The First Day of Classes

This blog post is part of an ongoing series to capture a Day in the Life of a Teacher, a collective project started by Tina Cardone @crstn85.

6:40 – I’m out the door a little later than usual, but not so late that I have to take the toll road to be on time.

7:15 – I arrive at school.  Put away my lunch, and start reading through the plans for today.

7:40 – My principal pops in and asks us to be out in the halls while kids come in to help the new kids find what they need.

8:00 – Take attendance.  One student is missing.  I send the boys to the Gym for assembly and then find my missing student at his locker.  Since it’s the first day, I don’t mark him tardy and just update my attendance to say that he is present.

8:10 – In assembly the dean of students and principal discuss procedures for lunch and dismissal, as well as letting kids know where to go during their enrichment class period.  (They signed up for enrichment classes last week at orientation, so they haven’t heard back yet where they are going.)

8:25 – We are dismissed back to advisory.  I can’t think of a good advisory activity that can be done in 10 minutes, so I let the boys talk and make sure that everyone knows where to go for their next class.  One of my students has asked me four different times to explain how to read his schedule.  He was here last year, so he should know how to read it.  I’ll have to find out what’s going on there.

8:35 – Dismiss students to second period and stand in the hall to monitor and greet students.  I’m considering doing a #HighFiveFriday this year (Justin Alon, but I don’t want to start high-fiving today.  To my introverted personality that seems like it would be overbearing to students on the first day.

8:40 – Second period starts.  I make sure that everyone knows how to read the seating chart and has found their assigned seat.  We watch the @joboaler video for Week of Inspirational Math Day 1, and do the dot card number talk.  It’s my first number talk ever!  Despite being a simple one, I think it goes well.  I have another scheduled for later in the week.  Then we discuss group work norms and do the 1-100 activity (  Students give examples of how they worked as a team.  All but one group improves from the first trial to the second.  I think some of my 3-person groups struggled to do the activity because it really needed 4 people to work smoothly.

9:22 – Remembering that sixth graders take a lot of time at the beginning of the year, I tell them to clean up and pack up now.  When class ends at 9:25, all but two are ready to go.  That works for me.  I help the last two pack up and get back out into the hall for the passing period.

9:30 – Ah, sweet off period.  I’ve taught one class this school year and I already need a cup of coffee.  I see why it is so hard to get back into this routine once you’ve been out of it.  After I get my coffee I go out to my car to bring in the plastic organizer that I cleaned out from home.   It is to store all of my card sorts, Bingo games, I have-who has cards, and such.  A brief glance at my calendar reminds me that today is a blogging day, so I jot down these thoughts.  Then I get on the organizing!

10:20 – I’m not done organizing, but the kids are here for snack break, so I wrap it up.  Out in to the hall for the passing period.  Lots of questions about what class is after break.

10:30 – Dismiss the boys to PE and get back out into the hall to welcome my next class.

10:35 – This is a class of students who all had me last year, except one new student.  That makes me so much more comfortable.  We do the same lesson with the growth mindset video and discussion of group norms.

11:20 – Another class done and I’m out in the hall.  Now there are really a lot of questions about where to go, because this is the first day of enrichments and they don’t all know where some teachers’ classrooms are or remember what class we told them to go to in the morning assembly.

11:25 – Check email and see that we’re asking for all hands on deck at lunch because it’s raining so they can’t eat in the courtyard or go to recess.  I take a few minutes to check twitter, read a little more about the possibility of becoming a nationally board certified teacher, and then head off to eat my lunch so I can be on duty when the kids go to lunch at 12:10. (I don’t have lunch duty today, but because it is raining and there is no recess, they asked for extra help.)

12:05 – I get to the cafeteria a little early to be sure and get there before the kids.  The first and second graders are a little slow getting out today, so I have to get the MS kids in the door (out of the rain) but waiting just inside the door until the smaller kids exit.  At 12:14 I let the MS kids get in line to get their lunch.  I could write a whole separate post on the social dynamics evident at lunch, but I won’t.

12:45 – We’re done with lunch and head to sixth period.  I have seventh graders this period and we go through the same video and group work exercises.

1:35 – Class change again; I have sixth graders this period.  The names are all running together at this point.

2:25 – Seventh period ends and eighth period begins.  I have sixth graders again.  Although we have a rotating schedule, for some reason this group has me eighth period every day.  I talk to them about how nice it would be to all make good choices so that we can end the day on a high note.  Someone reminds me that I have them eighth period every day, so I suggest that we make good choices every day.  During the course of this period I have to remind multiple students not to talk while I am talking and to raise their hands if they want to talk while someone else is talking.  I also call the same kid the wrong name at least five times this period.  That is so embarrassing.  I just can’t get it right, and I’m frustrated with myself.  After class a student informs me that he has already taken sixth-grade math and asks what special assignments I have for him.  Because of the way our schedule works, we cannot schedule him into a seventh-grade class.  I reassure him that there is a lot to learn and he will still be learning this year.  I offer to give him enrichment activities if he gets bored.  Last year I had a kid in the same situation, but it turned out that she actually remembered very little of the material from the class she had taken, so it wasn’t an issue.  We’ll see how this one turns out.

