You’ve probably heard that expression that goes something like “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”. The first impression, that’s what concerns me about the first day of school. I want, no make that I need my students’ first impression of me and my classroom to be a positive one because I know that if for some reason things don’t get off to a good start it’s going to be an uphill battle for a long time.
As a Special Education teacher, I teach students who need extra support in some way or another to help them be as successful as they can be. Some of my students are so disconnected from teachers and school that they are at-risk of failing classes and even dropping out all together. I certainly don’t want that to happen ,so I need to engage these kids right from the first bell.

What do I do to try to make a good impression on the first day? You know part of me thinks it’s amazing that I’m even talking about the teacher making a good first impression. That part of me is thinking isn’t making a good impression something the student needs to be concerned with? The other part of me realizes that of course times have changed since the days back when, and I know from experience that it is important to set the right tone on the first day. I’ve had kids come and tell me they hate their teachers after just one class. There’s that first impression. We all do it. We make our first impression within seconds of meeting someone. Well maybe it’s longer than a few seconds. Don’t quote me on that one. I do remember reading some statistic about the length of time it takes us to make a first impression , but I’ve forgotten exactly how long that was but was an astonishing short amount of time. Maybe someone can remind me.

Now my challenge is that the students who come to my math class on the first day are specifically placed in my class because they haven’t enjoyed very much success in math thus far. Most of them come hating math and hating my class because , as so many of them keep telling me , it’s a class for losers. So you can appreciate why I’m a bit concerned about making a positive impression on the first day. If they already hate math, and if if they already hate the idea of coming to my class because they perceive it as a class for losers , if they decide to hate me too how much am I going to be able to teach them? How much are they going to be able to learn?

So, what do I do the first day of class. Well, for one thing I want them to leave that first class respecting me. How do I do that? Demonstrating competence never hurts. So I’ll start by be organized. Me, being organized is so crucial on the first day because the first day of school is so confusing for my students, especially the grade nines who are new to the school. Oh sure, they have been to orientation activities but still their heads will be spinning. Since they probably won’t be organized, I’ll have to be organized for them. I’ll have extra supplies for them to use. I’ll have an outline on the board of what we are going to be doing for that class, and I’ll greet them at the door and welcome them and introduce myself. That sets the stage.

One of things I ‘ll do that first class is get to know my students better by having them answer nine questions about themselves. I tell them that I would really appreciate it if they could answer some questions about themselves because their answers will help me plan the lessons and the activities we’ll do in class. I really do use their answers. The questions are

1. When have you felt particularly successful in school?

2. When have you been the most proud of learning something?

3. What is the easiest part of school?

I ask these questions first because I want the first thing they write for me to be about something positive. I want them to remember that they have been successful at something in the past because I want them to be open to being successful in the future in my class. Remember these kids think of themselves as “losers’. I want them to remember they have been winners.

Then I go on to ask about challenges they have at school because the sooner I know about the challenges, the sooner I can teach kids strategies and give them support so that they can help themselves cope with whatever. So I ask

4. What is the hardest part of school?

Next, I get subject specific. When I teach a math class, I ask about math. When I teach a literacy class, I ask about reading and writing. so because I’m teaching math the questions are

5. What do you like about math?

6. When is math easy or fun for you?

7. When is math difficult for you?

Believe me, the kids like having the opportunity to tell me what they like and don’t like about the subject.

Then, I go on to ask the following questions. I want my students to realize that we are a team. We each have our part to do in the learning that goes on in class. I need to know what I can do to help my students be more successful, and my students need to know what they can do to help themselves be more successful. These questions focus on the team aspect of the student/teacher relationship , and I discuss this with them.

8. What three things can I as the teacher do to help you become more successful as a student in this class?
9. What three things can you do as a student to help yourself be more successful this year?

Usually I get good cooperation. Sometimes, not often, a student will answer all questions in a negative way. That, in itself speaks volumes about that kid, and I respect his answers, and I don’t ask him to change them to positive ones. At the end of the semester, I’lll have the kids answer these questions again, and we’ll discuss the second set of answers vis-a-vis the first set of answers.

