The Value of the First Day of School Realized

It’s true.  I hate the first day of school.  I have ever since I started teaching.  The first day if full of awkwardness, confusion, and timidity.  And I’ll be honest, I want to just jump right in and start doing stuff.  Additionally, I think get-to-know-you games are cheesy and artificial because often my high schoolers (and adults do this sometimes too) want to share the socially acceptable thing to announce about themselves instead of the most truthful things in an effort to be liked and accepted on the first day.  (This eventually comes out as I get to know the students, but at first you can get such a false sense of who students really are.)  On top of it all, I am a pretty blunt and straight-forward person who can overwhelm and intimidate students on the first day (so I’ve been told by students later in the year).  All in all, I wish I could just start every year on day 2.  Of course, I recognize how absurd this is because starting on day 2 turns day 2 into day 1.  So I’m learning to face the inevitable and with good reason.

My experiences in class today and on a recent field trip with the Innovations Class are challenging my lack of regard for Day 1.  Today, I asked my students to complete peer evaluations for each member of their group on a recent project.  I was speechless as I received multiple questions about the names of students in class.  Literally my students had worked for ~8 weeks on a project with a group of students from their own class, and they never learned each other’s names.  I was shocked and ultimately disappointed in myself as I recognized that this is due to my own failure–not my students’.  The Innovations Class traveled to Silicon Valley and visited places like Google and Facebook, warehouses of collaboration.  In each place, it was clear that many if not most of the employees were strangers to one another.  We regularly observed them introducing themselves to other employees as a way to build community and prepare to innovate and create new ideas and projects.

All of this has made me realize that while I have a positive classroom community and while I have a personal connection with each student, the students don’t necessarily feel that sense of personal connection and community among one another.  This likely means they are still holding very tightly to the cliques and social group stereotypes that exist outside of the classroom.  So here’s what I want to do about it:

1.  I want to reinforce the idea of our classroom being a work space not a social space.  We can absolutely be social in the work space, but we have a job to do and things to accomplish in this space that come ahead of socializing on the list of priorities.

2.  I want to be more intentional about making community where my students are interested in the success of the whole class instead of just their own success.  If we care enough about the success of the whole, then by default each individual will maximize their own success, too.  The converse is not necessarily true.

3.  I want to dedicate more time to meaningful, intentional, purposeful get-to-know-you activities on the first day of school to set a standard early in the semester and keep doing things to build community throughout the semester.  Perhaps get-to-know-you activities won’t feel so artificial if I do them all semester long.

It is very much a part of the real world to have to work with people that we wouldn’t socialize with outside of the workplace and/or don’t get along with.  However, we are expected to be able to work with them in professional community anyway.  Why would I expect any different of my students.  I need to be more intentional about the professional community within my classroom.  I never want to get halfway through a semester again having students working alongside people whose names they do not know.

I’ve got some work to do.  Let the research about meaningful get-to-know-you activities begin!