This is the time of year that all teachers think about that first day and how they are going to start the year off right. I'm no different.

For me, school starts tomorrow and the kids start on Thursday, and as the new year comes at me ever so quickly, I'm thinking about what I want to do and I don't want to do to start off the year.

Every year my biggest struggle is classroom management. No, my classroom isn't unruly, unmanaged, or a place of chaos, but I struggle with setting my rules, enforcing my rules, and being consistent throughout the year. The things my kids do are minor, but enough to get tiresome and the biggest thorn in my side is side conversations. I'm not consistent with the golden rule of classroom management—discipline before instruction—so I'll often ignore the side conversations and teach over the talkers. I know that that goes against everything we are taught about classroom management, yet, I continue to do it year after year. This year, however, I'm going to make a concerted effort to follow the discipline before instruction right from the start and follow through consistently.

Now, that I have set that goal for myself, instruction comes next. I have two days before the first true week of school with my students and I don't want to waste them. The first day of school is always hectic and in most classes, very little instruction gets done, but I want my class to be different. And on Friday, we have a back-to-school pep rally, so all classes are shortened to accomodate. But even though there isn't much class time those first two days, I know I want to establish 3 things:

  • Spanish is spoken here! Whatever language you teach, it is important to establish this the first day, and then every day there after (consistency). You don't do this by telling the students that's what you're going to do. You do this by speaking the language and only the language for as much as humanly possible while still making it comprehensible. How do you do that? Only translate what students don't know (that's everything for level 1) by writing the target language and English on the board. You must set this as an expectation from day 1 and follow through. Now the rule is mainly for myself as I let students use limited English depending on their level. The key here is to NOT dub yourself in English (say a sentence in the target language and then repeat that sentence in English), but to translate ONLY what they don't know and to not do it orally, but only visually on the board. I know writing on the board can get tedious, but the results are worth it and the time it takes you to write on the board gives many students the needed processing time.
  • The second thing I want to accomplish in those first two days is to establish routines and expectations. Now, I DO NOT list out all of my rules and all of my routines on days 1 and 2. I teach the routines as I would teach anything else—model it, practice it, and review it as necessary—but only as each routine is needed. I want to establish that the language of instruction is Spanish, what to do when entering the classroom, what to do when I'm speaking in Spanish, and what to do when the bell rings. As for class rules, I basically have two: make smart choices and keep me happy. Those pretty much cover anything that could happen in my classroom. These are posted in the front of my room near the whiteboard and I will point to the rule that is broken as it is broken. So if a student talks to their neighbor while I'm talking, that's not a smart choice (it also falls under not making me happy), so I will point at that rule on the wall.
  • The third thing that I want to accomplish is getting to know my students in Spanish. This is personalization at its best, a form of intensive conversations in the target language. I have my topics that I talk about with each of my levels (level 1 - activities, level 2 - fears, and level 3 - what makes you special?), but unlike traditional Q&A, I focus on going deeper with each student as if I had met them at a party. In this way students know that I genuinely care about them and I begin to forge positive relationships with my students that will last throughout the school year and do so in the target language.

And as a bonus, I want to establish that Spanish (French, German, Mandarin, Russian, etc) class is FUN!

Focusing on these three things will bring about a great start to the new school year and allow us to hit the road running the following week.

What are you going to focus on the first few days of school?