After completing this activity, I’ll tell my students that since they are in grade nine, by now, they are experts at knowing what makes a classroom work so that it is respectful and learning can go on. Given this, I want us to come up with some rules for the classroom that are stated in a positive way. For example, “come to class on time” and not “don’t be late for class”. Once we have decided on the rules for the classroom , we’ll create posters and post them around the room to remind us of what we need to do. The posters in the classroom are like the signs along the highway. They tell us what the appropriate thing to do is. In my last post , I talked about my theory about rules for the classroom. I don’t want to repeat myself here.

I just want to say in closing that I hope by the end of the first class the students realize the following:

1. The students and I are a team.

2. They have their job to do.

3. I have my job to do.

4. Certain behaviours are conducive to learning and these are to be encouraged.

5. Certain behavior in the classroom are not conducive to learning and these are to be discouraged.

6. Their input is valued.

At least the way I see it.

At this point I’d like to thank Mathew, Sarah, Tracy, Emily, Peggy, and Ron for their insightful comments about my last post Nine things my students taught me about classroom management and teaching. Please keep those comments coming. It’s important to hear other points of view on a topic, not just mine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I’m not always right. I’m open to other points of view. So please, don’t hesitate to make a comment. Discussion is healthy. I’d also like to thank three feet up and the podsafe music network for my theme music.

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61 Responses to “Nine questions I ask my students on the first day of school”

  1. Jessica on September 2nd, 2011 3:26 pm

    Thank you for posting these! I’ve been trying to think of and look for questions to ask the students at the beginning of school… questions that are meaningful to them and me, and these are awesome! It definitely lets them know you care what they think and by using their answers in your teaching, it shows them that you do value them and their opinions! Thanks 🙂

  2. Kapil on February 2nd, 2012 3:58 am

    Sir kindly post some questions regarding future objectives..i have to make a questionaire.

  3. kristian on August 3rd, 2012 3:43 pm

    I know i have i love i can enjoy ur question.:)

  4. kristian on August 3rd, 2012 3:45 pm

    I will miss my whole childen at school some times

  5. Christi on August 9th, 2012 10:17 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have been back and forth about letting the students come up with classroom rules for 9th and 10th grades, and reading this just confirmed that I was on the right track! Your page is exactly what I needed to read! 🙂 God Bless!

  6. Keith on August 22nd, 2012 12:20 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I will be teaching my first band class of the year soon and plan on starting with these questions. Along with a 10th What is one goal you have for this year in band?

  7. Tim Anderson on September 2nd, 2012 10:05 am

    Really enjoyed the nine questions I ask my students on first day. I am middle school math special ed teacher and I work with “at risk” students, so was really good.

  8. Monday by the Numbers - Instructify on September 7th, 2012 9:45 am

    […] 9 Questions I ask my Students on the First Day of School – Teacher Elona Hartjes believes in the value of making a good first impression. That’s why she asks her students these nine questions to make sure the school year gets off to a good start. She provides some valuable insight, and makes her students think about their successes and wants when it comes to education. Perhaps the most important question on the list: What three things can you do as a student to help yourself be more successful this year? […]

  9. Anika on July 17th, 2013 1:27 pm

    Thanks for this post! I used a version of this on my practicum this past year and found it incredibly helpful to quickly get to know the students! I tried to use some of their responses to guide my instructional choices as well.

  10. Litsa Podaras on August 30th, 2014 12:23 am

    Dearest Elona,
    long time no see, how nice to find this article. I was looking for questions to ask my middle school students (we start on Sept. 8th) and my google search brought me to you. Thanks for all the advice. All the best to you.

  11. Paul Sandy on November 20th, 2014 11:49 am

    Ms. Hartjes,

    My name is Paul Sandy and I’m in the process of attaining a teaching certificate and master’s degree in Education in the content area of Social Studies. I came across your blog, and I just want to say thank you for this insightful post. In my program, we have learned the importance of forming relationships with our students, and this list of 9 questions seems like a great way to get to know students’ interaction with learning and school. I will go back to this list of 9 questions when I am a full-time student teacher next semester.

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