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Preparing Emotionally and Academically for the First Day of School

It’s a new school year, and everyone is either excited, nervous or both.

Jitters usually accompany the first day while teachers know they not only have to prepare students academically, but also, emotionally.

“The first day of school sets the tone for a child’s educational year,” said Kathryn Starke, an author and urban literacy specialist. “Before the first day, many teachers send personal welcome letters to students. They also host a meet the teacher day, where they provide a tour of the classroom and the child’s working space for the school year.”

It’s important to create a classroom that promotes emotional and academic success, and children observe these things from the first day, she said.

“It includes having a classroom library, personalizing student areas, or displaying signs and books that celebrate motivation, diversity, and positive character traits. Creating a student-centered classroom leads to success.  On the very first day, building relationships is imperative. Therefore, teachers should create lessons and activities that support personalized learning, diversity, community, and friendship,” she said.

Activities like “math about me” or personal surveys about a child’s likes, dislikes, and background serve to help children feel safe, comfortable, and accepted, according to education experts.

“Once a child is emotionally successful, they will be more academically successful,” Starke said.

Kaywanda Lamb, who taught Spanish for 14 years, said the first day should be used to “get to know each other.”

“It should also be a day to lay out rules and expectations. Teachers should allow kids to help create class norms,” Lamb said.

Dr. April J. Lisbon, a 20-year veteran school psychologist who’s worked in DC Public Schools, said there are five keys to helping teachers ensure that their students feel emotionally and academically successful on the first day.

Lisbon worked with students ages 3 to 22 of varying backgrounds, including those who attended alternative educational institutions.

“The first key is to know the correct pronunciation of your students’ names. If you are unsure how to say it or if you say it incorrectly, apologize to the student and ask for the correct pronunciation,” Lisbon said.

Second, she recommends that teachers let their students know that they’re excited to have them in the classroom. “This evokes a feeling of belonging for students,” Lisbon said.

Third, teachers should ask questions and don’t assume the worst.

A fourth key is wanting to be there. “Students are very smart, and they can recognize if their teacher wants to be there. Your actions and attitude on the first day will set the tone for the rest of the school year,” she said.

Finally, teachers should have fun. “Yes, school is about learning and developing for all students; however, learning shouldn’t be boring,” Lisbon said.

“On the first day of school, complete a learning assessment profile to see how your student learns information best. That will ensure that you are teaching towards the students’ preferred learning style and not their area(s) of weakness,” she said.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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