being a teacher, first day, first week, new year

On the Very First Day

How do you want students to feel after the first day of school? @pernilleripp

19 days.  19 days before my back to school nightmares will stop.  19 days before all of those dreams, hopes, wishes and fears become reality.  19 days before the first day of school.  Before they come.  Before they enter our classroom, see all of our books, and hope that this year will be amazing.  19 days seems so close yet so very far away.

I have spent a great part of the summer being afraid of the year to come.  Being afraid of the dreams I have for the year.  Being afraid of how I want it to be better than the last year but now quite sure how to make it better.  I think fear is common when we strive to be better.  I have run lesson plans through my mind, thought of possible scenarios, created and torn down the paths we may walk.  It is so hard to plan for a year when the students are not here yet.

Yesterday, I finally realized that while the curriculum calls, it is not what is most important right now.  It is not what I need to first focus on.  I speak about how our classrooms should be all about the students and how important that first day is and then forget to listen to my own words.  I am probably sick of my own voice by now.

So on the first day of school we will start with a picture book, we will start with conversation.  We will start not by speaking of all the things we have to get done, but all of the hopes that we have.  The students will speak more than me.  On the first day of school I will not worry about curriculum, but rather about how they feel.  How they feel after our first class together.  How they feel about the year.

Because we can prepare and plan.  Because we can create and get ready.  Because we can see the path that lies before us and take the very first steps.  And we will do all of that.  But we will also celebrate that we get to be together.  That we get to share 7th grade together.  So I will not plan much to do.   I will not plan for many things to be completed.  I will instead plan for the emotional experience that I would like them to experience; that this room is theirs, that this room is safe, that this year will be special.  That they matter and that their voice matters..

Now I just have to remember my own plans.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

10 thoughts on “On the Very First Day”

  1. Thank you for always being so inspiring…your words always say it like it is, simplistic and from the heart. We are so hard on ourselves as we begin a new year. We need to remember to embrace the “simple” things…to appreciate our students for who they are who they would like to become.

  2. This post means so much to me. At the moment I’m involved with launching new libraries in two English primary schools. We have literally thousands of books to catalogue and prepare and the task seems (and possibly is) impossible. I’ve sometimes woken up in the night worrying about getting everything done.

    In both teaching and librarianship, it’s so easy to get caught up in the mechanics and reach the point of seeing the children as an interruption to the work rather than the centre of it. Thank you for this piece of perspective and wisdom.

  3. I’m scared too! I’m teaching in an inner city eighth grade classroom and starting reader/writer workshops for the first time. Your post reminded me to breathe and enjoy the first day with my kids. By the way, what picture book are you going to read?

  4. Pernille, you bring up some great talking points in your post. In education, I think there is often such a push to establish teacher / student roles and get on with the lesson plans (you fear will never get done in time) that you miss important opportunities. First, I compliment you on sharing the experience with them and hearing what they have to say. I feel this gives students a way to become more personally invested (I want to do this because I like the atmosphere vs. the mean teacher orders me to do this). Second, I feel you get a really good read about the personalities and diversity of interests in the room. I work with game theory in education and first key elements revolves around identity and agency. It also sounds like your classroom is a place of exploration and challenging but fun puzzles, which g. theorist like myself appreciate. To me, it sounds like you plans are already well under way and you are off to a great start!

    Mind Meets Game

  5. Hi Pernille,

    I am so grateful for this post as I am contemplating a number of First Day activities and seeking clarity on which one to use. Your post generates these questions:
    1) What do you think about choosing one book and reading it aloud rather than giving the students a choice? Do you think such an approach would be worthwhile? (I don’t have the 10 books you describe.)
    2) After you book talk and take a vote, what do you ask of the students? What other elements to you add into that first 45 minute class?
    3) What lesson is your follow-up lesson for Day Two?

    With appreciation for all the teaching you engage in with so many of us,

    1. Hi Lisa, I think it speaks volumes to have students choose the book, after all it means that the very first thing is something that involves choice. You do not have to use the books I chose, any great picture books will do. I only get about 37 minutes that first day because we lose minutes the first two days so we do the picture book sharing, when I am don reading we may discuss it for a few moments but it is usually really stilted so the next thing we do is have the students figure out what the expectations should be for our year together. I have done this in small groups before but may do it in a large circle this year, we shall see. Day two is all about our classroom library and how they identify as readers, they will also do our beginning of the year student survey. I hope this helps.

      1. Hi Pernille,
        Thank you for your detailed, clear response. It is quite helpful! I realize that the few books I purchased last year were those that targeted specific Notice & Note signposts. My collection is quite small, but growing. In the meantime, if I am to give students a choice of what to read on the first day, I guess I need to figure out which books to identify because I don’t want just to select random picture books from the library…I guess I’ll have to see what I can come up with in the next week.

        Many thanks,


  6. Hi Pernille,

    I love how openly you share your heart! I am SO excited for school to start! I’m looping up to fifth grade with my kiddos and can hardly wait to see them again. Our first day will be welcoming in some new kiddos into our community, sharing highs and lows of our lives, and (of course) reading!

    Enjoy your first day, my friend! I know your kids will!



  7. Wonderfully written, Pernille! You make some GREAT points about what the first day of school should (and should not) look like. Always enjoy reading what you put out there. Thank you for sharing!

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