwalk/La Mirada Unified School District, where Glenn High School is located.
“Our time together on that first day is only about 30 minutes. I take roll and make sure that I pronounce each student’s name correctly,” says Trimble.

Students have to get used to their new surroundings as well, Trimble adds.

“I believe they make first impressions as well. Some come prepared some don't,” she notes. “At the high school level, students are still finding themselves and seeing all the different types of ‘personalities’ that exist at the facility. Some feel they have to come off tough, others are shy.”

In order to set the tone for the rest of the year, Trimble shares that she attempts to strike a balance between asserting authority and being approachable.

“Control must be established immediately and continually. Let students know that you're in charge, but not unapproachable,” she explains. “I also make myself available to help them find their classes so they don't get lost. I try to make them feel welcome, not petrified!”

“Control must be established immediately and continually. Let students know that you're in charge, but not unapproachable,” she explains. “I also make myself available to help them find their classes so they don't get lost. I try to make them feel welcome, not petrified!”

Pamelia Trimble

In addition to establishing control on the first day of school, Trimble suggests instructors must also:

  • Be Organized – “The more organized you are, the less likely mistakes are to happen. Start putting together a seating chart in alphabetical order so you can learn their names, on the second day.”
  • Be Flexible – “Everything doesn't always go as planned. Be ready to move students if there are problems with whomever they are sitting next to.”
  • Be Honest – “If you make a mistake, admit it and correct it as soon as possible. If you want respect, you have to give respect!”
  • Wear Different Hats – “Be ready to teach, but remember you're more than their teacher. Sometimes you're also their parent and counselor.”

While the first day is very important in terms of setting the tone, Trimble notes it is important for both students and instructors to remember that the entire school year does not hinge on that one day.

“If the first day goes bad for the instructor, they had better correct it the next day or they'll be in for a long year!” she laughs. “If a mistake is made, correct it and be honest! Remind students that teachers are human too. And if a student has a bad first day, encourage them to try again the next day.”