3:25 – The halls are clear and I sit down at the computer to catch up on email.  A colleague stops by to ask for a copy of what the rising seventh graders did for their summer math assignment and we chat for a few minutes about how the first day went.  I see on Twitter that another teacher who started today used Sara’s 1-100 activity, but she remembered to take pictures!  I meant to do that, but I forgot.  Next time.

4:10 – An email just came in with a list of faculty meetings.  I call the principal’s secretary to confirm that there is no meeting tomorrow.  Wahoo!  This week is so tiring, getting back into the schedule and teaching all the procedures for how things run in your class.  I’m thrilled to have one less meeting to attend.

4:15 – I’m trying to get an activity together for my 7th graders and I just can’t decide what I want them to do.  I have a great Open Middle problem from Fawn Nguyen that I think will work well, but it should only be about 10 minutes.  If I add a reducing fractions puzzle to that, with the @joboaler video, that should be enough.  Plus we can talk about the summer assignment and about homework routines.  I can see why that Angela Watson Club (40-hour teacher work week) says to plan exactly which routines you will teach on which day during the opening weeks.  There are so many to think of, and if you try to cover them organically when they come up, it is easy to forget one, at least one of the periods of the day.  I wonder if the first week of school is so tiring not just because it’s a schedule we’re not used to, but also because you have to explain so many different things from how to organize your binder to how to ask to go to the bathroom.

4:30 – A student has emailed me saying that on her IXL the skills I assigned for homework are not showing up as highlighted.  I email her back to ask if she is in the right grade level.  I’ll have to have a student show me what it looks like on their account tomorrow.  A few minutes later I get the same email from another student.

4:55 – A new student just left, she stopped by for help with the homework.  The skills are showing up as highlighted just fine on her iPad.  I’m going to run some copies for tomorrow and hit the road.

5:15 – After answering a few student emails from the parking lot, I’m on my way.

8:00 – More students are confused about the homework.  Well, at least they’re getting an early start, because it isn’t due until Sunday!  I answer their emails and then lurk through the end of #msmathchat.  @MarkChubb3 posts a really interesting article on the follow-up questions that we ask our students and whether we are “funneling” them to the answer or “focusing” them on their thinking.

9:10 – Time to read and sleep, so we can do it again tomorrow!


Reflection questions:

Q1: Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day.  Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming.  When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of?  What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

A1: I’m proud of deciding to go to lunch today when they asked for extra help even though I wasn’t assigned.  The only other people I saw in the cafeteria were the teachers who were assigned and two administrators.  I want to help promote a culture in my school where people ask “how can I help?” and then do it.

I’m not satisfied with the way I handled a situation while I was at lunch, though.  One of our new students was sitting by himself at a table.  I went up and talked to him for a few minutes, but I didn’t do anything to resolve the issue.  A few minutes later I saw my principal talking to him and then there were several kids at his table.  He knew how to solve the problem that I didn’t know how to solve.  I struggle with how to get kids to include each other in social situations.


Q2: Every person’s life is full of highs and lows.  Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher.  What are you looking forward to?  What has been a challenge for you lately?

A2: I’m really looking forward to a new year with these students, many of whom I taught last year.  I’m excited to try new things and to see what they learned last year that stayed with them.  The challenge for me is getting back into the routine.  I was so undisciplined over the summer, and I need to have a lot of discipline to make my days run smoothly now that school is back in session.  I have to get all my work done by 5 pm so I can get home by 6 pm or else I won’t have time for dinner and a workout before bed.


Q3: We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is.  As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students.  Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

A3: I have a coworker who is very different from me.  We get along fine personally, but professionally we are very different and it causes friction.  Today we were discussing some issues going on at work and we were in complete agreement about them.  It was really nice to have some common ground with her.


Q4: Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What have you been doing to work toward your goal?  How do you feel you are doing?

A4: I’ve started to lay the foundation for problem-based learning, by explaining to students that I am going to be helping them to become more independent as learners.  We discussed group work norms today, and we all agreed that giving someone the answer or the exact steps to follow does not help them to learn.  I then explained that, for the same reasons, I will not be giving them the answers or the exact steps to follow.  They seemed a little uncertain about that, but we will work it out.


Q5: What else happened this month that you would like to share?

A5: This month I’ve been trying hard to incorporate new routines into my life.  I have recently developed back trouble, and to keep it under control I need to stretch for 15 minutes in the morning and walk for an hour (ideally) in the evening.  During our two weeks of back to school I stretched and walked every day.  I gave myself a break on the first day of classes and did not walk in the evening nor stretch the next morning.  I want to make sure that’s the exception, not the rule.  Again, I need to have discipline and a routine to make my life work.  Neither one of those comes easily to me.


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